Ana Del Castillo
Dear White Women & White Women of Wellness
You have power. Please use it.
I am a person of color that passes for white, and I work in the wellness industry. As a result, I end up confusing, upsetting, and confronting the white women in my life.
See, I come from a couple of cultures where passion, and the expression of those passions, are hard-baked in.
For instance, when I was a kid, my friends would call me during dinner and hear the loud dinner conversations in the background and say, “OH MY GOD! Is everything all right??” They thought an argument was taking place.
I’d say, “Yeah, we’re just having dinner.”
In my different cultures, we express anger in real-time. We cry when we’re sad and wail when we grieve. We dance with our whole body and without shame. We love to eat, talk loudly, talk a lot, and talk with our hands. We disagree. Sometimes a lot. We laugh out loud or cackle and guffaw. Women dress more unashamedly sexy, and generally speaking, men and women are MUCH more appreciative and attracted to the softness and the rolls naturally found in women’s bodies.
This is not the case for white women or women conditioned within the patriarchy.
In our patriarchal, white supremacy world, women are not allowed to enjoy sex or be sexual unless it’s for a man’s gratification or to proliferate.
They are not allowed to love food unabashedly. They are not allowed to speak up, be loud, enjoy their bodies, or enjoy life on their own terms.
And women, especially white women, are not allowed to be straightforwardly angry without consequence.
Here’s a question for my white sisters — how many of you were taught to suppress your emotions growing up? How often did you realize that you needed to be prim, proper, happy, and peaceful and that anger, sexuality, sadness, unhappiness, or wildness were unacceptable?
It is deep-seated conditioning on the part of the patriarchy/white supremacy to train women to be happy, prim, and peaceful. And white women, no matter how enlightened or empowered, have taken that conditioning deep into their very marrow.
This conditioning has infantilized white women to such a degree that the power they DO have is reduced to tears, temper tantrums, and fragility-fits that support white supremacy. All the natural, justifiable anger and rage that white women feel comes out in dangerous, sideways, and passive-aggressive ways. Just think “Karens” or “white woman tears,” which most white women fall back on when they feel thwarted, confronted, or stuck. It’s because they’ve been taught never to be straightforwardly angry! So instead of straightforward usable anger, they strategically use the silent treatment, ‘victimized’ rage-fits, and temper tantrums as weapons. Those tears and fits of victimization sound an alarm for men (or a manager or the police) to ‘save them.’
This is their only accepted power in this structure: to be the lesser sex that men can save.
None of that is real power; it’s all proximity to force disguised as power. Because the reality is that no one is afraid of the woman in these scenarios, they’re afraid of the men those tears summon.
I mentioned that I work in the wellness industry. My day job is working with women every day to break through this default conditioning so they can own their power and feel authentically whole and upright in themselves and their lives. Together, we break up the addiction and learned habits of disempowerment inside our collective, patriarchal, destructive, and parasitic system. I love what I do, and I am very good at it.
But lately, I have been in an identity spiral. For months, well before the Roe v Wade Supreme Court leak but especially in the weeks since, I have been in an undoing. A painful awakening of my complicity and how I have allowed myself to become a shameful part of the problem we all find ourselves in.
There is a play by Eugène Ionesco, written in 1959, called Rhinoceros. In it, the inhabitants of a small French town turn, one by one, into rhinoceroses. The only person who does not succumb to this mass metamorphosis is a central character named Bérenger, a bewildered, slovenly, lazy drunkard who is dismissed for his seemingly increasing paranoia and obsession with the rhinoceroses!
The play is about conformity, culture, fascism, logic, mob mentality, philosophy, and morality. Ionesco uses the rhinoceroses to represent the transformation that people in society go through, sometimes a transformation that’s so extreme that they mutate into something that is not human at all.
Lately, I have realized that I am a rhinoceros.
Those of us who are white or pass for white are all rhinoceroses. I may march, donate, follow and amplify brown and black voices, support black and brown businesses, call out white people, and be vocal or write about these issues. But it doesn’t negate that I am a rhinoceros.
I was at a party recently, thrown in a beautiful house, attended by beautiful white people, with beautiful problems that most of the world aspires to have. It was the kind of party where booze wasn’t served, but medicines and psychedelics were offered like candy.
(That is not a criticism.)
Since I pass for white, but I am also very much not white, at these events, I sometimes end up quietly striving, coveting, judging, internally criticizing, managing my sometimes intense ambivalence, and witnessing the people and the events around me.
Also, everywhere I go, I instinctively look for people of color. It’s a habit I believe those of us in the minority do.
A few hours into the party, I connect with the man doling out medicines. I sit in front of him and ask, “how are you?” He says, “Exhausted. And I don’t know why.”
I know why but don’t say.
He asks how I am. I look at him directly, pause, and say, “I am a person who passes for white. How do you think I am?” His eyes widen, and he says, “me too,” and his mask drops, and we talk.
How can I express the wretched, compassion-filled soul-sickness that comes up from watching someone who knows he is selling out a sacred culture?
