“In every generation, white people have said there is not a racial problem and people of color have said there is. History has proven [the people of color] right.” – Tim Wise
Trigger warnings: This article, at times, describes racism, trauma, abuse, and violence that happens to human bodies, with a focus on the bodies of Black and Indigenous People of Color (BIPOC).
My 12-year-old client and his father were sitting across from me. The dad states, “You’re coming of an age where the world will make you grow up. Especially the police. They will treat you differently. They will accuse you first, then ask questions. It’s not as safe for people like us and I need you to understand that.”
I hear the terror in this Black father’s voice as I watch my client’s eyes look to the floor as his head drops.
“This sucks to talk about and in our world this is true,” I say, realizing that I am traumatizing a child and highlighting the racist reality that young Black teenagers are treated more violently by authorities compared to others.
I feel my stomach twist and turn as we talk. I watch this child’s sense of safety in his body fade in a world in which he does not get the same quality of protection or same assumptions others do. The same that I do.
I notice the helplessness and fear in my own body knowing that earlier last week a 14-year-old boy who was walking with his hoodie up got surrounded by multiple cop cars, had guns pointed at him, and then was knocked to the ground despite the kid holding his hands up and complying with the officers.
This was all over a break-in half a mile away by a person who was older, bigger, and taller than this 14-year-old boy. I can’t imagine the terror that boy felt as every bone and muscle in his body questioned his safety, despite his innocence.
“Your father and I are talking to you about racism, this terrible aspect of humanity, to keep you safe. This is a conversation I wish you never had to experience.”
As words come out of my mouth, my gut feels like a bowling ball is rolling around inside it. I reflect on how my parents have NEVER talked to me about how to stay safe from police. I reflect on the sense of safety I get to walk around the world when compared to those who have different biological skin colors that are adaptive in nature in the same way eye and hair color are.
This conversation happened before 2020 and the current #Blacklivesmatter protests. In fact, the #Blacklivesmatter movement originated in 2013 when George Zimmerman killed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin and was acquitted via self-defense, despite Zimmerman chasing Martin and the police dispatcher requesting Zimmerman to stop and wait for authorities. This led to massive protests against this horrific crime which spread across the country. Protests have been repeated countless times due to repeated injustices.
It is impossible to talk about intimate and meaningful relationships without talking about the cultural context of racism and its traumatizing impact on the human body and those we hold close.
The Culture of Racism
Culture is a tangible and invisible force that shapes everything we do. It is in the air we breathe, and the particles in that air include racism, patriarchy, and sexism, among other oppressive forces. They also include particles of compassion, hope, and the ability to create a new world.
To me, secure functioning relationships require giving everyone the freedom to be themselves, while also creating a safe environment in which to do so. This is true on an intimate relationship level, just as it is true on a societal level.
Disturbingly, cultural forces, including institutions and people with power who benefit from the oppression of others, often invalidate, gaslight, and abuse their privilege, undermining the safety of more marginalized communities and individuals.
“You cannot dismantle what you cannot see. You cannot challenge what you do not understand.” – Layla F. Saad, Me and White Supremacy
While observing healthy couples in his Love Lab, Dr. John Gottman discovered that a healthy relationship recognized that understanding must precede problem solving. In line with the quote from Layla F. Saad, we will start with a brief overview of racism with the hope of creating greater understanding.
I know it has taken a while for me to get to this level of understanding, and I hope it will help those of you who are seeking to better understand the lived experiences and historical context that shapes Black lives and society today.
The Purpose of This Article
During this article, I am going to intentionally use my white male privilege to quote Black and Indigenous People of Color (BIPOC) and their allies in support of encouraging those of you in this community to heal your traumatized body, learn, and become an active participant in shaping our intimate relationships and the world we live in.
My goal in writing this article is to hopefully use some of the knowledge I’ve learned about the complexities of systemic racism and the internalized biases to create a launching point for greater understanding. It is with this greater understanding that I believe white people can become better allies for those who are oppressed and create greater space for healing.
I imagine for some it will be challenging to sit with. It has been hard for me, because of my privilege, to come to understand the realities of marginalized individuals and communities over the many years I’ve been learning about this. Additionally, if we seek to understand with openness, I believe our natural human instincts of compassion can begin to build a bridge to a safer and more secure world.
Looking at history between hostile political groups and countries during the nuclear age, the social psychologist Anatol Rapoport came up with strategies to reduce the possibility of nuclear war. The goal was to increase cooperation between adversaries. What he discovered is this: “Do not try to persuade, problem solve, or compromise until you can state the other side’s position to their satisfaction, and vice versa.”
The problem that BIPOC have is that their lived experiences are not understood. As one of my antiracist teachers put it, “We’ve been saying things for centuries, but we haven’t been listened to.” As I’ve learned through working with my couples, you can’t solve problems effectively until you fully understand the other person’s lived experience.
Most importantly, when you allow yourself to closely feel what is being shared about what is happening to Black lives, those feelings of rage, shame, sadness, and disgust can be used to motivate actions for change.
For the BIPOC members of this online community, my hope is that this article touches on the internalized trauma of our culture and laws, and more, in a way that validates your lived experiences. If there are things you think need to be added, please feel free to share. I am doing what I can to not put you in a position to educate me, as that is not your responsibility, and if you choose to share your experience or a resource, I welcome it. And if you do not feel the need to continue to read this article, I completely understand. You have lived what I have written about, and I do not wish to further add to the trauma you’ve experienced.
For white-bodied members, or individuals who can pass as white, I would encourage you to read this with a sense of openness to notice any discomfort that rises in your body. This may reflect internalized racialized biases and historical trauma that lives in your body around racism.
Additionally, this article mainly addresses western cultures with a specific focus on the United States of America.
This article will focus on Black Lives and we know that racism impacts all People of Color. Racism is an oppressive force that discriminates against fellow humans based on their race. We also know that within ethnicities, there is discrimination against mixed race individuals who often feel ostracized. The purpose of this article is to explore Black lives as one part in dismantling racism as a social construct. Much work needs to be done and I will write about the impacts on other ethnicities in the future as well. The focus for this right now is due to the current political movement and opportunities to push policy changes that can liberate marginalized communities and individuals who experience oppression.
To start, we need to revisit the past to understand why things have come to be the way they are today.
Racism & Domination in America: Understanding the Cultural Roots
“Race is the child of racism, not the father.” – Ta-Nehisi Coates, Between the World and Me.
Race, like gender, is socially created. I’m not denying that there are visible differences between people. There are visible differences like eye color, hair color, and even hair texture. But these differences in appearances emerged as adaptations to our environment, specifically the geography.
Below these visible adaptations, there is no biological race as DiAngelo, author of White Fragility argues. That’s because race, as Coates highlights, is a byproduct of racism, not the other way around.
To understand racism in the U.S., we need to recognize the cultural history that forged America. DiAngelo explains that “Freedom and equality—regardless of religion or class status—were radical new ideas when the United States was formed. At the same time, the US economy was based on the abduction and enslavement of African people, the displacement and genocide of Indigenous people, and the annexation of Mexican lands.” This shows that the colonizers who came to the Americas brought with them their cultural conditioning and internalized patterns of abuse and domination.
Let me explain.
Prior to 1619 when the first Africans were kidnapped and forcibly brought to America to be sold to other immigrants from Europe for enslavement, Europeans spent thousands of years prior to that time abusing, enslaving, canonizing, killing, and torturing one another.
Resmaa Menakem, author of My Grandmother’s Hands, highlights that despite people immigrating from Spain, Scotland, France, Portugal, Sweden, Holland, and England, England came to control most of the territories before the founding of the United States in 1776.
