Examining Why We Don’t Feel Responsible For Racism

We are always thrilled to learn: “It wasn’t MY ancestors”

Photo by Sasha Freemind on Unsplash

Very Unpopular Strong Opinions Blog by Christyl Rivers

That feeling of relief to believe your family is not monsters

Racism is very, very divisive.

Some people deny they are racist. That does not help it go away.

The majority of my grandparents came from Nova Scotia. And, fairly recently, so I know that slavery was not an issue for these woodsmen. And, the Jim Crow era was always something we were taught to look upon with disgust. Ditto, native usurpation, gender/sexism, and every 20th century genocide.

But lately, I have been questioning with deep scrutiny why I, and other Canadians — or other emigrants from where ever they have come — feel such deep relief at this phrase:

Thank GOD it was not my people who enslaved others.”

Even if we do not say these words, we can viscerally feel them. They seem to take an invisible weight off our shoulders, like the ghosts of the past are benevolently hovering about, to clear their names.

Then they vanish.

I keep trying to explore this illogical sense of relief. We all know, thoroughly with knowledge and reason, that racism persists. And it’s a system, not just a personal bigotry. We know one reason is because it’s so easy to scapegoat the most egregious racists.

The house metaphor doesn’t solve emotions

The house metaphor is useful. It says a house divided against itself cannot stand. It says that regardless of who broke all the windows and damaged the roof, those who live in the house must fix it.

I have lived in many houses that need extensive repair. We didn’t do the damage, but the repairs and maintenance must be done to keep the structure standing. We never felt a moment of finger-pointing or blame for the previous owners who did much of the damage. (Although contractors do get some shade for crappy work.)

So it is, with a house divided against itself. It cannot stand.

Although I thoroughly agree with the metaphor, it does not address our psychology quite adequately. Instead, we are programmed to seek absolution, because we need to see our better angels.

We who live in a society are charged with keeping it in good maintenance, but we don’t always know our part. I have noticed those who deny they are responsible for what their “grandparents did”, don’t even know that they are sharing (or not!) the same house. They just don’t get it.

They want everyone to take personal responsibility, not communal house repair, which is what we need.

Admit we are uncomfortable, and have much to learn

Our reasons for wanting to see ourselves as better than “the south”, or brutal police states, or the KKK, or terrible policies, are complicated. They are human feelings.

There is no sane, compassionate person who is going to own up to feeling proud of supporting the Master Race. Sorry Whoopi Goldberg, I don’t think you meant precisely what you said.

There are people of every “race” who cannot see their prejudice, but they can absolve themselves by readily seeing it in others. I think it is a small part biological, and a much bigger part environmental.

We are simply taught to “see”, our best selves, even if our rationalizations are garbage. We love the familiar. Admitting it’s true is difficult to do.

The old adage, “they all look the same to me,” in regard to Chinese, or Tamils, or Aborigines, or Zambians, etc. is not a lie. We are not exposed enough to diversity, and we suffer from lack of brain wiring to teach us the truth of our unique features.

Only when we design a world with love for diversity, and actively seek it out will this change. Until then, we just have to see ourselves more honestly.

In short, we cannot live with ourselves comfortably if we know about our contributions to the status-quo, the flawed world we have all made together.

This means we have to be willing to be uncomfortable.

And we are tired of being uncomfortable in these days of pandemics, disaster and leaky roofs. Awareness of this can help, because your neighbor is in the same state of disrepair.



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Christyl Rivers, Phd.

Christyl Rivers, Phd.

Ecopsychologist, Writer, Farmer, Defender of reality, and Cat Castle Custodian.