With my skin as costume, I can fly under the radar. It doesn’t matter what I think, what you see is white. I may be old, I may be a woman (Amadea, she/her), yet I carry my protection with me at all times. Smiling helps in many circumstances, yet not all. It’s taken me a long time to realize exactly how much protection my skin as costume affords me here in the U.S.
Sometimes you can almost hide your color now. Swathed like space aliens we face the pandemic. Yet read the historical record from the Smithsonian on African-Americans in the U.S. or hear from nurses on how a wide range of people of color have fared in this public health crisis, and you can see that skin as costume has dangerous or protective implications, depending on who you are.
Opening to Other Realities
My mom Margie and I went to Cuba in July of 2001, right before 9/11. (Of course we had no idea we were on the edge of such a time. History is funny that way.) The kids played together differently there, whole jumbles of multicolor skin as costume tumbling across a park, through the schoolyards, in the clinics. It helped me to realize just how racist we were, us Americans in contrast. It was both a relief to see and painful to concede.
Claiming White Skin as Costume
With my white skin as costume, I have been able to say and do stupid things, ignorant things, well-meaning yet misinformed things that I regret, with little or no outer consequence. Decent things, too, for sure. This picture is changing; we’re being held more accountable, us Whites. Blessed be. Still, I haven’t had to think as hard or closely in this life about race as my peers in other races or cultures. It’s a different scenario when your skin as costume is another color.
Once, meeting with a group of potential colleagues who were all native American, I reached out to make a connection. “We all have the same color blood,” I said. Our eyes met. Yet skin deep is all many people see. We’re dancing in a hall of mirrors. What we see triggers myriad assumptions. For example, I once assumed a student needed economic help just because they were a person of color. Only in long retrospect did I see my assumption was way off. I did not see this person, a respected professional in Hollywood, for who they were, the creative and economic power they embodied. How many times do we make judgments that are false? How can we know?
It’s Time for New Ways of Being
When the skin we wear is white, there are still options for learning. We can listen. We can examine our own thoughts and actions. Waking up into awareness, mindfulness, can reveal fresh insights, enliven our lives. We can use our privilege to become allies who see, rather than whites blind to painful realities of discrimination. So many creative gatherings are happening online now. One great series is Engaging Racism: Conversations for Change. The Tallahassee Chan Center and the Social Justice and Innovation Lab at Florida State University have collaborated to engage in conversations about racism that go deep and hold true, within a safe and respectful context. Check them out here.
Some of us seek out people of other colors. Some of us are more comfortable sticking with people the same color as us. This is possible if we’re white; it’s part of white privilege. As my colleague and friend Ralph Steele pointed out to me recently, this second choice isn’t possible for people of color. Economically, people of color have to be culturally diversified, that is, deal with white people in order to work in the US. It’s plain to me as a white person that it’s time to learn to work together across skin as costume lines to create socially just communities, whether this is within our workplaces, our classrooms, or in our private lives. As whites we can coast along. The time for flying under the radar is over, if like me, you want to use your white privilege for something more than staying safe.
The Upside and the Downside of White Privilege
White privilege is an asset as well as an embarrassment. Trying to hide it gets us nowhere. For example, as you start to interact more with people of other colors and cultures, you might look bad, you might feel excruciatingly uncomfortable about “being right” when you’re not right. This is part of the turf. If you want to use your white privilege to support peers of other colors, you will feel uncomfortable at times. This could be a good sign, that you’re moving into new, if difficult, territory inside. As an asset, white privilege carries weight. We can lean that weight into issues that matter, whether they be public safety, clean water, better mental health, or kids nutrition, to support a healthier outcome. Working together invites healthy connections within our communities.
For people of all colors and cultures, whatever our skin as costume is, there are moments when something is said or done that stuns us speechless. As a woman in Ayurveda, I can remember decades ago where a male colleague spelled out a very short Sanskrit word for me. “Here, let me help you,” was the overt vibe. The hidden message was, “you don’t know anything.” It is moving through our outraged silence to say or write something effective and true that can be so difficult. It takes skill, it takes practice. It can help to work together with others.
Skill in Action by Michelle Cassandra Johnson
African-American activist and writer Michelle Cassandra Johnson has created a book for these times. Skill in Action describes how to radicalize your yoga practice (or your life, or your profession) to create a just world. It’s dedicated to all her grandmothers, to all the social justice workers who are trying to make this world a better place. It is dedicated “to everyone who embodies an open-heart and a warrior spirit.” It could be dedicated to you, if these words speak true for you.
It’s a book for building more skill and ease with standing up for justice on an everyday level. You can mobilize your understanding of who you are, how your identity impacts your professional and personal lives. You can build skills to effectively work with people different from you, and create accessible spaces for people of all kinds. You can move past the discomfort to real connections. It’s time to shift gears.
New Creative Writing and Polarity Group Starting this Month
You’re invited to join an online reading and writing group centered around Michelle Cassandra Johnson’s book Skill in Action, facilitated by Amadea. It will meet weekly, starting on April 29 through June 3. You will have a chance to read the book, directly apply its writing practices, and discuss with your cohorts what this means for you and your life within a respectful open context. We’ll meet as a group at large and in small break-out rooms on Zoom, to be able to facilitate ease of communication. It’s a group open to everyone. For more information and to register, click here.
Are you ready for some healthy changes? It’s Spring after all. Are you ready to join together with others for those changes? Check out Skill in Action: Open to Diversity, starting this month.
Image thanks to Ralph and Sabine by Sabine Schulze Steele
Amadea Morningstar, MA, RPE, RYT (she/her, creative writing and Polarity) is an Ayurvedic and Polarity Therapy educator and an Accessible Yoga Ambassador. She guides a new reading and writing group based on Skill in Action by Michelle Cassandra Johnson, weekly April 29 to June 3, 2021.
Enjoy Amadea’s 5-hour video course on Polarity Therapy Energetic Nutrition here.