Prior to the 1700s, public torture was used as a political tool and control tactic by the English government. Torture included things like “the rack,” which would pull the human body apart by stretching it until tendons ripped and bones broke. “In everyday life, passers-by saw some criminal flogged with a knotted rope or chained upright in an iron collar. They passed corpses hanging on the gibbet and decapitated heads and quartered bodies impaled on stakes on the city walls.”
What is most fascinating is how this bodily harm was a spectator sport that was desired by the public. There was a culture of wanting to witness the torture of another human body.
This ideology of justice being related to torturing those assumed guilty, granted some were guilty, helps create a felt sense of safety and also used the fear of torture to dissuade people from violating the law.
I believe people were able to watch these tortures not because everyone was a sadist but because categorizing the human as a criminal led to an emotional distancing and dehumanizing that made it easier to observe as a bystander. Note: Remember this because this influences our biases, which we will cover below.
Let’s take a moment from this very brief history review and imagine what it would be like to live in a world where you walk around your local town and witness someone scream for their life as they are beheaded. As you walk to the local coffee shop and order your Frappuccino and the person serving you had their hand cut off for stealing fruit.
What do you notice in your body as you imagine this life?
Could you imagine convincing yourself to be excited to witness the stretching of a body as the tendons rip, bones break, and a person screams out in unfathomable pain?
As I imagine this myself, I have absolutely no desire to feel anything below my neck. It would be unbearable for me to relate to the experience of the body being tortured. The only way I could is if I detached from my body and convinced myself that the body being tortured “deserved it,” which would emotionally separate myself from another human. I would have to dehumanize them.
Given this reality, it makes sense then that the natural body’s survival response in England would be to flee to the colonies. And as Menakem highlights, these people fleeing brought with them trauma in their bodies after being brutalized themselves or witnessing brutality.
Thinking back to the enslavement of other humans, how could the captors and torturers, who were human, sell and torture other human beings?
What about the people who stood by silently?
What happened to their body that numbness and avoidance became their coping strategy as they witnessed Black bodies tortured and enslaved?
Bodies with minimal differences from their own.
After all, all bodies are 99.9% the same, regardless of race.
What did they have to convince themselves of to consent to watching or participating in the enslavement and abuse of another human body?
“What happened to those bodies in the past that causes them to not react when they watch other people being traumatized? Where in their bodies do you think some of these white people might be experiencing constriction?” – Resmaa Menakem, My Grandmother’s Hands
In relational therapy, we are trained to look for legacies of prior generations that live in our current client’s body and mind. There is a trauma in the cultural body of America that lives in each of our bodies around the injustice and discriminatory treatment of BIPOC. To understand this, we need to begin to recognize the systems at play that maintain the dehumanizing status quo of racism.
Pseudoscientific Research: The Economic Exploitation of Race
“There is no such thing as race. None. … scientifically, anthropologically, racism is a construct—a social construct. And it has benefits. Money can be made off of it, and people who don’t like themselves can feel better because of it. It can describe certain kinds of behavior that are wrong or misleading” – Toni Morrison, Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome: America’s Legacy of Enduring Injury and Healing
In White Fragility, DiAngelo highlights that exploitation of other humans for resources came first and then the concept of unequal races was used to justify this exploitation.
“The beneficiaries of slavery, segregation, and mass incarceration have produced racist ideas of Black people being best suited for or deserving of the confines of slavery, segregation, or the jail cell.” – Jason Reynolds & Ibram X. Kendi, Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You
For example, Thomas Jefferson, who “owned” hundreds of enslaved people, requested “scientists” to find natural differences that could validate this racist ideology.
DiAngelo highlights that these scientists’ starting question, which informs the outcomes of their research, was “Why are blacks (and others) inferior [to whites]?” And of course this poorly designed research, like any other research done for the purposes of economic benefit, not scientific discovery, became accepted as “fact” due to the racist biases and data manipulation of the researchers.
In one of my antiracist trainings, the instructors defined racism as “Race prejudice + power = racism.”Race was explained as “a specious classification of people, created by Europeans in the 16th and 17th centuries for the purpose of assigning worth and value and maintaining systems of power, using white as the model of humanity.”Prejudice was defined as a “bias for or against.” For whiteness or against non-whiteness. Power was defined as “access to systems generated by the state” such as access to land, rights to vote, etc.
These definitions highlight how racist ideas only came to be culturally normalized due to the economic interests it rewarded those who were white. As Coates highlights in his quote, “race is the child of racism”; these categorizations were politically and economically created for the benefit of those determined to be “white.” And to keep people from relating to the torture and enslavement of other humans, religious and educational institutions developed narratives to reinforce the ideology that this was “okay.”
Even “researchers,” as highlighted previously, used pseudoscience to proclaim race superiority and inferiority as “fact.” The preaching of this ideology helped eliminate the natural cognitive dissonance for those who economically benefited less because it manipulated a meaning that convinced them that something was inherently wrong with Black people.
“Consumers of these racist ideas have been led to believe there is something wrong with Black people, and not the policies that have enslaved, oppressed, and confined so many Black people.” – Ibram X. Kendi, Stamped from the Beginning
Kendi argues that if humans are all equal, as it was written by the founders of America, then the only reason these conditions were maintained was a result of systemic discrimination.
Systemic Racism Is a Product of Racist Policies
“A racist policy is any measure that produces or sustains racial inequity between racial groups … By policy, I mean written and unwritten laws, rules, procedures, processes, regulations, and guidelines that govern people. There is no such thing as a nonracist or race-neutral policy. Every policy in every institution in every community in every nation is producing or sustaining either racial inequity or equity between racial groups.” – Ibram X. Kendi, How to Be an Antiracist.
To maintain power and reinforce racial prejudice, different parts of the culture had to be designed to normalize the unjust treatment of BIPOC. While I can give extensive examples of media, educational, class, religious, institutional, and government systems, I’m going to only provide a few examples.
Movies, Television, and Media
“If an alien were to stumble upon an archive of American film and television, this alien would conclude that we are a mostly male, overwhelmingly white, overwhelmingly straight population, with few people over sixty or with physical disabilities.” -Dolly Chugh, The Person You Mean to Be
In an analysis of 1,300 popular films from 2007 to 2019, the percentage of all speaking characters by racial/ethnicity is as follows:
Dr. Stacy L. Smith, a media researcher, says this about the film industry: “Across the top 100 films of just , 48 films didn’t feature one black or African-American speaking character, not one. 70 films were devoid of Asian or Asian-American speaking characters that were girls or women. None. Eighty-four films didn’t feature one female character that had a disability. And 93 were devoid of lesbian, bisexual or transgender female speaking characters. This is not underrepresentation. This is erasure, and I call this the epidemic of invisibility.”
The curriculum of education starting even in elementary school can be curated in ways to focus on specific components of history that maintain the cultural narratives we have memorized today.
For example, I was taught to memorize the song, “Christopher Columbus sailed the ocean blue …,” but I was not taught how 50-75% of immigrants brought to the Virginia Colony became indentured servants to fund the economy with the use of cheap labor to benefit the wealthy. Even the first Africans who were brought to America were treated as indentured servants and given the same opportunities as whites. As the wealthy realized the cost of indentured servants and the demand for land by the freed servants, they constructed a more profitable and renewable source of labor: racial slavery.
How come I didn’t learn that?
How come the educational system chose to leave this out?
Not to mention, the origination of African-American studies and Historical Black College Universities were developed because the educational systems prior (and even today) were inherently racist as evidence in the selection of the material they taught.
