EXPOSING THE MYTH OF WHITE SUPERIORITY
How to Have Constructive Cross-Racial Conversations
As someone who has been involved with multicultural and anti-racism work for decades, I have been inspired to see a number of white people come to understand their part in racism and how their whiteness and the privilege they get from it affects people of color. It can be a very depressing and shameful process to admit that they believe in the myth of white superiority. White people often experience a soul crisis when they absorb the truth that they’ve been raised to believe this without questioning it. When they have to look at structural forces of racism that helped them be successful in life – how white skin and a white way of speaking opened doors and opportunities for them – they have to rewrite their own narrative. Do they merit their rewarding jobs and padded bank accounts, or was the playing field uneven? Have they judged and condemned their black neighbors, colleagues, friends and strangers for being less successful and secretly or unconsciously accepted the myth of black inferiority?
Facing the lie of white superiority is what whites must do to be available for their own healing. Facing the white shadow as whites and facing the black shadow as blacks, we can all do the real work of healing our nation.
For a genuine black-white conversation on race to work, I believe whites have to own up to the unfair advantage racism has given them. Doing this validates blacks’ experience of disadvantage, and that’s a crucial first step to forging trust and allowing for vulnerability. Because of our own black shadows, African Americans have a lot at stake when we open up to white people about our pain and sorrow and anger. These conversations are not equivalent for blacks and whites. I compare it to working with couples in therapy when one partner has had an affair. The perpetrator is expected to do a little more giving (be more vulnerable, accept responsibility) until the system is rebalanced and some trust is restored. Only then can the victim feel safe enough to start talking about his/her part in the relationship breakdown.
Unfortunately, what I generally hear from whites during racism workshops is that they want a guarantee of safety (“I don’t want to be called a racist!”) and they want to be taken care of, (“I feel so guilty! I hate this feeling! Tell me I’m okay”). It’s no wonder these conversations are often endured through gritted teeth by black people. How could it be different? If white people faced their white shadows, we could start this conversation at a whole new level. We wouldn’t reenact racism (whites are just nice folks; blacks are always so angry).
In my previous blog, I addressed a question a white woman asked at a recent presentation I gave about the book. She asked why African Americans don’t “narrate their own story.” As a black woman and therapist, I get why we haven’t, and I wrote Facing the Black Shadow to help African Americans begin having long-needed conversations about slavery and its ongoing trauma, which manifests in the myth of black inferiority. Talking about slavery and the myth of black inferiority will help African Americans become energized so we can tell our own story. The more we talk about our shadows – black and white – the closer we’ll get to the day when we can tell healing stories about our pasts that help us move forward into a happier future.