What I like most about getting older is getting wiser. What if white people in America could admit that we are racist? It’s very hard to not be racist if you are a white person raised in the U.S. Can we be honest? I have spent much of my life trying to find my truth. This morning, with racism on my mind and with that very important topic being exposed on the front page in all of the major U.S news outlets, I remembered that I wrote a short piece about racism that I will share below. First I want to ask you to imagine a world without racism and live your life that way.
Another brief comment before I share my thoughts on racism 101. There are many similarities between mental health oppression (which is an umbrella terms for what this blog/web site is about) and racism. I invite readers to contemplate the similarities and differences in these pernicious forms of oppressions. Sera Davidow has begun a wonderful MIA blog-discussion on this. (Thank you, Sera.) In the mean time let me admit to my own racism. Here is what I wrote previously. I offer it as an invitation to racism 101.
A book excerpt:
… I had to be informed about racism (my own white racism) and institutionalized racism. In working on my racism, it became clear that I did not agree to be racist – it was installed from the outside and it left me damaged, as is the case with all people in oppressor roles. The minds and spirits of those conditioned by society to act as the agents of racism are corrupted. The damage done to individuals targeted by racism — the hurts from being treated as inferior, denied basic material needs, denied a fair share of resources, demeaned, attacked, threatened with destruction and much more — is done to individuals through their contact with society’s institutions and by the actions of individuals….
Cycles of unhealed hurt perpetuate misunderstanding and miscommunication that may lead to further conflicts, intolerance and violence. The damage from oppression clouds thinking… dissemination of information about internalized oppression has the potential of healing painful wounds and stopping the cycles of hurts that have continued for generations.
This excerpt is from the chapter on Forgiveness, Living for Two: A Daughter’s Journey from Grief and Madness to Forgiveness and Peace, in which I write about how I came to forgive the seventeen year old who murdered my father.
In previous blogs I have written about the importance of dialogue, healing from trauma, facing the unfaceable and other related topics. All forms of oppression are intrinsically linked and interact with one another. You can’t heal from one oppression without it impacting healing from another. It makes sense to me that the opposite is true as well – that is, as we form judgments and close our minds in one area (be it racism, sexism, able-bodyism, etc) it increases judgments and occludes our clear thinking in other areas.
What happened that caused us individually and collectively to begin to lose our humanity, our sense of connection with ourselves and with others? I am happy to share what I have learned about my own process and perhaps it will be useful to you and your process. I go early in my search for my truth. At the time of my birth and soon after that I find many answers to some of my core struggles. I don’t think I am alone in these struggles, I think they are pervasive human struggles.
When I was born I was looking for connection – the same connection and sense of belonging and safely I felt in the womb. I eventually learned as a very young child that no one was really there, consistently present to protect me, hold me, and keep me safe from an unsafe world. In that early hurt where disconnect begins, the seeds of separation were planted. If I can’t trust a person who looks like me, how can I trust anyone?
I learned to disconnect from others and from myself – it was the best way I could figure out to survive. These seeds form early beliefs that allow the development of all forms of oppression. I began believing in the illusion of separation – that I am a separate entity from you. My socialization process reinforced the sense of separation and the vital importance of protecting this illusion. That created a trap wherein more and more judgments were created to justify my illusions such as beliefs like – I am right, you are wrong or you are right and I am wrong. All of this led to inner war which then got projected onto others which in turn sets up relationships based on separation and war. And I come to believe that war is necessary in order to hold on to what I came to believe was true and mine – whether it be protecting my property, my family, my political or religious beliefs.
For me, healing has meant transcending my social conditioning. How can we see other ways of thinking and being in the world as valid and good? As we approach that more possibilities and relationships open up. Our heart and mind expand, our perceptual barriers dissolve.
How do we free ourselves from racism, mental health oppression and all forms of human beings harming human beings? How do we create peace? Can we be with another person without judgment, holding multiple truths, standing firmly grounded in another persons moccasins? This is not easy but I think it is the work we need to do to embody inner peace. For me, it is the most important and very dynamic process I am involved in. It affects everything in my life – every relationship, how I view myself, every step I take. At least that is the bar I would like to hold myself to.
Can we hold Michael Brown and Darren Wilson in synchronistic harmony, holding both as correct? Why is it seemingly impossible to do this? Why do I keep forgetting to try? Those are the edges of oppression, where I get a taste of the work I need to do in order to find peace and healing.
What steps are you willing to take to end racism? I plan to continue to work to be more deeply aware of my own racism. I will also continue to build close relationships with people from my own culture as well as people from cultures different than my own.
I believe that we can end racism in our lifetime. It is worth repeating, imagine a world without racism and live your life that way.
Mad in America hosts blogs by a diverse group of writers. These posts are designed to serve as a public forum for a discussion—broadly speaking—of psychiatry and its treatments. The opinions expressed are the writers’ own.