I Messed Up: On Growing a Conscious Business, Making Mistakes, and Learning From Them (as a White Woman)

Image via    @kristynleehelm

Image via @kristynleehelm

To be honest, up until now, I’ve considered myself an ally to black, indigenous, and people of color without actually doing anything. I mean, I would occasionally call out a conservative relative for a questionable comment over Thanksgiving dinner, but other than that, I was silent and sitting on the sidelines. Probably because, as Dana Balicki writes, “White women don’t feel urgency to speak up and out about racism because we don’t have to.”

Last month, a prominent white female leader in the wellness community, manifestation advisor Lacy Phillips of Free and Native, gave me the push I needed to get off the bench. I’m sharing what happened in the hopes that it will inspire other women to action, as well.

Lacy released a podcast episode featuring her conversation with Human Design reader Jenna Zoe where she:

  • Said she was “sad” to be in a white woman’s body, because, thanks to the move towards inclusivity in the media, she felt like no one wanted to hear her voice right now.

  • Claimed to be “beyond” the issue of race.

  • Insisted that she, a white former model, doesn’t benefit from privilege because she grew up poor and has “been through it” all.

  • Said she wasn’t a feminist and didn’t believe in it (she’s an “everything-ist,” because she opposes a matriarchal society...which, uh, is not what feminism is all about).

(These comments have since been edited out of the podcast without acknowledgement or apology.)

At the time, I was upset by her words but didn’t speak up about it… I thought, Who am I to talk about this stuff?

But her private Facebook page, which I was a member of, lit up with responses. Listeners shared their thoughts with Lacy, educating her on feminism, race, privilege, and why and how her comments were problematic and damaging. I inhaled those comments–they put words to what I was feeling; they taught me so much about white privilege and intersectionality and microaggressions and the extent of systemic racism, especially in the spirituality space. These comments offered Lacy (and anyone else reading) a true education on checking white privilege and creating a safe, inclusive community. After weeks of posts that went unacknowledged by Lacy or her team, she responded with a video.

In the video, Lacy claimed that sexism and racism were functions of the subconscious mind that could essentially be manifested away: “It doesn’t have to be anybody’s reality. It truly doesn’t. It’s as simple as shifting what we’re projecting on the subconscious level.” As one commenter asked...so, does this mean that black people will stop being killed by the police if they just learn how to manifest?

Instead of apologizing, Lacy doubled down. “I am very versed on what the terminology feminist means. I’m hyper-versed in it. I’ve studied it and philosophized it for lengthy, lengthy amounts of time. I’ve traveled around first, to second to, third...I’m so versed with women in the Middle East, I have so many Middle Eastern family members. I’m so versed in what true repression looks like.”

These are actual, direct quotes. Does this type of language sound Donald Trump-esque to anyone else?!

It did to me, and that was frightening enough to get me to finally speak up. I, along with many others, asked Lacy to re-examine her privilege (and revisit her feminist studies), because claiming to have nothing left to learn–when your community is telling you otherwise–clearly comes from a defensive place. There ended up being over a hundred comments on this video, offering education and resources and discourse and opinions–many of which asked Lacy to do better.

But she made her intentions very clear saying, “I’m so glad I triggered you. But I will not apologize for it because I do not believe in it, and I hope that everyone on the planet no longer apologizes as well.”

Any spiritual ‘guide’ who encourages their students to never apologize for hurting others clearly has a lot left to learn.

Over the next couple of days, the F+N community continued to “call in” Lacy on tone policing, spiritual bypass, refusal to acknowledge systemic racism, white fragility, erasure, and so much more.

The end result? Lacy blocked everyone who posted a critical comment from the Free and Native private Facebook group. All in all, there have allegedly been 600 people blocked for speaking up (including me).

