Shining a Light on the Shadow of My Racism

White Exceptionalism.

There’s a new term for me. 

In Layla Saad’s book, Me and White Supremacy, she uses this term to refer to people who feel like they are finished with their self-examination of racism, have passed the test, and are good to go. As if once they are “woke” they don’t have to continue their awakening. 

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: I feel like all the work I have been doing to dismantle areas of my personality, areas I didn’t even know were there, has prepared me to hear from BIPOC in a way I was unable to before.

How do I know?

Because I can’t unsee all the times that I have ignored BIPOC who tried to tell me that I am part of the problem. All the times I said, either to myself or out loud, “You don’t understand me…I’m different.” Or frankly, “You don’t understand racism.” The balls (or ovaries) on me.

I really thought I’d done the work and had conveniently surrounded myself with people who reinforced this belief on my behalf. People who called me to ask me for my thoughts or people who told me “I don’t mean you.” The ego loves to hear, “everyone else but you.” My ego certainly did. I still catch my ego in the act of loving that, despite knowing the truth.

I’ve had this awareness ~ like a big “aha” ~ that the reason I had been led to the Enneagram as a tool and accompanying spiritual work (literally, daily), over the last several years, was to wake me up for this.  Prior to that, I was blind to my own racism. Racism was a shadow that followed me 24/7 and while BIPOC could see it with clarity, my white friends were complicit with my ego; they either did not see it, or did not call me on it. 

{As an aside, the psycho-spiritual work I both participate in and teach to clients, required me to explore some really, really dark places in myself while people I have come to love, acted as my witnesses (which I think, now, is an essential part of this work); they held me accountable and continue to love me through it. I had to be willing to do that work, so that I can now do the work of dismantling my own racism, which, like the Enneagram work, will be a lifelong project for me.}

I must have known, at a subconscious level, that I was being prepared to look at my role in white supremacy because as I reflect, I see that over the last couple of years, I started following the social media accounts of more and more leaders in the BIPOC community. I had always taken an interest in racism and classism, but as an outsider, not as a participant. It was all academic. It was absolutely, as Layla Saad calls it, “white exceptionalism.” This was more of that.

And then Ahmaud Arbery was murdered. 

My heart broke. I felt responsible. Honestly, it was the weirdest thing. I spoke about it with my teacher and my group….it felt egotistical to feel responsible and yet I did. I think I was confused because I was holding on to being a “white savior,” while also holding “white exceptionalism,” along with a deep, subconscious, “inner knowing,” that I am, in fact, part of the problem. I was holding all of those parts of this without the clear awareness or language. These were all shadows and the light was approaching them.

After Ahmaud Arbery was murdered, something felt different. It was not academic. I felt it in my heart. It physically hurt. I felt broken. Where I used to treat racism as something I had to learn about but was apart from me, I actually felt like I had participated somehow. I was no longer an outsider to it.

Something opened up. Everything got clearer. What lived in my shadows was clear now. This is what they mean when they say the light shines through those cracks that made us feel broken. 

Like the work of thinning out my ego, thinning out my racism is not “either/or.” I used to think I was either racist or not. Now I know that I am both/and. The paradox of illuminating my own racism while also being an accomplice and ally to BIPOC is clear. 

Being a good ally is not about not being racist; being a good ally REQUIRES me to see my racism. Over and over again. I have to be willing to hold my racism and my anti-racism, my white supremacy and my ally-ship, my need to understand in my brain and feel in my heart all of the pain that comes with this, while not making it all about me. 

What I have learned is that I will always be part of the problem.

For what it is worth, I feel whole. I feel open ~ a bit broken open, but open, nonetheless. The parallels of looking at the darkest places of my personality and looking at the darkest places of my racism are uncanny. Until I wrote this, I didn’t actually see that they go hand in hand. I think that my own racism is a dark place in my personality. To yield to that means that I have to give up the illusion of “better than.” And as I give that up, I see yet another paradox. When I relinquish “better than,” I embrace, “BETTER OFF,” both individually, and collectively. 

Until my white exceptionalism came out of the shadows, I had no choice in it. Now that I see it, I do. Now that I know better, I’m committed to doing better.


If they are so lovely, why do I want to chase them with a hatchet? Part One.

from The Wisdom of the Enneagram, Riso & Hudson (c) 1999

I recently spent 7 full days out of my home. I missed out on sending two kids back to school, was gone for an out of town family visit, and missed being home to support a child making a big decision in his life. And it was all worth it. 

