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Spiritual Activist Rachel Ricketts Challenges White Women to Rethink Wellness

Erin Bunch

Erin BunchDecember 25, 2019

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Photo: Courtesy of Rachel Ricketts

Spiritual activist, speaker, and writer Rachel Ricketts doesn’t shy away from painful truths; on the contrary, she provokes them, painfully extracting uncomfortable thoughts and feelings in order to facilitate transformation and healing.

Through this work, Ricketts (who is one of Well+Good’s 2020 Changemakers) aims to dismantle the “racist heteropatriarchy,” aka white, cisgender male supremacy. This is no small task, but Ricketts has carved out a meaningful niche for herself by pushing white women to have difficult internal conversations around their role in global systems of oppression. Through Instagram posts, workshops and, eventually, a book she’s currently in the process of writing, Ricketts aims to illuminate the ways in which these systems aren’t just hurting people of color, but are also damaging everyone who participates in them. It’s her belief that true wellness is not possible until the heteropatriarchy ceases to be, and destroying it has, as a result, become her mission.

I rang Ricketts up to experience my own painful extraction, one that illuminated not only my own part in hurting people of color as a white woman but also, more broadly, the role wellness plays in committing what she calls “violence” against oppressed populations.

Well+Good: How is wellness defined for you?

Rachel Ricketts: Wellness to me means peace, vitality, and safety in an emotional, spiritual, psychological, mental, physical way, a full-body, 360, comprehensive state of being in alignment with your highest and best self possible. 

How does your work fit under that umbrella?

There are systemic and institutional barriers to wellness for the majority of people on the planet with respect to forms of discrimination and oppression rooted in race, gender, ethnicity, and identity. My work is to help dismantle those systems of oppression so that everyone on the planet, specifically people of color and even more specifically women of color—and very specifically, black and Indigenous women of color, because black and Indigenous women of color, on top of experiencing racism from white folks and sexism from men, also experience anti-blackness and anti-Indigeneity, which runs across all races and ethnicities—has access to wellness in order to align with the highest and best self as much as possible.

My work is to help dismantle those systems of oppression so that everyone on the planet has access to wellness in order to align with the highest and best self as much as possible.

Your work is largely aimed at white women. Can you expand upon the idea that this work engenders better health for women of color through its focus on interaction with white women?

A lot of my work is directed at white women to address their racism and white supremacy, but it’s for women of color—because the impact of white women not doing that work is violence and harm towards women of color.

In the same way we understand this in terms of men who need to address their inherent patriarchy and inherent sexism—and doing that creates a more safe and free and egalitarian society for all women—I do that work for white folks, whether they identify as a woman or not (and I should be clear when I say women that I’m always including gender non-conforming, non-binary, trans, intersex folks). I’ve found that it’s womxn who are more inclined to lean into this work. They understand their existence of being oppressed oppressors because, of course, they’re oppressed by the global heteropatriarchy, but then they oppress women of color by virtue of perpetuating whiteness and white supremacy, which is also global status quo. 

My work also aims to create sufficiently safe spaces for women of color to address the internalized oppression that inherently results from growing up in societies of white supremacy. I create safe spaces for us to come together to address the harms that have been inflicted against us and to heal our own hearts.

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Lots of new faces here so allow me to (re)introduce myself…in my crop top #feltcutemightdelete!⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ This community is for those ready to do the deep inner + outer WORK required for racial justice. I take on this labour out of love for us all, BIWOC especially, and my love includes anger. This is not for voyeurs – it’s a space of learning AND action. Please see my “Read FIRST” Story Highlight + abide accordingly.⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ If it ain’t for you, please leave now. If it is, let’s get acquainted! I’ll start…⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ My name is Rachel Ricketts + my life’s mission is to dismantle white supremacist heteropatriarchy thru culturally informed, spirit-led and heart-centred offerings which I call Spiritual Activism. My work unapologetically prioritizes Black + Indigenous womxn and our healing. I was born + raised in Vancouver, Canada on unceded Coast Salish Territory and couldn’t wait to leave due to the racist harm I endured there. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ I am a racial justice activist, lawyer, healer, writer + speaker. I host anti-racism talks + workshops online and around the globe. I have a growing team of amazing humans working with me + I’ll be introducing them all soon!⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ I love to travel and lived in Sweden the last year or so. I’m currently based in Toronto, Canada and hope to be in NYC full-time by Spring. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ My offerings help mixed folks and people of color, especially Black womxn, use spiritual tools to heal from white supremacy + empower white folx to address their racism and cause less harm. I believe racial justice requires ALL of us (but mostly white/passing folx) and MUST be led by Black + Indigenous womxn.⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ To get started doing your inner work, click the link in my bio + sign up for my Spiritual Activism webinars, then dive into my free Anti-Racism Resource list. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ Your turn! Where are you from? What brought you here? What do you hope to learn in this space? Share below! xo R⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ID: Rachel smiling in front of a lagoon on Siargao, Philippines

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This question feels awkward or perhaps wrong to ask, almost like asking, “What do white women get out of this?” but it seems to me that this work is hard and uncomfortable yet must ultimately be healing for white women, too. Can you talk a little about that?

