The Role of Mindfulness in the Fight Against Racism

In the wake of the senseless deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd, not to mention countless others who have died as a result of racism, it is the responsibility of every individual to play a role in dismantling the current system. Whether a victim of racism, a supporter, passive bystander, an ally, or an active anti-racist, now is the time for all to reflect on their role in the unjust treatment of other humans, to become aware of their conscious or unconscious bias, and to take concrete steps toward constructive change.

As a meditation teacher, I find myself relying on mindfulness as a tool for reflection on my own role. I brought the topic of racism and racial bias into my daily mindfulness meditation practice over the past two weeks. In doing so, I have allowed myself to consciously observe any feelings or thoughts that arise when I think about racist deaths, when I think about how many racist interactions take place unnoticed by privileged white people, when I think about the pain my black friends and colleagues must face regularly as a result, and when I think about how focused I am on raising my white son to respect and support people of all different races, ethnic backgrounds, nationalities, economic brackets, faiths, sexual orientations, and political beliefs, just as I was raised. I notice the sick feeling in my stomach when I think about innocent people complying with law enforcement only to lose their lives. And, I notice a heavy chest of guilt at not having played a greater role in the Black Lives Matter movement in the past.

With each mindfulness practice, I become more and more aware of the thoughts and feelings that arise from my inner self, sometimes previously unnoticed, when I interact with a stranger of a different race, or when I encounter racism in raw form. I simply observe the following: "What is going on with my breath? Has it changed? Are there new sensations in my body that have been triggered by this interaction? Have new thoughts popped up? What are my breath, my body, and my thoughts telling me about my unconscious reaction to this situation? Do they indicate bias in terms of fear, anger, or anxiety?"

Mindfulness helps me create the space to acknowledge underlying bias with greater awareness and empathy. With practice, I’ve started to understand how powerful mindfulness really can be in helping us become conscious of our unconscious bias and how empowering that knowledge can be in making incremental changes on an individual level. The first step is awareness, the second step is change. Mindfulness can help facilitate both these steps and, as such, be a part of the solution in the fight against racism.

I’m encouraged to learn about past research revealing links between mindfulness and reduced negative bias and attitudes toward others. One such study showed that brief mindfulness training even reduced discriminatory behavior against other races, while another study offered evidence of reduced prejudice against homeless people after just one Loving Kindness meditation. These are only two of a number of studies with similar results. The implications are exciting and inspiring, and, in my opinion, they are evidence that we all have it within our own power to be part of positive change, even by practicing something as simple as mindfulness meditation to generate empathy and compassion towards others. In a sense, mindfulness meditation can be viewed as an extremely powerful exercise in cultivating awareness of our own reactions and subsequently conjuring love for other humans who are different than ourselves rather than allowing ourselves to default to a sense of fear of other humans because of their differences.

As a mother and children’s mindfulness teacher, it is incumbent upon me and other parents, educators, and child advocates, to guide children in learning the skills of mindfulness and meditation from an early age. With a pulse on their own emotions, feelings, and thoughts, they can better understand their responses and societies underlying messages in ways that previous generations never knew possible. Together we can empower the next generation to think and act differently, to embrace and accept differences as a strength rather than a threat, and to build a new system that promotes equality the like of which we have only dreamed.

Studies and Articles about the Power of Mindfulness in Reducing Bias

1. Lueke, A., & Gibson, B. (2016). Brief Mindfulness Meditation Reduces Discrimination. Psychology of Consciousness: Theory, Research, and Practice, 3(1), 34–44. https://doi.org/10.1037/cns0000081

2. Birtel, M. Crisp R., Parks. F. Evidence That a Brief Meditation Exercise Can Reduce Prejudice Toward Homeless People. Social Psychology(2014), 45, pp. 458-465. https://doi.org/10.1027/1864-9335/a000212

3. Suttie, J. Can Mindfulness Help Reduce Racism. Greater Good Magazine. (2014) https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/can_mindfulness_help_reduce_racism


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