Rachel Ricketts, DO BETTER

Rachel Ricketts, DO BETTER

Zibby Owens: Welcome, Rachel. Thank you so much for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books.”

Rachel Ricketts: Thank you for having me.

Zibby: It’s my pleasure. By the way, I know listeners can’t see this, but you have the coolest glasses pretty much ever that I’ve ever seen.

Rachel: Thank you.

Zibby: Listeners, head over to YouTube so you can check out Rachel’s awesome glasses after this. Your book, Do Better, can you please tell listeners what it’s about? Then we’re going to discuss some of the ins and outs.

Rachel: It’s about spiritual activism and ways in which we can all work towards dismantling white supremacy from the inside out.

Zibby: There we go. Rachel, in your introduction you basically say, white women, this book is for you. I want to change your mind. I don’t want you to think of me as angry, but I feel so passionately about this that I am writing a whole book about it. Here you go. Did I summarize, mostly?

Rachel: A little bit.

Zibby: A little bit.

Rachel: The discernment is really important. It’s written to white women but not for them. It’s for black, indigenous, and people of color, specifically, black indigenous women and femmes, but addressed to white women because white women, in my personal and professional experience, have caused the most harm and have the most work to do. I have no problem with people finding me angry. I am angry, justifiably so. We need to tap into our anger and be able to withstand the full spectrum of our human emotions. That resonance, that acknowledgment is really, really crucial for black, indigenous, and people of color who are constantly marginalized others and ostracized. Our anger is used against us. That’s really important for white folks, specifically for white women, very specifically for white cis women, who need to learn how to tap into their anger so they stop taking it out on black, indigenous, and people of color.

Zibby: In your own experience, and I know you included a lot in the book, why do you feel that white women in particular are sort of the worst perpetrators of this?

Rachel: Many reasons. The most succinct and potent one is they have a lack of an ability to really acknowledge and be with their identity as oppressed oppressors. I believe all of us are oppressed oppressors in one way, shape, or form, but some are on a spectrum. White women are obviously very much oppressed by patriarchy. If they occupy other marginalized identities, then heteropatriarchy, ablism, etc. They also oppress black, indigenous, and people of color by virtue of being white and perpetuating white supremacy. That inability to acknowledge and be with that identity results in a lot of harm. There’s also a really deep need to be good and right or at least perceived as good and right. All of that is very much tied up in patriarchy which, to me, is all under the guise of white supremacy. It’s all tied up in oppression. This need to be good and right, which, again, I believe most of us have, but it shows up in a very specific way for white women, specifically cis white women, but this deep need to be good and right automatically prevents you from being able to authentically engage in racial justice because you can’t be good and right and be in this work. You’re going to get it wrong. You’re probably going to feel bad because you’re going to have to acknowledge the harm that you’ve caused to yourself and to others.

Zibby: We are looking at each other. I am obviously a white woman. You are obviously not a white woman. We are having this dialogue together. You have a whole book. For me and other white women who happen to be listening who haven’t read your whole book yet, and hopefully they will, what’s something that you want all of us to know instantly aside from what you were just describing? If there’s something that somebody’s only listening to two minutes of this podcast but they need to know and you need to tell them, what would it be?

Rachel: That racial justice is your work. It’s not something that’s happening out there. You and I are talking the day after white terrorists stormed the Capitol of the United States of America while police watched idly by and/or opened gates or took selfies with them. There’s a lot of that othering that continues, like, oh, those people. It’s not a those and them. All white people, every single white person on the planet, perpetuates and benefits from white supremacy. That will never change unless you’re willing to acknowledge that, address that, and do the inner work that’s going to be required for that to actually change, period.

Zibby: Everybody is the same? How can there be any massive generalization about an entire group of people? What if I have done the work? Maybe you wouldn’t know just by looking at me.