For white women, being part of whiteness and white supremacy—which is inherent, they inherently belong to it, it doesn’t take intention—the impact of that on them is to disconnect from the heart space. Anyone who belongs to a dominant group is a part of this global system of oppressing whoever is not in the dominant group. To be in a dominant group therefore requires—especially when it comes to race because of the history of intentional, actioned violence—a disconnection from the head and the heart in order to believe you’re better than somebody. That belief is generally not, again, a conscious belief. It’s usually a subconscious belief that we all subscribe to no matter what the color of our skin is—because white supremacy reigns supreme globally.

To be part of a dominant group as a white person requires that disconnection, so when you start doing this work you start to reconcile your head and your heart and understand the ways in which this system has caused you trauma. It’s similar, again, to how men can understand that patriarchy is a system of toxic masculinity that actually also causes them harm, not to the same degree as it causes women harm, of course, but causes them harm. When they start doing their work they realize, ‘Oh, me being a part of this dominant system hasn’t just been me causing harm to others—it has, and I have to reconcile that—but I’ve also learned the ways in which I’ve caused harm to myself and had to disconnect from my own heart space in order to buy into this system of dominance.’ The same is true for white folks, especially white women who are doing this work—they come to a deeper understanding of the ways in which they’ve been causing themselves and others harm, and it allows them to really reconcile that trauma.

This begins first and foremost as inner work. You start to unpack whatever harm and hurt you’ve been carrying around with you and haven’t addressed in life, which is the status quo for most of us. We walk around disconnected at the neck—society tells us not to do the work of actually going into the heart and healing ourselves, because if we are healed then we’re not out there buying things, were not easily manipulated if we’re healed. And when we’re healed, we can come together collectively and create a revolution against the people who have been in power and hold all the privilege to the detriment and exclusion of everybody else. They don’t want us healed at all, so that’s one of the biggest pieces.

And then there’s just more connection, not only with yourself, but with other folks and particularly for white women, with people of color. (Which, by the way, is this grand category I hate because it’s a category created by white supremacy, when it’s really such a massive amount of humans that we lump under one terminology.) So if you’re a white person and you’re doing this work and you’re able to have deep and meaningful connections—that aren’t causing harm, or you know how to rectify the harm when you cause it—with people of color who are the global majority, think about how many more meaningful connections you can have in your life.

What, in your opinion, are the shortcomings of modern wellness culture?

There are a lot. One, it excludes people of color, and it does that by pricing people of color out. I’m not going to say people of color can’t or don’t have money because of course we can and we do, but we all know that there are systemic and institutional obstructions or obstacles in place that make earning money harder for folks of color, and I’m thinking specifically of black and Indigenous women. Then, of course, we’re not represented in images, in leadership, and to not include is an act of intentional exclusion.

Everything’s political and wellness is political as well, so if consider yourself to be in wellness and leading these spaces, then it’s really imperative upon you to be doing this work and creating spaces that are inclusive and can be a space of wellness for all and not just a select few.

There also aren’t sufficiently safe spaces for us as a lot of wellness is whitewashed. Many things we could deem in 2020 to be “wellness” are practices and offerings that were created by and for communities of color that have been co-opted by white communities. I’m in no way, shape, or form saying white folks can’t practice those things, but very often there lacks the connection with the community of color that created it or are honoring it. In some cases, it even goes so far as being an assault on what the original practice actually is and the origins of whatever that practice is—and not only the practice but the community that created that practice. Yoga and meditation and breathwork… all of these things become hip and popular when white people do them, and then white people become the leaders in this space of practices that are most often rooted in communities of color. As a result, we’re not seeing the people who are from those communities leading the charge in terms of those practices, nor are we seeing an honoring of what the roots of those practices are.

