How Racism Hurts Us, White People, Too

This article was published in the May 2016 issue of the Newsletter of the Pennsylvania Society for Clinical Social Work.

 

How Racism Hurts Us, White People, Too

By Elana Stanger, LCSW

“If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time.  But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.”

— Lilla Watson

“If White people have suffered less obviously from racism than Black people, they have nevertheless suffered greatly; the cost has been greater perhaps than we can yet know.  If the White man has inflicted the wound of racism upon Black men, the cost has been that he would receive the mirror image of that wound unto himself.  As the master, or as a member of the dominant race, he has felt little compulsion to acknowledge it or speak of it; the more painful it has grown, the more deeply he has hidden it within himself.  But the wound is there, and it is a profound disorder, as great a damage in his mind as it is in society.”

— Wendell Berry

White Liberation from the Role of the Oppressor

A lot of times, White people have difficulty with and avoid the discussion around being White and what it means to be a White person in our society.  Feelings come up that we learned to suppress and about which we learned to remain in sustained denial.  We had to do this for our survival, and when we tried as young people to question or struggle against the injustice when we noticed it, we were squelched and adultism came into play.  We listened to those in authority, our parents or caregivers, family members, teachers, those in whom we knew we had to trust, those who had already been hurt by internalizing their role as the oppressor.  Perhaps we became numb from denial.   

As a facilitator of intercultural dialogue and healing racism through art for the last 25 years, I sometimes have asked a question of the groups with whom I have spoken, “At what age and during what experience might you have first realized that you were White?”  

I eventually share that I grew up in the Bronx, a very culturally diverse environment in New York City. When I tell people I am from the Bronx and they see that I am a person considered to be White, they often question what part of the Bronx I am from.  Well, I am from the part of the Bronx that includes people of all races, nationalities, languages, religions, genders, sexual orientations, ages, mental and physical abilities, educational levels, socioeconomic classes, sizes, etc.  The diversity of New York is wonderful and provided me with a most valuable and significant education, simply in terms of being able to grow up in my neighborhood and go to public schools where diversity was, and is, ubiquitous.  

I did not learn that I was a person considered White until I arrived at Ithaca College in Upstate New York, a homogenous White environment, at 17 years of age.  I was experiencing extreme culture shock, and I wondered whether the people of color were feeling something similar.  I could blend in, but many could not blend in the same fashion.  I was so uncomfortable that I took a vow to do something about this situation before I graduated.  This led to the birth of Students for an Interracial Dialogue, a student organization which I founded to hold dialogues on the campus about race and racism.  They were well-attended by hundreds of students, faculty, and members of the wider community.  I had discovered my calling as a facilitator of interracial communication.  This calling led me to open an art gallery and community center devoted to cultural diversity awareness and building bridges, leading prejudice-reduction workshops nationally, and conducting diversity training and consulting for large corporations.  I also began creating artwork around cultural diversity issues and have maintained a website of my artwork, also making it available on products, for many years.  

Around the room at the workshop, however, many of these White folks shared that they knew they were White for as long as they could remember.    

Being One’s Authentic Self

As Therapists, most of us are concerned with the authentic self and help our clients to find their own authenticity and their own truth.  Yet, many White Therapists do not take the time to consider the ways we have been hurt by racism and how this system has greatly impacted our ability to be fully human and authentic.  Many of us carry around the burden of guilt, shame, anxiety, and other stressors connected to racism.  We have had to remain in denial, lest we notice too clearly the frightening impact that this injustice has on people of color.  Racism makes us mean, selfish, and greedy.  It has caused us to embrace a role that is often devoid of creativity, uniqueness and authenticity, while we are merely trying to blend in.  Most of all, being White has kept us artificially separate and isolated from the entirety of humanity.

Having Your Heart in the Right Place

So, what can we do?  We can collectively make sure our hearts are in the right place.  This means that we must daily, actively work toward the dismantling of racism within our inner and outer worlds, our psyches and our society.  How do we do this?  We offer lovingkindness, compassion, truth, acknowledgment of the injustice.  We act in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement, with people of color everywhere, and we respond with love and acceptance. We respond with a heart-felt desire to make everything as right as possible, to bring justice, to bring peace.