As a researcher in the field of psychology and relationships, I know that there are specific journals such as the Journal of Black Sexuality and Relationships that were created because the epistemological, ontological, and social construction of Black lives were not being appropriately studied in the field of psychology. There was no policy developed in prior journals to appropriately represent the sexuality and relationships of Black people.
Another area we see social rules that maintain racist ideologies is classism.
“Race scholars use the term white supremacy to describe a sociopolitical economic system of domination based on racial categories that benefits those defined and perceived as white. This system of structural power privileges, centralizes, and elevates white people as a group. If, for example, we look at the racial breakdown of the people who control our institutions, we see telling numbers in 2016–2017:
- Ten richest Americans: 100 percent white (seven of whom are among the ten richest in the world)
- US Congress: 90 percent white
- US governors: 96 percent white
- Top military advisers: 100 percent white
- President and vice president: 100 percent white
- US House Freedom Caucus: 99 percent white
- Current US presidential cabinet: 91 percent white
- People who decide which TV shows we see: 93 percent white
- People who decide which books we read: 90 percent white
- People who decide which news is covered: 85 percent white
- People who decide which music is produced: 95 percent white
- People who directed the one hundred top-grossing films of all time, worldwide: 95 percent white
- Teachers: 82 percent white
- Full-time college professors: 84 percent white
- Owners of men’s professional football teams: 97 percent white
These numbers are not describing minor organizations. Nor are these institutions special-interest groups. The groups listed above are the most powerful in the country. These numbers are not a matter of ‘good people’ versus ‘bad people.’ They represent power and control by a racial group that is in the position to disseminate and protect its own self-image, worldview, and interests across the entire society.” – Robin DiAngelo, White Fragility
DiAngelo explains, “If poor whites were focused on feeling superior to those below them in status, they were less focused on those above. The poor and working classes, if united across race, could be a powerful force. But racial divisions have served to keep them from organizing against the owning class who profits from their labor.”
“To believe in a racial hierarchy is to believe in a racist idea.” – Ibram X. Kendi, How to Be an Antiracist
Even as billionaires become wealthier during the pandemic, less wealthy people will verbally assault other less wealthy people who write about the increasing wealth gap. There is an idealization of humans who obtain (read: exploit others for) wealth.
I too have been consumed in such desires to be insanely wealthy because that is the idealized dream of a capitalist society. The problem is that as the wealth gap grows, racism is often used as a tool to gaslight poor and middle-class people from focusing on who actually has the power to change the wealth gap.
The focus is often put on how X people (of an ethnicity) are “stealing our jobs.” Not focusing on the people hiring for those jobs and their choice to select people they can exploit more (due to sociocultural oppression) or choosing not to pay more for any human being. There is less focus on the owners of the companies who have multiple homes, private jets, and personal chefs while the only dinner some children in the U.S. are getting is sleep because their parents are not getting adequate compensation.
The American Government’s Involvement in Systemic Racism
“The safest communities are not the ones with the most police, prisons, or electronic monitors, but the ones with quality schools, health care, housing, plentiful jobs, and strong social networks that allow families not merely to survive but to thrive.” – Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow
This section highlights the multitude of government funded organizations and their intentional choices to uphold racism.
Jim Crow Law
“Supported by a campaign of violence against the newly emancipated slaves, southern states adopted segregation statutes—Jim Crow laws.
Denied the right to vote, segregated in public transportation, schools, and private accommodations, and victimized by lynching and other forms of brutality, African Americans in the South were reduced again to a lower-caste status.
Plantation owners redefined their former slaves as sharecroppers to maintain harsh and exploitative conditions.” – Richard Rothstein, The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America.
The Jim Crow Laws of “separate, but equal” oppress BIPOC living in the South with the use of racial segregation, and the removal of political, social, and economic empowerment that was gained during the Reconstruction period. Even though the concept of equality was promoted, it was not the reality as facilities for non-whites were never equal to those of whites.
“All this was under President Johnson’s watch. He emboldened the Ku Klux Klan, allowing them to wreck Black lives with no consequence and enshrine those racist codes and laws. Turned out, freedom in America was like quicksand. It looked solid until a Black person tried to stand on it. Then it became clear that it was a sinkhole.” – Jason Reynolds & Ibram X. Kendi, Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You.
“I think it can fairly be said that there would be many fewer segregated suburbs than there are today were it not for an unconstitutional desire, shared by local officials and by the national leaders who urged them on, to keep African Americans from being white families’ neighbors.” – Richard Rothstein, The Color of Law
Jim Crow Laws were openly enforced by the government until 1965.
State Supported Marriage
“In 1963, 80 percent of white Americans felt that racial minorities were treated equally—at a time when it was illegal for whites and blacks to marry in sixteen states, from Florida to as far north as Missouri and Delaware, and as far west as Texas.” – Laszlo Bock
Do you see the gaslighting by white Americans embedded in this quote?
Real Estate Zoning Policies
“The core argument of this book is that African Americans were unconstitutionally denied the means and the right to integration in middle-class neighborhoods, and because this denial was state-sponsored, the nation is obligated to remedy it.” – Richard Rothstein
The below examples from The Color of Law by Richard Rothstein highlight racist choices of government organizations:
- “If the Federal Housing Administration and Veterans Administration not only refused to insure mortgages for African Americans in designated white neighborhoods like Ladera; they also would not insure mortgages for whites in a neighborhood where African Americans were present.”
- “If government had declined to build racially separate public housing in cities where segregation hadn’t previously taken root, and instead had scattered integrated developments throughout the community, those cities might have developed in a less racially toxic fashion, with fewer desperate ghettos and more diverse suburbs.”
- “If the federal government had not urged suburbs to adopt exclusionary zoning laws, white flight would have been minimized because there would have been fewer racially exclusive suburbs to which frightened homeowners could flee.”
- “If the government had told developers that they could have FHA guarantees only if the homes they built were open to all, integrated working-class suburbs would likely have matured with both African Americans and whites sharing the benefits.”
- “If state courts had not blessed private discrimination by ordering the eviction of African American homeowners in neighborhoods where association rules and restrictive covenants barred their residence, middle-class African Americans would have been able gradually to integrate previously white communities as they developed the financial means to do so.”
- “If churches, universities, and hospitals had faced loss of tax-exempt status for their promotion of restrictive covenants, they most likely would have refrained from such activity.”
- “If police had arrested, rather than encouraged, leaders of mob violence when African Americans moved into previously white neighborhoods, racial transitions would have been smoother.”
- “If state real estate commissions had denied licenses to brokers who claimed an “ethical” obligation to impose segregation, those brokers might have guided the evolution of interracial neighborhoods.”
- “If school boards had not placed schools and drawn attendance boundaries to ensure the separation of black and white pupils, families might not have had to relocate to have access to education for their children.”
- “If federal and state highway planners had not used urban interstates to demolish African American neighborhoods and force their residents deeper into urban ghettos, black impoverishment would have lessened, and some displaced families might have accumulated the resources to improve their housing and its location.”
- “If government had given African Americans the same labor-market rights that other citizens enjoyed, African American working-class families would not have been trapped in lower-income minority communities, from lack of funds to live elsewhere. “
- “If the federal government had not exploited the racial boundaries it had created in metropolitan areas, by spending billions on tax breaks for single-family suburban homeowners, while failing to spend adequate funds on transportation networks that could bring African Americans to job opportunities, the inequality on which segregation feeds would have diminished.”
- “If federal programs were not, even to this day, reinforcing racial isolation by disproportionately directing low-income African Americans who receive housing assistance into the segregated neighborhoods that government had previously established, we might see many more inclusive communities.”