Rachel: The work never ends. Even that statement I think is indicative of the fact that there’s more work to be done. There’s a constant need to be able to acknowledge the power and privilege that you have by virtue of the position that you hold racially, gender identity-wise, ability-wise, or otherwise. That really requires being able to understand your position and the ways in which you cause other people harm.

Zibby: In your book and in your bio and everywhere else, you share a lot of personal experiences that have led you here to this book, to some of your beliefs, but also just who you are in the world and what’s shaped you in the past. One of the shaping moments in your life was the loss of your mother. I was hoping you could talk a little about that and how her decade-long battle with MS and how you coped with the loss has affected your day-to-day even now. I’m so sorry, by the way, for your loss.

Rachel: Thank you. It’s very much informed the work that I do, not only her loss, but all of the experiences that we had leading up to her loss. There was a large spectrum of losses that occurred along the way. She was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. I am an only child. She was a single mother. We are both black women. On top of all of the experiences that we endured that would be hard for anyone across the board dealing with challenges with the healthcare system, with social systems — we’re based in Canada, so also acknowledging the privilege that we hold as a result of having access to healthcare and social welfare systems that we wouldn’t have had if we were in the United States and still identifying and acknowledging the additional challenges that we faced, straight-up discrimination, oppression, and harm that we endured as a result of having to do that as black women.

In supporting her and just being someone who lives as a queer, multiracial, black woman-identified person, that deep need for equity, for justice has always been very top of mind for me, which is why I went to law school and then very quickly realized that law has nothing to do with justice, which was an upsetting realization. Then when my mother actually passed, when I supported her in ending her own life — she and I both felt she had no options left to live in a way that would be fulsomely free from pain. When she was physically gone, I was left with not only the massive grief and loss of her physical absence, but all of the losses that we had endured along the way as a result of the oppression and discrimination that we faced. It was after she died that I really recentered and regrouped and was left with such deep grief. I just think we’re very ill-equipped as a culture to deal with grief across the board. I think we really began to realize that more in 2020, the many ways that grief manifests and the ways in which we’re ill-equipped as a society and as individuals to cope with that. I dove deep into grief work. Then very, very promptly, that led me back to racial justice work because the most grief I’ve ever endured in my life is as a result of being a black woman.

Zibby: With the small losses and the affronts that occurred along the way with your mother’s illness, would you mind sharing one or two things that keep you up at night or that you have the most feeling about still?

Rachel: The one piece that really hurts the most — it’s hard to pick one. There are so many. We didn’t even have support when we needed it in terms of allowing her to transition with dignity. That was a fight. I always say that was the most important and relevant use of my law degree to date, was literally having to fight the medical system to allow her to die with dignity, to allow her to have free rein over her own body. That fight took up all of my time and energy instead of being able to just be with my mother in hospice and support her emotionally, spiritually, physically as she transitioned from this realm to the next. I was there every day, day in, day out, trying my best to do that, but instead, the priority was doing my best to support her in having her needs met and her wishes met and ensuring that she was free from pain in executing that desire. We had to bring in a medical ethicist and the whole thing. When we finally “won” her right to be fully supported and kept pain-free — she had to starve herself to death. That was the only legal option for her. When we finally won that battle to allow her to be fully supported by the medical system in her decision to do that, it wasn’t a win. Then I was left with, right, now I’ve won this battle where my mom gets to die. The fact that she even got to that place is a result of the oppressions and discrimination that we faced. She may never have needed to get to that place if we didn’t live in such an ableist, capitalist, white supremacist society at all. To really be with that is horrifying, truly, and part of why I do the work that I do because I don’t want anyone else to have to endure what I did and what we did.

Zibby: I know that part of your mission, you do so much to be giving back to other people now. You have all sorts of certificates and degrees and everything. Part of that is in helping people with grief, not only in all the seminars that you lead on coming to terms with white supremacy and doing the work that is required, but even just the grief work. I shouldn’t say even just. Grief work is so important. Like everyone else, I’ve had my own share of grief. Who hasn’t these days? When you say that people are ill-equipped, which I completely agree with, tell me a little more about that and how you think we can, as a culture or society or just as individuals, become better equipped to deal with something that will affect everybody at some point or another?