Because of all of those things, even though I am a woman of wellness, as a black women there are very few wellness spaces I feel sufficiently safe to enter. People haven’t done the work to have an understanding of what the roots of the practice are and how to create inclusive spaces. I practice my yoga at home, I do my meditation at home, I do these things at home, or I do them in spaces where there are only other people of color—which are very rare spaces to even find—only because I’ve had so many violent experiences in “wellness” spaces that were led and run by white folk who haven’t done their work. Everything’s political and wellness is political as well, so if consider yourself to be in wellness and leading these spaces, then it’s really imperative upon you to be doing this work and creating spaces that are inclusive and can be a space of wellness for all and not just a select few.

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When we commit ourselves to authentic anti-racism it’s an all-hands on deck experience.⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ It requires our mental, emotional, physical and spiritual buy in. We appreciate that so long as white supremacy reigns supreme there are lives and livelihoods are on the line, so it is our obligation to give this work our ALL. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ We acknowledge the ways in which we have perpetuated white supremacy – through racism or internalized oppression – and commit ourselves to the deep inner work required to face our shadows and heal our hearts so we can contribute to healing the collective divide.⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ This work is also reflected in who we surround ourselves with (and equally who we do not). If your closest friends and family aren’t doing this work then you aren’t really doing yours. Your inner circle is a reflection of you and what you value – what is yours telling you?⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ When we are dedicated to fighting racial injustice we simply will not stand for those who continue to choose complacency and perpetuating harm.⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ We need to bring people into this movement, without question. And sometimes engaging in such a discussion is precisely what is required, especially for the white folx cuz y’all are doing the most harm (collect your people)! But it is equally important to lead by example and make it clear that racism and white supremacist behaviors will not be tolerated. Boundaries need to be set and stuck to. They needn’t be mean or vindictive, but sometimes we can make the loudest point by being clear about what is unacceptable + being unwilling to engage with such behavior.⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ When you are authentically engage in anti-racism you will likely lose friends + family members. Your viewpoint goes against the status quo + demeans those with power and privilege. It can be a lonely place. You will give ish up. Without question. But oh what you will gain! Healing, connection, being on the right side of history + so much more. xo R

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Can you explain what it means to have had “violent experiences” in wellness spaces?

I experience a lot of spiritual bypassing, which is like this “love and light” mentality, “we are all one human race,” etc. It’s an absolute inability to acknowledge one’s shadow side or face the reality of the world, which is then invalidating my lived experience. If you say we’re all one race, the human race, I believe that’s true, I do believe we’re all connected and interconnected and we are all the human race (and the human genome project proved that biologically, “race” isn’t real); however, there are real, serious, practical, tangible consequences of my black skin that you don’t have because of your white skin. To try and gloss over that is to invalidate my lived experience completely, and that’s a form of emotional violence.

Then there’s also this like “positive vibes only” thing, and that’s not life. Again, that’s an inability to face the shadow side of life. It’s not just all positive, and a lot of my life, as a result of these institutional systems, has been made more difficult and that’s just a reality. It’s a form of gaslighting for me to feel shame about bringing up my lived experience and the fullness of that experience and “negative emotions” in wellness spaces. I don’t even believe in negative emotions—every emotion serves a function and gives you information.

What does wellness culture look like to you in the ideal future you’re working toward?

My hope is that it will be more conscientious. We will not have a hierarchy of wellness. It will not only be accessible to a mere few based on class and race and ethnicity and location and ability and a bunch of things. It won’t be created by and for a mere few to the detriment and exclusion of some, if not many, folks who are already marginalized.

For example, take crystals. I love crystals, but I’ve come to learn that these healing, beautiful gems from the earth that have phenomenal properties frequently are, to my understanding, mined in such a way that it is oppressing communities of color. The person who is extracting that crystal might be a slave laborer or essentially a slave laborer, paid like five cents to the dollar. And… I don’t need a crystal. Having the energetic benefits of the crystal is not a comprehensive element of wellness if the person who extracted that crystal for me is being oppressed, because their oppression is linked to my oppression.

Another example: I was recently in Bali and I just had such an intensely awful time because I saw the ways in which that island is being pillaged, the resources are being extracted, the land is being overdeveloped for foreigners—predominantly white foreigners—to come and extract elements of Balinese culture and healing and land that work for them and then leave. This hierarchy of healing is happening in our local communities, in our cities, in our nations, and it’s also a global issue. I don’t believe it’s my right to oppress other communities for my healing, and it’s not even necessary.

