A Talk to White People About Racism

By Tim Jackins, at the East Coast USA Leaders’ Workshop, December 2010

The distresses we call racism have been on us and our ancestors for such a long time that racism continues to confuse us in spite of our decisions, our best thinking, and our work. It simply remains difficult—but it is not impossible; it moves forward.

It isn’t that something vital is missing or something is wrong. We know enough and we have a good enough perspective. We would like understanding to automatically undo everything. We wish that once we understood racism, once we got it straight, the understanding would take care of it, and it doesn’t. We simply need to continue doing the work to undo our confusions, to discharge all the distresses we have about it.

We have a fairly good theoretical understanding of racism, but none of us has a good picture of what it does to our own individual mind. We fight against the pieces we understand. We make efforts. We hold on to the model of what we think people can be like with each other, and we use that to guide us when we can’t quite tell1 what we should be doing. All of this is wonderful—and it doesn’t complete the process. We need to keep working at it. We need to look at all the odd little pieces of the distresses of racism that stick up now and then. That can give us a new look at them—as a little piece of reality shows through.

This is exactly the way it has to go. There is no mistake. There is no need for us to be hard on ourselves about it. It simply takes time and work, and we have to recognize that.

The main problem has been solved. We understand enough that the work can be done. For a long time racism wasn’t understood, and that was a serious problem. That problem has been solved. Now the work can go on, and that will take the time it takes. We can’t set ourselves strict deadlines. What we can do is insist that the work progress. We can insist that we use the slack and the knowledge we have to guide ourselves to do the work continuously, to come back to it over and over again.


We get to look at racism. Racism was installed on us, on our ancestors. It was installed not by any intelligent method, or by any intelligence at all. It’s amazing how thorough and efficient unintelligent processes can be. It’s appalling. Oppressive societies continue to exist because of these unintelligent processes. They are like the crack in the sidewalk that’s a little uneven. That’s where the snow collects. No intelligence is involved. You get a flaw, things collect there, and everything builds around it. Oppressive societies have the shape they do because of the back and forth feedback between the oppressive society and the way oppressive distresses work.

Intelligence can interrupt these processes, even without discharge. Intelligence can interrupt them and make things go a different way. We can choose not to let them progress. We can interrupt them and make something different happen. When we do that, everyone involved gets a chance to see reality more clearly and understand it, and that can move everything forward.

We have the additional great benefit of not just knowing that we can change reality in intelligent ways but of understanding the mechanism that has caused things to be twisted in the way they are. We understand distress patterns and how they fall in on us. We understand how they propagate and spread and can confuse us ever after. We understand how to get rid of them, that we don’t need to let them persist, that not only can we stop them in the present, we can undo the damage of the confusion, the distortion of reality, from the past. We can undo the confusion that we all continue to peer through as we try to figure out what is really going on,2 who we really are.

We are fortunate that we are in the midst of figuring out racism. We know it can change. We know we have the ability and the power to change it. And we have good tools with which to do that.


 We continue refining our tools. The only way they get refined is if we use them. Nothing else does it. We can’t simply sit somewhere and get a better idea about them. We have to use them—figure out what will allow us to discharge in particular areas, notice that it works in practice, and watch the effects it has on our minds, how it sharpens our perspectives on reality. It’s only by doing this over and over again, with many different people in many different contexts, that our picture broadens and gets clearer. That’s what we get to do, and can do.

You know this. You all nod, because when I say it, it lets you think about it again. There may have been a lapse when you didn’t think about it for a while. It helps to be reminded of what we know is true. The lapses happen when we get pulled into our restimulations and forget the tools and the understanding we have developed. We forget what they can do. We stop doing the work. We get pulled back into the confusion of early distress recordings of discouragement, of having been born into a pervasively distressed environment in which there was no one we could look to for awareness of us.


Life doesn’t have to be all easy and feel wonderful. It doesn’t have to be perfect in the usual sense. Reality is wonderful, and it includes all of the harsh, horrible things going on, and all of the challenges. It’s the best it’s ever been. And there are lots of challenges.

The main thing that’s wrong is that we’re held away from reality by our distresses. It feels to us like the distresses connected with racism don’t move. We can’t tell that racism is losing its grip on our Communities and the minds of the people we care about. But things around us have shifted. Racism in the world has shifted tremendously during our lifetimes. There is an immense amount of work yet to do, but our discouragement sees that as nothing having happened. We wish it to be quick: “If we understand it, it should be over. I can’t bear to look at those distresses on me. I can’t bear to face those challenges.” This is the hopelessness and confusion showing up again. We understand theoretically, but we still get confused when we look closely enough to notice our distresses.


