Racism is on many of our minds these days, as white people hear more about how blacks and other minorities experience our society. We are learning that instead of seeing law enforcement as providing safety, many black people live in fear of the police and see them as a threat.
As people of color are empowered to speak about their experience, we are all becoming more aware of the conditions that have perpetuated class differences in our society. We are coming to understand how an entire race has been kept at a disadvantage, and it is making us question our core values and integrity as a nation.
Many of us who identify as white liberals pride ourselves in not being racist. We believe in the equality of all people and champion the rights of blacks and other minorities. We take to heart Jefferson’s declaration that “all men are created equal” and believe in a society where wealth and power are available to everyone. Yet, in the light of the recent revelations brought about by this acceleration of the Black Lives Matter movement, it is becoming evident that simply being opposed to racism does not mean that we don’t harbor prejudice within us.
We may not like to see this in ourselves, and it is certainly easier to see it in others.
We want to believe that we don’t pre-judge people by the color of their skin, or any other external factor. Yet, it is only by admitting and revealing our private prejudices that we have a chance to outgrow them.
I think of racism the way I think of ego. I don’t see these as negative terms, but rather the conditions we live under. Just as we all have an ego that provides our identity as a separate individual, we all are racist. If we try to hide our ego, or our habit of pre-judging others, we simply insure that these perpetuate below the level of our awareness.
In fact, it is our habit of identifying with our ego that causes us to be prejudice. It is the conditioning that accompanies our identity as a separate individual which sets us up to be threatened by anything that appears to be different from us.
We are all pre-programmed to fear others as a survival instinct. Under this programming we trust those who are like us, with whom we can relate. And we innately feel threatened by those who are different from us. We naturally see someone who is different as wrong and inferior, so we can affirm our own goodness and power.
In our private thoughts we constantly compare ourselves with others in order to justify our existence. This process of pre-judging and evaluating others according to our norms and standards is how we validate our values. Our ideas of right and wrong form the basis for our ego, and the strength of our ego depends on making these values absolute.
Most of us identify ourselves by our values, and when we encounter others who seem significantly different from us it threatens the foundation of our ego. We are all under the spell of our ego and engaging the programming that perpetuates this illusion of separation. Without this fear of others, our sense of individual self begins to dissolve. Most of us are afraid of that and cling to our ego-identity as we would a life raft in stormy sea.
Racism comes with having an ego. Outgrowing racism means confronting our attachment to our ego. This is a worthy cause and, although daunting, is entirely within reach if we determine to do it. This is what personal and spiritual growth is for.
If we want to undo racism, we first have to see that we are racist by design. Racism is indeed systemic in that it is programmed into our mind and determines the way we see the world. It comes with identifying as an individual and serving our ego in order to insure our own survival.
Under the influence of our ego, we will always strive to get the upper hand and dominate others. We will pre-judge anyone who is not like us, and use any opportunity to diminish their power and authority in order to validate and bolster our own.
We can’t undo racism by simply learning that its wrong. All this does is make us ashamed to admit our prejudice, and hide it from others. This is like the proverbial ostrich putting its head in the sand to avoid danger. It merely buries our condition beneath our awareness and prevents us from investigating it to reveal the real cause.
Don’t believe these ideas, but check them out for yourself. Notice how you are automatically suspicious of people you don’t understand, or who appear to be different from you. Feel your discomfort when you are faced with people from a different race, culture, religion, or sex. Pay attention to your tendency to surround yourself with people who are like you, because they don’t threaten your identity.
It is only by noticing your own racism that you can undo it. And you can only truly resolve it by seeing the source of it. Once you expose your ego as the cause of your mistrust of others, you can keep an eye on it. As you are able to notice your thoughts of fear, anxiety, or mistrust of others, you can interrupt those thoughts and allow the discomfort of differences to subside.
The reason to do this is not to be politically correct, good, or right. It is because it makes your world larger, more integrated, and safe. If you can accept people who are different from you, acknowledging your shared humanity and mutual needs, your world becomes more connected and whole. Your fear begins to dissipate, and you can live without constantly being anxious for your own survival.
Bringing the effects of racism to our attention in such a pointed way can serve us all to become more conscious and connected. If we can be honest with ourselves and are willing to notice how our mind pre-judges everything, we can break the spell of our ego. This will enable us to feel connected to all of humanity, resolving the painful sense of isolation and chronic anxiety that underlies our lives so much of the time.
Once you see how your ego programming is making your world small and constricted, you will be motivated to undo this conditioning. There are tools designed to help in this process, such as meditation, or the practice of mindful awareness. Practicing presence in this way enables you to see clearly how you are caught in a dysfunctional paradigm that prevents you from feeling truly content or secure. And this opens the way for sustained happiness, serenity, and a deep sense of belonging to something larger than yourself.