A blog post by Mary Moscarello. Photos by Mary Moscarello. Banner image by https://www.shutterstock.com/g/worradirek
They are ever warring foes in our mind’s eye – AKA – the tape recorder of events that plays over and over inside our heads.
When we allow senses to direct reality, we create labels and separation. Often we do this clumsily and without much attention to accuracy. It is part of human nature to create order out of disorder, a sense of calm within the chaos just to survive. To do this and be in consistent awareness of how our perception directs the ways in which we attempt to put our experiences into neat pockets of information is a big ask. But failing to see it in action can really do a number on you too.
Right now, we have a variety of perceptions battling it out for top billing in our political landscape. One perception in particular struck me right in the feels this week. Let me state for the record, I will never be convinced that skin color makes a person more or less likely to behave a certain way. There are those who will hold fast to this perception no matter who it hurts. There’s so much noise out there, I’m guessing you might have missed anti-abortion activist and RNC speaker, Abby Johnson and how that perception of skin color as a predeterminer of behavior managed to make its way into her mental scheme AGAINST HER OWN SON.
Johnson has two natural born sons and adopted a biracial boy at his birth. Soon after the killing of George Floyd, she posted a video to YouTube speaking plainly about how skin color is a common source of conversation in her family of ten (five boys, three girls). I won’t link to the video, but search her name and you are bound to come across it. The amount of white body supremacist, stereotypical and brown body negative perception she spews from behind perpetually surprised eyebrows is stunning.
She cites statistics like prison population in this country and uses them to support the idea that racial profiling is justified. The American Bar Association has a good explanation of it all if you want to educate yourself. According to Johnson, a police officer who in her words is “on more high alert” when seeing her son is smart. Reminder, this is HER OWN SON.
I literally wept at the idea that a mother could accept targeted treatment of her own child because of his skin color. The very concept is heartbreaking to me. The notion that this mother is an outspoken anti-abortion activist, cloaked in the pro-life movement – yet, she condones treating her son differently because of the color of her adopted son’s skin is appalling.
It hit me hard because while I have no adopted biracial children, I have two “bonus children” (I don’t say stepchildren anymore) – one of whom is brown-skinned.
I’m an incredibly fortunate “bonus mom”. My bonus children are a huge part of my life. I love all three of the children I’m lucky to claim with any title and worry about all of them. Yet I do admit there’s an added layer of worry about my brown bonus child because of perceptions like Johnson’s.
Can I control other people’s perceptions? No. What I can do is call them out for their complete and utter hypocrisy and shine a light on their white body supremacist stance. I’m saying white body supremacy on purpose. It is a term I’ve come to know and understand through listening to and reading the work of Resmaa Menakem, author of “My Grandmother’s Hands”. In his work as a trauma specialist, Menakem explores the perception of white body supremacy by peeling away the layers of “racialized” trauma that exists in our bodies.
From a yogic perspective, Mayas or veils are how we come to know this idea of perception and how it can be an unreliable source of information. Maybe unreliable is too harsh – let’s go with clouded. Whichever word you choose, acknowledging our perception’s ability to skew reality, lead us to wildly incorrect assumptions or impact one’s ability to give even one’s own child a fair shake is critical.
It is a falsehood that skin color predetermines behavior. Many, like Johnson, persist under that perception and make it their business to stand up and proclaim it, even at the expense of their own family members.
I’ve written before about how we tell ourselves stories that cloud our judgement. How clinging to fear, or abinivesha can prevent joy. In a post from last April, I shared how a misperception can have lasting impact. Freeing ourselves from Mayas such as fear, prejudice or illusions- like everything else, takes work. Meditation and self-study rank highly in the list of effective tools to help remove the layers of Maya. The first step, though, is realizing the power of perception is there in the first place. Only then can we work to change its hold on us.