Racism 102:  It Is Not About Colorblindness


This blog is Lauren’s response to Matthew Cohen’s comment of concern based on her “Racism 101” blog which is found on www.madinamerica.com and www.laurenspiro.com.

Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts Matthew and in particular for pointing out – and I agree with you – what can easily be interpreted as my being naïve, ignorant and colorblind – which I don’t think I am but words and context matter.  I offer a bit more context and explanation below and I have copied your comments of concern for ease of following this discussion.

Matthew wrote “I want to express some confusion and concern about your repeated suggestion that we “imagine a world without racism and live your life that way.”

To my eyes, this could be taken as support for liberal “colorblindness” where we pretend racism does not exist and think that merely by working to treat people of color with respect on an individual basis, we are contributing to ending racism”.

I would like to explain that quite a few years ago I was so concerned about the rampant racism I saw operating in “mental health” settings (and elsewhere) that I wanted to create opportunities to address this head on. One action step I took was to provide training in cultural competency/attunement with an African American partner and we created this phrase  “imagine a world without racism and live your life that way” as a means of inviting people to transcend their social conditioning and think and act differently – in non-racist ways. Our interactive trainings addressed racism head-on particularly on a personal and interpersonal level and at this level and in the manner we did the training there were always clear implications for both policy and systems level change that was needed.

The intent of the invitation is to take the time to ‘be’ different. It is not about being colorblind but the opposite – seeing all of the colors and hues. Our trainings created a safe space to explore racism. Each participant shared rich information including their cultural heritage, who they are, what they think, how their family came to North America, etc. The space that was opened was one in which everyone could show their caring for each other. Typically the trainings were provided to organizations or programs within organizations so people knew each other to varying extents. The process involved engaging our innate curious inquiry and heart-felt compassion to reach for a deep connection, for deeper understanding. In this way we experienced individually and collectively an opening up of our minds which allowed for more honestly, cultural sensitivity and authenticity in our professional and personal relationships.

What I see pervasively practiced in our culture is people wearing a protective perceptual lens based on their illusion of fear and separation. Racism is one part of the multi-oppression based fear and illusion of separation that so many of us live with. That learned (not innate) perceptual lens gets fueled by our increasing out-of-control capitalism including the exploitation of all things human and environmental which contributes to the increased violence and disrespect for humanity that currently exists. Sadly and ironically I find that much of my work in the world is about re-learning how to be human and humane and  I often do this by facilitating dialogues of discovery. Dialogues create opportunities to evolve our consciousness forward by creating a space where our hearts and minds are open, there is no application of judgment and everyone’s thinking is accurate based on the individual’s perception. Ideally what is created is a synchronistic and harmonious coming together which is hard to describe unless you have experienced this. The ideal outcome of dialogue is that it lifts us to transcend our cultural conditioning and become aware of the following processes:

  • Sometimes (probably more often that we like to admit) we notice that our thinking gets stuck on a particular belief (e.g., based on racism, mental health oppression, etc.) or ideology that we have not thoroughly examined and let go. It may indicate that more reflection may deepen our awareness or self-knowledge.
  • We see other ways of thinking and being in the world as valid and good – and that means that more possibilities and relationships open up. Our heart and mind expand, our perceptual barriers dissolve. We see life more clearly.
  • When we transcend our social conditioning we become more open to co-creating a new paradigm. In this fertile ground of openness, we think more creatively and therefore can more effectively co-create the communities we want. When the war in our mind ends, peace emerges. And yes, racism is one of the ways we wage war in our mind.

Practicing this process (opening my heart and mind in a process of liberation) allows me to envision a world without racism – or any oppression for that matter. Embodying hope, I can see a world made up of culturally rich and inclusive communities where every one is respected and valued and given the dignity they deserve.

On a separate note, I think the excellent article which Matthew cited (“12 Things White People Can Actually Do After the Ferguson Decision”) has many important actions that people can take and should select some of these actions to take if they want to work towards racial justice and perhaps to begin to work on the edges of their own white racism.

There was one action step in the article that I thought was particularly interesting and relatively easy to do so I copied it below. Can you imagine how we might contribute to ending racist police policies and actions if a lot of white people started filming these injustices?

If You See Injustice Occurring, Do Not Stand Silently or Walk on By. Do you see police officers engaging in a stop-and-frisk interaction? It turns out that it is entirely legal to film police interactions without interfering. Hold police accountable. Watch them. They may be less likely to engage in outright violence if they are being filmed. If not, the video can be critical evidence as police can claim that they were being assaulted, or charge disorderly conduct, when video evidence clearly refutes these claims. There are apps and organizations that accumulate these videos and data. Use them.

