Racism 102: It Is Not About Colorblindness

This blog is a response to Matthew Cohen’s comment of concern based on Lauren’s “Racism 101” blog which is found on www.madinamerica.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 separation. 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 in 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 you cited (“12 Things White People Can Actually Do After the Ferguson Decision” http://www.huffingtonpost.com/dr-david-j-leonard/12-things-white-people-ca_b_6222784.html) 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 you cited 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 staeted filming these injustices?

8. 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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