Mindfulness is a journey made of different paths for all kinds of people. Yet, there is one path that’s widely considered more than others—a path rarely traveled by black people. As a black writer who practices mindfulness, it is in this vein that I experience the greatest personal conflict: whether to keep existing in the sub-communities created for us by us or challenge the expansion of the mindfulness agenda.
The mindfulness community on social media, specifically Instagram, is one I am grateful exists. Every day, I find new accounts to follow. Writers, mindfulness teachers, and artists consume my feed so that I am virtually surrounded by positivity. Though, a large part of me feels like I’m invading a space that hardly considers the unique experiences of black people like myself.
Many mindfulness teachers encourage you to find a quiet place as the first step in meditating. As I first began meditating, finding this “quiet place” seemed impossible amidst the gunshots and loud drunken disputes surrounding my home in the hood. While I could never complain about this reality, I do share this to highlight a significant difference in the journey people like me have to travel to find peace.
And this significant difference isn’t entirely captured in the colorful infographics on Instagram that reverberate basic phrases like “peace is all around you” or “silence the noise around you.” Indeed, one can learn these mindful exercises with practice (as I did), but do mainstream mindfulness influencers pause to recognize these innate differences? Do they acknowledge that, though we have a common goal of mindfulness, we don't all begin at the same starting point?
Having our black experiences overlooked in this capacity often isn’t an error but a symptom of systemic whiteness infiltrating movements meant for everyone to be recognized.
The COVID-19 pandemic is a prime example of how mainstream mindfulness influencers have failed to recognize the very distinct pains of black people. Their general advice about coping with the pandemic stress wasn’t received well by many black people because they couldn’t relate.
Health disparities, food insecurity, and racial and gender bias are all unique hurdles that black people faced before the pandemic—so the intensity of these problems during the pandemic has grown dramatically. And these issues have a severe impact on black people’s mindfulness practice.
Having our black experiences overlooked in this capacity often isn’t an error but a symptom of systemic whiteness infiltrating movements meant for everyone to be recognized. Whiteness within the mindfulness community counteracts the movement’s goal and perpetuates the silencing of meaningful black stories.
Historically, black people—especially women—are forced to exist on the outskirts of what’s considered meaningful. But for this exclusion to still exist in 2021 is virtually unacceptable and goes against everything for which mindfulness stands.
The creation of black meditation apps like Liberate, for example, is an attempt to make space for the Black community to develop a daily meditation habit. Likewise, social media hashtags like #blackmentalhealth and #blackyogi aim to bring Black representation to mindfulness.
We carve out our own sub-group to make space for our unique experiences. And though we do it well, I struggle to accept that we must continue to live outside of what is mainstream, especially when our stories are equally valid.
While I proudly flock to black mindfulness teachers and influencers, I’ve felt guilty for fighting this fight and speaking this truth. If my people have made space for women like me, why do I still need to be part of the table?
I’ve learned, however, that this need—this desire for inclusion—is valid, and it doesn’t diminish the powerful spaces that beautiful black people create for me. Because to be black is to constantly advocate for what is just.
Mindfulness was black people's saving grace to cope with years of struggles due to race, class, and gender—and it still is.
It’s necessary to point out these inconsistencies within the mindfulness community so that non-black mindfulness leaders and members understand that they don’t exist in this world alone. Because at the end of the day, many mindfulness techniques aren’t new to black people.
Black ancestors journeyed deep within themselves throughout time. Relying on their spirituality allowed them to survive in this world. Mindfulness was black people's saving grace to cope with years of struggles due to race, class, and gender—and it still is.
Mindfulness is so central to the resilience of black people that our stories deserve proper inclusion and celebration within the mainstream mindfulness community. And there is a powerful lesson in this truth for all to learn.
Because what does whiteness in the mindfulness community hide? Powerful black stories about resilience, strength, courage, and possibility. Reading stories about black people’s mindfulness journeys is some of the most inspiring content I read each day.
These stories keep me going. They let me know that I can succeed by staying the course and recognizing the beauty held within my blackness despite the unique struggles I face. And because of this, I know that these stories have the power to encourage anyone.