Having Your Mind in the Right Place

Knowledge is power.  Let us participate in learning groups and activities for healing racism.  Let us learn about the histories and cultures of those in our midst who may have a different skin color.  Let us acknowledge the horrific experience of the enslavement of African peoples and the African diaspora as a story of survival that is extraordinary, real, and worthy of our utmost respect.

Having Your Soul in the Right Place

Our souls long to be connected with all of our brothers and sisters as one human family, one people, and one race.  Let us leave behind denial and learn to follow that instinct that leads us forward to explore and discover a new day, one based on justice and equality, love and authenticity.  Let us gently, yet with strength and fortitude, honor that spark that unites us all.

Compassion and Self-Compassion

It is important to heal ourselves from the effects of racism that we, too, have internalized indirectly as White people.  We may do this with compassion for ourselves.  It is also important that we have and exhibit compassion for others, as we have compassion for ourselves.  It is important to allow ourselves to try something new, to make mistakes if necessary, as this may be the only way to learn.  Let us find safe spaces in which to do our own healing work, give up our role as oppressors, and right the scales of justice.  We do this for our own liberation, too.

Being an Ambassador of the White Race

Remember to be an ambassador of the White race.  Give some thought to what it means to be an ambassador.  An ambassador is defined as an accredited diplomat sent by one country as its official representative to another country.  When we are doing the work of building intercultural bridges, let us be intelligent, gracious, and respectful of those with whom we interact.

Elana Stanger is a licensed clinical social worker who has been involved in the work of bringing cultural diversity awareness through art and healing racism for the last 25 years.  She is currently publishing a book of her spiritual and inspirational art and writing called, The Apology: The Art of Interracial Healing and Building Intercultural Unity.  She would like you to visit www.OurApologyforRacism.org to consider what it would mean to apologize to people of color for racism, and write an original apology.  Elana’s diversity artwork, Art to Touch the Heart, and her blog, The Love Letter, may also be helpful resources: www.DiversityArts.org.  Also see www.DiversityTherapy.com for information about what Elana is doing to heal racism on a deeper level.  Contact Elana: Elana@DiversityArts.org.

Race or Care? : A Poem by Elana Stanger, L.C.S.W. a.k.a. St. Angel

Sharing One Smile Small for Web copy

If we keep running the RACE,

We’ll never win,

If we start to CARE,

Let the healing begin.

 

RACE or CARE

It’s up to us;

Let’s choose to CARE

So we may learn to trust.

 

We all ask forgiveness for

Our heinous crimes

“I apologize,” we say,

And it even rhymes.

 

RACE PRIVILEGE is no more,

“Bye, bye,” we say

As we embrace CARE and KINDNESS

Love will light our way —

 

Truth and Reconcilliation

And for ALL a brighter day,

When the RACE will have ended

And we ALL come out to play.

 

— Elana Stanger, a.k.a. Saint Angel

 

Please also see www.TheApology.org.  This website offers a place to apologize for our racism and to heal so that we may bring the brighter day mentioned in the poem above. Thank you in advance!

It Takes Some Time – A Poem By Elana Stanger, L.C.S.W.

Heart Over Head

It takes some time

To say “I’m not White”

It takes some courage, too.

 

To take the wool from off our eyes,

I’ll say it

If you will too.

 

“I’m not White” —

Three simple words

Yet they’d mean so much.

 

To renounce our privileged class,

They’d say,

And in fairness, become one with the “us”.

 

Now, who is “us”, you’d like to know,

Though I suspect you already do —

It’s everyone that isn’t “White”; it’s everyone but you.

 

Alone you stand, Alone are we

With our riches and our greed

Yet we can join the rest of “us”

And be a better “we”.

 

— By Elana Stanger, L.C.S.W. a.k.a. St. Angel

Race or Care? How We Spell It Matters A Lot by Elana Stanger, L.C.S.W. a.k.a. St. Angel

Race-Or-Care

I choose to care.  How about you?  How does one show that one cares about healing racism?  When so many ingrained social and psychological patterns say we don’t care, how do we show our respect and love?  How do we make it clear?

I have been making art on issues related to cultural diversity for the last 25 years.  I have been committed to the work of healing racism with my heart, my art, and with my counseling work.  It is important to let our actions in the world reflect what’s in our hearts.  If what we want in our hearts is justice and peace, we have to let our bodies do the work of justice and peace.  This is why I make art and why I more recently became a licensed clinical social worker and psychotherapist.  Before I became a therapist, I was a cultural diversity consultant, trainer, and intercultural dialogue facilitator.