All the items above highlight systemic racism. Can you see all the systems that use(d) their power to oppress BIPOC lives?
Bad Behaving Individuals vs. Bad People: Where the Blame Really Belongs
“Behavior is something humans do, not races do.” – Ibram X. Kendi, How to Be an Antiracist
Another core tenant that maintains racism is the grouping of BIPOC individuals’ behavior as a representation of their racial group. Yet, as a white person, I have never experienced the tarnishing of my race for the behaviors and choices of other white individuals such as:
- Brock Turner – 19-year-old Stanford student Brock Turner raped an intoxicated woman in public in 2015.
- Dylann Roof – 21-year-old Dylann Roof shot 12 and killed 9 church-goers at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, SC in 2015.
- Patricia Ripley – 47-year-old Patricia Ripley claimed two Black men abducted her 9-year-old son who had autism in May 2020. After investigation, it was discovered that she was responsible for killing her son.
- Adam Lanza – 20-year-old Adam Lanza shot 26 people (20 children between the ages of 6 and 7 as well as 6 adults) at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012. Before committing this act, he shot and killed his mother in her home.
- James E. Holmes – 24-year-old James Holmes committed a mass shooting at a Century 16 movie theater, in which he killed 12 people and injured 70 others (62 directly and 8 indirectly) in Colorado in 2012.
- Devin Patrick Kelley – 26-year-old Devin Patrick Kelley killed 26 people and wounded 20 others during a mass shooting at the First Baptist Church in Texas in 2017.
- Stephen Paddock – 64-year-old Stephen Paddock killed 67 people and injured 867 people (411 directly and 456 indirectly) in a mass shooting at a Jason Aldean concert in Las Vegas in 2017.
- Shane M. Piche – 25-year-old Shane M. Piche raped a 14-year-old who rode his bus route in New York in 2018.
- Michael Wysolovski – 33-year-old Michael Wysolovski illegally kidnapped, held captive, and sexually abused a 15-year-old teenager in Georgia in 2019.
- Andrea Yates – Andrea Yates drowned her five children in the bathtub in her home in 2001.
- Lori Loughlin and Felicity Huffman – the two famous actresses were involved in the 2019 college admissions bribery scandal.
“Asking every nonathletic Black person to become an Olympic hurdler, and blaming them when they can’t keep up, is racist. One of racism’s harms is the way it falls on the unexceptional Black person who is asked to be extraordinary just to survive—and, even worse, the Black screwup who faces the abyss after one error, while the White screwup is handed second chances and empathy.”Note: This is something we often see in the justice system with differences of punishment and sentencing for equivalent crimes.
“This shouldn’t be surprising: One of the fundamental values of racism to white people is that it makes success attainable for even unexceptional whites, while success, even moderate success, is usually reserved for extraordinary Black people.” – Ibram X. Kendi, How to Be an Antiracist
The stereotyping of a group based on an individual’s choices is often used as a tool for racist ideology. As a result, these cultural narratives make it easier to emotionally distance from the reality of racism BIPOC experience because it often puts the blame on their race, not individual choices and behavior that are not reflective of one’s skin color. This often leads to ignorant and racist statements like, “Black people do x, so that’s why y.”
Yet, I never hear this about my race as a reflection of fellow white people. The white mom who left her daughter under the age of ten in a bathtub with two strangers (men) in a hotel room so she could go shoot up heroin is a choice that doesn’t tarnish my race. I’ve never heard someone say, “You white people abandon your kids with strange men to do drugs.”
Do you see the hypocrisy here?
“As long as the mind thinks there is something behaviorally wrong with a racial group, the mind can never be antiracist. As long as the mind oppresses the oppressed by thinking their oppressive environment has retarded their behavior, the mind can never be antiracist. As long as the mind is racist, the mind can never be free.
To be antiracist is to think nothing is behaviorally wrong or right—inferior or superior—with any of the racial groups.
Whenever the antiracist sees individuals behaving positively or negatively, the antiracist sees exactly that: individuals behaving positively or negatively, not representatives of whole races. To be antiracist is to deracialize behavior, to remove the tattooed stereotype from every racialized body.
Behavior is something humans do, not races do.”- Ibram X Kendi, How to Be an Antiracist
What Kendi illuminates is that white people have been force fed, for economic benefit, an oppressive view of BIPOC as an inferior race, and then to strengthen that narrative, negative individual choices of BIPOC have been grouped as a reflection of their race, but it neglects to do the same for people who are white presenting. Convenient, huh?
What is mind boggling about this is how frequently I’ve had racist thoughts that maintained my internalized racism from this society.
For example, I’ll be walking and I’ll see something that then leads to a thought that groups an individual’s behavior with their ethnicity.
In the past, I would have accepted this racist thought, but as I’ve made progress on being antiracist my next thought hits me like a slap to my face, WTF was that racist idea? Where did that come from…
I’d then go on an internal coaching lesson in which I would highlight how this is a false narrative and remind myself that this is a great opportunity for me to heal internalized racist ideas that were fed to me by my culture—ideas that are not my own and do not align with how I see humans.
This is the sneakiness of internalized racism.
Internalized Racial Oppression: The Process of Dehumanization
“Oppression occurs when one group has more access to power and privilege than another group, and when that power and privilege is used to maintain the status quo (i.e., domination of one group over another).
Thus, oppression is both a state and a process, with the state of oppression being unequal group access to power and privilege, and the process of oppression being the ways in which inequality between groups is maintained.”
When oppression occurs, it impacts both the oppressed and the oppressor. Much like how our early caretakers impact how we see ourselves through the internalization of their availability and responsiveness, oppression by society is internalized.
In an Antiracist program, they highlighted that internalized racial oppression leads to a conscious and unconscious “dehumanizing process of entitlement for those who are viewed as white and a dehumanizing process of disempowerment for people of color.”
“Racist ideas make people of color think less of themselves, which makes them more vulnerable to racist ideas. Racist ideas make white people think more of themselves, which further attracts them to racist ideas.” – Ibram X. Kendi, How to Be an Antiracist
Internalized Racial Superiority
For those who are viewed as white, it manifests itself into internalized racial superiority, which leads to the following symptoms:
- Perfectionism: The belief that one can be perfect and have no flaws is inherently dehumanizing. Essentially it creates an internalized opinion that one is never good enough as one routinely falls short of their impossible standard or literally abuses their minds and bodies to attempt to achieve the standard. The result is someone who is highly anxious, insecure, and always terrified of not being enough. The mere ideology of perfectionism is birthed from a felt sense of superiority.
- Denial/gaslighting: The feeling that another person’s reality is invalid and a belief that one’s own reality is more accurate than the lived experience of another human being. “Three years after the ‘I Have a Dream’ speech, only 36 percent of white Americans believed King was helping the cause of civil rights; 14 percent were not sure and 50 percent said he was hurting the cause. In roughly the same time frame, 94 percent of black Americans felt he was helping.” This contrast highlights the way in which white privilege enables gaslighting.
- Defensive responses such as silence, anger, and arguing: “The smallest amount of racial stress is intolerable—the mere suggestion that being white has meaning often triggers a range of defensive responses. These include emotions such as anger, fear, and guilt and behaviors such as argumentation, silence, and withdrawal from the stress-inducing situation. These responses work to reinstate white equilibrium as they repel the challenge, return our racial comfort, and maintain our dominance within the racial hierarchy.”
- Fragility: “White fragility is triggered by discomfort and anxiety, it is born of superiority and entitlement. White fragility is not weakness per se. In fact, it is a powerful means of white racial control and the protection of white advantage.”
