Understanding Truth-Telling and Truth-Seeking within the Black Community from a Spiritual, Black Femme Perspective

Shelby Moring, American University

Those who become aligned with Spirit quickly realize that what is available to them in the third-dimension is largely symbolic. The more attuned to our collective purpose we become, the less attached we become to third-dimensional troubles like violence, oppression and injustice. Personally, my relationship to the rhetoric and intentions of activists shifted when I began to view my own experience on this realm as symbolic, representative, and largely dependent upon the way I used my power. As a spiritual Black woman and activist, it’s troubling to see that many people do not believe spirituality and activism can exist. Collectively, we forgot the link between spirituality and activism because many of the “spiritual people” we paid attention to mistakenly stayed silent during times of violence against Black people. Or perhaps they should’ve stayed silent and instead of trying to calm the waters with calls to “embrace good vibes” and “ignore the low vibrations” (read: repeated offenses from white supremacist forces against Black people). We are quick to reject calls to heal humanity through love and solidarity because they have been used by white oppressors as repressive, patronizing, color-blind tools. We have generally, as educated and passionate Black activists, distractedly disregarded much of the wisdom that spirituality has to offer because such wisdom was misconstrued by white liberal “but-what-about-the-other-side” voices. We must continue to align ourselves with Spirit, God, our Higher Selves, or whatever Universal forces you worship, in the name of anti-white supremacist, patriarchal activism. Many of us reject the idea that spiritual or mindful wisdom can coincide with our oppression dismantling activism, when it fact it should be that very consciousness that informs our activism. 

Self-actualization, or the process of becoming aware of the Self in specific contexts and relations, is the foundation of enlightenment and many forms of Black feminism. Our founding femmes recognized the link between knowing the Self as a decolonized process and dismantling oppressive systems in the name of liberation. Audre Lorde spoke of the necessity in self-defining and naming for ourselves; when we choose the ways in which we classify ourselves, we dismantle colonial perceptions of Black women and restore our power. Ntozake Shange’s “for colored girls” embodied the essence of self-definition when she reminded us to, “‘sing a Black girl’s song/bring her out/to know herself.” Contemporary Black femme witchcraft and spiritual practices reiterate the importance of introspection and realignment with spirit for ultimate liberation; OSHUN NYC sings “I’m too scared to face the truth today/But I still gotta get up, cuz my dreaming tells me so/Reflecting truth and fate like divination from the soul/Its tiring but better than a wake like funerals.” Black feminists said it first: self-actualization is the link between spirituality and radical activism.

Self-actualization on the individual level is then expanded when we begin to consider the macro, communal perspective. In what ways is the Black community practicing collective-actualization? How do our understandings of the Black collective inform our interactions with each other? Currently, our communication is so often drenched in verbally abusive, emotionally manipulative “truth telling” that we fail to see the potential in front of us. These toxic forms of “truth telling” are likely something we are greatly familiar with. “‘Honesty’ is [often] evoked to cover up abusive practices and hurting intent,” bell hooks writes in “Sisters of the Yam,” a spiritual and radical self-help book for Black women. “White supremacy has always relied upon a structure of deceit… black people were socialized to believe that survival was possible only if they learned to deceive.” In other words, within the Black community we so often “tell it like it is” to hurt each other. It’s manifested in the way we unproductively rely on “call out culture” or fail to address deep emotional, familial wounds by resorting to secrecy and lies. Using sharp words in the name of being brutally honest is so immensely ingrained in our ways of communication that compassion and productive self-expression become lost. Hiding behind the practice of “telling it like it is” distracts from problem solving, because it instead turns every disagreement or encounter into a self-preserving, other-attacking conflict. When we become adept to recognizing the ways in which Black people communicate with each other, we must then ask ourselves what decolonized truth-telling looks like. We are currently, collectively, and continually failing to practice collective-actualization.

Decolonized truth telling, self-actualization, mindfulness, embracing higher vibrations… they’re all one in the same. Earlier, I mentioned that heightened consciousness will eventually distance one from what happens on the third-dimension. The answer is not in denouncing racism as a third-dimensional problem or condemning protesters who use violence because it isn’t a “good vibe.” Working to dismantle the manifestations of white supremacy in our lives is as much a radical step towards racial liberation as it is a rejection of third-dimensional limitations and an acceptance of spiritual realities. It is through the processes of self-actualization and choosing to see oneself as a Being who is inherently connected to all other Beings on this planet that our activist intentions will undergo a radical shift. In order for our demands to liberate Black people from all systems of oppression to mean anything, our actions must match our intent. Are we calling for a greater emancipation of all Beings under oppressive forces? Do we seek to increase compassion and access to livelihood for all who are denied it, or is our hyper-focus on Blackness alone feeding an egoic mission rather than a humanitarian one?

In addition to practicing activism with an intersectional approach, such as making the protection and validation of Black trans women the forefront of #BlackLivesMatter initiatives or critically thinking about the ways that class and ability create unique and further oppressive experiences for Black people, we are being called to evaluate our activist intentions. Rather than continue to bind ourselves to the third-dimensional way of thinking that enforces separation and isolation, we have the Divine opportunity to practice the love, compassion and concern for wellbeing that we seek to experience. We have the ability to step back from the various identity-enhancing labels and narratives that we claim and the list of oppressions that many of us have grown overly attached to and thus negatively affect our ability to show compassion or empathy towards others. With higher consciousness comes the gift of being able to see the interconnectedness that is all things on this plane. All things are one, and so we must remember what we are working towards. Our activism, when crafted and executed with intention and wisdom, is in line with the path toward higher ascension because it seeks to achieve unity through love, honest introspection, and action.