Last week’s reflection focused on the ways that Georgetown’s religious traditions have responded to the cries for racial justice in our institution, our local communities, and our larger society. The task of building a racially just and equitable community is long-haul work and, as noted last week, begins in the interior. Recognizing that education is one component of racial justice work and that interior practices are at the root of the struggle to dismantle unjust structures, I would like to highlight this week a particularly helpful resource for cultivating an inner life that this struggle for justice requires.
The “Inner Work of Racial Justice” by Professor Rhonda Magee offers an inspiring yet challenging framework for how embodied mindfulness can address the patterns of conflict and division that enable racial injustice. Recognizing a diverse tradition of mindfulness practice, Magee defines mindfulness as “paying attention to life as it unfolds, grounded in the body and breath, and allowing that awareness to settle the mind, increase presence and consciousness of interconnectedness with others.” In her book, Professor Magee, a law professor at the University of San Francisco, a peer Jesuit institution, invites her readers, regardless of how they identify or choose not to, to deeply engage with how race and racism shapes all of us. Magee speaks both to white allies and persons of color about the transformative potential of mindfulness practices. The book flows in five parts: Grounding, Seeing, Being, Doing, and Liberating, a pattern that closely resembles a Jesuit spirituality framework of moving from experience to reflection and from reflection to action for justice.
For white allies, mindfulness is especially needed to grow in deeper inner recognition of the unconscious bias towards people of color that manifests in thoughts, feelings, and inner sensations. For people of color, who have suffered from explicit racism and the pernicious effects of unconscious bias permeating our social structures, mindfulness can become a form of healing, showing “how to slow down and reflect on microaggressions – to hold them with some objectivity and distance – rather than bury unpleasant experiences so they have a cumulative effect over time.” Magee’s perspective is ultimately hopeful, noting that mindfulness meditation can both “tame and clarify” a troubled mind while also opening the possibility that we can “transform the world.”
In February 2020, Georgetown invited Professor Magee to offer a Race and Higher Education presentation as part of Social Justice Week and the MLK: Let Freedom Ring! Initiative of the Office of the President. The presentation, “Doing the Inner Work of Racial Justice: Principles, Practices (and Prayers!) for Healing Ourselves and Transforming the World,” offered many insights about the unique challenges of doing racial justice in a predominantly white institution of higher learning. As I noted last week, waking up to racism is especially uncomfortable when white privilege remains a barrier to meaningful social change for racial justice. But Professor Magee notes that this transformation for justice ultimately depends on a self-compassion that leads to greater joy:
“As by now you have no doubt come to see, this work is not for the faint of heart. We are working to heal ourselves, yes. At the same time we are working to disrupt, deconstruct, and break open patterns that make normal and “okay” the suffering of people at the margins of our lives. And we are working to build a new world –one that actually inclines toward the liberation of all, rather than toward our greater but more subtle enslavement. Because all that we do is subject to change and is impermanent, we are seeking to develop the capacity to do what we can with a lightness and joy that keep us from taking ourselves too seriously and, at the same time, illuminate the dire necessity of continuing to do our loving best even in the face of some defeat. Let’s get to work.“