Reaching Across the Line Drawn by Racism

From talks by Tim Jackins* at leaders’ workshops in California and Washington, D.C., USA, in January and March 2016

Racism still has a big effect on who is in our Communities, and who stays in our Communities. It has less effect than before on who comes into our Communities. A wider diversity of people are coming in; we have done enough to move forward there. But it’s still very hard for many people to come into a largely white middle-class Community and not be so restimulated that they can’t tell it’s in their interest to stay.

In spite of good intentions, many of us are still stuck in the perspectives we grew up around. Anything very different feels uncomfortable, as if something is wrong. So for some people, staying and being welcomed as members of the Community means having to assimilate. It means having to give up part of who they are, part of their culture, and not be fully themselves. That has to be a mistake—a mistake of those of us who are in the Community.

We don’t want people to have to give up themselves in order to move ahead. That’s the great compromise that’s always proposed in capitalism: you just smooth it out, be quiet, do this, and you will get ahead; life will be better. We are all steeped in that, and we have to figure out ways to challenge it. We don’t want people to have to give up their perspective. We want them to develop their perspective as the distresses discharge, but we don’t want them to have to give up their perspective and who they are in order to have RC.

This means a challenge to those of us who are already here and are trying to be welcoming. We have to figure out how to let people be themselves and not have to fit snugly into the ways we have built the Community to be comfortable for us.

We have guidelines, but when we are scared about things, they tend to be applied as rules—strictly. Things have to “look right.” Instead we need to figure out how to apply the guidelines in another context, within another culture. Can we listen enough, discharge enough, understand enough to figure out how to see something differently, how to not try to squeeze everybody into the nice little thing we’ve been able to develop so far?

It’s a challenge to change what we’ve depended on and built so carefully for so long, but it’s part of what we have to do to end the ways that racism has us nailed to the floor in a certain position and doesn’t allow other things to develop. Let’s do a mini-session on that. For those of you who are white, what’s the scariest suggestion somebody could make for changing things in your Community? And for those of you who are targeted by racism, what would make it possible for your people to come into the Community? What would have to shift?


Racism exists to enable economic exploitation. If there weren’t money to be made by it, it wouldn’t exist. Capitalism uses racism more than any other tool to keep people divided—to interrupt organizing efforts, to pit different groups of people against each other, to blame certain groups for economic ills that are part of the system. “Your jobs are being taken by them,” in this country or in another. If somebody is taking your job, the reason is that the person who hired you can make more money by hiring somebody else. It’s about where the money flows.

Racism is different in different places and with different groups of people, depending on how the economic system has exploited people. Was it slavery? Was it building the railroads? Whatever labor was needed, workers were acquired—by force or by enticing them with the promise (never fully fulfilled) of economic betterment. Any racist argument used to justify the economic exploitation has had no valid content.

Our attitudes toward any group of people have been shaped by the economic interests that brought them near to us. So our attitude toward USers of African heritage is different from our attitude toward those of Chinese heritage. There isn’t one racism. We have to stop and look at where we get restimulated around different groups; look at who we have known, who we’ve avoided knowing. There are many things we need to think about, and we can’t think about them until we get enough discharge going.

In the United States the racism is, of course, the heaviest toward people of African heritage—because of our history, because of the tremendous economic exploitation of African-heritage people. That history has left the biggest, most confusing hunk of distresses we have around racism. And because the United States is such a big power, we ship our distresses everywhere. They show up in other places that have never had much contact with African-heritage people.

So when we are working on racism, we need to stop and think about the pieces of it we don’t usually think about. We tend to think about the one that has the biggest grip on us, but we need to put in some time thinking about all the different pieces that are put together in a puzzle here.


We white people are well meaning. We do the best we can to be aware of everything. But we still aren’t aware enough to not do distressed things. We can restimulate people as much as anything else can. It doesn’t take big things to restimulate old big distresses. The effect of our distresses, even though we’ve discharged and worked on them and narrowed them down, can still be large and we can be unaware of that.

An example is that we take up space unawarely. We move to where we want to sit without thinking about anybody else. If there are groups of people who have always had to be on the periphery, we unawarely keep them there, because we take up all the space in the middle. So we need to think about that.

Where do we want people who have been targeted by racism? Well, we want them close to us, we want them in the center, we want them to be part of things. And that isn’t going to happen unless we think about all the little informal things, like whom we choose to have a mini-session with. We can’t hunt for the comfortable. We need to take a chance and be ready to be rejected if our offer is too close to someone’s distress. We’re going to have to take the chance and not just sit still. If we really want this to move, we need to go ahead and be rejected. Then if we need to work on it, we can.

We have to understand that it’s not simply about us personally; it’s about the larger struggle and how far each of us can reach across the line that racism has drawn between us. We are going to have to reach across that line in practice, as soon as we can figure out ways to do it. Who we sit next to, who we ask questions of, needs to be different from who our comfort would dictate we do it with.

If we dare to do this, we run into another part of the unaware racism we carry: we tend to dominate conversations. And even if we don’t talk all the time, we still tend to steer discussions to what we’re interested in and what we want to know. When we are trying to get to know people who have been targeted by racism, we often end up quizzing them. We’re interested in what’s happened to them, but we’re not quite interested in them. And they can’t feel that we’re interested in them because there’s this barrage coming at them. Of course we want to get to know them, but our edginess gets in the way. We need to figure out a way to say or ask something and then shut up and see what the response is. We need to give people who may not expect to have a real voice in the conversation a chance to see if there’s enough space for them to guide the interaction to where they’d like it to go. This may mean long, awkward silences in which we feel like we need to jump in and make things work. We probably don’t.

It’s okay to have long, awkward silences as we figure out different things with each other. We have been kept so separate. It’s all right if we have unusual conversations and don’t talk about usual things. It’s all right if we don’t look perfect and in charge, if we show how awkward we feel, if we show some of the little weirdnesses we usually keep out of sight. It’s okay to be ourselves in this. We want to build the conversation. We want to build the relationship to where it’s as full and real as we can make it, and that may mean not being the most polished version of ourselves. We actually have to show some humanness and struggle, for a person to get a clear enough glimpse of us to want to be with us. We are not trying to trade resumes and impress each other, we are trying to find out who we are. And the impediment of racism confuses us about how to do it.

There is this line drawn by racism that we are all edgy about. Let me be precise. I challenge those of us who are white to use this workshop to figure how not to let the distress that got put on us affect us to where we don’t make contact with people who have been targeted by racism.

Our difficulties show in the small number of people targeted by racism here. We are about five or six to one. It won’t work to have five of us trying to meet this challenge by clustering around each person targeted by racism. It doesn’t have to be big. It doesn’t have to be anything except trying to make contact. We need to make it human—figure out how to not let what’s happened to all of us keep us separate from each other.

I want you to think about two people here who have been targeted by racism. Think about what you know about them, what you’ve seen of them, what pieces of distress might adhere in their mind. Let’s have a mini-session and work on that, so you can be clear enough to think about making contact with them in the next couple of days.

Tim Jackins

(Present Time 184, July 2016)

* Tim Jackins is the International Reference Person for the Re-evaluation Counseling Communities.

Last modified: 2022-12-25 10:17:04+00