How can I express the quiet, underlying anger, guilt, grief, disenfranchisement, hopelessness, and madness that sits under the surface for those of us who are people of color but pass for white and live in a white world?
He and I talk of this, about ALL of this and more, while he doles out, without proper ceremony, Gaia’s sacred medicine for white people’s consumption.
We both feel saner and more seen, but I walk away with the knowledge that we are both whores.
Listen, my life has been legitimately challenging AF at times (murders, abuse, sexual and physical violence). But still, I am not unconscious of the reality that my life has not been nearly as challenging as some whose skin is darker than mine and whose opportunities weren’t as great as mine.
Throughout the years, to address this, I have genuinely tried, over and over, to speak up, speak to, influence, and shift the rhinoceros-ness of the individuals, groups, and organizations around me, thinking that from my unique vantage point (a person who straddles both worlds), that I might make a difference. But looking back, all I have done is alienate and confuse my white sisters, frustrate and hinder myself, and then like a rhino beast, reach for the cash and prizes available to me with my white skin.
Because, fuck, I want it easier! And fuck, I want it all. But also, fuck! I have never been able to keep my mouth shut and play nice.
And that is my conundrum. I am a failed double agent because I cannot keep my mouth shut and play nice.
If there is anything my double agent life has given me, it is a unique insight into how white women are, without exaggeration, the key to everything. They hold so much power but don’t know that they do.
To get to all that power, they would have to look at and address the many choices they make that play into the very structures of the patriarchy and white supremacy. And in my experience, that is challenging because white women are so blindly invested in a system they criticize and hate but unconsciously benefit from.
Let me be clear. None of my white women friends would ever consider themselves prejudiced or racist. Because they are not. At least not the KKK kind. They are liberal, progressive, equal-opportunity, women-loving, women-backing, successful, bad-ass, boss-bitches.
But if white patriarchy is all about exercising and negotiating power and control, and white men rule all the external spaces, then understanding how white women have power is to reconsider and redefine where their power is located and what power they hold.
Because if we go solely by who seems to be calling the shots (who is committing violence, or who are the captains, CEOs, the face of the movements or governments, etc.), then white women don’t seem very powerful. But if we think of power in how it shows up in our intimate spaces where influence occurs — in homes, communities, families, relationships — suddenly we begin to see how women hold a lot more power than we first assumed.
Every time any woman, but especially a white woman, steps over herself and her needs for the conditioned benefit of her family or her man, she is an unwitting cheerleader and a foundational, structural piece that holds the white patriarchy in place.
Every time a white woman (and I include myself in this) consciously or unconsciously steps over or ignores things that have been affecting our black and brown sisters throughout history, only to get upset when it directly affects them, we are a ruthless part of the problem.
Think, The Handmaid’s Tale. It is literally what black and brown women have been going through for centuries and have been sounding the alarm about for at least that long. But The Handmaid’s Tale is told from a white woman-centered perspective, so it hits different, especially with the repeal of women’s rights currently happening in the US.
Every time white women prop up the ideas of hegemonic femininity that dominate our social, political, and economic structure, they play into the dominant white culture’s definition of what it means to be feminine and, by extension, what it fundamentally means to be a woman.
This is true in magazines, movies, advertising, etc. But it’s also insidiously true in the wellness industry.
Have you ever noticed how so many white women of wellness have a similar look and feel? It’s because our beauty standards & spiritual standards are rooted in a capitalist, patriarchal, white supremacist society contrived to keep us consuming and consumed.
It started somewhere around the Greco-Roman era (332 BC -395 AD) when our ideas of beauty became related to the “divine and the good.” But it became even more pronounced with the rise of Christianity in Europe in the Middle Ages.
Light features, like blonde hair, blue eyes, and fair skin, were believed to be the physical manifestations of “the light of God.” It’s why Christ, a brown man from the Middle East, was turned into a blonde white man with blue eyes.
So while I applaud the many white women of wellness who teach about sexuality, femininity, and desire — they are authentically trying to break themselves and other women out of the suffocating patriarchal structure we are all in! The reality is that they are born with lottery-winning genes that are the very definition of spirituality and beauty that is the patriarchy’s ideal. They unwittingly benefit from that privilege and sell the benefits they receive as proof of their powers of manifestation, all while peddling empowerment in an industry that preys on insecurities. But unintentionally they end up propping up the very structure they’re trying to break women out of.
That is not the biggest issue I see.
The most pernicious place where white supremacy/patriarchy and the white women/white women of wellness communities overlap is their lack of empathy, gaslighting, and denial of reality.
For instance, white supremacy claims that racism no longer exists and that people of color have shitty lives because of how they act. That they deserve what they get, and they should stop acting like a victim.
White women and the white women wellness communities, in general, believe a cruel spiritual half-truth version of “we’re all creating our realities. People are responsible for their lives, whether sickness, murder, poverty or whatever. And the way out is to stop acting and feeling like a victim.”