- Individualism: Internalized pressure to achieve success alone and without support of other humans. Essentially this drives us away from community and the compassion of others who can support one’s resilience.
- Colorblind thinking: ”The language of color blindness—like the language of ‘not racist’—is a mask to hide racism.”
“Through extensive interviews and survey data, Bonilla-Silva finds that many white people hold an ideology about race in which race is not relevant, which leads to the logical outcome that racial inequities are the fault of the minority group.”
Internalized Racial Inferiority
“When one is denied an opportunity to confront the source of oppression, the anger is directed inwardly at those who remind the oppressed individual of him- or herself. In this way, microaggressions contribute to internalized oppression and work to perpetuate oppression.”
Essentially, BIPOC do not hold the social and institutional positions necessary to put laws, policies, and practices in the way white people do. Don’t believe me? Please see the graphic in the Class section.
Due to the lack of power to fight the source of oppression, these experiences are internalized as a felt sense of inferiority and lead to survival strategies that attempt to protect oneself from the impacts of racism:
- Colorism: Racist ideals that measure skin color relative to its proximity to whiteness. “Colorist ideas are also assimilationist ideas, encouraging assimilation into—or transformation into something close to—the white body.” –
- Distancing: Distancing from one’s community as an assimilation survival strategy to attempt to gain more social power. The reality of this strategy highlights the power and trauma of racism.
- Protectionism/mimicking: Out of fear, BIPOC individuals will adapt to white culture for safety and then protect the cultural norms in an attempt to keep themselves safe. The flight from one’s cultural identity is a survival strategy birthed from the abusive forces of racism.
- Tolerance: A felt sense that one has to endure racist comments or actions out of a fear that confronting people will lead to social or institutional punishment.
Internalized Racism Lives in the Body
This internalized racial bias comes from “ideas and images that were created, perpetuated, and institutionalized over hundreds of years—all for the benefit of powerful white bodies.” These ideas and images live in the nervous system and influence our bodies to react due to the learned unconscious racist bias and the body’s natural response to connect or protect itself.
“Our bodies have a form of knowledge that is different from our cognitive brains. This knowledge is typically experienced as a felt sense of constriction or expansion, pain or ease, energy or numbness.
Often this knowledge is stored in our bodies as wordless stories about what is safe and what is dangerous.
The body is where we fear, hope, and react; where we constrict and release; and where we reflexively fight, flee, or freeze.
If we are to upend the status quo of white-body supremacy, we must begin with our bodies.” – Resmaa Menakem, My Grandmother’s Hands
Our nervous system, for survival purposes, “responds to cues of safety, danger, and life-threat from within our bodies, in the world around us, and in our connections to others.” This process, called neuroception as labeled by Dr. Stephen Porges, happens without awareness and below conscious thought. Neuroception creates feeling states that our brains then use to create a story of why we feel that way.
In this way, our body without our awareness puts each new body it encounters into a box: safe or dangerous. Because of the dehumanizing process of racism,
“many white Americans—no matter what they think or believe—put unfamiliar Black bodies into the dangerous category. This makes it difficult for their bodies to settle when Black bodies are nearby. This sense of danger does not come out of nowhere. But it also doesn’t come from Black bodies—even though, to white bodies, it feels like it does. It comes from the ideas and images that were created, perpetuated, and institutionalized over hundreds of years—all for the benefit of powerful white bodies.”- Resmaa Menakem, My Grandmother’s Hands
Some of the most pervasive images, sensations, and impressions of the Black body include:
- The Black body is dangerous and threatening.
- The Black body is impervious to pain.
- The Black body is incredibly strong and resilient—almost invulnerable.
- The Black body is hypersexual.
- The Black body is dirty.
- The Black body is unattractive, especially in comparison to the white body.
- Therefore, the Black body needs to be managed and controlled—by any means necessary.
When these images, sensations, and impressions are embedded in a white body’s nervous system, that white body feels unsafe and uncomfortable in the presence of a Black body, especially an unfamiliar one. As a result, when many white American bodies encounter Black American bodies, the white bodies reflexively constrict due to a neuroception of unsafety as a result of these internalized racist messages, not the actual presence of a black body.
Menakem highlights that one shortcut the [neuroception] uses to make this determination is by asking, “How closely does this body match mine?” The brain then tells the body to either relax in recognition or constrict in self-protection. All bodies do this.
What Menakem is highlighting is that the traumatizing nature of racism and the narratives and systemic policies live in all our bodies. We constrict or relax. We connect or we fight, flee, or freeze in reaction to these internalized and traumatizing messages.
As Dana puts it, “Trauma compromises our ability to engage with others by replacing patterns of connection with patterns of protection.”
This is the power of internalized racism. It blocks us from healing our racist trauma and changing our neuroception, like any good trauma work can do, because the racist narrative often attributes the white body’s constriction as a result of black bodies, not a result of racist policies and narratives that disconnect us from fellow humans.
“Trauma also routinely spreads between bodies, like a contagious disease. When someone with unhealed trauma chooses dirty pain over clean pain, the person may try to soothe his or her trauma by blowing it through another person—using violence, rage, coercion, deception, betrayal, or emotional abuse. This never heals the trauma.”
The historical trauma of racism and white supremacy also lives in Black bodies. “The Black body sees the white body as privileged, controlling, and dangerous. It is conflicted about the police body, which it sees as sometimes a source of protection, sometimes a source of danger, and sometimes both at once.”
We will cover more of what you can do with your body to heal your internalized racism in the action steps below.
I believe the policies, internalized racism, and the economic exploitation of Black bodies is why there is more brutality in the treatment of BIPOC by police.
The Reality of Black Lives: The History of Policing, Trauma, and Black Bodies
“I am not anti-law enforcement (nor is the Black Lives Matter Movement), though I believe that abuse of authority needs to be addressed.” – Dolly Chugh, The Person You Mean to Be
Note: As I talk about policing in this section, I am not claiming all police are bad; they’re not. I know some of you have family and friends in the force. I’ve worked with people in the force and had family in the force. My stance is that we do need police. And I think the system (policies), expectations, and lack of understanding of trauma, biases, and pressures of police are the problem that needs changing.
The policing profession has its own culture, customs, norms, rituals, expectations, and codes of conduct that shape how officers behave in the world with the bodies they are assigned to serve and protect.
Unlike the way white people are viewed by law enforcement (fragile, vulnerable, in need of protection), Menakem argues that Black people are seen as dangerous and disruptive, powerful, invulnerable, invincible to pain, and in need of being controlled.
Because of this internalized racist bias, police officers in America target, search, convict, incarcerate, shoot, and kill large numbers of Black people. Their neuroception puts the Black body in the dangerous category even when a Black body is unarmed. The statistics validate this and make clear that Black people are not handled in the same way white people are.
In US history, law enforcement meant enforcing laws that were explicitly designed to subjugate Black people. Some of America’s first law enforcement units were the Slave Patrols tasked with capturing and returning people who had escaped from slavery.
As one Alabama planter said in the wake of emancipation, “We have the power to pass stringent police laws to govern the Negroes—this is a blessing—for they must be controlled.”
For a century after emancipation, police in the South were responsible for enforcing segregation while allowing, and sometimes participating in, lynchings and anti-black terrorism. And as Black people migrated to the North, they were met there by police brutality.
For example, in the 1990s the school of thought called zero tolerance policing took hold. The idea behind this is that if minor crimes are left unattended, it would lead to more serious crimes.