Rachel: This is the crux of my book because I believe that the work has to happen on the internal, cellular, individual level before we can actually make societal collective shifts that will reflect the changes that need to occur. This isn’t work that happens from the neck up. We live in a society where that’s a lot of the work that we’re doing. That’s the work that seems to be prioritized. Grief, to me, isn’t really an emotion. It’s an experience. Until we have a more fulsome understanding of our own emotional landscape, which requires us to do inner work, then we don’t have the tolerance or even, really, ability to recognize, oh, this is grief. I would say most people on the planet in this moment are grieving. There’s so much happening, whether in the United States or not. A global health pandemic, everything is different: the amount of uncertainty; if you have children, the amount of uncertainty for your children and that you’re probably witnessing in your children. There is a lot that we are handling, or not, that we’re trying to handle. All of that is grief. When we live in systems of oppression, which we all live in, then that word, even, often is seen to be hyperbole. Oh, it’s not grief. That’s really dramatic.

When we can’t even really be with what it is we’re experiencing, how can we ever start tending to the healing that needs to happen? We can’t even have an understanding like, I’m angry and that’s okay that I’m angry. I don’t need to be shamed or gaslit for my anger. I’m grieving. No one needs to die for me to be in grief. There didn’t need to be a global pandemic for you to be in grief. In fact, things don’t even have to be negative for you to be grieving. When you get married, when you become a parent, when you start a business or get a promotion, these are major changes that occur in your life. When major changes occur, grief can also come along for the ride because it’s a huge shift. We don’t allow space for that reality, to acknowledge that. The work is really an inner one. It’s an internal landscape. It’s shadow work. It’s ego work. It’s the hardest work you’ll ever do because this is really challenging to really sit with the ways in which we have caused ourselves harm, the ways in which we’ve caused other people harm. Resting and being with ourselves is incredibly challenging in a culture that is constantly telling us that we need to produce, that we need to do, do, do, and that our worth is completely enshrined in our output, not in just being who we are.

Zibby: It’s so true. In terms of doing better, what do you think you’re doing better today than you were doing, say, last year at this time?

Rachel: I’m really trying to learn to rest, especially as a black woman who is constantly expected to show up for everyone, to do the work for everybody personally and professionally. Resting is a real act of resistance and real revolutionary act and one that’s honestly quite painful because it brings up so much trauma. It brings up so much about the ways in which I’ve been conditioned and have conditioned myself to do and to prioritize everyone else and everything else in front of and instead of myself, which isn’t sustainable. That has been a real challenge. I’m doing my best to do better at that. I’m constantly always doing my best to do better at owning and acknowledging my privilege and the ways that I cause other people harm as a result of the privileges that I possess, for example, being light skinned, living in Canada in this moment, being highly educated, English speaking, cis in a hetero-passing relationship. All of these privileges cause people harm, especially when I’m not acknowledging them and addressing them. That’s the work. The book’s called Do Better. I’m absolutely included in the need to do better all the time.

Zibby: Do you feel in a way consumed by this mission of yours? Not to say it’s only your mission, but do you feel like it is what you eat, drink, live, breathe? Is this something that you wake up in the morning thinking about and go to bed at night thinking about and work on all day? Everybody has their things that they feel incredibly passionate about. Is this something that colors every moment of your day and this is the lens through which you see, how can I improve this? How can I help these people? Do you know what I mean?

Rachel: Yeah, it’s more a mission. It’s my life’s purpose. It’s why I’m here. It’s not work. It is work because this is hard shit to do, especially when you’re doing it from the inside out, but it’s also my lived experience. I am a queer, multiracial, black woman. I am up against systems of discrimination day in and day out. I am constantly met with harm. For me, it’s imperative that I’m doing the best that I can do to create more liberation for everyone and right now, specifically for black indigenous women and femmes.