What the article did not mention, however, was the internal work – the emotional and perceptual work we can do to embody justice not only in our minds but in our hearts. How do we genuinely heal from the damage of racism and internalized racism, as well as mental health oppression, adultism and all form of oppression?  We can change all the laws in the land – and we have changed many laws (civil rights laws, employment laws via the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the Americans with Disability Act laws) but that doesn’t change attitudes. I hope I have sufficiently planted a seed for future conversation that will address the emotional and perceptual or attitudinal issues and how we can come to truly embody justice for all – in our laws and in our hearts. It is good that we have opened this conversation to speak more honestly about oppression and particularly racism. All oppressions are linked so as we clean up the damage done by the internalization of one form of oppression we are cleaning up or freeing ourselves from  the damage from other forms of oppression.

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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.


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Lauren Spiro
Lauren’s vision of social justice and mental health liberation focuses on developing our capacity for feeling deeply connected, appreciating the vast creative intelligence of the human heart and mind, and inspiring compassionate action. Her life’s mission is to embody inner peace to co-create global peace, thus she curates transformative learning experiences. She co-founded two non-profit corporations and Emotional CPR (www.emotional-cpr.org) a public health education program that teaches people how to support others through an emotional crisis. She is a multi-media artist, a 20+ year practitioner of yoga and meditation, the first Director of the National Coalition for Mental Health Recovery, has been featured on national media, and consulted on numerous federal projects. Her memoir paints a poetic picture of her journey into madness and her pathway home. She has an M.A. in clinical/community psychology. For more information see www.Laurenspiro.com


  1. When faced on the battlefield with a numerically superior enemy, one must attempt to divide his enemy into smaller, more easily dispatched opponents – or even more ideally, divide them against one another, and have them defeat each other without ever drawing your sword.

    The architects of the American Police State know this. Its friends in the media do a good job of keeping everything a ‘racial’ problem.

    Never in human history has there been a more effective way for tyrants to rule over large groups of people who, should they ever learn to cooperate, would easily throw off such tyranny.

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    • Police charged into a darkened field trying to arrest teenagers for consuming alcohol without government permission, and killed a young WHITE woman in the process.

      Intent on imprisoning the WHITE girl for her beverage consumption, Deputy Brockman confronted Ms. Ramsey and tried to position himself in the forward trajectory of the vehicle.

      The vehicle slid out of view just as the deputy closed in on the driver’s window; Ms. Ramsey had not stopped her vehicle. There is some dispute about events that followed, but the confrontation ended when Deputy Brockman fired four shots through the windshield, fatally striking the WHITE teen.


      No indictment for deputy who killed WHITE Samantha Ramsey
      This was completely ignored by the media.

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    • I saw a good meme about that today:
      There are 10 pieces of pie on the table around which sits a white banker, a white middle class guy and a poor black guy. the banker takes nine pieces and then turns around to the other white guy: “watch out, the black guy is after your pie”.
      Sums it all pretty well. Point people to the internal enemy and get away with murder. The oldest trick in human history and it’s really depressing it still works.

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  2. Racial profiling and psychiatric profiling are taking place. The police are killing people, in some instances, when they feel threatened, and there is actually no threat involved. Yes, there is a large element of racism involved, but it doesn’t stop there. The police kill troubled people, and there is scarcely a blink. No investigation, or a non-independent virtually corrupt one, no trial, no prosecution. The proliferation of deadly weapons, and specifically guns allows this to happen. Rather than real gun control, you’ve got a disarm people with psychiatric labels campaign going full blast, while the war between the cops and the real gun-nuts takes place all around us. We need to let other people know that this is an intolerable situation. I think by joining in these struggles we can educate others about our own struggles as well as take part in another movement that is broader than our own. If we do so, eventually, the plight of people with lived experience in the mental health system, and street people, killed by the police has to become an issue for the public, too.

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  3. Perhaps the most damaging tyranny is that which dwells in our minds. The invitation, I believe, is to envision a relationship, a community, a country, a world – you fill in the blank – where all people live harmoniously. As I take the time and do the internal work (consciousness raising, radical honesty, paradigm shifting) and the external work (bringing compassion into engaging in harmonious dialogue which deeps and improves relationships) I find it easier to envision, embrace and embody a collective shift in consciousness. I am working on this every day and finding not only that I am changing but that all my interactions and relationships are changing towards more positive outcomes.

    I remember to never underestimate the power of a hand reaching for another, the power of compassion, of caring and letting people know I care and that I want to understand their view of the world. In that way we may investigate other possibilities, other solutions together. I don’t know a better way to create the world the way I want it – peaceful, inclusive, respecting all life forms. Some may think it is impossible but that is an indicator of the damage of tyranny. In order to manifest our vision we must intentionally believe it, speak it, and live it.

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