Therefore, the idea states that police should crack down on those minor offenses which “fueled the saturation of police in low-income communities of color” and gave way to policies such as Stop and Frisk, which allowed police to search people at random.
At the peak of this in 2011, out of the nearly 700,000 cases recorded in New York, the racial breakdown of those stopped was as follows:
- Black – 52.9%
- Latino – 33.7%
- White – 9.3%
- Asian, American Indian – 4.0%
Here are some of the “reasons” police and other authorities provided for the used unnecessary force and action that resulted in deaths of unarmed Black people in America over the last decade:
- Playing with a toy gun (2014, Tamir Rice)
- Suspected of selling single cigarettes (2014, Eric Garner)
- Walking unarmed through his own neighborhood (2014, Ezell Ford)
- Routine traffic stop for broken brake light (2015, Walter Scott)
- Opening the door for police who were there for her upstairs neighbor (2015, Bettie Jones)
- Traffic stop on the way home from dinner with his family (2016, Philando Castile)
- Eating ice cream in his own apartment building; off-duty police officer entered the apartment believing it was her own (2018, Botham Jean)
- Spending time with her nephew (2019, Atatiana Jefferson)
- Sleeping in her own bed in her own home having committed no crimes (2020, Breonna Taylor)
- Suspected forgery (2020, George Floyd)
And here is a video of even more individuals unlawfully harmed.
None of these are reasons that excessive force was necessary or justified. And yet, several of these officers, if not all of them up until the indictment of the officers involved in the death of George Floyd, either were not charged or were acquitted and walked free. The trauma passed through Black bodies was ignored and thus gives rise to this being perpetuated in the future. This highlights policies that don’t work.
The Policy Problems in Policing
Police officers are protected from punishment by something called qualified immunity: a public official is immune from lawsuits unless their exact conduct has already been ruled unconstitutional in a previous case, and it does have to be EXACT.
Police unions take protecting their workers to a dangerous extreme and negotiate language in their contracts that make it so that it is extremely difficult to remove an officer.
Some of the nation’s largest police departments have fired 1,881 officers for misconduct but were forced to reinstate more than 450 officers after appeals required by union contracts.”. This is almost 25% after appeals.
When the policies in place do not get justice for the victims’ families, people attempt to sue.
“The 10 cities with the largest police departments … paid out $1.02 billion over … five years.”
If an institution is spending over $1 billion in misconduct settlements, that draws attention to the fact that it’s time to consider and analyze what conduct is supposed to look like.
Menakem highlights that a big part of this problem is how the police body sees Black bodies as often dangerous and disruptive, as well as superhumanly powerful and impervious to pain. Menakem argues that white-body supremacy takes a toll on the bodies of law enforcement professionals, regardless of their race.
When a police body unnecessarily harms a Black one, the officer is often not held accountable because, as the officer explains, “I feared for my life.” In some cases, this is an honest description of trauma-inspired fight response. Yet not healing your trauma is never a valid defense for murder.
“The fear these police officers speak of is surely real. But claiming that this fear gives them the unrestricted right to shoot bullets into bodies is a form of gaslighting.” – Resmaa Menakem
As Menakem puts it, white body supremacy has charged our law enforcement professionals with managing Black bodies. Instead, we need to help police learn to manage their own bodies. For their safety, as well as the safety of our communities.
And again, this begins with policy and institutional choices. Police unions can oppose the most basic and common sense reforms. For example, a few years back, the Cleveland Police were required to file a report every time they unholstered and pointed their gun at someone.
Steve Loomis, President of the Cleveland Police Patrolmen’s Association stated, “I’m afraid that officers are going to be hesitant to pull their gun in an appropriate situation because they don’t want to do the paperwork that’s going to be associated with having to pull your gun.”
The concept that the risk of having to do paperwork is a greater deterrent for police officers than the risk of killing someone is alarming and terrifying. Especially because 6 months prior, Tamir Rice, a 12 year old, was killed by a Cleveland police officer.
Not to mention, when requested to make changes to their policies and procedures, police use the threat of pulling back and allowing crime to rise when they are held accountable or when reform is being pushed. This is the only union bargaining chip to get what they want.
For example, when it was suggested that the police officer whose chokehold killed Eric Garner should be fired, this was the response:
“The criminal advocates have gotten what they want. The police department is frozen. The police department can’t stop the killers, they can’t stop the criminals, they can’t effectively do their job. I’m sorry to say that we have to tell our police officers, ‘take it a step slower’.” – Patrick Lynch, Police Benevolent Association
Following this statement, policing did slow down in New York. There was an 11% drop in felony arrests, an 18% drop in misdemeanor arrests, and a 32% drop in moving violations.
People probably don’t recall this time period as being full of crime, danger, and chaos in New York. That’s probably because it wasn’t. People still went about their day, everything still went about normally, which makes you question if the arrests made prior to this time were made in the interest of public safety.
The way to get those reforms necessary past the unions is by having the federal government step in, which it is allowed to do. It has the ability to investigate police departments that have been reported for committing discrimination or having a pattern of civil rights violations. This is called entering into a consent decree, in which a “police department agrees to make institutional changes that are then overseen by a federal court and an independent monitoring team.”
The problem that arises with this, however, is that it depends on who is running the government and how they are choosing to run it.
Again, the bigger problem is the policies that are harmful are being kept due to institutional power and choices by the leaders of this country. This is systemic racism in action. Change not only needs to happen at a policy level, but we also must create better care for our communities and our officers who serve them.
The Police Body Experiences Trauma Burnout
During the Clinton Administration, funding was increased for law enforcement agencies, and it was decreased for social service agencies, meaning that in many communities, the police were the only ones left to handle any issues people were experiencing.
David Brown (former Chief Police, Dallas Police) in 2016: “We’re asking cops to do too much in this country. Every societal failure, we put it off on the cops to solve. Not enough mental health funding, let the cop handle it. Not enough drug addiction funding, give it to the cops. Massive array of complicated responsibilities, most of which they are not equipped or properly trained to handle.”
We are angry at the police right now, but we should also be angry at the series of choices that left them as essentially the only public resource in some communities.
“Chronic stress, and routinely dealing with traumatized people, is traumatizing to the police body.” This makes them more susceptible to reactions that endanger their community and lives.
We Need Police
Crime does happen. Criminals of all ethnicities exist. There are behaviors that individuals and organized crime groups do that need to be stopped. We do need the police to help keep order. To help protect us. But we must also protect our police from compounding trauma, overwhelming demands, and help them heal their bodies and any internalized racial biases.
And police need to be trained not only on criminals, but also on any biases that lead to unnecessary harm and deaths. They need training on how to settle their bodies when needed and activate their bodies when reality calls for it, not when internalized racial biases call for it incorrectly.
“This dynamic will not fundamentally change until ALL police officers recognize Black bodies, lives, and communities as human bodies, lives, and communities. Community policing is not a philosophy or an idea. It is a set of ongoing actions that involve making your body a part of the community—and then wholeheartedly serving, protecting, and assisting the people in that community.” – Resmaa Menakem
Racism in Intimate Relationships
“We have all been programmed to respond to the human differences between us with fear and loathing and to handle that difference in one of three ways: ignore it, and if that is not possible, copy it if we think it is dominant, or destroy it if we think it is subordinate. But we have no patterns for relating across our human differences as equals.” – Audre Lorde
Racism is an invisible wall that blocks all humans from developing deeper connections and a more enriched sense of self. My growth from a white progressive who unknowingly perpetrated racism, to an awareness of my own cultural locatedness and an appreciation of different cultures, has had profoundly healthy impacts on my sense of self. I noticed becoming more secure and grounded in who I am. My capacity to accept myself and others has changed significantly, and it’s done wonders for my mental and physical health.
