September 14, 2020
So You Want to Smash The Patriarchy? Dismantle Systemic Racism? Start With Your Shadow
January 21, 2017. I am woke af, hand sewing a couple of pink pussy hats for me and my 5 year old daughter to wear to the Women’s March downtown. It’s her first demonstration, and I’m excited to bring her with me.
We get to Market Square and there’s already a big group of people encircling a speaker’s area. There are many people out, so many that we know, and it feels great to be standing up for women’s equality, saying NO to the patriarchy and to an incoming president who feels like a nightmare. Everyone is coming together for something big, something important. It’s a monumental moment.
And then I hear a woman’s voice coming from the P.A. system “I see you women out here marching for equality. Well, where were you when we needed you to stand up for Indigenous rights? I’ve been marching for years and I don’t recognize any of you.”
My neck bristles. What the hell is happening? Is this woman trying to school us? On today of all days?
“You’re all here in your pink pussy hats. Oh yeah, they’re so cute. But you know what? Not all pussies are pink. And not all women have pussies.”
I am livid, and as I look at the faces of the women around me, I’m not alone. How dare she! We are together, united, and she’s turning this into something else. She’s making me feel embarrassed for wearing my pink hat now, where I had been excited before. She’s trying to make me feel bad for not showing up to her demonstrations when… oh.
All of a sudden, I know unequivocally that I need to listen to this woman. I am supposed to feel ashamed. I am supposed to sit in it. I can both be there to support women, and also feel gross for not showing up to support other movements against injustice. I know that this is how I have to feel if I want to be the person I think I am. And I know that how I feel doesn’t matter. I am wrong, and she is right, and in this moment, I can’t hide from that.
And that was the beginning of my shadow work.
Carl Jung describes the shadow as “that dark region of the personality which is unknown and unrecognized by the ego.” In other words, it’s the negative aspects of ourselves that we hide. The awful things we’ve done, past behaviours we’re embarrassed or ashamed of, or even secret feelings we have that don’t acknowledge because they’re “wrong”.
There are several passages in Robin DiAngelo’s book White Fragility that unearth collective shadow aspects that all white people have.
Warning: they don’t feel good. In fact, they feel bad. If you want a quick hit of this, check out the chapter “White Women’s Tears”.
By pretending that these unsettling pieces of ourselves don’t exist, we perpetuate the very thing we say we are trying to dismantle: systemic racism, patriarchy, sexism. Systems of power that cause oppression of any kind. Because we are refusing to see our participation in these systems.
But once you start to dig deep into your psyche, to truly acknowledge these, at times, horrifying truths, that is when, not only does your shadow self no longer hold power over you, but also when real and actual change can happen, and oppression can begin to dissipate.
Read Work by Black Women
White people collectively need to listen to Black people, and especially Black women. It’s one thing to learn about racism through White Fragility (written by a white woman), it’s another to read about actual lived experiences. Here’s a quick list of excellent books:
So You Want to Talk about Race by Ijeoma Oluo, We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas. Follow these women on social med
Do The Work
But how can you do this work?
There are so many ways that you can take a deep dive into your subconscious and pull out the darkness. You can talk to a therapist and practise getting real with yourself. You can read books about the subjects that you’re interested in and learn where your thinking may have led you astray.
And, you can use tarot cards.
Yep. Those mystical decks that foretell the future.
Think I’m flaking out here? Think again.
The Rider-Waite deck, or as I like to call it, The Pamela Colman Smith deck (she was the artist behind the 78 card deck, yet wasn’t even included in the name) contains the standard Major and Minor Arcana illustrations, each an archetype of life’s journey. For example, Aces indicate the beginning of something new; Kings indicate completion of a cycle. Even the Major Arcana, from The Fool all the way to The World, shows the various points on a journey.
For all of the hero archetypes, there are villains. For all of the positive starts, there are negative setbacks. For every virtuous task, there are deceitful transactions. And for every upright card we pull, there is a reversed side. And this is where we begin.
Each day I pull a tarot card, either from my physical deck, or using an app on my phone. The first thing I do is take it in. What is the scenery in the background – is it pleasant, or is it menacing? What colours are being used, and what symbols? (Figs, pomegranates, dogs, wolves, sunflowers, etc.) What does the card’s figure look like – what expression is on their face? How old are they? I take note of my reaction. From there, I usually consult a book or a website (see resources below) to tell me more – the history, the meaning, the symbolism, the significance.
And then I get very real with myself about where this card fits into my current state. There are positive and negative aspects to every card. What do I need to reflect upon? What does this dig up that makes me feel uncomfortable? What is my worst fear about what this card might mean?
Go there. Because when you go there, it’s no longer in the dark. It leaves the realm of the shadow, and is reintegrated into yourself. And when these pieces of ourselves are shown acceptance, they no longer have power over us. We can’t unsee what we have already seen, and once you’re honest with yourself, you can do better.
And guess what else? You will feel better. You won’t be walking around the earth feeling like you’re hiding pieces of yourself that you’re ashamed of. And that will make you more compassionate, and learn how to love people who you may have dismissed previously because they reminded you of bits of yourself that you didn’t want unearthed.
And like the cycle of the tarot, you’ll have your own cycle. And this one continues as long as you do.
For further reading about Pamela Colman Smith, check out Mary K. Greer’s excellent resource: https://marykgreer.com/category/pamela-colman-smith/
For further reading about tarot cards and their meanings, one of my favourite resources is Biddy Tarot: https://www.biddytarot.com/tarot-card-meanings/
For a great free tarot app, try: https://goldenthreadtarot.com/