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Anti-Racism Experts Answer Critical Questions Regarding Racism

I had the honor of interviewing anti-racism experts and advocates on critical questions regarding racism. I found that these were the most common questions that came up among my non-black/brown patients, friends, and colleagues.

(1) It’s insulting to respond to “Black Lives Matter” with “All Lives Matter.” Please explain this.

Myrna Brady: It is absolutely insulting to a black person when they are told “All Lives Matter.” The mere inference that this denigrates others is exactly why the “Black Lives Matter’ exist. History tells us that black lives were only worth 3/5 of a vote at one time in America. The message is not “Black Lives ONLY Matter, the message is Blacks Lives MATTER TOO. It’s as if a wife asks her husband “Honey do you love ME?” and her spouse replies with “I love all women equally because all women matter.” So before one inserts “ALL” please take the time to either ask a black person “WHY” this movement has started and or research the deep seeded inequity black people have experienced in this country. You will realize very quickly that “Black Lives Matter” too!

(2) I have heard “stop asking the Black community to help you with your guilt and pain.” How are we doing this (by how we’re communicating, what we’re doing, or in some other way)? Where do you see the responsibility lying within us?

Francesca Maxime: The issue lies with the lack of interrogation of whiteness, and the grand delusions, defenses and disassociations white bodied folks hold, consciously or unconsciously, that are needed to uphold white body supremacy, whiteness and racism in service to capitalism, greed, and extraction.

Black and brown people, people of color are EXHAUSTED by current events and by years of systemic racism and micro aggressions. Have them alone; it can feel very extractive if you’re going to BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Color) to answer your questions. Spend all your time doing your own work interrogating whiteness and how it lives in you, your thoughts, beliefs, patterns, actions and behaviors.

Do not do performative mea culpas, do not publicize this, don’t get frozen in a shame spiral, be accountable. Spend your money and time on educating yourself about all the things you don’t know, weren’t taught, and now need to learn. Do not ask your BIPOC friends what something means, like “what does BIPOC mean.” Look it up. Don’t say things like “your people.” Take classes and understand why this is a micro aggression. Don’t assume you are a safe space for BIPOC to come to and confide in or talk to, even if you’re “friends.” You have no idea how many things you have done to offend, to step on, to dismiss or defend.

You have no idea how many ways in which your lack of awareness and education shows up in service to protecting yourself versus in being present and tolerant of your own discomfort while opening to the raw pain of a BIPOC colleague or friend. The only work a white person has to do right now is to leave BIPOC alone and do your work. You don’t need to advertise it. You don’t need to “check in” with your BIPOC friends. You need to commit to being actively anti-racist and that means making a commitment to incorporating classes, books, and conversations with OTHER WHITE PEOPLE in a regular space (like Ruth King’s Racial Affinity Group program https://ruthking.net/learning-with-ruth/ra-gdp/).

Once you do this work, you’ll listen more easily. You have to take this on. You’ll get closer to a pain you’re privileged to not even feel. You’ll understand why nobody who is a BIPOC wants to explain to you what you don’t know. When you do this work, it will begin to dawn on you all that you don’t know. It’s uncomfortable and hard for you; it’s deadly for BIPOC. You can do it.

Learn somatic tools to help with your distress tolerance. Interrogate how whiteness kills the human spirit and accept it’s a spiritual disease of the soul and a mental illness and that you have to dig really deep and question everything from the capitalist society we live in, your daily choices about what you buy and wear, who you spend time with, how you spend your time, and what you think you’re entitled to as a level of comfort. Spend a lot of time with that.

Interrogate whiteness and structural racism. It’s work you can do on your own. Racial Equity Institute, The People’s Institute, Patti Digh’s racism course, Dr. Joy DeGruy, www.whiteawake.org all offer classes on this. Learn what you had to give up to “become white,” from cultural practices to your own spirit and natural innate empathic attunement. Take every one of them, and read the NYT books on the bestseller list right now. It’s a lifelong commitment and the only way we can begin to enter into collective healing and wellbeing.

