Racism is one of the key issues in our world today. The economic and cultural domination of people of Caucasian descent over people of color has infected cultures the world over. People of color of varying races and backgrounds must contend, in general, with fewer resources and more limited access to power over their environments than white people. They also must do battle with disrespectful and limiting stereotypes about them that are passed down from generation to generation among people of the dominant culture. We parents have an opportunity to preserve our children's interest and delight in people whose skin color and culture may differ from theirs. To make the best of this opportunity, we can begin by widening our view of who is hurt by racism. In this article, I'm not going to talk about the deep damage racism does to people of color. There are numerous excellent books and resources on this subject. This article is a quick introduction to the perspective that racism hurts white people, too.
White people world-wide have been hurt by white racism, a conditioning which limits their lives and locks them into the oppressor role vis-a-vis people of color. No white person ever volunteered to become a racist. These patterns of hurt and fear are set in place when they are quite young, after they have been intimidated and attacked by adults many times to teach them "their place" as children.
Children know instinctively that each person deserves respect. But when they see the people they love acting out patterns of white racism, they are generally unable to speak up or change the situation. They must collude with it in order to keep their parents' favor. The racist actions of adults stick in the child's mind, and become patterns of behavior which they themselves fall into when they are upset or afraid.
Each white person gets hurt by white racism in a unique way, through unique incidents. But the larger societal pattern, which plays itself out in individuals' lives and actions, has these main aspects to it. First, racism has as its backbone the economic oppression of people of color. Racism prevents white people from getting accurate information about other people, and makes white people afraid of great numbers of people. White people are also severely isolated by racism. It corrals them into a very narrow world, the boundaries of which are enforced by an automatic, unthinking "we are better than" or "we don't go near" attitude which flares any time a white person is afraid.
White people can help each other get free of racist patterns and habits of thinking. Listening and decision are the keys to the cell door. The listener's main job is to lift feelings of guilt around racism, so that the emotional tension (crying, laughter, trembling and perspiring) that keeps racist behavior in place can drain. Every white person feels guilty about times he/she has failed to interrupt racist behavior. That guilt prevents people from seeing their own ultimate goodness enough to cry and rage about being trapped in racist patterns. Decision to act outside racist isolation is also vital to getting free, and so goals need to be set in listening sessions, to help the person chart a less confined life.
This is a series of drawings that illustrate how patterns of racism get set in, and how we can help each other to eliminate those patterns.
The oppression of children forces them to witness and collude with white racism.When afraid, the child rehearses the mis-information, isolation, and "better-than" patterns he or she has witnessed.
The patterned behavior sticks to the child.
Feelings of guilt and helplessness keep the person from looking honestly at the fear underlying the pattern of racism.
When the listener encourages the person to notice that she is good, and never wanted to hurt anyone, the lid of guilt lifts and the person is able to laugh, cry, tremble, talk about her life, and to set goals for breaking out of racist confines. Here are some of the things we encourage white people to talk about in listening partnerships and groups, where they can get good listening and begin the process of building richer lives for themselves and their families. Remember to stick with any thought or direction that allows a person to laugh, cry, tremble, perspire, rage, or yawn. This is the undoing of the emotional tension that has nailed a racist pattern onto a loving person.
What is great, and what is hard about your own heritage? How have you been oppressed?
Take a direction of absolute pride in yourself and the people you come from.
What are your earliest experiences with people of color? Tell all the details you remember.
Take full power to get things right in any early incidents in which you were passive witness to racism. Speak up, from your heart.
Talk about the times you've interrupted white racism, or wanted to.
Talk about the details of making friends and good relationships with people of color in your present life. What's great about your friendships? What are you afraid of? Embarrassed about? Worried about?
Set goals. What will you do to act outside the confines of white racism?
For further information, we recommend the book Uprooting Racism: How White People Can Work for Racial Justice, by Paul Kivel, New Society Press.