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  • Judy Ryde

Understanding our own Racism

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For those who hoped that racism was disappearing from society, the present day is deeply depressing. It seems that racism just went into abeyance. Some may have felt that their views on race had been sent to a politically correct naughty step, only to be released by events like the Brexit vote or the election of Donald Trump. So, what can we do to make real, solid progress? It is obvious there are no easy answers. More explicit racism has been revealed by recent events, racism has always been with us, however much we try to legislate against it. We need to accept that racism lives in white society, implicitly in the deep structure of our culture. To tackle the problem at root, as a psychotherapist I am convinced that we must start with ourselves and our own implicit racism rather than thinking it just belongs to a few bigots and can be tackled by making a rational, reasoned argument. However enlightened our views, we cannot help but be part of the culture in which we swim.

In both my books I have shown processes we can use to explore and understand our own racist assumptions and privilege and bring about a transformative shift in our consciousness of our whiteness and the corresponding make-up of our institutions and society. Owning our own privileged position and implicit racism is not simple, but if we address our own denied power and privilege within a racially diverse global society, then we may go some way towards easing intercultural relations. For one thing, we will have clearer sight with which to address these dilemmas and stronger ground to stand on.

In my books I describe a model which can take us on a journey from denial to integration. One practice, which is a good first step, is rather counter intuitive. It is to learn to hear and catch any racist thoughts that come into our minds. In my experience all white people have them, but mostly we bat them away before we really know what they are. We may consciously or unconsciously steer away from these thoughts, because they are uncomfortable. It is interesting and salutary to catch them as they fly. When running workshops, I have taken to praising people who can identify and share them, even if they are shocking. Being able to do this, is the first step to owning and being honest about our own racism rather than having to pretend these thoughts do not exist, that do not have any bias

Most black people know, or suspect this about white people, as they are on the receiving end of unconscious racism every day. Racist abuse may be obvious, like the use of offensive names, but more often the racist behaviour is subtle and hard to call out. Honest talking about this may not seem very significant, but it can be a huge step to a more equal society. So how can we go about understanding and owning our own barely conscious and unconscious racism? Forming a group of white people with which to go through this process is helpful and supportive. It is tempting and understandable to organise a mixed group of white and non-white people for this purpose. But I suggest that, at least in the first instance, this is not a good idea. Black people are often thought of as the ‘experts’ on race, as if race was a black matter and their sole province. This displays the deeply held assumption that race is a problem for black people rather than a cultural belief that was originally invented and perpetuated by whites. This very idea is itself an example of implicit racism. It is the dismantling of these underlying ideas, and the power that goes with them, that will be the real end to racism globally - and it is the work of white people to do this.

The more we are aware of our white privilege and power, the more we are able to feel sure of our ground when advocating non-racist policies, and challenging decisions which are based on race prejudice. We are then better able to see implicit and unconscious racism, when it arises. Tackling the more subtle, underlying racism and the automatic assumption that the white way is the ‘normal’ one, is harder to see and to challenge without first undertaking this self-reflective work.

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