Ok. Let’s talk about racism since it is such a hot topic now thanks to so many including Hillary and Trump. I’m glad that the issue is coming up in the public conversation because it, like sexism, has never really been dealt with.
First of all, I want to say that racism and discrimination are not the same thing. Discrimination emerges out or racism just as discrimination is an outgrowth of action relating to sexism, ageism, elitism, empiricism, reductionism and classism. And, discrimination is a type of mind disease/systemic belief system that has spawned all of these “isms.” All these isms grow out of a belief system and way of functioning that has been developing for centuries which has been exacerbated by Newtonian science, religious belief systems (not spirituality), hierarchal forms of government, politics and class society.
Over the centuries, we have been told that this way of organizing ourselves is “reality” and a concerted effort has been made to convince ourselves and others that these beliefs are “true.”
Yet, down deep within ourselves there are some who know – who remember – that this “reality” is not the reality and that there is a different reality which functions much, much better.
I want to share my process of coming face to face with my own racism. First, a bit of background. I was raised in Cherokee land (the end of the Trail of Tears) on the Arkansas-Oklahoma border. Until the age of seven, I was surrounded by Cherokee and white people (mostly Cherokees) and a few black people (at that time they were kept very separate. Yet, my family did not practice that kind of racism). My mother and grandmother were medicine people. My father was quite taken by Western science and technology. I grew up seeing both those women take strong stands for the rights of animals, the rights of every single individual and the rights of the earth and all creation. These stands were never talked about. They were just done.
I was born in 1934 when Indian children were still in danger of being carried off to residential schools to be brainwashed in what was trying to become the dominant system even though the nation was founded on these native beliefs. (The founding fathers had a good vision. They just did not know how to operationalize it!) The result of all of these cultural tides which remained unspoken was that my family decided to pass for white (the becoming dominant culture) so I would have the advantages of the culture – and actually raised me as a traditional Cherokee with an assumption that all creation is a whole and the equality of all creation is a given. To “protect me,” they never told me that I was Cherokee.
So, like my great-grandmother and my mother before me, I grew up believing in civil rights for everyone and all things. When the Civil Rights Movement started in the late 1950’s and early ‘60’s, I was right there doing all I could. Clearly, there was a lot to do. I was very active in the National Training Laboratories (NTL) which taught group dynamics and sensitivity training as an alternative to authoritarian leadership. Of course it struck a chord in me, even if I did not know how or what at the time. NTL, at that time, only had one black trainer in the whole USA. So, with the blessing of the Midwestern branch of NTL, I started a black trainer group in St. Louis to add to the number of black trainers available to help facilitate groups struggling with integration and trying to raise awareness about racism.
I now see how important it was to my growth and understanding that there were two black fellows in that training group who never let me off the hook. I see, that because of my background (not really completely being part of the dominant culture unconsciously) and the way I was raised, I so much wanted them to tell me that I was different, that I wasn’t racist. They steadfastly refused to play along with my “white liberalism” and kept saying “You ain’t got it yet.” I hated that and tried every trick in the book to get them to let me off the hook. They steadfastly refused.
Finally I got it! Of course I was racist. Of course I was different from them. I was raised white. I had white privilege from birth (even if it wasn’t “real”). I had been schooled in white ways by all the institutions in my life (except my family which did both systems). I excelled in the white culture and, never knew why I didn’t really fit.
In all ways that mattered superficially, I had white privilege, I saw the world through white eyes, and I had a white mind. I was white (and never content, because of the way I felt, thought and believed). I came to realize that I had been asking the wrong question. The issue was not whether I was racist or not. The issue was to open up and find out “HOW” I was. From that moment on, my life changed – for the better – and my two black friends smiled knowingly.
Over and over I see people asking the wrong question. The question is not, “Am I racist?” The issue is “HOW am I racist?” Then we all can get somewhere.
Once ALL of us who have been raised in this culture start asking “HOW,” the better off we will be.
Of course, I have another bone to pick on this issue. Blacks are not the only people who experience racism. In this white dominated culture, American Indians, Hispanics, Latinos, Asians, Islanders, Hawaiians — the list goes on. And toward ALL of them, we need to ask ourselves not “Am I racist?” We need to ask “How am I racist?”
Then, at another level we need to look at how much we personally and as a group have bought into this dysfunctional White Male System/Addictive System/Technological, Mechanistic, Materialistic Culture and the negative unconscious influence it had on us.
I remember one incident during the early Second Wave of Feminism. A black man and I were talking and I said to him, “What’s the problem? We are both fighting the same issue?” He actually recoiled and said, ‘Are you kidding? I don’t want to be down there with you. I want to be up there with HIM.’” I felt so sad. We all need to see how we have “bought in” to a dysfunctional system and need to be “decontaminated.” Our minds have become very small.
In my experience each non-dominant culture has terms for people who are “contaminated,” want to belong, and are unconscious of the limitations they have absorbed into themselves. The blacks talk of Oreo’s (black on the outside/white on the inside), the American Indians have their apples (red on the outside, white on the inside). The Hawaiians have their coconuts – and so it goes. We all have work to do on this issue.
The issue of racism is multi-layered and multi-level. It is in us all and affects us all. Part of the necessary growth we have to do as human beings is ferret out the racism (and the effects of the dominant culture) in every cell of our beings and heal, grow, learn and change.
Then, of course, beneath all the racism work we have to do is the work on sexism which seems to run deeper and undergird all the issues in the culture in which it exists.
What a lot of work to do as a species.
AND IT IS DO-ABLE. AND, healing, growing, changing and learning can be so much more fun than letting our unconscious beliefs rule our lives.
I explore these kinds of issues in greater depth in There Will Be a Thousand Years of Peace and Prosperity and They Will Be Ushered in by the Women.