A lot of these practices were actually segregated from the communities from which they came, because when white cultures came across those practices, they ensured that the people of color who created and practiced those offerings weren’t allowed to do so anymore, because that was one of the many ways they controlled them. Yoga is one example, sage is another example, of the many ways in which the things we’ve deemed to be “wellness” now were actually used as tools and weapons of oppression by white supremacy. We need to be more integral, we need to follow the traces of these things that we call wellness down to their source, and figure out who in wellness they’re for, and how we can promote global wellness from the beginning, the extraction of whatever the offering or item is, up until our use of it. If we find that those things aren’t actually promoting global wellness for all, then they shouldn’t be considered tools of wellness—they shouldn’t be part of wellness at all.

So, I hope to see this connected thought and intention around what wellness is and whose wellness we’re prioritizing. I would also love to see more of us tap into our own ancestral healing wisdom. We all have ancestral healing wisdom from all ethnicities and backgrounds, so what would it mean for us to tap into our own lineage and healing as opposed to exploiting healing practices and modalities that don’t belong to us and that were repressed or disconnected?

I would also say I would love to see wellness prioritize the needs comfort and well-being of the most marginalized communities because to date, wellness has been the opposite—which is to say, it oppresses those communities.

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Whenever people ask me one word to describe myself I always say RESILIENT.⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ I have had to endure the unspeakable. The unfathomable. And for many, what would have been unsurvivable.⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ Black and Indigenous womxn around the world continue to endure. To resist. To rise. Against all odds. And part of my ability to move onwards and upwards is a result of the resiliency baked into my bones by my ancestors.⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ We have had to endure the unimaginable.⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ And still, like air, we rise.⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ Though I have climbed many mountains I have many more to climb. This journey called life will never cease to encourage my growth. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ I've been quiet as of late. I am in a time of deep personal transformation and though it feels hard and painful (because it is), I know where I’ve come from, what I’ve been through and what I can withstand. I know joy is mine for the taking. I know Black and Indigenous womxn the world over are finally able to release ancestral patterns and claim our power, which is our birthright. Despite all odds stacked against us.⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ Resilience is how we got here. And it’s how we fuck shit up until the last system of white supremacist heteropatriarchy falls.⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ Who’s with me? Type YES below. xo R⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ID: Profile of Rachel with “resilient” written across it. Design by @chloeheartsart. Image by @imagesbybethany

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I want to be a better ally to people and women of color, but anytime I’ve wanted to get involved in, say, #BlackLivesMatter, I ultimately hold back because I feel like an imposter, or like I’m inserting myself somewhere I don’t have a right to be, or… something. How can white women become useful allies rather than taking performative or inappropriate action?

I address this specifically in my workshop a lot because we all have big emotions around this issue of race. It’s loaded and goes back generations, so irrespective of your hue or ethnicity or racial composition, everyone has big feelings about it. That’s okay, we should have big feelings about it because it’s pretty f**ked up; however, what I see white women do is get stuck in guilt and grief and shame specifically, and then it’s paralyzing like, “Oh my god, I don’t even know what to do or how to do it.”

Having an awareness around not wanting to take up space or not knowing what to do, all of that totally makes sense. I get it, but there’s so much that can be done and so many different ways that you can do it. This is why I say my work is around spiritual activism, and that starts inside because if you’re not addressing what’s coming up for you, if you’re not addressing the harms and hurts and traumas that you have experienced and perpetuated, especially as white women, then you can’t do this work. You don’t need to go to a protest or sit in a room with people of color because you very well could, and likely would, cause harm if you aren’t actually doing your own internal work first. That requires some form of looking in the mirror and being like, “How have I been perpetuating this system that I want nothing to do with and didn’t even realize that I was perpetuating?” You have to come to terms with that, you have to do that internal work like… now, because you not doing that work is resulting in harm for people that look like me.

People, especially white women, also get stuck in wanting to be good and right. That’s part of how the patriarchy works, it makes us want to be good and right. Everyone has it, but for white women the need to be good and right stops you from doing anything.

There’s also this performative ally-ship, people want to feel good and be known as caring about a topic, but the reality is actually that you just don’t care that much, because if you cared that much, you’d f**king do something. That’s really hard to come to terms with, but it’s true.

One of the first things I always say in my workshop is, “Let’s just be honest about where we’re actually at—do you genuinely care enough to want to do something about this?” Because what I’m asking folks to do is really uproot everything they’ve ever known, especially white folks. You’ve had the privilege of having rose-colored glasses on most of your life, which is not to say things haven’t been hard for you, that is not what privilege is about, things have been hard for you but not because of the color of your skin. If you’re white, I’m asking you to take the rose-colored glasses off and see things completely differently. It’s like unplugging from the matrix.

Speaking of new perspectives—find out why another thought leader says we should be talking about mental wellness rather than health. Plus, find out how one woman’s investing her pain into the passions of other marginalized women.

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