The Black Lives Matter movement has grown under the spotlight, causing a lot of us to think about our behaviour towards Black people. This is a good thing and a stepping stone toward inclusion. The key idea is to let black (and POC) voices be heard to the fullest extent, which means letting down our walls and listening.
But that does not mean exhausting our friends with questions we have about race. Instead, if we want to listen freely, we should first set time aside to reflect on our own privilege. Start by acknowledging that it is a privilege to think about racism, instead of living it.
For people of color reading this article, we too can benefit from unravelling our own internalized racism. It can be difficult to confront this trauma but being mindful about the ways we let racism continue in our thoughts and actions, allows us to break the narrative and transform the way we feel about ourselves and others in our community.
So, Ask Yourself…
Generally, the practice of meditation is about observing your breath and existing in the present moment. What if we took a different approach and instead of directing our attention to our physical sensations, we explored our mental capacities. Take out a journal and allow yourself to ruminate about the following questions:
1. In what ways have I been conditioned to believe in the superiority of whiteness?
I’ve included prompts to help you think deeply (but feel free to skip over them).
- Am I willing to give white people the benefit of the doubt, but not extend it towards people of colour?
- Do I feel uncomfortable, or worried about my safety around white people?
- Do I support ‘white saviour’ storylines because they help me feel connected to Black people’s struggles?
- Am I denying racism?
2. In what ways have I stereotyped or excluded Black people?
Let’s think deeper about this one:
- Am I uncomfortable watching an all-Asian or all-Black cast?
- Do I view Black people as angry, criminals/ thugs, or even use the N-word myself (as a non-black person)?
- Do I define my relationship with all Black people based off of one interaction with a black person?
- Do I adopt traditions from another culture without knowing the history behind them?
- Does the word Black make me feel uncomfortable?
- Do I prefer lighter-skinned people of colour?
- Do I have one black friend to make me less ‘racist?’
- Do I repost on social media because everyone else is, or do I actually understand what I’m consuming?
- Do I love Black music, but not Black people?
3. What ways do I reject my own culture to fit in with American/ European standards?
- Have I forgotten a language because it wasn’t spoken by my friends/ peers, or even passed up an opportunity to learn such a language?
- Do I try to hangout with only white friends? Or have negative-perceptions of kids with similar ethnicities to me?
- Am I embarrassed about being an immigrant? Or was I, in the past?
- Do I try and hide my cultural food/ clothing?
- Am I uncomfortable at the colour of my skin or maybe the style of my hair?
- Do I believe what other people tell me about my race?
- Do I try to look different from other people of the same background?
4. What am I doing to educate myself on race in the country/ community I live in?
This is your chance to list books by diverse authors, films featuring casts of colour and research videos that will help you be informed - consider sources such as news articles, books, YouTube or Netflix. It’s important not to overload with things to do because you will never end up looking at it, instead you can take it project by project. Allowing yourself to fully commit to your knowledge and process it.
I’m Done Journaling…
Our internalized racism cannot be resolved through these short questions, but it’s the tipping point. Look back at your list and think about the ways you could do better. I’m not assuming everyone has had the same experiences or believes these perceptions, but for the ones that do, there is no shame. Instead of feeling guilty, you can use this experience to grow and improve. Take this practice and observe your everyday actions, consider how they fall under one of the four questions.
Seriously, be mindful about the way you talk to black people in your neighbourhood, the characters in the shows you watch and the food you eat. Doing so allows you to unlearn your conditioning and actively takes steps to ensure healthier relationships.
To conclude, the way you look at this practice is up to you. How much trauma you can search is up to you. These actions can be done in private and in any-time frame. The goal is to break down these narratives and expand our perspective. It might be unnerving to sit down and pluck ourselves apart, or we might be unwilling to. But, the answer is that it takes work and it takes time, so maybe you aren’t done journaling tonight.
Why I Wrote This Article
I've spent the majority of my life believing these questions or giving into their beliefs. I didn't like myself because I was Indian and it didn't help that a lot of the kids I grew up with were white. They will never know what it's like to be a struggling first-generation immigrant (and I don't resent them for that); it just made me feel isolated.
I grew up feeling like I was different. Maybe it was how I perceived myself and that wasn't actually the case, but I think it stemmed from not understanding anything. I was just a kid when I immigrated, all I knew was that I looked different, talked different and ate different. So, of course I felt like an outsider and the saddest part was, I wasn't really taught to love what makes me different.
What really changed the game was when I saw the first question in this article, on an Instagram post (@jezzchung) which said, "In what ways have I been conditioned to believe in the superiority of whiteness?" All I could think about was my childhood, where I had a deep desire to fit in and look "white."
Within recent years I’ve begun to feel comfortable in my skin and the shocking thing about that question was that I never realized how I viewed white people as superior, I never acknowledged that, but I suppose I’ve always felt inferior because of it. Understanding this abolished any hesitations I had about my culture because I had no reason to reject them anymore, since I did not want to be white. This “outside of the box” thinking about race and the realization that we might be unknowingly holding onto certain ideals, inspired me to write this article.
The other questions address subtle acts of racism that might slip past us. It’s almost revolutionary to understand racism at such a small-scale level and to know how impactful we can be. I wrote this article to have those pressing and important discussions.
I know the internet has been buzzing with awareness, so this is my compilation of that advice, with the intent on looking inwards and projecting our new realizations outwards. As the Black Lives Matter movement focuses on dismantling racism and the systems that uphold it, now is the time to understand ourselves and our history.