Racing to Insanity on Racism

Can you believe that Bill O’Reilly actually said (I saw it! I heard it!) that – and I paraphrase – we no longer have a problem with racism in this country? He went on to say that there may be some (a few) deranged people who are racists and racism is no longer a systemic problem.

Shouldn’t there be some kind of awareness or sanity test that is required if people are going to speak as “authorities” on television? Of course not! This is America and any nutcase can say whatever she/he wants and, hopefully, the public is educated enough to sort through and filter out the nonsense. And, there will always be people who do not want to expend energy to sort through the garbage and find the hidden pearls.

This also is an America where we have the right and responsibility to learn as much as we can about every issue that affects us all . . . and there are many . . . and make informed (not just emotional!!!) judgments.

This blog is an attempt to add to our store of information about racism and sexism as, in this instance, they have much in common. To allege that racism or sexism has been properly eradicated because blacks can drink from the same water fountains or no longer have to go to the back of the bus is ridiculous and any thinking person should know that. To allege that sexism no longer exists because women are now the CEO’s of several Fortune 500 companies is also absurd.

Both are larger systemic issues that will take generations to eradicate, IF WE AS A SOCIETY GENUINELY WANT TO LET THEM GO!!

And, let me add, so we are perfectly clear – RACISM IS NOT JUST DIRECTED TOWARD PEOPLE OF AFRO-AMERICAN ORIGINS. The term, RACISM, applies to anyone the majority sees as DIFFERENT from THEMSELVES and exists in and between different groups of people.

Racism, sexism and homophobia are HATRED OF DIFFERENCES that result in FEAR, HATRED and VIOLENCE (emotional, physical, spiritual) and can apply to almost anyone or anything.

Racism and sexism are systemic because the power and influence in our society from its inception (unlike the culture that exists here before the Europeans came) has been a one party system controlled by WHITE MALES – with all our help.

White males are not bad per se and any group that runs unbalanced and unchecked without input from anyone else for so many years will run amuck when left to its own devices. Any group that believes (with the support of others) that its perceptions ARE REALITY and no other way of perceiving the world exists, will and does run into trouble.

For example, back in the 1960’s when I first became involved in the civil rights movement, I had many learnings – personal, professional and societal.

I now believe that the most important learning I had was personal and it has deeply affected my profession and the way I do it and my view of the society.

I volunteered to help “train” a group of black men to become “Trainers” and group leaders in the National Training Laboratories (NTL). This was the foremost national group in group dynamics and sensitivity training – something very near and dear to my heart. We had only one black Trainer in the whole NTL national network and with the civil rights movement blossoming, I knew we needed more. . There were few women senior Trainers in NTL at that time also. I strongly believed that what I was doing was a good thing – and it was. I did not realize that taking on this responsibility would also be a gut-wrenching time of growth for me. I was a white liberal doing white liberal things. As I look back, I think that I believed that because I was doing what I was doing in civil rights and, because of the teachings and attitudes of my mother who was strongly against racism my whole life, that I was not a racist.

There were two black men in that group who would not let me get away with holding on to that belief. As I look back, I tried every trick in the book to try to manipulate them into telling me that I was different. I was not racist.

They absolutely refused! And, it was brutal! They kept saying that I was “getting it wrong,” and “You ain’t got it yet,” as I presented arguments, examples, anecdotes to “prove” my position.

Finally, when I was in tatters, physically, emotionally, psychologically and spiritually, I got it!


I had been asking, “Am I racist?” with the unspoken request – “Tell me I’m not!”

Then I got it. The issue was not am I racist. The issue was “HOW AM I RACIST?”

I am white in a white male dominated society. I naturally “think white,” see through “white” eyes, make “white” assumptions, have a “white” sensibility, have “white” values . . . The issue was not whether I was racist or not. The issue was “HOW!!!”

Through my tears, I could see nods of approval. Now I was ready to learn about my racism.

Because I am white in a white dominant society, I had to learn that my perceptions, beliefs, assumptions and behaviors are all based on “white” perceptions, beliefs, assumptions and behaviors which I had come to believe were reality. I see now that it helped that I was a woman and I had completely bought into the WHITE MALE SYSTEM. In order for us to rid this society of racism and sexism, all of us have to do our work – personally, professionally, spiritually and societally.

If we care enough for – – ourselves, our fellow beings, and our planet, we have to stop asking if we are and begin to explore the “How we are’s.”

The system we have created is not REALITY. It is a system where the white males (with all our help) have created and designed a dysfunctional system which they (and we) have called reality.

I wonder what Bill O’Reilly would say if he asked himself and others “How am I racist?”

Changes in societal racism will require changes in all of us who are white as well as others who have tried to “make it” by proving how well they could incorporate the white system into their beings. In the sixties these people were nicknamed “Oreos.”

Historically, perhaps we are at a point where we can realize that we need these differences to save the planet. We need to realize that these differences are not a threat, they are a possibility.

We will never do that with race until we can become humble enough to ask the “How am I?” question. We will never ask the right question until we admit that racism and sexism are inherent in individuals and in the society.

That’s the way we set it up.

If we created it, then, we can change it.

2 thoughts on “Racing to Insanity on Racism

  1. Anne: I teach a course in the oil patch titled “Safety Culture Leadership.” I know you have named the “White Male System” for many years, and the words you use in this blog: the assumptions, values, beliefs (etc) that we hold without question, are a perfect description of “culture.”

    Keep on blogging!!

  2. Thank you Elizabeth Anne for your insight and timely reminder that the question is never am I, but where am I racist, addicted, or using something to try and manage my life.

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