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Experts Answer 8 Critical Questions Regarding Racism

Part 2: More answers to the questions you most want answered.

 Brett Sayles/Pexels
Source: Brett Sayles/Pexels

I had the honor of interviewing anti-racism experts and advocates on critical questions regarding racism including the most common questions that came up among my non-Black/Brown patients, friends, and colleagues. See Part 1 for answers to questions 1-4.

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 Maximé, SEP, CMT-P, IFOT, RLT: 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 and a CNET article has lots of links and resources. Two examples of being anti-racist and a real ally as embodied white persons are Jane Elliott and Anne Braden. A resource as to how to be an ally if you are a person with privilege is also available.

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

Darryl Aiken-Afam, CPT: 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, CPT: 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”!

8a. What are microaggressions?

Lisa Martin, LCSW-R, CASAC: 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.

8b. 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 M. Martin, LCSW-R, CASAC: 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.

See Experts Answer 8 Critical Questions Regarding Racism Part 1 for questions 1-4.

Please listen to a Togetherness Guided Meditation led by me.

Darryl Aiken-Afam, CPT, 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.

Lisa M. Martin, LCSW-R, CASAC 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.

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. Francesca is an anti-racism educator, somatic experiencing trauma healing practitioner, and Indigenous Focusing Oriented practitioner for complex trauma.

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