Being accountable feels like being called out. It’s a calling in. It’s the work white people must do ON THEIR OWN and with one another. Blacks built this country after being kidnapped and enslaved. No more emotional labor should be needed from them for your comfort and to appease your curiosity. Understand your own whiteness, that’s the job. In the collective healing space of “all my relations,” we are connected but there are some insights and “aha” moments only a white person can experience for themselves, in order to help inform their own insights as to how you’ve moved about in the world as a white person and the cost of whiteness to BIPOC.

Use the process of RAIN: Recognize, Allow, Investigate and Nourish to help support the “U-turn” needed to do the inner work, holding yourself in warm regard (positive self-esteem): same-as other people, no better or worse, but who has had physiological habit patterns develop over time that have, as a product of white body supremacist culture, necessarily caused harm to self and others. White body supremacy causes rage, anger, shame, guilt and deep grief. When we move to remorse and allow our hearts to be cracked open with sadness, we can begin to be more of an embodied ally and anti-racist.

(3) Why isn’t it okay to say the N word no matter what? Why is it that sometimes it’s used among individuals in the Black community?

Myrna Brady: Simply put, the N word was used to disparage black people since the onset of slavery. The meaning inferred that one was a slave of dark skin, ignorant and lazy. On the site “Dictionary.com” it indicates “that the term “N” is now probably the most offensive word in English” The history and trauma associated to this word evokes feelings and emotions in people that have caused arguments to physical altercations, Needless, to say it would be in everyone’s best interest if the word was simply erased from the English language.

The use of the N word was initially learned from slave owners, in this country. Black people were called this racial epithet and were instructed to refer to each other as such amongst each other. As a result, the word became a part of the black vocabulary. Over the decades black people have tried to disenfranchise the word by turning it into a term of endearment to mean “my brother/sister.” The word has become a “verb, adjective, and noun” in mainstream music and amongst some generations in their colloquial dialects.

The mainstream daily usage of this word has anesthetized many to the true offensive meaning of the word. There is an ongoing debate amongst the black community about the use of the word amongst themselves. However, one thing that most black people unequivocally agree upon is that non-black people should NEVER use the word at all.

(4) Please explain the Race-Based Trauma Theory by Robert T. Carter. How does it explain the impact of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and historical and intergenerational trauma due to racism?

Michelle Maidenberg: Robert T. Carter, a Professor at Columbia University and his colleagues developed the Race-Based Traumatic Stress Symptom Scale (RBTSSS) which assesses the emotional impact of racism. His theory of race-based traumatic stress implies that there are individuals of color who experience racially charged discrimination as traumatic, and often generate responses similar to post-traumatic stress.

Race-based traumatic stress combines theories of stress, trauma and race-based discrimination to describe a particular response to negative racial encounters. Race-based traumatic stress can be experienced both directly and indirectly and can occur on an interpersonal, institutional, or cultural levels.

Race-based traumatic stress is viewed as a consequence of racially motivated discrimination, exclusion, and unjust treatment. Interpersonal racial discrimination has been found to have more of an effect at the individual level, often demonstrated in mental health symptoms such as trauma, anxiety, depression, stress, and physiological symptoms such as hypertension.

Racial discrimination at the institutional level has been found to result in social inequities for people of color such as higher rates of incarceration, health disparities, and educational difficulties. Cultural racial discrimination has been found to be associated with internalized racism, often resulting in individuals devaluing their own culture in ways such as denouncing their cultural heritage and values and/or internalizing negative stereotypical beliefs associated with their own racial group. Research also indicates that the internalization of racial oppression can lead to feelings of shame and malice.

Children are particularly vulnerable to the detrimental effects of race-based traumatic stress which they experience in the form of exclusion, bullying, and physical violence. Because of where they are at developmentally, they often lack the coping skills needed to work through and process the stress.

These experiences can be internalized as traumatic and associated with the development of mental health disorders such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Discrimination experienced in childhood may lead to low self-esteem, difficulties with academic performance, and increased externalizing behaviors such as acting out, defiance, anger, mistrust, and internalizing behaviors such as depression or anxiety.

