Ruby Sayles on Spiritually Grounded Social Justice Work

I’ve been learning from the conversations happening through On Being. The opportunity to learn from those doing spiritually grounded social justice work for a lifetime and the wisdom coming from that experience has been helpful in shaping and shifting my social justice work. I recommend many of the On Being podcasts especially these featuring: Thich Nhat Hanh, Nikki Giovanni, John Lewis, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Sharon Salzberg and Robert Thurman, and Patrisse Cullors.

I recently listened to the episode featuring Ruby Sayles, a civil rights icon discussing the spiritual grounding of social justice movements.

On the challenge and importance of cultivating a liberatory approach:

I can’t control the world but I can control myself, and you are not going to coerce me into hating you.

On including multiple perspectives:

[We need] hindsight, insight, and foresight. Complete sight. Fragmentation shatters that sight. It’s not an I sight, it’s a we sight.

On the need for spiritual grounding of social justice:

Where is the theology that redefines what it mean to be fully human?

And the need for spiritual roots in social justice, specifically for white people:

[There is a] spiritual crisis in white America. A crisis of meaning. Where is the liberating white theology? A theology that speaks to Appalachia. That deepens people’s understanding about their capacity to live fully human lives and to touch the goodness inside of them, rather than the part that isn’t relational.

On challenging the self-righteous approach many newly conscious white people take to shaming and blaming other white people:

It’s almost like white people, don’t believe other white people are worthy of being redeemed.


It just might be more sexy to deal with black folk than it is to deal with white folk if you are a white person.

On centering love and distinguishing between redemptive and non-redemptive anger. This echoes Robert Thurman’s distinction between an anger of resentment and retaliation and an anger of fierce compassion. See also Paul Kivel’s distinctions on anger.

Love is not antithetical to being outraged. Love is not antithetical to anger. There are two kinds of anger. Redemptive anger and non-redemptive anger. Redemptive anger is the anger that moves you to transformation and human upbuilding. Non-redemptive anger is the anger that white supremacy roots itself in.

The power of shifting our focus from what we don’t want to what we do want. I’ve written about this as shifting from anti-oppression to liberatory social justice work.

Are you angry about injustice or are you in love with the idea of justice? What would shift?

On shame, blame, and demonization as a failed strategy toward more justice and equity.

This whole business of demonization…it does not locate the good in people. It gives up on people…I have been very concerned about the demonization that comes out of right wing communities and also the demonization that I’ve heard on the left. It comes from the same source of displaced whiteness.

Distinguishing between wanting us all to be the same (oppressive) and seeing our differentiated and shared humanity:

We’ve got to stop speaking about humanity as if it’s monolithic.

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