Race and racism have rightfully been at the forefront of most people’s mind because of the attention recently being paid to it. It is sad that it took a cluster of public injustices and travesties to bring it to the forefront. Racism causes inequality and damages not only those people affected by it but society as a whole. The outcry started in the United States but is now being heard and displayed all over the globe, including Australia.
The discomfort of facing these inequities is visceral but necessary. We have to feel, face it, and take action to change and heal. Fully facing ourselves and having difficult conversations with ourselves and others is hard and is likely to bring up uncomfortable feelings. This requires us to be comfortable with being uncomfortable. We don’t have any other choice.
The first step in eradicating racism is noticing ourselves and our personal part in it. It is easy to deny something we are unaware or shameful of, but realistically, based on our sociocultural and neurocognitive development, we all come with personal biases and prejudices. It makes sense, as how we were raised and how are mind functions impacts directly on our perceptions and assumptions.
Our mind feverishly works to help provide safety and ward off discomfort. “Other” people can be perceived as dissimilar, unfamiliar, unpredictable and frightening. The messages we hear and learn societally reinforces our ingrained reluctance to accept “others” who are different.
Our mind naturally categorizes and classifies. We justify why we think and feel something because it easily fits our negativity bias. It gives us a false sense of security because we “know” what to expect and provides us with a template for how to think, feel and behave.
The change needs to be seen on a systemic, structural, institutional and individual level. A good place to start is to look deep within ourselves to understand our insight and awareness and how we behave based on our beliefs. This needs to be different or we are at risk of getting stymied and perpetuating our destructive behaviours. There is no room for that. Let us start here at assessing our insight, awareness and behaviours.
Insight & Awareness:
- Do you value diversity and human difference as positive or negative? Why?
- Do you have a clear sense of your own ethnic, cultural, and racial identity? If yes, what is it? If no, what gets in the way?
- Does your identity have intersecting identities drawn from your race, sex, religion, ethnicity, etc. and what is the importance to you of each of these identities?
- Is there any secrecy, shame or guilt attached to your identity? If yes or no, what contributes to this?
- Is there discomfort or avoidance in discussing your identity? If yes or no, what contributes to this?
- Is there discomfort when encountering, communicating or being with individuals or groups of different races, colours, religions, sexual orientation, language, and ethnicities, etc.? If yes, what type of discomfort (e.g., physical, emotional, etc.)?
- What are the thoughts, feelings, and assumptions (i.e., may be habituated because of the way in which you were taught, socialized, and led to believe) that get evoked, and how do you behave on behalf of those thoughts, feelings, and assumptions? What is your understanding of why you may have that reaction?
- Do you generalize about a specific behaviour presented by an individual to their entire cultural community? For which group? If yes, what generalizations do you make? Why do you think that is?
- Are there within-group differences that you observe and experience in a group you are affiliated with, one you know of, or one that you are aware of or observed? What are your thoughts, feelings, perceptions, and assumptions regarding the differences? Have you or are you open to inquiring and understanding the differences? How have you or will you seek to accomplish this?
- When thinking about yourself and interacting with others, do you understand and exercise sensitivity regarding the impact of culture on your and others lives (e.g., family roles, child-rearing, healthcare and healthcare practices, perception of time, eye contact, etc.)? How do you understand and extend yourself due to this understanding?
- How has your cultural perspectives influence your point of reference and/or judgment about what’s “appropriate,” “normal,” or “superior” behaviours, values, and communication styles?
- In your lifetime and in the past, can you recall incidences where stereotypical attitudes and discriminatory actions dehumanized, and/or encouraged violence against individuals because of their membership in a certain group? How did you think or feel about it? Did it compel you to take action in any particular way? What do you retrospectively think or feel about it? Would you behave any differently?
- Are you aware of your biases/stereotypes as they arise and have developed personal strategies for challenging them?
- Do you have knowledge and reflect on how your culture and identity informs your judgment and decision making?
- How open and curious are you at accepting uncertainty, ambiguity, and unfamiliarity? If this is relatively challenging for you, how do you directly and proactively work on this?
- How readily do you challenge generalizations made by you or others regarding an individual or wider cultural community? Why do you think that is? How do you think you could challenge these assumptions and beliefs?
- How often do you take opportunities to put yourself in situations where you can learn about people different than yourself? Is it as often as you would like to? If not, what gets in the way following through? If you do, how do you specifically carry it out?
- How often do you take time to create relationships with people who are different than yourself? Is it as often as you would like to? What gets in the way of facilitating this?
- How open and willing are you to committing to learning about difference, biases, stereotypes, discrimination, the “ism’s” (racism, sexism, etc.), etc. as it is an evolving lifetime commitment? If it is limited, what gets in the way of your openness? Do you want to change that or not? How would you go about doing that?
- Have you effectively intervened or have confidence that you would intervene if others were behaving in a racist or discriminatory manner? Why or why not? How might you go about getting involved?
- Have you or are you willing to accommodate or demonstrate respect for other individuals needs based on their identity (e.g., food preferences/needs, traditions, style of communication, etc.)? If yes, how have you done that and what would you need to do in order to assure that continually?
- Do you seek out people who challenge you to increase the cross-cultural awareness and skills you have? If not, what keeps you from doing so? If yes, how do you do this?
- Are you engaged to any extent with advocacy initiatives that promote awareness, understanding, or facilitation of progress or change for marginalized or discriminated against individuals and/or groups? If yes, what compels it? If not, what keeps that from happening? What further would you like to be involved in? How are you going to initiate this?
We can never truly get someone else’s plight, because each and every one’s experience is unique and personal. If we can tap into our compassion and empathy for ourselves, we’ll be more equipped to offer it to others who need and fundamentally deserve it.
This is just a start. We additionally need to work toward not “tolerating,” but valuing and appreciating cultural diversity and differences at the gut level. We must educate our children from the onset about validating and valuing ALL others. Fairness, justice, inclusivity, and mutual respect must be the new norm.
If we have a challenging time reprogramming our habitual perceptions, assumptions, and behaviours, we must find ways to look within, educate ourselves and proactively work toward conducting ourselves differently. Like any fundamental systemic, institutional, and individual change, it requires collectivism, unwavering effort and unrelenting persistence.
Every person has the right to be seen, heard, and their needs addressed. Sadly, it is our mind that divides us.