Interestingly, research on attachment theory (how we relate to people we are close to in the world) indicates that individuals who are more secure are more accepting of people and communities who have different views and beliefs. This is also why secure romantic partners are more accepting of differences and tend to have less nasty conflict in relationships or use of indirect communication tactics
Meanwhile, insecure individuals tend to be judgmental and fearful of people who are different than them because they don’t have the capacity/maturity to be connected and close to someone who is different. Their fragile sense of self makes it difficult to stay connected to someone who has different values, beliefs, and experiences.
From a business standpoint, “racially diverse teams have been shown to be more high-performing.” Especially for innovative companies, inclusiveness leads to increased performance on “innovation creativity, employee retention, recruiting success, information processing, and bottom-line results.”
What I’m highlighting here is that if you choose to be an antiracist, you won’t only ally with BIPOC and make our world a better place, it will also make you a better, more creative, and more wholehearted person.
As Dolly Chugh put it, you’ll make progress toward being the person you mean to be.
Black Lives Matter: Anti-Racism Activism and Change
Intentional Relationships’ Role in Becoming an Anti-Racist Organization
The organization behind this blog, which is me and a few other people, has been exploring ways we have been perpetuating racism unintentionally and examining how we can be antiracist as individuals and as an organization. Since we tend to operate as an educational resource for individuals and relationships to enhance their intimate connections, here are a few of the things the organization will be doing:
- Reflecting more on the upbringing of the researchers we are citing and ensuring we are gaining multiple perspectives, not just a white perspective.
- As a researcher who actively manages research studies at The Gottman Institute, I will continue working on designing research studies that include an adequate sample of people with different ethnicities, sexualities, and religious backgrounds. Part of the way we are attempting this is with our national and international studies that are active currently and actively recruiting couples who tend to be marginalized in the field of research.
- Continue studying white-body supremacy, trauma, and ways we can provide resources and aid.
- Writing more about oppressive forces and creating action steps and narratives of hope and possibility.
- Citing and referencing past and current role models and leaders who are antiracist.
- Explore and implement new ways to collectively work with this community to make it more inclusive.
Your Individual Role in Activism
- Start with your body: “A calm, settled body is the foundation for health, for healing, for helping others, and for changing the world.”
- “We need to spend more time with more people who look and live differently than we do. We need a willingness to engage, and a hope for something great to happen, just like what happened with United We Stand.” Seriously invest time in communities that you are not familiar with, whether that is volunteering or spending time at a local organization there. This goes beyond Black communities and includes any communities of different ethnic backgrounds, gender identities, and sexualities.
- Listen and validate the reality of Black lives. Let them touch your heart as that is needed to help you ally with them and then advocate for creating a more secure society. You can also promote their experiences on social media, in your social circles, etc. Promote past and current leaders in the Black community.
- Start an Anti-Racist group/club: Particularly if you are white, I would recommend meeting with other white folks to read about racism and discuss personal experiences as well as what each of you has learned. Asking your Black friend or POC to lead this group puts them in the position of doing the emotional labor to upend racism, rather than you putting yourself in the position to do that work for BIPOC and our society as a whole. You can see the books and workbooks in the references section below. “If America is to grow out of white-body supremacy, the transformation must largely be led by white Americans.” – Resmaa Menakem
- Supporting Black businesses (i.e., shopping at Black bookstores, Black-owned businesses, spreading via word of mouth or social media sharing, encouraging people to also invest in Black business, etc.)
- Donating to Black organizations that are geared toward supporting, uplifting, and serving the Black community. See resources below.
- Following and boosting social media accounts for Black activities and organizers
- Intentionally curate your social media. One of the ways to start to eliminate your biases is to follow more inclusive social media accounts. The more you expose yourself to content that is inclusive and represents a more accurate picture of humanity, your brain will start to normalize this, which can help your neuroception and biases. Not to mention it will improve your self-compassion as you will start to humanize others and in return humanize yourself. Another key reason to be anti-oppression.
- Explore your cultural locatedness and understand the roots of your family’s migration and historical experiences. You can use services like Ancestry.com as well as talk to older generations about their upbringings.
Your Role in Community Activism
- Locally, evaluate the organizations you’re a part of and whether there is an adequate representation of ethnicity and gender within the leadership or positions of power. If not, consider why these organizations have avoided adding that perspective and what you might be able to do to shift that.
- If you live in a predominantly white part of town, ask yourself why that is. Review your local policies and cultural norms that still promote segregation and the silencing of voices that are not mainstream.
- Spend time volunteering in communities and helping communities that don’t get their fair share of funds due to government policies and funding.
- Redefine whiteness within your community by having open dialogue and embracing a growth mindset. For more guidance, read The Person You Mean to Be.
- Promote the liberation of barriers in your local community. Sometimes this may mean actively recruiting people who have been oppressed because they often assume they are not invited due to the historical racism.
Your Role in Policy and Government Activism
- Signing petitions that call for justice for those who unjustly lost their lives. Your voice and signature matters. Here is a site I’ve used to do this.
- Voting for politicians who stand for justice, equality, and protection for Black people (both locally and nationally). This is well highlighted in the book How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi.
- Raise up Black leaders in our government locally and nationally.
“As citizens in this democracy, we—all of us, white, Black, Hispanic, Asian, Native American, and others—bear a collective responsibility to enforce our Constitution and to rectify past violations whose effects endure.” – Richard Rothstein, The Color of Law
Thank you for doing your part in creating a secure society for Black Americans.
FAQ/Common Harmful Phrases & Ideas (Not to Mention Incorrect)
The Black Lives Matter vs All Lives Matter Argument
All lives do matter. Unfortunately, the All Lives Matter platform seeks to actively use the Black Lives Matter movement as a way to support their belief of Reverse Racism and continuously use it to discredit the fight for equal rights and safety for BIPOC communities. The article you just read outlines exactly white BIPOC communities feel as though their lived experience is marginalized in the nation as a whole.
In a simplified way to describe this to people, I use the same analogy that I saw a while ago on my Facebook. It said the following:
If you go into a doctor’s office for an injury that resulted in your broken arm, the doctor is going to treat that broken arm. They aren’t going to look at the arm and say, “Well, your other bones are important too, so I’m going to focus on all of them.” The doctor would focus on the one aspect of your body that was actively broken, not working, and causing you pain.
It’s the same with the Black Lives Matter Movement. All lives matter, of course, but at this point in time, Black Lives are the ones that the system is oppressing, discriminating against, and killing. So, we need to focus on uplifting that community, creating safe and secure spaces for them, and making sure that they know their lives matter through liberation, systemic changes, and legislation that will protect, embrace, and celebrate the Black community. All lives can’t matter until Black lives matter.
For more information about this topic, please visit the following websites:
The harmful implications of being “colorblind”
Claiming to be “colorblind” in regard to race is actually a form of racism in itself. Being “colorblind” enables white people to ignore the racial inequalities and injustices that BIPOC face on a regular basis because they “don’t see race.” Seeing race and recognizing different races isn’t racism. But when you refuse to acknowledge that BIPOC exist in our world because you “don’t see race,” you are actually ignoring the ways that BIPOC do differ in their lack of opportunities, safety, and experiences, and therefore, are being complacent in the mistreatment and discrimination that they face, as well as the trauma that BIPOC have carried with them throughout the generations of racism in this country.
Instead of being colorblind, try being “Color Brave.” Watch TedTalk “Color Blind or Color Brave with Mellody Hobson”
For more information on this, please visit the following websites:
But BIPOC are racist against white people!