Zibby: What’s the last thing that has happened either as a result of your involvement and passion, or not, that has made you feel just super happy and grateful for someone?

Rachel: I would say I wouldn’t have survived 2020 without the support of other black women. I mean that in every sense of the word. It was a really challenging year and continues to be a really challenging time. I’m so grateful for the black women and femmes that I have my life who really show up and nurture and support me so that I can continue to hold space and support this work.

Zibby: Do you have any close relationships with any white women?

Rachel: Yeah, absolutely. I talk about it at length in the book. It’s very important that we are able to have relationships with everybody else. That’s the purpose of this. When we are doing the work from the inside out, then we understand the ways in which we have caused harm and the ways in which we can help mitigate that harm and have deeper connections with ourselves and with others, especially people that have been made most marginalized and people that we have oppressed. For me, I have a lot of close white women. Those are all women who are constantly doing their work, checking themselves in their power and privilege, and able to acknowledge the ways in which they have caused harm, continue to cause harm, make repair, and mitigate that harm moving forward and spend their power and privilege, as much as they possibly can, to help create collective liberation for everyone.

Zibby: Tell me a little about the writing of this book. How long did this book take? Where and when were you when you wrote it? Did you have to outline it at first? Just tell me a little more about the process of writing.

Rachel: I always say this book has been written from when I was in my mother’s womb, so a lifetime. The actual process of sitting down to write, pen to paper, was about six months, which was a lot in the midst of a pandemic as well. It was really challenging. It was really challenging to write because I pulled out the most traumatic experiences of my life to put onto the paper as a means to illuminate the ways in which we cause each other harm and how we can do better. Obviously, not an easy thing to do for me personally. Also, a lot of familial trauma and stories came to surface in the midst of me writing this. Really, really challenging. Then at the same time, I felt so connected to my ancestors. I’m not saying anything new. No black activist or any anti-oppressive activist really is saying anything new. A lot of this has been said time and time again. Specifically, black folks, we’ve been saying the same thing for hundreds and hundreds of years. My ancestors had a lot to say. I’m honored that I was a vessel that got to be the conduit for this to come out. I wrote chunks of this actually all over the world. Chunks of it were written in Sweden where I was living for a chunk of time. Parts of it were written in France and Morocco and Indonesia back when we could travel. The bulk of it was actually written in Toronto, Canada, which is not where I’m from, but it is actually where my mother’s side of my family moved to from Jamaica in the fifties. I really reconnected with a lot of that energy. I really felt that side, my matrilineal side of my family, as I wrote. It was my first time ever living in Toronto. Being there to write this book wasn’t a coincidence. I think it was important to tap into that energy as I wrote.

Zibby: Have you ever thought about a career in politics?

Rachel: When I was in law school, I was like, I’m going to be a politician. This shit needs to change. That’s how I’m going to do it. Then I promptly was like, that whole system is not one that I could endure at all. I would rather be on the outside trying to create a more equitable system overarchingly than engage in that one.

Zibby: It’s such a shame because I feel like all the brightest people don’t want to go into government. The people who should be doing what they can to change the world from the inside are so up against an intractable system that it seems pointless to even try, which is the saddest part of the whole thing.

Rachel: It doesn’t feel pointless to try to me. I just think there’s many different ways to try. I think we’re slowly beginning to see the ways in which we can shift the system and very much seeing the ways in which that system absolutely must change. My deep hope is that the system looks completely different soon.

Zibby: Well said. Do you have any advice for aspiring authors?