*For an extensive list of anti-racism resources, please see my PsychCentral article “The First Step In Eradicating Racism: Face Yourself” https://blogs.psychcentral.com/thoughts-therapist/2020/06/the-first-step-in-eradicating-racism-face-yourself/

5) I have heard the word “ally” being used widely. Is that an appropriate word or is there something better noting someone who does deep anti-racism work?

Francesca Maxime: Being an ally is a good start. Other terms are partners, co-conspirators, accomplices, and comrade. Being an ally is an ongoing commitment to a process of deepening humility, learning, listening, growing and leaning into discomfort and potentially giving up entitlements and privilege in service to active anti-racist causes. It is to question, interrogate, and disrupt a system of white body supremacy and invite an ongoing deep quest of inner interrogation around all the ways in which whiteness cuts us off from our innately natural belonging to one another.

Allies see all the ways in which structural racism exists in their families, communities, towns, religious institutions, universities, corporations, non-profits, and every day “friendship” interactions on the tennis court, at the ballpark, at the theatre. A white ally uses their privilege and white racial advantage given to light/white bodied people in a white body supremacist society to work towards abolishing racism at all levels, even at the risk of your own discomfort. Being an ally means standing up in solidarity with BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color), nourish relationships with BIPOC and listen and learn, and invest in relationships with white people around interrogating whiteness internally and externally, with internal beliefs and behaviors as well as structural manifestations.

More on this is available at the Racial Equity Institute
https://www.racialequitytools.org/resourcefiles/kivel3.pdf
and this CNET article has lots of links and resources
https://www.cnet.com/news/how-to-be-an-ally-heres-what-white-allyship-actually-looks-like/. Two examples of being anti-racist and a real ally as an embodied white person: Jane Elliott https://janeelliott.com/ and Anne Braden
https://snccdigital.org/people/anne-carl-braden/. A resource as to how to be an ally if you are a person with privilege is available at: http://www.scn.org/friends/ally.html.

(6) What’s the detriment to Black/Brown persons hearing “get over it” “it happened already” and “move on” regarding their experience(s) with racism?

Darryl Aiken-Afam: If I understand your question, I think you’re asking how Black/Brown people are “harmed” by the above statements. The main immediate harm is a feeling of deep hurt by the speaker’s words as they callously dismiss the one most singularly shared terror of daily living by us. It’s an astoundingly hurtful, and at the same time infuriating thing to say to a Black/Brown person. It shows in an instant that our humanity isn’t seen by the speaker and they are disconnected from the actual horrific truths of these events past and present.

Often those who make such comments are privileged to do so as more than likely racism affects them minimally if at all, and they signal a desire to ignore and not deal with the facts in favor going back to the daily status quo of “normal” life which is a life of oppression for us. These comments are very hurtful and harmful and have often been the beginning of the end of all sorts of relationships because of them.

(7) Why is the statement “not all cops are bad” invalidating?

Darryl Aiken-Afam: It’s invalidating because it’s a comment of tone deafness and generalizations. Black and Brown people for the most part are not saying all cops are bad, we are saying that policing in general and therefore many cops and the system that breeds them, produces cops that murder, steal, lie, abuse and terrorize Black/Brown people with impunity and the majority of the times get away with it.

Stating that not all cops are bad is once again a privilege to put one’s head in the sand and avoid any real critical thinking, honest investigation, or acknowledgment of hard facts. The comment is a rose-colored glasses position where people that can afford to, (mostly white, white appearing, and some Asian people) can afford to make such a lazy comment because the police are not trained to harass and kill people who look like them, they are trained and conditioned in an organizational culture that builds on the already baked in anti-black bias in American society to harass and kill Black/Brown people. The comment is one of distraction, avoidance, complicitness, and a deep insensitivity and often willful ignorance to a “normal” facet of policing and public display, as people would often see cops doing these actions on the streets, and/or encounter it in the media. All cops are not bad, is as escapist as “All Lives Matter”!

(8) (a) What are microaggressions?

