In this episode…
- What is toxic mindset culture
- How toxic mindset culture is a facet of white supremacy
- What we can do to fix it
Listen to the podcast here:
Toxic Mindset Culture
Toxic mindset culture shows up in a lot of our online communities, and like any form of positive thinking that goes too far, it becomes problematic because it ignores the very real systemic oppression that many marginalized communities face.
In this episode, I’m defining toxic mindset culture, unpacking how this culture is a facet of white supremacy, and sharing some steps on how we can do better. Ready? Let’s get started.
Hello, hello! Toxic mindset culture—I went back and forth with some friends on what to call this episode as we were discussing how this culture shows up and what it looks like. It ended up being about a 50/50 split of people who said that the phrase “toxic mindset culture” made sense, and other people who said it was vaguely confusing. So whether you’re here because you’re vibing with the title of this episode, or you’re curious as to what the hell I’m talking about, let’s dive in.
For those of you who may not be familiar with the term “mindset,” it’s essentially your belief patterns about areas of your life. We have different mindsets in relation to business, personal, romantic, and platonic relationships, etc. I could have a positive, healthy mindset around business while having a shitty mindset around romantic relationships, for instance.
And, since I made this phrase up, I Googled it. I couldn’t find anyone else using it anywhere on the internet. I’m going to define it for you! I personally have said for years that owning your own business is about 10% knowing what the fuck you’re doing, 10% willingness to learn new things and adapt, and about 80% mindset. I had no idea in 2015, when I started a business that I had so much personal shit I would need to work through in order to grow a successful business—so much personal shit, y’all!
As with any “buzzy” phrase you find in the online marketing space, the focus is on mindset so much that it becomes this culture. It wasn’t really a big thing that people talked about when I first started, but now it’s become such a big thing—you have people who literally specialize in this, as coaches and stuff, or they incorporate it. I’m seeing more and more people incorporating a mindset component into their programs or into their courses or something.
It is important—we’re going to get to that. I’m not saying it’s not important, but when it becomes a culture, it has the potential to become toxic. As I’ve seen with other things—when it’s largely white women, as mindset culture has been in my experience, it’s filtered through our own lens, and thus tends to become problematic. We’re filtering it through our own experiences, which pale in comparison to the experiences of others.
So toxic mindset culture isn’t quite toxic positivity in that we want everyone to be happy and love everyone, so we can pretend nothing bad happens in the world, and it’s not quite spiritual bypassing, which is essentially like the woo, wellness, guru community’s version of toxic positivity. If you would like to learn more about my thoughts on toxic positivity, you can check out my episode on that. And, I’ll be talking about spiritual bypassing in a future episode, so hit the subscribe button—shameless plug!—so that you don’t miss that one coming up.
While these toxicities are related—let’s call them sisters—they have subtle differences and all of them are rooted in white supremacy. All of them hold up the white middle-to-upper class lifestyle as the baseline standard that is considered normal. When I say toxic mindset culture, some examples of how this shows up are phrases like, “The only thing standing in your way is you;” or, “Your competition isn’t other people. It’s procrastination and your ego and unhealthy food and negative thoughts and your lack of creativity.”
These phrases embrace the white experience, because our systems are built for and around white people—by other white people. If you’re someone from a marginalized group, then you might have poverty standing in your way, or systemic oppression, or discrimination—be it legal or societal. Or any number of things that automatically mean that you do not start out on equal footing with the white people who say this shit. Black and brown people cannot mindset their way out of a systemically racist system. The LGBTQ community cannot mindset its way out of discrimination. Disabled folks cannot mindset their way out of inaccessible resources, etc. I could go on and on. These are issues that have to be examined and addressed at the systemic level, and that has to be done by white people.
Period. We have to fix it. Our history, and our ancestors, and our real living relatives—as evidenced by the results of the 2020 election, where 55% of white people voted for a pussy grabber—our living relatives and friends and politicians and other white people in power have created, as well as upheld, the systems that don’t allow us to just change our mindset, which is tantamount to changing our thoughts. We can’t just change our thoughts and positive think our way into making everything better for ourselves. Frankly, sending the message that we can or should is harmful. It’s harmful to everyone.There are people in this world who can have all the positive mindset that they can muster and still be held down by the system. Click To Tweet
It is especially harmful to marginalized communities because it tells marginalized people that their lack of success, or their setbacks, or the fact that they’re not getting the results that they want, is because they’re not doing enough mindset work: They’re not changing their thoughts in the right way, or doing it often enough, or consistently, or whatever it is. They’re being told that these roadblocks that they’re facing that are none of their fault, is the problem, and that’s fucked up.
