Our Choice Against Racism

We are taking on eliminating racism in a continuous fashion, not only in some isolated places, not occasionally, but as an integral part of the work we are doing.

White people have to work on racism. If we don't, it impedes everything. It interferes with our functioning in every aspect of our lives. It's that pervasive and that much a part of the overall oppression of our societies.

We can't have good lives without working on racism. If we don't keep working on it, we slip back into pretending, which is what the oppressive society pushes us to do -- pretend, and give up, and settle for smaller lives. None of us should settle for a small life. We each get to have as big a life as we choose to go after. There is no real limit except the distresses we carry.

One of the best ways for white people to attack our distress recordings about race is to discharge on what we run into as we take action. We need to commit ourselves to taking action every time racism shows up in front of us, no matter how small or large the incident. This will flush out from under cover all of the things we tend to go numb about, try to slip away from, and ignore. Whites have been conditioned to just try to survive, to avoid looking at and avoid taking stands against racism (as well as having more actively racist patterns). We have to give up that reactive behavior.

It is not a strategy any of us consciously chose. (Every white person is saturated with it. When it's that uniform, we know it's been systematically installed by our societies.) Still, each of us has the ability to go against it, and that's what we have to do.

Because of our numbness it has often been hard for whites to know where to start in working against racism. We can begin by talking in sessions about what we're going to do the next time we encounter racism, and about the last incident in which we didn't interrupt racism, and then see what flashes in our minds, how scared we get, what consequences we are, or were, afraid of.

Whites also have trouble working on racism simply because we feel so badly about it. Someone brings up racism, and all the white faces in the room collapse, our minds go away. We can feel cowardly and ashamed about this, but the fact is that these responses are part of pervasive societal conditioning. The ways we feel as whites when racism comes up -- how badly we feel, how small and helpless, how guilty, how useless in this area -- are widely-carried recordings. Racism is kept in place by the installation of helplessness patterns on white people, no matter what families we grew up in, no matter what our circumstances were.

Everybody is a good person. All of us and our ancestors are and were good people. Racism is not an individual failing. It's not some hidden evil in some individual. It is something that happens simply because we live in these societies and because our societies rely on oppression to survive.

We get to grieve about every-thing that has happened around racism. We also get to be responsible

for the oppressor distresses we carry. Although we do not carry them by choice, they are ours to remove. We can be pleased and proud of this chance to make ourselves, and all of human society, different forever in this area.

You get to be pleased. You get to be pleased with yourself the way you are right now. I don't care what distresses you carry. I don't care how lost you've gotten. I don't care what you've acted out -- racism, classism, young people's oppression. You get to be pleased with yourself for reaching the point where you have the choice to take on this battle, to do something about racism. If you aren't pleased with yourself, you're accepting part of what the oppressive society has done to you. You're accepting that pattern as you. This is incorrect. You are a tremendously good person. You will play roles in which you get to be allies to everyone who exists. That is within your reach.

Anything that has you feeling bad about what happened before this point, feeling bad about yourself in the present because of the past, is something to discharge. We made our mistakes. We made bad ones part of the time. We hurt people. We passed on hurts in lots of different ways and did damage. Yes, we did. But we have the tools and resources to undo that damage.

We confuse the mistakes we made with what we're capable of in the future. We have to fight to separate the two. I'm sorry distresses messed up your life. I'm sorry you were part of the contagion that passes hurts along. You were, I know that. I know you've done racist things. Everyone who grows up in societies like ours does. We get hammered and hammered until we don't think, until we're scared and finally "settle." This is the struggle in which we find ourselves.

We are the carriers of what has built up over centuries. We are the carriers of that damage. We have inflicted it on others, and odds are we'll probably get lost and do it again. But odds are even better that it will happen less and less, in smaller ways, and that we'll go back and clean up the damage faster and more often.

We have to fight to end racism, not because we are bad but because ending it is essential for everyone, including ourselves. You need not sacrifice yourself in this struggle. You are to include yourself in it.

We are numb to racism. We don't understand what racism does to people of color. To a large extent we don't even know. We don't even know how to know. Society works to keep us ignorant.

We feel like there's no way to understand racism, like we shouldn't understand it, like it's presumptuous to try to understand it or to ask for information. If we ever do ask for information, we can't easily listen.

We must struggle to take in and understand what racism is really like, how destructive it is every single day to all people of color, no matter what their life circumstances. We need to find out about all the ways people of color have had to figure out how to survive, and force ourselves to look at that.

I think it is useful for white people to consider reparations. (Currently in the United States there is a movement seeking reparations -- monetary and other compensation from the government -- to the descendents of African slaves in the United States.) It will push us to think and discharge about what slavery really was. What does it mean to be someone else's slave? I mean a slave. I mean, "You have no choice. Your existence is up to me. Every whim, every distress I have, I am legally entitled and supported to act out at you. Every single way I can be irrational I get to act out, and society says, 'Yes. You get to do that.'" What kind of life is that? Most of us can't get even a hint of what it's like. We are just too scared to think about it. We can't get our minds to look there. But we have to start down that road. We have to look at what racism has really done. All of it. We have to look at it and grieve -- grieve, grieve, grieve, understand, and grieve some more. We have to get a clear picture of the racism that has been passed down through the centuries and is still all around us, all of the time.

Facing racism is not going to easily feel good, but we get to be proud of doing it. We get to notice how bad it is, and has been, and we get to feel proud of taking on this struggle and working to make things different in the future.

Tim Jackins
(Transcript of a talk given at the New York City, New York, USA, Teachers' and Leaders' Workshop this June.)

Last modified: 2017-05-06 23:35:41-07