Rachel: To the best of your ability, be clear on who you are and what your voice is before you ever try to fall down the path of actually publishing because you’re going to be met with a lot of resistance in a lot of ways, especially if you occupy a marginalized identity. If I had tried to write this book ten years ago, I don’t know what kind of book it would’ve been. I am very different. Also, I wasn’t as embodied in who I am and what I need to say and how it needs to be said. I’ve had to fight a lot along the way. I think that’s a really common experience for authors, so you need to be very, very sure of who you are and what you need to say.

Zibby: If you could have a sneak peek — I don’t know why I’m asking you all these what-if questions. Thank you for indulging my little interview experience here. If you were going to pick up a book in the library and it turns out it was the book that you wrote ten years from now, what would be in that book? What would be happening?

Rachel: Um…

Zibby: I’ve stumped you.

Rachel: You’ve stumped me because even now, I’m like, I wonder what my next books are going to be like. Things change so quickly. It was really hard to write this book because I was like, this book could be outdated by the time it — I am shifting and changing. The collective is shifting and changing very, very quickly, not quick enough unfortunately. Again, when we are dialed into actually doing this work from the inside out, the transformations are huge and they are quick. I’m really curious about what I’ll be writing about and talking about and sharing about ten years from now. I think it will look very different because the world will also look so completely different. It’s not something I can fathom. I say that in a really positive way because my hope, and I talk about this in this book, my hope is that we all can envision a world that looks completely different from the world that currently exists. That’s really, really hard to do. That really does require us doing our own internal work and really trying to step outside of the systems as they currently exist as best as we can because we’re all inside of them, myself included. What does it look like to really be rested, be well, be nourished, be taken off, be taking care of each other, be in equitable communion with other people, especially people who have less power and privilege than us? When we can start to really do that on a larger collective space, then I think what we can imagine and envision for the world is boundless and so phenomenal, but I can’t begin to fathom what that actually looks like right now.

Zibby: I just want to say one thing to your fear that this book could be outdated at a certain point. Some of the things you share are so timeless that it could never be outdated. The personal emotion and feelings of loss and just the raw feelings are something that connects people and so universal and so timeless, this sense of grief and loss and all of it. This is not a book that will be soon not a timely matter. The stuff you shared is timeless. That’s all I’m trying to say.

Rachel: Thank you. That was really important for me, not on the timeless piece, but on — I didn’t want to write a how-to. Some people laugh when I say that now because they’re like, Rachel, this could very well be perceived as a how-to. I wanted to share my perspective and experience, one, to white folks because I think it’s an honor and a privilege to be able to really read that and have a deeper understanding of the impact of oppression and white supremacy, and two, for black, indigenous, and people of color, specifically black indigenous women and femmes, queer and trans black and indigenous women and femmes, to see themselves and have an understanding of, oh, I’m not alone. There’s nothing wrong with me. I’m not broken. Those are the kinds of thoughts we’re conditioned to have, and certainly the way in which I was conditioned to think. That lack of connection, that lack of belonging, that constantly being othered and ostracized and made to feel like something was inherently wrong with me, that is why I wrote this book because I don’t want anyone else to have to feel that way, truly anyone else, but obviously especially people who have been made most marginalized.

Zibby: I’m sorry that that was your experience. I’m sorry for everything you went through with your mother. I’m sorry for the ways in which you have felt that the world has failed you. My heart kind of breaks for you on that behalf. I’m sorry that that’s happened.

Rachel: Thank you. I’m not alone.

Zibby: I’m not trying to say you are alone.

Rachel: No, I know.

Zibby: I know you’re not. The world has not been fair to many, many people in many different ways. I was just trying to express that I’m sorry that’s happened to you, from me to you. That’s all.

Rachel: Thank you.

Zibby: Thank you for coming on this podcast. Sorry for my bizarre line of questioning today.

Rachel: No, not at all.

Zibby: Thanks for encouraging me to do better.

Rachel: Thank you so much for having me, Zibby. It was a pleasure.

Zibby: You too. Buh-bye.

Rachel: Bye.

Rachel Ricketts, DO BETTER