[A version of this post was originally published in Unity Magazine May/Jun 2023 issue]
Artificial Intelligence was once hailed as the antidote for human bias. After all, computers were devoid of emotion, preconceived ideas, or unconscious and internalized bigotries. Then why, in a recent experiment when scientists asked robots programmed to scan faces and select the “criminal”, did the robots repeatedly choose a Black man’s face? Or when asked to select “homemaker” or “janitor”, women and BIPOC were chosen over and over? It turns out that when programming the machines, the programmers’ own implicit biases become part of the code. We cannot, it would seem, remove our humanness when we participate in, well, anything.
Many of us, however, erroneously believe our spirituality to be the exception. As we engage in practices to deepen and expand our consciousness and connection with the Divine, it rarely occurs to ask ourselves if we’re bringing our biases with us. Is it because we believe spiritual people are good people? Or that since the Divine is pure, we, and our practices, are just as pure? These are both privileged views. It implies that those who do not have a spiritual practice are not as good as we are. There’s also the assumption that everyone has access to the resources that make a spiritual practice possible: time, energy, money, safe and distraction-free spaces.
It’s time we embrace an Antiracist Spirituality. If the “anti” prefix is stirring thoughts of dismissing the idea because we should focus our energies on what we’re “for” not what we’re “against”, that’s spiritual bypassing. If the thought “why is everything about racism” comes to mind, that’s racial bypassing and privilege at work. If the retort “But I’m not racist” is about to be uttered, know that being “not racist” is not the opposite of racism, nor is it nearly enough.
To be antiracist is to consciously create a culture of equity and liberation for everyone by recognizing and dismantling systems of oppression that impact us all, while creating new structures of inclusiveness and equity. Systems of oppression include racism, ableism, ageism, capitalism, patriarchy, and white supremacy cultural norms (wscn) such as a right to comfort, a sense of urgency, either/or thinking, quantity over quality, paternalism, and perfectionism.
These are characteristics of our American (and increasingly global) culture. We have unconsciously internalized them, and like AI programmers, integrated them into our spiritual practices and communities. How many times have we tried to perfect a meditation practice, or have been fixated on growing the community while seeing it as a sign of failure if we don’t?
An Antiracist Spirituality uses the tools of our spirituality to help reduce the influence of wscn in ourselves, as well as our spiritual practices and communities, in order to be inclusive and equitable. Engaging in Antiracist Spirituality includes: