2020 was a year that shed light on much of the work that is left to be done in America, and across the world, when it comes to racial justice and awareness. From the death of George Floyd to the insurrection on the Capitol in January of 2021, these events have put a spotlight on the systems that perpetuate the oppression of Black people and minorities still today.
In her most recent book, “Do Better,” racial justice disrupter Rachel Ricketts offers insight and ways in which racial justice reconciliation first starts within. A firm believer that awareness is just step one, her book focuses on the inner work that needs to be done to be brought to an awakening.
Rachel’s book discusses the dismantling of any form of oppression requires that all forms be discussed and dismantled, including transphobia, homophobia, capitalism, classism, colorism, fat phobia, and more.
Take a peek into Rachel’s agenda where we talk about language, being mindful of performative activism, and how microaggressions aren’t actually that micro.
Her Agenda: What brought you to this work of spiritual activism?
Rachel Ricketts: I started writing this book before I entered this earthly realm. It’s a combination of my lifetime; of my personal and professional experiences navigating the world as a motivational Black woman. It’s a result of work that has personally supported me in navigating that experience of constant feathering oppression and ostracization in a way that I haven’t seen done before. I’m doing it in a way that is heart-centered and embodied rather than just from the neck up. I think it’s really important for us to be doing the work that really addresses some of these root causes of oppression. For me, that’s trauma work, grief work, and healing work. It’s an understanding of the ways we’re all implicated in systems of oppression. Of course, there’s a large spectrum of that, depending on your level of power and privilege. But we can’t educate ourselves out of this. This is something we have to really heal and feel and move through as individuals before we can do the collective work that’s absolutely critical to creating change. So that inspired this work and this book.
Her Agenda: In your book, you do a lot of talking about this concept of allyship and how a lot of it is performative. Why is it important to call that out?
Rachel Ricketts: If we aren’t doing the deep inner work to first confront our own shadows, have a deep acknowledgment and understanding of the ways we cause others harm, then the work that we attempt to do out in the world is just going to be a reflection of our misunderstanding, and do more harm. It can even possibly be just perpetuating the systems that we are wanting to be seen to address. There’s a lot of inner obstacles to this work, especially from white women who want to be good and right. Those are products of white supremacy. If we’re committed to being good and right we cannot be committed to justice, because we’re going to feel that and we’re going to get this wrong. When we’re committed to being good and right, then, of course, we’re going to partake in performative activism because we want to be seen as good. And we want to be right. There is inner work that’s required to kind of have an understanding of ‘where does that need come from, and what’s that actually about’?
Inner work requires you to tolerate your own discomfort and really see what’s going on inside to address our own shadows so that we can do work from a space where we have a better understanding of our role in causing harm and our role in perpetuating these systems of oppression.
Her Agenda: Where do you suggest someone might start on this path to beginning to look inwards?
Rachel Ricketts: I dive into this in the book, but I would say just be open to being vulnerable, be open to being wrong, be open to correction, be open to an understanding of the fact that you cause harm every single day, and unless you’re doing the work that’s required to address that you’ll continue to do so.
Her Agenda: In thinking of impact over intention, how would you define microaggressions (because in your book you ‘redefine’ them). What are your experiences with that?
Rachel Ricketts: I don’t call them microaggressions because there’s nothing ‘micro’ about them. To me, the term is a waste of time and doesn’t call those acts what they really are- which is violence. That’s what it is, it’s violence. I go into detail in the book, but I do have an acronym I use instead. I used H.A.R.M. which stands for harrowing acts of racism. Of course, microaggressions occur outside of racism too. But I want to emphasize the harm in them because they are harmful and very violent. They’re incredibly traumatizing and triggering for a person who has to constantly be on the receiving end of them. Yes, a lot of times, they’re unintentional.
I was raised in a white and wealthy community, and the people around me genuinely believed they loved me and didn’t intend to cause me harm, but that didn’t matter. They caused me harm all the time.
It’s triggering to see cops allow them to storm the Capitol because we know exactly what would have happened if those people had been Black. But we have to realize and acknowledge that these seemingly ‘extreme’ events can’t happen unless all of the other ongoing daily insidious, and white supremacists systems are at play that allows things like this to happen.
When people have been forced to be marginalized, forced to endure these forms of violence, constantly, all the time, in every way possible from everyone that they know, what’s micro about that? It might be ‘micro’ at the moment, but those moments add up. I get into this specifically in the book; when we look at the physical, mental, emotional, spiritual impact of oppression on oppressed people, when we look at the physical impact of anti-blackness on Black people, the statistics are very clear. Health organizations around the world are even finally acknowledging that racism and anti-blackness are a health crisis. These acts are literally killing us, so do not tell me that it’s a microaggression because it is not.
Her Agenda: In your book, you also touch on why, when talking about racial justice and white supremacy, a “Devil’s Advocate” is never needed. Can you speak more about that?
Rachel Ricketts: I don’t know why the devil would ever need an advocate. White supremacy is the devil, and there are advocates out there all day, every day- the entire world is an advocate for white supremacy. I don’t really understand why we need anyone else to reinforce the status quo. If you care about people who’ve been forced to be made more marginalized, why are you advocating for anything other than exactly that?
Her Agenda: For those who are doing that inner work and are on their road to healing and acknowledging the role they play/have played in perpetuating systems of oppression, what can they do in terms of offering an apology? Is one necessary? What does a genuine apology look like?
Rachel Ricketts: I speak more to this in-depth in the book, but the high-level overview is to have an understanding of who you’re making the apology for first and foremost; think ‘is this apology for the person that I have harmed, or this apology for me so that I feel better so that this will go away?’ or ‘because it makes me uncomfortable.’ If the apology is for your own good then it’s fake and a waste of time and it’s just going to cause more harm. A real apology requires you acknowledging the harm you did and also requires you to maybe take some time to go educate yourself on why that was wrong and harmful.
Health organizations around the world are even finally acknowledging that racism and anti-blackness are a health crisis.
You also have to be okay with them not having the capacity to accept your apology now or ever. But it shouldn’t be about being “right”- it should be about understanding and you making an earnest attempt to repair the harm you caused. A real apology requires some labor.
Her Agenda: A major moment happened back in January with the insurrection at the Capitol. It served as a major reminder of the dangers of white supremacy. Can you talk a bit about that through a “Do Better” lens?
Rachel Ricketts: I have a serious issue with folks hanging their hat on these massive, extreme acts of violence as examples of why we need to continue to dismantle white supremacy when there are examples all day, every single day. Everywhere we look. For me, it was incredibly triggering but it was in no way, shape, or form shocking. It’s triggering to see cops allow them to storm the Capitol because we know exactly what would have happened if those people had been Black. But we have to realize and acknowledge that these seemingly ‘extreme’ events can’t happen unless all of the other ongoing daily insidious, and white supremacists systems are at play that allows things like this to happen.
Her Agenda: In what way can your book help people begin their journey of inner healing and what will make them actually do the work to begin to have some self-awareness and self-acknowledgment?
Rachel Ricketts: It really takes you on a journey to allow you to take tangible steps towards ending oppression. It’s not just a book that you read and put down- there are solid offerings at the end of every chapter to actually engage you in the work, which is very, very important to ensure that this wasn’t just another book that people read, put down and feel good or feel like they did anti-racism work or racial justice work just because they read it. We can’t read our way out of this- we have to do the work. The book really supports you in supporting yourself in doing that hard work. I made sure that everything in the book is for all of us. People need to take more ownership, and they need to learn to deal with healing work, trauma, work, grief work. And if you’re not willing to do that work, then you’re not willing to be part of the liberation or justice, period.
[Editor’s note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.]