As a result, neither community fully acknowledges the systemic racism woven into every area of our lives, how much they’ve fundamentally benefited from these racist systems, and how deadly and destructive it has been to our black brothers and sisters.
Now do people have any power over the skin color they are born with? No.
Do children have power, agency, or choice over their family’s socioeconomic situation and the opportunities that are or are not afforded them? No.
Do all those things influence a person’s life? Yes.
But I am not being hyperbolic or dramatic when I say that the building blocks of patriarchy and white supremacy start with all the things we are immune to, unconscious of, and indifferent to. All of that blindness and insensitivity moves swiftly toward covert and veiled racism and eventually falls fast towards fascism and genocide.
The part of our society that is most immune, unconscious, and indifferent to the building blocks of patriarchy and white supremacy is white women.
Therefore, white women have an enormous amount of untapped influence, impact, and power. At the very least, they need to look at how their individual choices and actions play into destructive structures that desperately need dismantling now.
Here are things white women can do:
Begin to identify and challenge every racist belief, joke, or privilege you hear or have. While those who are more progressive know that race is a made-up social construct that has no bearing whatsoever on biological reality. Racism, however, is a genuine and persistent problem that permeates every area of our lives, so understand that if you’re white or pass for white, you’re a racist.
Starting today, stop stepping over yourself and your needs — in your life, in your relationships, in your friendships, in the bedroom, in your communities, in the office, etc. Do that every single day. Not in an entitled “Karen” way but in a breaking up your co-dependency way. You may end up doing it awkwardly, poorly, messily, or weirdly, but what’s important is that you do it, and you do it often because there is almost no more revolutionary act you can do than break the patriarchal mold you were conditioned into. And stop repeatedly and unconsciously siding with and propping up your privileged identity of being white, and instead identify and recognize that you are a woman inside this oppressive system. So starting today, TAKE UP SPACE.
On a similar but nuanced note, stop being polite, passive, or nice starting today. Instead, risk being honest, direct, and authentic. White supremacy and the patriarchy are fundamentally built on white people’s (especially white women’s) aversion to conflict and discomfort. In this structure, truth and honesty are not allowed (think critical race theory, book banning, women’s rights, passive-aggressiveness), and control, shame, and tone policing are used to keep us in line. So STOP PLAYING NICE.
Starting today, stop defining or redefining yourself and other women as whatever new age or old age idea you have about the “feminine.” That belief and ideology are deeply structured inside the patriarchal system and are inherently sexist, misogynistic, and euro-centric. Please stop with the binary prism of what is and is not “feminine.” Things like sex, gender, and sexual orientation all mean different things, and not one of them is binary. We are all FAR more complex, nuanced, diverse, vibrant, and interesting beings than the outdated, reductionist, parochial, euro-centric framework we’ve been taught. So stop undermining your power and people who don’t fit the “feminine” or “masculine” mold. This has never been more important than it is now.
Starting today, do not remain apolitical and do not remain silent. If you have influence, use it! Frustratingly, I have reached out to my friends who are white women of wellness and who have large platforms, to ask that they begin to speak up. They have either stonewalled or ignored me. That is the epitome of privilege because THEY HAVE THAT OPTION. Everything in life is political. Every single aspect of every single day has politics woven inside it. So if you have the choice to ignore all the politics, you are, by definition, an incredibly fortunate human. Because there are millions of people right now whose entire lives are politically contentious – their health, their safety, their acceptance in society, their fundamental human rights, even their very right to exist, are being debated and are under threat at this very moment. So staying silent at this stage is fundamentally unacceptable, deadly, selfish, and narcissistically self-centered. Silence always supports the oppressor and always affects people of color at disproportionate levels but ultimately affects ALL women. So for goodness sake, speak up, and speak up now.
On the shoulders of that, stop tone policing women of color and instead, lean into your discomfort! So much of white privilege is built on the unconscious entitlement and right to comfort over others’ pain. The issue isn’t that people are angry and they’re not expressing themselves in a way that works for you! The issue is you believe your comfort is more important. If you don’t like the something is being said, then take the message and say it to others in a way that you think they can hear it. Because things are dire. And people are understandably angry! The better question, why aren’t you? Maybe you are too young, too old, or live in a part of the country where you are shielded from most of this, or maybe you have moved away. Regardless, burying your head in the sand — even if it’s gorgeous Costa Rican, Balinese, Mexican or Hawaiian sand — will not make these issues go away.
Finally, learn to take feedback and listen. When people of color tell you their experiences, don’t dismiss them, write them off, or hear it as an attack on your comfort or on your goodness. This is not about you, your comfort, or your goodness. It’s about breaking through our unconscious investment in a collective, deeply destructive pattern.
As I said at the beginning, I confuse, upset, and confront the shit out of some of my white sisters. They love and admire my rightness (my confidence, strong sense of identity, and inner boundaries), but they would rather love and admire it from afar. Not so much up close. Up close, I make them uncomfortable. Of course, I do. For all the reasons I delineate above.
What I am asking and imploring is that they start making themselves and other people uncomfortable, too.
It’s the least they can do.