While the word is still reeling from coronavirus, we are now forced to confront another, more uncomfortable epidemic—racism. And I say “uncomfortable” because that is the emotions it elicits in most non-POC (persons of color). This becomes an important point to make, given that the instinctual response to any type of emotional discomfort is typically avoidance. Avoidance is the 20-pound shield we drag around hoping that it will protect us from vulnerability and feelings of shame, guilt and judgement. But when we use that shield to protect ourselves, we simultaneously endanger the lives of more vulnerable populations.
One important step in dropping the shield of avoidance is to understand that “racism” does not always manifest in overt, unthinkable acts portrayed on the news and in textbooks. Racial microaggressions and discrimination are an inherent, and often unrecognized, part of our environments. Members of a dominate group commit acts of microaggression when they make subtle, often unintentional, assumptions that serve to alienate, label or demean members of a minority group. For example, making a knee-jerk assumption about a person’s intellect, socioeconomic status or favorite music based on the color of their skin.
Rather than avoid, we should reflect upon and confront these unconscious biases. Being able to write down our thoughts as an exercise of reflection is an enormously beneficial habit to acquire. It can serve to solidify what we see, feel and value most. The process of articulating thoughts into words can also force us to ask ourselves tougher questions that may have otherwise gone unacknowledged. Self-reflection is the first step toward recognizing, respecting and responding with informed thoughtfulness to a variety of differences between people.
Remember, discomfort is not a bad thing. Stress, anxiety, regret and shame are signs that a behavior or action you are witnessing (or taking part in) are not aligned with your personal morals or beliefs. Pay attention to those feelings. Using avoidance as a shield to protect ourselves only acts as a barrier in allowing us to really understand the experience of another. And coupled with a lack of self-awareness, avoidance leads to a complex pattern of discriminatory behavior that implicitly and unconsciously enforces negative stereotypes. Anyone can take an active role in promoting respect and tolerance in their communities by paying listening to minority groups and engaging in continual self-reflection to understand the way we define ourselves, the way we see others and the way in which others perceive us.
– Carolyn Moriarty, LPC