Healing from Damage Inflicted by Racism

To heal from the damage inflicted by racism and internalized racism, we need to tell our stories—how racism has affected our lives, what has happened to us and to our people. We need the chance to openly express our feelings about our experiences of racism. When we do this, the damage done by racism begins to dissipate. We start seeing ourselves more clearly as good, smart, strong, complete human beings. We feel and act more powerfully and hopeful about ending racism and other oppressions. We treat each other more respectfully and cooperatively.

For this healing process to work well, we need someone to listen attentively to our stories—someone who is sincerely interested and who stays relaxed while we express our emotions. We need someone who encourages us to tell the full story of what happened and how we felt and to use the process of emotional release—allowing ourselves to cry, laugh, or rage. Any two individuals can agree to take turns listening to each other, without interruption, for a specified amount of time (for example, half an hour each), encouraging each other to share their experiences fully and not hold back their emotions.

United to End Racism has found that safety for healing from internalized racism builds when people meet not only in pairs but also in support groups with others from a similar background or heritage (for example, African or Indigenous). In these support groups each member has an equal amount of uninterrupted time to share experiences of racism while the others listen attentively. The support group leader encourages the person talking to express his or her thoughts and feelings. The leader welcomes and encourages the tears, trembling, raging, and laughter that often occur spontaneously as people talk about their struggles with racism.

When we first participate in these groups, internalized racism may cause negative feelings about each other  (distrust, dislike, upset, and so on) to surface. These feelings arise from internalized racism and will disappear as people tell their stories and hear others’ stories. In the meantime, members of the group need to make an agreement to not act on the basis of such feelings.

Questions such as the following can help members of support groups begin to identify and focus on internalized racism:

• What information about yourself would you like others to know—about your heritage, country of origin, family, class background, and so on?

• What makes you proud about being a member of this group (e.g., being of African descent), and what do you love about other members of this group?

• What has been hard about being a member of this group, and what do you sometimes not like about others in this group?

• What were your early life experiences with people in this group? How were you treated? How did you feel about others in your group when you were young?

When people are given a chance to talk and express their feelings, internalized racism is directly challenged. As emotions are released, people’s negative feelings about themselves and others in their groups begin to disappear. People are able to think more clearly. They can reach for cooperative relationships more easily. Once groups of people have had a chance to meet separately in this way, greater unity and participation are possible when they join with larger, more diverse groups of people.

Support groups can be used in many settings—at the workplace, at school, in religious settings, in the neighborhood. Support groups are increasingly helpful for the participants over time. As the participants get to know each other, they become closer to each other, more supportive of each other, and more open. Even two people can have a support group, taking turns listening to one another. Support groups can also be used for non-race-based groups—such as women, young people, and working-class people.

(See page 31, “How to Begin ‘Re-evaluation Counseling,’” for information on creating opportunities for people to listen to one another and heal from the damage done by racism.)

 Tim Jackins

Last modified: 2015-07-21 18:05:05+00