So let me remind you that we are winning—and, in an important sense, we have won. We have won in the sense that the direction of our species on this issue has been determined. It has been settled. Racism will in no way be taken as acceptable and be spread again in the world. It still exists. It’s still confusing. There are places where it’s very harsh. All of that. But the understanding of what it is, and why it makes no sense, and why it must end is well enough established that it cannot be lost. It cannot be lost at this point. So we have won. It’s clear that racism will stop being an affliction of our species.

We have a lot of work to do, and that’s just fine. We have a lot of work to do to make racism end, especially in our heads. But the question of whether or not it will happen has been answered, and that is something new. I think it is something we have played a role in. Our intention, our persistence, and our insistence, in trying to do things even though we are still fighting our confusions, have made a difference.


So the struggle now is to clean up this old irrationality. It isn’t a desperate question of whether or not we can do it before the irrationality gets so bad that it wipes out3 the species. That isn’t going to happen. But how do we make things move faster? How do we enjoy the struggle to make things right? By and large4 we haven’t enjoyed the struggle. We have won, and we still can’t enjoy the struggle. In some way we are still believing the hurts of the past. It’s not that there isn’t harshness in the present. There is lots. But there is also the harshness of the past, and we’re still stuck in our perspective on that.

The only fixed point in all of reality is distress that isn’t being discharged. It’s the only thing that doesn’t move. Everything else in the universe develops. (Laughter) We know we can make distress move, but it takes us challenging the heaviness. It takes us deciding to change our perspective. It takes us using our minds against our distresses and not just going back into the same struggles with the same feelings and perspectives.

We don’t happily do this work, and we should. Look at what we get to do. We get to do things that people have tried to do for centuries, with great dedication but only small successes. We are not quite able to make the transition from the dedicated but fixed struggle against the immovable object to the moving, alive, enjoyable challenge of ending an irrationality that is on the decline.

We can consistently do this work rather than only occasionally when we feel bad enough. We can decide to happily do it for ourselves, for the people we care about, and also for our larger goals.

The distresses move best when we are not upset with ourselves about them. How effective are we going to be in ending racism when we’re not upset about it? When we can walk out there, actually think about it, be pleased with people who are confused by it, no matter what’s happened to them and how confused they are, and be confident that racism is going to move? It’s a better position to work from. It’s an irresistible position. Everybody is hunting for a way out of what they are trapped in. Everyone is waiting for someone who will be on their side, who will be pleased with their existence, and who won’t confuse them with their distresses.

We know this theoretically, and often have it consciously in our minds, but we have a hard time showing it in practice. There are things I want you to try in this direction, in mini-sessions and in the session we do after this meeting. I want you to dare to think that we’ve won, that we are happily doing the mop-up job after the big struggle, that you could be happy with anybody in the world and that anybody could be happy with you—not only across the lines drawn by racism that separate you from people targeted by racism, but across the lines racism has drawn that separate us white people from each other and make us defensive toward and scared and suspicious of each other—especially of people who show our same distresses but more rabidly. (Laughter) That scares us, and we can’t like them. We’re too scared to like them, and they’re just like us.

Try counseling from these perspectives. You can also look at how racism is hard on your life. Step away from where you got trapped in a particular role and look at how racism has been hard on you. How has racism distorted the life that you wanted to have? How does it scare you? Step away from condemning yourself and look at the effect on you.


You need to be pleased to be at the position you are in. You have done the work of ending racism. You have been an important part of moving it forward. It has happened because of your mind. You have been significant, and you have reason to be pleased with what you have done. It isn’t just the rest of us. It is you. To fully understand what we have done, you have to understand this piece about you individually. You have kept yourself here in spite of confusions. You have reached out to people. You have worked on racism. You have not let your distresses run you away from it.

You have stayed around and done every bit of work within your reach, and that’s what has let us move forward. It hasn’t been a miracle done by one or two people somewhere. We have done this because you have done this. That’s what has led the work, and you need to fight to get that in mind. It is not someone else who has done it—it is you. Every time your material5 says “Yeah but, yeah but,” you have to challenge it and shout it down—literally shout it down. You have to claim credit. You have to say, “It was me. I made this happen. I was part of this.” It is yours. It would not have happened without you, could not have happened without you.

You have to assume I’m right. (Laughter) It would be useful if you accepted my assessment. It will be more useful when you get there on your own. But in the places where we struggle, we can hunt for the best perspective and then adopt it as an approximation of our developing one. We can use it to bring us forward, and discard it when ours is in better shape.6

We need to move forward here. We need to figure out not just continuing to grind away at this. The work we have already done has been important, but it has kept a certain tone that has been hard on everyone and has hidden the fact that things have moved. That tone has been confused enough that it has distorted our picture of reality. We need to change that.

1 Tell means see, perceive.
2 Going on means happening.
3 Wipes out means destroys.
4 By and large means mostly.
5 Material means distress.
6 Shape means condition.

Last modified: 2014-10-06 19:11:59+00