Lisa Martin: Microaggressions refer to the everyday slights, put-downs, and insults that people of color experience in their daily interactions. Microaggressions are often linked to our implicit biases, which are the assumptions, stereotypes, and unintentional actions (positive or negative) we make towards others based on identity labels like race, religion, age, gender, sexual orientation, or ability. Because our implicit associations are stored in our subconscious, we may act on our biases without even realizing it. Often, our implicit biases contradict our values. They are likely unintentional but are harmful just the same. They may occur verbally (“you speak good English”) or nonverbally (clutching one’s purse more tightly when passing someone on the street) and can make people feel ashamed and dehumanized.

(b) What is hurtful with someone saying “I don’t see color” or sentiments like these? What could be stated instead to communicate support, openness, and care toward Black and/or Brown individuals/communities?

Lisa Martin: The intent behind this statement is to demonstrate that you’re not a prejudiced person. But we all see racial difference unless we’re visually impaired. Refusing to acknowledge the color of someone’s skin is also a refusal to acknowledge the struggles they’ve endured and discrimination they’ve faced because of their race. Most white people receive benefits in society based on their ‘whiteness’ that people of color don’t receive – and white people are often not even aware of this.

One example would be the recent anti-lockdown protests in Michigan, where white people with guns entered a state government building and did not experience bodily harm. Conversely, people of color engage in peaceful protests and police shoot them with rubber bullets. That’s white privilege. Being able to turn off the television when they need a break from hearing about demonstrations about police brutality is another example of white privilege.

White people can show support and care toward people of color by listening more than talking. However – and this may sound contradictory – it is not the responsibility of black and brown people to educate white people on systemic oppression. Read books/articles. A few examples: Waking Up White (Debby Irving), White Rage, White Fragility.

The esteemed guests are:

Darryl Aiken-Afam, the creator of the Ambient Noise/Contact and Conversation racism reduction programs, is a practitioner of Taoist and Zen based meditation, yoga, and martial arts practices for over 25 years. He holds an Associates degree in engineering, a Bachelors in general psychology and a Masters in Leadership Psychology, the latter two from Penn State University. Darryl has also lectured at The University of Illinois Chicago, Northwestern University, the Silver School of Social Work at NYU, and at Mount Sinai Hospital to professional therapists of the Eastern Group Psychotherapy Society, on topics including holistic self-care, movement and energy in sports performance, and mindfulness-based racism reduction. www.ambientnoisembrr.org

Myrna Brady is a national fitness presenter, certified personal trainer and group fitness instructor/coach and motivational speaker. She experiences great joy in teaching people how to become a better version of themselves. She has been educated by some of the most recognized fitness certification bodies in the world: ACE, NASM, Spinning®, PHI Pilates, ECITS and the YMCA to name a few. www.myrnabrady.com

Lisa M. Martin, LCSW-R, CASAC she received her MSW from Fordham University, and is a Certified Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Counselor (CASAC). She has 25 years of experience in the field of social work, working with people suffering from emotional difficulties and addiction, with a particular interest in how racial and social inequities affect the lives of people of color. She began her work in East Harlem, NY, offering counseling and concrete services in Spanish to at‐risk families. She has served in the Bronx for many years, as a bilingual school social worker, counselor and program administrator. She is passionate in her commitment to social and racial justice.

Francesca Maximé, SEP, CMT-P, IFOT, RLT is the founder of ARREAA: Anti-Racist Response-ability, Embodiment, Accountability and Action, a weekly Wednesday group for white-bodied folks to “ask anything” so they don’t have to ask BIPOC friends. https://www.eventbrite.com/e/107661352002
Francesca is an anti-racism educator, somatic experiencing trauma healing practitioner, Indigenous Focusing Oriented practitioner for complex trauma, certified mindfulness meditation teacher, relational life therapy couples, life & executive coach and award-winning poet. She sees adults, couples, and groups, teaches workshops, and gives public talks to organizations and communities. More about Francesca is available here: www.maximeclarity.com and many anti-racism resources are available here www.maximeclarity.com/resources

Blog as posted on Psych Central.

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