Since then, all activity has been banned from the Facebook group and each incoming comment is monitored by the Free and Native staff to make sure it doesn’t mention privilege, racism, sexism, or anything political. In her own words, no “social justice warriors” or “activists” are welcome in the group, and she has enacted a “zero tolerance” policy for anyone who brings up the aforementioned topics–they will automatically be blocked. Essentially, she’s curating a community of (mostly) privileged white women who aren’t interested in other points of view. Apparently, representation is not ‘on brand’ for Free and Native.

Many former members have unfollowed, unsubscribed, and pledged to not support Lacy Phillips or Free and Native financially.

The videos, along with specific comments that were deleted from the Free and Native page, are viewable in a Dropbox folder here. The first video is viewable on YouTube here. I encourage you to watch, explore, and spread the word. White women in wellness and spirituality need to see this in order to recognize our own blind spots, make the necessary changes, and most importantly, apologize. Acknowledgement and apology from Lacy would have changed this entire situation–but I’m not willing to learn from a teacher who can’t own her own shit, and I suspect many women in the wellness world feel the same way.

This is not an isolated incident. You can read about how Danielle LaPorte handled a similar situation here, and re-examine Gabby Bernstein’s teachings here.

I could go on and on about all the ways in which actions like these are problematic and troubling and disheartening and upsetting. But what I’ve gotten out this conversation is much more positive than that. 

I’m seeing all the ways in which my past work has left out women of color. I’m learning the importance of running a conscious business from the beginning, being proactively inclusive, staying open to the feedback of others, and apologizing when I mess up.

Which I did. (Mess up, I mean.)

After I removed myself from the Free and Native fiasco, I committed to including people of color in my work for my skincare company. One of the small steps I took was asking my graphic designer to create an Instagram quote template for me in a range of flesh tones–from cream to tan to caramel and chocolate brown–as a way of communicating, “This brand cares about everybody.” 

I implemented the quote template on my Instagram feed, and a few days later, I saw the exact same template on the profile of a well-known woman of color in the wellness industry, Lalah Delia (@lalahdelia). It appeared as if my graphic designer had ripped her off.

In short, I freaked the fuck out. I didn’t want to be misunderstood or called out by anyone, so I called myself out.

I emailed my graphic designer and accused her of copying work. I emailed Lalah Delia, explaining the situation and apologizing profusely. I posted to Instagram Stories informing my followers of the situation: my graphic designer had stolen work from a woman of color and I was sorry for what had happened. I got responses from my followers thanking me for speaking up, addressing the situation head-on, and handling it with grace.

But then...I got responses from graphic designers saying that it likely wasn’t a result of copying. The quote template I used was fairly common and popular right now, and even though it appeared to a knock-off of Lalah Delia’s, it most likely was a case of common inspiration. My graphic designer said the same–she’d never even seen Lalah’s page.

So, yeah... I messed up. In an effort to run a conscious business, I overreacted and accused someone of stealing. I sincerely apologize for that.

I am still learning. I don’t have all the answers and will never claim that I do. I’ve probably messed up more than a few times in this article alone. I want to do this right, but there isn’t a clear guide; there is no How To Run An Inclusive Business That Acknowledges and Dismantles White Supremacy Through Fun Skincare Content. I’m learning as I go...but I’m not going to let that stop me from speaking up while I’m in the process of figuring things out.

My wise friend Michelle D’Avella of Pushing Beauty put it perfectly: "We want to wait until we have it all together and look a certain way to speak up but that’s part of the problem."

When I told her that I wished I had waited to speak up about this graphic design issue, since I unintentionally ended up hurting an innocent person, Michelle said, "You feel like you should have waited because you 'messed up.' But that’s all part of the learning process. We are going to fuck up. So we fuck up, apologize, learn, and move on." Damn.

Inspired by these words, I'm committing to speaking up, fucking up, apologizing, and learning. I am open to any and all criticism, advice, and encouragement on this journey to building a conscious business.

I will no longer be supporting Lacy Phillips, Free and Native, Danielle LaPorte, or any other healers, teachers, and brands that aren’t interested in doing the same.