I’m not saying that mindset isn’t important—I believe that it is, so don’t come at me for that. What I’m saying here is that there are people in this world who can have all the positive mindset that they can muster, and still be held down by the system. That’s what I’m saying. So once we acknowledge that it exists and that we are propping it up because we are using the white, middle class life as a standard, as the baseline for normal, what can we do about it?
We can start by acknowledging that we, as white people, have a lot of work to do in dismantling white supremacy. This is our job. We created it. We uphold it, we feed into it and all these things. If 2020 has taught us nothing, that this shit is happening and that white people have to fix it because white people are in positions of power to fix it.
We could acknowledge that toxic mindset culture, toxic positivity, and spiritual bypassing are part of the problem, and we can acknowledge that while mindset is an important part of this work in dismantling these systems—and in part of this work that we do as business owners—that there are other issues that need to be addressed in order to level the playing field.
If you are a mindset coach and you’re reading this, know that I appreciate this work that you’re bringing into the world; I have worked with my own mindset coach. But I urge you to examine how you present your content to your communities, because people look to you to see how you can show up in the world. People look to their mindset coaches—people look to the experts on this topic who have gotten results, who have helped others get results as to how they can show up in the world.
I would like to see more mindset coaches acknowledge the underlying systems that are at play in our society. Not just in the United States, which is where that’s my sort of scope of experience obviously, but I know that this same kind of systemic systems play out largely across the world in many different ways, in many different countries.
These systems do not allow for people of color, or trans folks, or gay and lesbian folks, or disabled folks, to just change their thoughts about racism and discrimination, and suddenly encounter unbridled success. You’re not going to sit down and go, “Oh, racism doesn’t exist,” or “Racism is not that bad,” or “Racism is fixed,” or whatever the fuck you want to tell yourself about racism, and suddenly, everything’s going to be hunky-dory. It’s not going to work that way.
Plus, mindset work isn’t an either/or practice, where you either do mindset work to change your thoughts to help you reach a goal, or you don’t. Mindset work truly comes in many shades of gray, and it has to be done in conjunction with changing the system, or it falls flat for people who are not cis, hetero and white.
If you’re not a mindset coach—I’m not—but you believe mindset is important like I do and like I suspect many other online business owners do, then I’m encouraging you to be cognizant of the language that you use around encouraging people to examine their own mindset. I’ve run into this a lot when speaking with colleagues and friends on the internet. We have to be really cognizant of how we are approaching these issues with other people: We have to think about the larger picture of what does it play, and we have to think about how we can emotionally support people from communities who are fucking traumatized.
It’s traumatic for Black and brown communities to watch what has been going on this year. It’s traumatic for the trans community to watch the Trump administration roll back their rights and protections. It’s traumatic watching Amy Coney Barrett for the gay and lesbian community to watch their rights potentially be in jeopardy, because they think that she may roll back protections for gay marriage.
These things are trauma to marginalized communities and you can’t positive think your way out of that kind of shit. You just can’t.
Phrases like the one that I mentioned above are trying to get people to examine their own mindset. I genuinely believe that people say these things because they want to help people do and be better, and I think that’s a good thing. Because when we’re called out—when somebody points something out to you that you didn’t consider before, it gives you the opportunity to take a minute, to examine your own thoughts and your own actions, and to see if you’re really doing and thinking the things that you want or need to be, in order to create the life that you want.
Like, “If this is my thought and that’s the action that I take from it, am I creating the life that I want?” Your answer then is yes or no. I think that if we can couple this gut check that we get from this mindset work of, “Am I creating the life that I want?” with real-world examples of how we can also dismantle the system and make this mindset work, level the playing field, and make it work for everyone, then we’re offering a better message to people about how we can genuinely create the life that we want at a systemic level.Systemic discrimination is a fact of life. It's not something that we can wheel away with our thoughts. We have to take action against it. Click To Tweet
We have to take the time to acknowledge that not everyone is starting at the same place as us, or has the same reach as we do. By us and we, I mean white women. We have to use our privilege to acknowledge that. While changing our thoughts and working on creating a more positive mindset is important, but the system that we operate in is part of the problem, and needs to be changed.
I know what some of you are thinking: This is not creating a victim mentality. This is not about making excuses. It just is. Systemic oppression and discrimination are a fact of life for far too many human beings on this planet, and it’s not something that we can wheel away with our thoughts. There has to be action. We have to take action. We have to create change.
Ironically enough, we start doing that by changing our thoughts—our own mindset about how we contribute to these oppressive systems and what we can do to fix them.
That’s it for me today. Bye, y’all.