The Marvelous Crumb

Follow Joy. Find Belonging.

Expanding Racial Awareness Starts With Feeling

Kelsey Blackwell

Illustration by Alicia Brown

Expanding racial awareness is uncomfortable.

It requires looking at ourselves,  examining potential blindspots and recognizing interactions shaded by ignorance, fear and shame.  It requires deep listening, a humbling of ourselves and the confidence to risk saying the wrong thing in the name of trying to understand.

I did not ask to do this work.
You did not ask to do this work.

But, it’s been handed to us by the transgressions of our past and the aching denials of the present.

Racial injustice is a putrid tar that’s been mixed in with the mortar holding the bricks of our fragile society together.  We can choose to ignore it, pretend it doesn’t stink, imagine that every powerful organization was not built by this noxious substance,  but we do feel it.

We feel it as we approach the Black man in the hoody and wonder if we should cross the street.
We feel it when someone assumes we’re “on their side” and utters racist views that we pretend we didn’t hear rather than counter.
We feel it in the headquarters, the board rooms, the meditation halls, the spiritual retreats,  spinning classes, and everywhere else where the faces are mostly white.
We feel it when property taxes force the church to move, when the corner store becomes a pet boutique and when the burger joint reopens as “Toast, or Crust or Loaf or Crumb” selling only heirloom and vegan.

As a creative, as a dancer, as a meditator, as a generally joyful person, I like to write about pleasant things — things that are fun, things that are beautiful, things that are soulful. As a Black woman, I must also write about the heavy topic of race. As any person of color can attest, not contending with this reality is not an option. Race is part of my day to day.

The pain of race enters most severely in the spaces that are supposed to be “woke,” inclusive and compassionate — spaces where we’re supposed to be feeling and addressing these divides.  I share my experiences being Black and Buddhist  in the recently published article, “Expanding Awareness: How Patterns of Interaction Support White Supremacy.” 

Lately, I’ve been feeling a deep sensitivity as I move about my world—a vulnerability, a brewing sadness, that comes, I believe, from the rawness of beginning to peel back the layers and peer into the depths of my own internalized oppression. I see how often I let myself become small, allow someone else a final thought to keep the peace, and ignore the use of words like “ghetto” (when a place is not) and “afro” (when a hairstyle is not) to protect a white friend from feeling uncomfortable if corrected.

What I write is personal, but I share it in the hopes that it generates understanding and plants seeds for new ways of relating.  It is an ask that my Buddhist community and all spaces offering tools for awakening  “walk our talk” and utilize our own practices as means for looking at and addressing white privilege.

This tar-y mortar is sticky and it is pervasive. It touches everything. No one knows how to contend with it.  Is it possible to remove it without collapsing entire structures? Who can do it? What tools might we use?

To the first question: I don’t know.
To the second: We are all  needed
To the third: I’m reaching for the one that was not used to construct this system we now all stew in, the one that connects me to myself, others and reminds me of my humanity. It’s time we deeply feel and derive any next steps from this place.






  1. Thank you for the reminder of the difficulty of this work; how it requires looking at ourselves honestly and humbly–with deep listening and risking vulnerability in trying to understand. I think that the work you are engaging in is being embraced by more of us. Last night we had a group called the Ratchet Dharma Collective, featuring healing artists Bea Anderson, Sara Shapouri, and Kate Johnson, help our group to engage in just the kind of work you are calling for, as part of a class at Stanford called Living Free: Embodying Healing and Creativity in the Era of Racial Justice Movements ( We hear your call for designing tools that were not used to construct this system in which we are immersed, but ones that “connect us to ourselves, others and reminds us of our humanity.” And, as you say, “it’s time to deeply feel and derive any next steps from this place.”

    • Ratchet Dharma Collective?! This sounds incredible. Thank you for sharing this link and for making these teachings available. The work that’s happening at Stanford is inspiring and encouraging. Dap and Snaps! Looking forward to connecting with you in July.

  2. This truth does feel and appear in our lives like a “putrad tar mixed in with mortar”, and I am with you when you point out that we are all needed!

  3. Charlene Leung

    May 18, 2017 at 1:07 pm

    You know I am with you…..Some of us have no choice, we have to do this work or we go crazy. It’s life changing, powerful, the most difficult work I’ve done and I wouldn’t trade it for anything. We are fully human when we allow ourselves to feel pain. We can dance with the freedom of being who we are. Thanks for being you!

    • Kelsey

      May 18, 2017 at 2:57 pm

      And I am with you! Yes, it’s work we all must step up to if we hope to create a more equitable society. Love the image of dancing with the freedom of being all of who we are.

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