“White privilege doesn’t mean your life hasn’t been hard.
It just means the color of your skin isn’t one of the things that makes it harder.”
Most of our conditioned beliefs come from the dominant culture – tv, movies, cartoons, advertising, as well as school, family and our workplace. Some of our conditioning comes from experience – either personally, what people have told us, or what we have witnessed. To free ourselves from our unconscious deeply held beliefs, we need to be able to see them and be interested in educating ourselves.
Dorothy Riddle is a feminist psychologist who developed a scale in 1974 to measure homophobia. The Riddle Scale shows the nuance of the continuum of response from repulsion and pity, to tolerance and acceptance. Many people would stop at acceptance but she moves on to identify support, admiration, appreciation and nurturance, or a heartfelt welcoming of diversity. We all lose when we are blinded by stereotypes or limiting ideas about who people are.
There are power dynamics at play, like who benefits and who pays economically, emotionally, and socially through generations. Systems of oppression didn’t begin with me, I don’t agree with them, and yet as a white person I benefit from them.
“The body either has a sense of safety or it doesn’t. If it doesn’t, it will do almost anything to establish or recover that sense of safety.” Resmaa Menakem, trauma therapist and author of My Grandmother’s Hands, Racialized Trauma and the Pathways to Mending Our Hearts and Bodies.
Stereotypes and racial conditioning that leaves us afraid of black men has life and death consequences. We can almost understand a police officer shooting when they feel their life is in danger and many police departments are addressing the level of perceived threat caused by stereotypes. We are horrified by a police officer who kneels on a man’s neck, his level of entitlement so high that he has one hand resting casually in his pocket as George Floyd suffocates and dies.
It is not enough to be non-racist. We need to actively work to transform our personal conditioning and our institutions. Racist conditioning and stereotypes are the water we swim in for our whole lives. Let’s take a deep breath and remind ourselves to be kind and not shaming as we look directly at some of these beliefs.
Stereotypes work by taking a fact that applies to a few people in a group and applying it to everyone in that group. Our ideas about people not in our racial group affect who we fall in love with, our friends, the books we read, who we hire at work, and the motives we assign to strangers. People fear people we perceive as “other”.
As you look through these questions, notice your response, particularly if your body tightens up or you hold your breath. Then look to see, what is the evidence for this belief? This reveals the conditioning.
- When I see a black man in a hoodie at night, I am afraid.
- Do you know any Indigenous people personally? What do you know about the intergenerational trauma of colonialism and residential schools? How do you explain that their rate of poverty, addiction and incarceration is higher than among white people?
- “All I need to know about Islam, I learned on 9/11” What is your response to this?
- If they would just work harder, not be so lazy, and get off the alcohol and drugs, they could make something of themselves. I had to work hard to get what I have.
- Why are they always so angry? I’m nice to them in a store. I don’t make racist comments. I’m not the bad guy here and they make me feel uncomfortable.
- Slavery happened a long time ago. Why are they still hanging on to it?
We want to live in a world that is just and fair for everyone, and is rich in diversity and complexity. We want to see and we can afford to see and heal our conditioning around race and ethnicity.
Join us Sunday for a non-shaming look into seeing and letting go of racial conditioning and beliefs.