As a healer and artist, I feel that I am intended to continue doing the work of healing social oppression.  Lately, I am starting to think about how to do this work on a larger scale.  Please join me.  Let us work to build bonds beyond barriers of race and our other cultural identities.  As we build true relationships of respect, fairness, equality, mutuality and understanding… peace and unity will be the fruits of our labor.  It’s time to work to bring about justice, peace, and Heaven on Earth.

I’ll keep you posted on everything I’m doing to Increase the Peace…  In the meantime, here is a link to the Diversity Arts Facebook Page: www.facebook.com/Art4Unity.   There, you can see some photos of some of the work I have accomplished thus far.  As always, thanks for reading and being a part of the Great Unity.  Peace…

 

I Love You, Too, White People by Elana Stanger, L.C.S.W.

White Soul Flight by St. Angel (c) 2016

I feel that it might be difficult for some White folks to understand that when I support people of color, the White folks can trust that it is possible for me to support White folks at the same time.  Because of the ways in which we have all been hurt by racism, which included being pitted against one another and learning erroneously that we are two separate groups of people with opposing goals, it is so hard for us to see that we can all support both groups at the same time.  We can care about everyone, all at the same time.  What we can no longer condone, however, is injustice and the unjustified advantage of one group over another because of our race, religion, nationality, gender, age, size, sexual orientation, physical and mental ability, etc.  Together, we must stand up as one unified body, to end injustice.  This call to end injustice, and to pursue justice, is the point of intersection for us all.

This is a special time to be alive and at peace in this marvelous universe.

I Love You All So Much.

Love Everybody by Elana Stanger, L.C.S.W.

Fiercely Love Everybody by St. Angel (c) 2016

Hello All Friends Everywhere! My newest work of art, Fiercely Love Everybody, encourages us to love freely, strongly, and to never let each other go.

As members of different cultural groups, we internalized messages that told us to mistrust one another, remain in denial, reject and turn our backs on others whom we perceived to be somehow different from us. However, we now see that was the past. It is now time for us to heal together. We now make the life-affirming decision that as people of diverse cultures, we shall stick together and work together for justice and peace. We shall engage in fruitful dialogue with one another to heal ourselves and develop ourselves into trustworthy, dependable brothers and sisters committed to ending every kind of social oppression in our world.

See more of my art to heal racism and social oppression called Diversity Arts “Art to Touch the Heart” on my Facebook Page: www.facebook.com/Art4Unity

Compassion Peace Love Understanding Joy Unity Hope Togetherness Beauty Kindness Trust by Elana Stanger, L.C.S.W.

Art Compassion Peace Love

Build a bridge today between your heart and someone else’s heart.  There is too much isolation. Even if your life feels full, someone else may be waiting for you to build your bridge to them, to rescue them and take them off of their island of isolation.  Perhaps you’ll recall that your life became full when you, yourself, began building a bridge.  At first, you were unsure.  Do I have the tools, the materials, the right mindset to reach the other shore safely and in tact?  Then slowly and carefully, or maybe rapidly and haphazardly, you gathered your resources and you did the best you could.  Perhaps when you found the heart you were seeking on the other shore, you fumbled over your first words, you literally stumbled or tripped on your feet, you made mistakes.  Soon, however, you found that the heart on the new shore was more than happy to welcome you because the company of your heart and your mind was all that they had ever hoped for.  Anxiety left.  Peace prevailed.

 

Good Morning by Elana Stanger, L.C.S.W.

A Beautiful Day to Live by St Angel (c) 2016

Good Morning. This day was made for me, and you, to be happy, to give thanks, to live as one. Breathe in gratitude. Breathe in love. Breathe in unity. Time for forgiveness. Time for peace. Time for solitude. Time to come alive fully bursting with life, creativity, wholeness. Each one of us is special in our own unique way. Let us connect fully with who we are and celebrate ourselves this day and everyday. I give thanks for being able to wake up this morning, get out of bed, and witness the sunrise. I give thanks for the gentle smile that arose on my face. For an open heart, ready willing and able to love. I carry inside of me strength and energy with which to bless the world. I carry power to move mountains. I trust myself to give freely and deeply as I am respected and loved for the significant contributions I make. I love everyone. I work for unity. I work for peace. I work for justice. I believe in life. I believe in love.

