In light of the recent media frenzy connected to the racist and sexist comments made by radio/television host Dom Imus, I have been thinking a lot about my “shadow.” As you know, our shadows are important aspects of our personalities. And, many of us live our daily lives completely unconscious about our shadows (the aspects of ourselves that we hide, deny, and pretend don’t exist). I, personally, struggle with my own shadow all the time. There are aspects of myself that I don’t like, I want to conceal, and in all honesty I am not even aware of in any conscious way. However, if we don’t confront our shadow, tell the truth about it, and do the deep personal work involved with healing, forgiving, and accepting ourselves, our shadows will end up running our lives and will keep us asleep in an unconscious, self-righteous, arrogant daze.
While I thought what Don Imus said was mean, insensitive, unnecessary, racist, and sexist, I find the reaction to the whole situation a little perplexing. On a certain level, I am happy to see a strong statement and a call for accountability, justice, and equality. However, on a deeper level, I think most of us, whatever our personal views or opinions are as it relates to this issue or to racism and sexism as a whole, are being hypocritical in our assessments. While the majority of people I know, myself included, would never say what Don Imus said publicly on a radio or television show, all of us have both said and definitely thought things that are much meaner, more hurtful, more sexist, and more racist than that.
I am a white male, but my experience as someone in this “privileged” position is a bit unique. I grew up in Oakland, CA, was raised by my mother in a single parent household without much money, went to an inner-city high school with only 18% white people, was the only white person in the entire basketball league, and got my college degree in American Studies with a specialization in race and ethnicity. Growing up in liberal, politically correct, Northern California, I learned early on in my life what I supposed to say and think as it related to both issues of race and gender. More importantly, I also learned what NOT to say.
As I have grown and deepened my awareness of both social oppression and also personal and spiritual development, I have gained a greater understanding of myself and of the importance of being kind, loving, and accepting of myself and others. I consider myself to be fair, open, honest, accepting, trusting, loving, and more. I also have always had the ability to get along with all kinds of people and fit in in most situations. And, even with all of this, I know that I have both significant racist and sexist thoughts and tendencies…as well as many other thoughts, feelings, and opinions (both conscious and not) that are mean, hurtful, and not anything that I am proud of.
This dark stuff, our shadow side, is as much a part of who we are as anything else. I don’t see it as “bad,” just dark. I think we need to raise our awareness and our dialogue about this and start telling the truth about it. Most of the political, social, and familiar discussions, conflicts, and issues that we all face have to do with us not owning up to these shadowy aspects of ourselves.
This is not to say that Don Imus (and the rest of us) should be “let off the hook,” or not held accountable for our words and deeds. It is to say, however, that we all have aspects of “good” and “evil” within us. Life is much more complex that it seems on the surface and we waste a lot of time trying to argue for how things “should be” in some unrealistic, fantasy world of black and white. We all have some Don Imus in us. We all also have some George W. Bush, Osama Bin Laden, Saddam Hussein, and Hitler. And, we also have some Dr. King, Gandhi, Caesar Chavez, Jesus, and others in us as well.
If we can be more honest about this and embrace both our light shadow and our dark shadow, we can be truly free. By doing this, we can also have more compassion, understanding, and love for others – even those we don’t like and don’t agree with. By embracing our shadows, we could stop most of the arguments, judgements, conflicts, fights, and wars in our world – on a personal level and on a global level. We have to be willing to confront the truth and be able to love ourselves in the process. We are complex beings, filled with paradoxy, confusion, brilliance, and deep pain, among other things. Looking at ourselves, being honest about it, and being willing to confront the real complexity of being human is not easy. And, it is essential. I continue to practice and both fail and succeed at this all the time. This is one of the most important games in town. Ah…to be human!
If you want to do some great shadow work, I highly recommend all of Debbie Ford’s work. Her book, The Dark Side of the Light Chasers, is amazing. And, her weekend workshop, The Shadow Process, is one of the best workshops I have ever done. Check out http://www.debbieford.com