I’ve known for a long time that I need to be writing about my experiences with my own personal development; if my professional life is centered around supporting others to find what matters in their life, it feels like sharing my own path in finding my own higher calling could be helpful. Those 7 days away may have been the most impactful 7 days on my lifetime journey of self-development. It was not necessarily the course that had the impact; the immersion with a group of people who are also searching for something was what was powerful ~ I was with my people and that felt really good. And I didn’t even know I was looking for anything. Again, what to share….

Let me start with a little historical perspective. About 21 years ago, I was introduced to the Enneagram, which at the time, I took to equate with a personality test. I’ve flirted with it over the years, but about 4 years ago, was reintroduced to it as part of a coaching workshop. I then did some studying, attended a weekend workshop, and some answers started to evolve for me. So I dug in and have been studying weekly, in a group with a master teacher, for a year. This past week, was an intensive course at the Enneagram Institute with the man who “wrote the book on it.” Literally, co-authored the book I’ve been studying. It was powerful.

So what the heck is the Enneagram? I could say a lot about this, but the quick and dirty (which isn’t so quick) is that the basis for the types came from the first Christian monastics around 250 BC ~ people who wanted to understand what it takes to create community and who wanted a direct experience of divinity. Over time, what they came up with were the 8 things that distract people from God – they referred to these as the 8 ways one can “miss the mark” in their focus on divine-like living. Over time, literally hundreds of years, these teachings have merged with other traditions, spiritual beliefs, and modern psychological frameworks, to become what we now call the Enneagram. 

Russ Hudson, who, with Don Riso, co-authored The Wisdom of the Enneagram, refers to it as the “nine ways we forget ourselves.” It sounds beautiful, to me. The Enneagram describes the nine ways we leave our own truth, by leaving presence/consciousness and engaging in our “habits of usual” that help us to cope with the perceived loss of our natural gifts; our truth; our essence, if you will.  We all do this in varying degrees, but what I have learned, is that through a practice of mindfulness, or presence, I can quickly return to what is real for me. When I am engaging in my personality, I think it is who I am, but really, it is a coping mechanism for addressing all sorts of psychological processes that exist to protect me. But what if I don’t actually need to be protected? What if living in my truth is safe for me? 

It is. Paying attention to your essence and noticing when your personality has taken over or is fighting you to take over, is all we need to start this journey; the Enneagram is a framework for helping you to find your essence and your type will help you to see what typically distracts you from it. And while it actually takes a fair amount of vulnerability to live without constantly (unconsciously) defending yourself, paradoxically, I believe it is the safest way to go about living. Having your insides match your outsides is a pretty powerful place from which to operate in the world. 

If none of this makes sense to you, maybe you can related to this: do you often feel angst? Anxiety? Worry? Are you longing for something and not sure what it is? Do you wonder why your partner is so amazing but you sometimes want to chase them with a hatchet? Or wonder why everyone else’s kids seem more loving, responsible, and socially competent? Your answers might lie with the Enneagram. I use it to support leaders in the workplace, moms who are longing for something different, and teenagers who can’t understand why their parents won’t get off their backs. In its plainest terms, it makes clear what motivates us and gives us some direction about how to access that. Because really, what we think motivates us isn’t what motivates us at all. Ha! How’s that for mystical? 

I realize I haven’t even gotten to what I might want to communicate, so I’m going to do this in parts. Let’s consider this part one. Your teaser is here: My type is 7 (with a 6 wing) and it explains SO MUCH. This explains why I keep making shifts in my career, why I couldn’t sit still for the first 45 years of my life, and why I felt frustrated for much of my day, despite the fact that things were objectively pretty good. It also explains how I manipulate those around me and more importantly how to stop. The flip side is that it also helps me to understand why having a good, genuine belly laugh is my favorite thing in the world. It helps me understand why clients want to share their lives with me, and why I naturally see the bright side of a situation. It’s not just about our pain points, it is also about those things that make us come alive. Waking up to myself has been a powerful experience for which I am better. I’d also argue that my family is the direct beneficiary of this work. We are all better because of it. 

The Enneagram is dynamic ~ we move around in it depending on what parts of ourselves we need to call on in different situations. And we have levels that we shift throughout depending on what triggers us or how present we are in a particular situation. I’ve seen peoples’ “center of gravity” change ~ friends who seem to have gotten so much happier and more stable over time (moving up the levels) and others, who have developed personality disorders and really struggled (moving down the levels). There is more…but I’ll leave it here. It has been a game changer for me. The Enneagram explains it all. And more importantly, provides a path towards clarity and fulfillment. 

I had no idea I was even looking for something when I started this work; it was an academic exercise for me. And it seems I’ve stumbled across something that has nothing to do with academics and everything to do with wholehearted, authentic, living. Want more? Stay tuned. Want it quicker than that? Give me a call.