Black Lives Matter and A White Woman Continues to Care for These Lives by Elana Stanger, L.C.S.W.

Becoming An Ally by St. Angel (c) 2016

Watching the video documentary series, Eyes On the Prize, on public television during Black History Month, I am inspired by the courage of all those who stood up for justice during the Civil Rights Era, some of whom even had to give their lives for the cause of racial equality when confronted with the stark hatred that fuels senseless violence.  In the video, the African-American thought leader and activist, Stokely Carmichael, was interviewed after a White minister had been killed during a civil rights march, and Carmichael wondered aloud, why did the public suddenly become outraged and more unified at the killing of this White activist while many Black activists had also been killed during their participation in such actions for justice.  Their lives… and their deaths… didn’t seem to matter to the general White population.

Are we so polarized, Black and White, that we cannot care about the lives of those we perceive to be entirely separate from us based on superficial reasons such as the shade of one’s skin?

Before Carmichael spoke these words, I, too, thought them.  As a White woman who cares very much about equalizing the playing field for African-Americans, improving the quality of Black and African-American lives, healing racism and social injustice, and being an ally as the pride of African-American people everywhere is growing stronger… I stand with my African-American sisters and brothers who demand to be seen and heard, to be listened to and cared for, to be valued and  acknowledged.

I want my life to be seen as important, yet not more important than the life of someone who perhaps has more melanin.  We are equals.  That is how I want us to see each other and be seen by each other.

I want my White brothers and sisters to be equally enraged about the murders and the mistreatment of people of African-American heritage, as they would be if the victims were White.  Black Lives Do Matter. Black Lives Matter Just as Much as White Lives.  I am saying this because I know that many White people feel that only White Lives Matter.  And they do feel that White lives matter.  They value White lives, Whiteness, and everything White.

Yet, I would like my White sisters and brothers to consider all of the African-American nurses and doctors in hospitals everywhere who care for the sick, no matter the color of their skin. Think of all of the caregivers, who care for the elderly and the disabled.  Think of all of the teachers, aids, tutors, crossing guards and childcare workers, who care for the children, no matter their race or color.  Think of all the leaders in government who make decisions that take into account the needs of people of all races.  Think of post office workers, mail carriers, and delivery people who deliver our packages on time.  Think of firefighters, emergency medical technicians, and others who respond during life-threatening crises and emergencies.  Think of soldiers and veterans who go to battle for us.  Think of judges, attorneys, and law enforcement officials who protect us.   Think of scientists and inventors who develop their ideas into new products and services that benefit us all.  Think of spiritual leaders, religious clergy, and lay leaders who inspire us, offering prayer and encouragement.  Think of academicians, professors, researchers, scholars, and authors who shape our minds, nurture our intelligence, and coax our intellect.  Think of artists, dancers, poets, and musicians who make us smile with delight and take our souls to new heights.  Sports heroes, athletes, and fitness leaders show us we can overcome personal challenges, enjoy teamwork whether we win or lose the game, and enjoy the strength of our own bodies while listening to the heart that beats inside of us.  Therapists, social workers, counselors, psychologists, psychiatrists, and healers of all types mend our bodies, minds, hearts, souls and spirits, helping us to invite forward and integrate the parts of ourselves that we once rejected to align with our authentic selves.  Fashion leaders, thought-leaders, motivational speakers, television and radio personalities also inspire us to be our best selves.  Communicators, mediators, and facilitators help us build understanding, make peace with the others with whom we share the world, and bring justice.  Small, local business owners provide for their surrounding communities, while big business owners and CEOs show us responsible leadership and environmental stewardship on an even larger scale.  Line workers and factory workers incur callouses during long sleepless hours.  Transportation workers help all of us travel to work each day by train and by bus.  Food and restaurant employees, and those who run establishments where we all dine, make food that is good and safe to eat.  Farmers grow our food, truck drivers deliver it, and supermarket workers stock it on shelves for us to purchase when God blesses us with the financial resources to be able to buy it.

African-American people contribute daily to the quality of White Lives and we all depend on them.  Let us, White people, contribute daily to the quality of Black Lives and let them count on us.