To start understanding why Reverse Racism is not an accurate representation of race prejudice, you have to first understand the difference between racism and race prejudice.
Prejudice: an affective feeling toward a person(s) based on their perceived group membership. (For example, a Black person not liking a white person because they associate white people with violence and discrimination)
Now, racism is race prejudice + power, and that power is usually on a governmental and institutionalized level in order to maintain the privilege of the majority.
“People of color may also hold prejudices and discriminate against white people, but they lack the social and institutional power that transforms their prejudice and discrimination into racism; the impact of their prejudice on whites is temporary and contextual. Whites hold the social and institutional positions in society to infuse their racial prejudice into the laws, policies, practices, and norms of society in a way that people of color do not.” – Robin DiAngleo, White Fragility
For more information about this, please visit the following websites:
White privilege doesn’t exist.
Privilege is a set of unearned advantages and benefits that people have and aren’t aware of unless they choose to examine and recognize it.
A really helpful analogy used by Dr. Randall Pinkett, CEO of BCT Partners and author of Black Faces in White Places, says this. White people are the fish that are swimming with the stream. There will be obstacles along the way and swimming still takes effort, but at the end of the day, the stream is helping you along. Black people are the fish that are having to swim against the stream. Just like white people, they are facing obstacles, but having to swim against the stream makes it even more difficult.
The thing about privilege is that it is impossible to see if you are the one benefitting from it. Like the fish, you don’t think about the water you’re swimming in. You just swim.
While it’s true that white people can experience struggles, setbacks, obstacles, and other forms of unfair treatment, they lack institutional discrimination due to the color of their skin. While white people can have issues in their lives and don’t always have opportunities thrust at them, they’ve never been denied opportunities (such as education, employment, housing, etc.) based on their race.
White privilege doesn’t mean that you haven’t had to work hard in your life or that you don’t deserve credit for what you’ve accomplished. What it means is that the same obstacles that BIPOC face weren’t obstacles you had to face, and BIPOC haven’t received the same advantages that you have based on skin color.
White people must consistently check their privilege by asking the following questions:
- If I were a person of color, would I be able to do this?
- Would this be happening to a Black person? How is my experience, as a white person, different from a Black person’s in this specific moment?
- What does a Black person have to face on a regular basis?
- Have I or will I ever be institutionally discriminated against because of the color of my skin? (Institutions consist of government, education, housing, and employment.)
- Have I ever had to worry about not being represented in government by someone who shares commonality with my skin?
- What messages do I receive about my body and my existence as a white person? What messages do I receive about the bodies and existence of Black people?
For more information about this topic, please visit the following websites:
But all of the chaos is caused by the Black people right now. They’re the ones rioting, protesting, looting, destroying things. The Black people are the ones perpetuating stereotypes.
I argue this on two fronts.
- Black people aren’t the only ones protesting and fighting for the cause. White people and non-Black People of Color are participating as well.
- Protesting is a valid and proven way to bring about change on societal, legislative, and nationwide levels.
If you’re not sure about that second point, let me provide you with some examples.
- The Boston Tea Party
- The Stonewall Riots
- MLK Jr.’s Civil Rights Movement
- The Women’s Suffrage Movement
All of the above brought about change through riots, consistency, pressure on the government (both state and federal), and protests (oftentimes violent, oftentimes resulting in businesses being burnt down, property being destroyed, etc.).
Some rhetoric I have seen is that people are okay with protests, as long as they are peaceful. I challenge this as well, by redirecting you to the above movements. None of those were necessarily peaceful, and some of them were, as stated before, violent and destructive.
The buildings that have been destroyed have been both small businesses and large corporations. While the loss of these small businesses is devastating, the destruction of corporations and institutions that are not only perpetuating structural racism but continuing to maintain oppression is necessary. This includes police stations, as well as historical monuments and organizations (i.e., The Daughters of the Confederacy) that glorify racism and white supremacy.
The Black community has tried to be peaceful before with their protests—i.e., Colin Kaepernick kneeling during the National Anthem to protest the murder of an innocent black person at the hands of the police. Nobody listened.
The Black community coined the phrase Black Lives Matter, and they were mocked mercilessly, harshly criticized, and responded to with the phrase “All Lives Matter” or “Blue Lives Matter,” completely missing the meaning of the Black Lives Matter phrase and movement. (If you’re still confused about why Black Lives Matter is important and All Lives Matter is racist and harmful, please take a look at this tweet by Arisa Cox).
I urge you to really consider the following phrases and ideas that have been circulating from the Black community throughout these protests:
- “We do not have to peacefully protest our own genocide.”
- “White people do not get to criticize reactions to problems they do not face.”
- “A riot is the language of the unheard. And what is it that America has failed to hear?” – MLK Jr.
I have seen these over and over again, and although I have been aware of my privilege as a white man in America for some time, this reopened my eyes to the necessity of rioting and protesting and how there are things I will never, as a white man, experience or understand.
With all of this being said, I urge you to take part in raising Black voices and demanding racial equality and police accountability in America. Too many Black people have lost their lives to senseless violence at the hands of police officers.
Black Lives Matter: Resources for Antiracism Education and Healing
Therapy Resources for BIPOC:
While we have tried linking these books to online shops for Black-owned bookstores in this article, we highly encourage you to find a local Black-owned bookstore to see if they have these books in stock. Consider purchasing from them first and foremost.
Note: A lot of Black-owned bookstores will also have reading lists and categories about race and race relations, so please explore the stores and websites of Black-owned bookstores locally and nationally for more resources and book recommendations.
- How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi
- White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism by Robin DiAngelo, Ph.D. (white author)
- Uprooting Racism: How White People Can Work for Racial Justice by Paul Kivel
- My Grandmother’s Hands: Racialized Trauma and the Pathway to Mending Our Hearts and Bodies by Resmaa Menakem
- Mindful of Race: Transforming Racism from the Inside Out by Ruth King
- The Racial Healing Handbook: Practical Activities to Help You Challenge Privilege, Confront Systemic Racism, and Engage in Collective Healing by Anneliese A. Singh
- Waking Up White by Debby Irving
- The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander
- Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine (video of Claudia Rankine reciting poem from book)
- So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo
- Me and White Supremacy by Layla F. Saad
- The Color of Law: A Forgotten History on How Our Government Segregated America by Richard Rothstein (white author)
- Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge
- White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide by Carol Anderson
- Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi
- How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi
- Internalized Oppression: The Psychology of Marginalized Groups by E.J.R. David
- Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
- I am Not Your Negro by James Baldwin and Raoul Peck
- Things That Make White People Uncomfortable by Michael Bennett, Dave Zirin, and Martellus Bennett
- Deep Denial: The Persistence of White Supremacy in United States History and Life by David Billings
- Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome: America’s Legacy of Enduring Injury and Healing by Dr. Joy Degruy
- I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness by Austin Channing Brown
- All About Love: New Visions by bell hooks
- Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America by Ibram X. Kendi
- On the Other Side of Freedom: The Case for Hope by DeRay Mckesson
- The Third Option: Hope for a Racially Divided Nation by Miles McPherson
- To Live Woke: Thoughts to Carry in Our Struggle to Save the Soul of America by Rupert W. Nacoste Ph.D.
- Unequal Childhoods: Class, Race, and Family Life by Annette Lareau
- Biased: Uncovering the Hidden Prejudice That Shapes What We See, Think, and Do by Jennifer L. Eberhardt
- Killing the Black Body: Race, Reproduction, and the Meaning of Liberty by Dorothy Roberts