This is the second in a series by Fannie LeFlore, MS, LPC, SAC, on The Traumatization of America due to Systemic Racism, Socioeconomic Disorder and Political Dysfunction. Click here for the first article.
“Things are not getting worse. They are getting uncovered. We must hold each other tight, and continue to pull back the veil.” — quote posted on Russell Simmons’ public Facebook page, July 12, 2016.
“Make peace with your past so it won’t destroy your present.” — Paulo Coelho.
If a parent shows a pattern of favoritism to one child while being unrelentingly harsh with the other – unloving, neglectful and even violent -- the children will have different perceptions and experiences, and view life from contrasting perspectives. The child made to feel special may come to believe she is inherently “better than” her scorned sibling. She does not yet have maturity to question, assess and judge why the parent is unfair, unkind and unreasonable to extremes.
The child might never consider how being coddled disproportionately could lead to feeling entitled to always get her way and angry when she doesn’t. She may throw temper tantrums when faced with changes, so develops a habit of blaming her mistreated sibling for her own bad behaviors. Due to being accustomed to the parent not holding her accountable, she overreacts, shuts down or breaks out in tears – giving the impression that she is too fragile to handle confrontations about any wrongdoing -- when her traumatized sibling finally stands up for himself and tells the family to stop hurting and maligning him.
The favorite child, so uncomfortable with facing the truth, must pretend she did not witness any of the parental abuse that made her sibling feel devalued, despised and unwanted. She begins defending the parent and blaming her sibling for all the family’s problems. But there is an unsettling feeling that just won’t go away. As the sibling who felt special slowly opens herself to integrating new viewpoints beyond her own narrow awareness, she is more confused than ever. She knows deep down something was “off” and sometimes feels burdened by a sense of guilt and shame – not realizing these disowned feelings were transferred from the parent. But she still lacks deep insights because denial and other defenses, and the many distractions due to focusing more on accumulating material possessions, had long helped her internal uneasiness stay under the radar. It also laid a foundation for morality based on loving things but using and discarding people, as if there was no inherent value in human connections.
Now that she pays closer attention to things once taken for granted, the cognitive dissonance can make her feel crazy. She feels a need to reconcile the discrepancies because she finds that living a lie requires paying a heavy price. She may have been spoiled while growing up, but she recognizes she has empathy despite the temptation to pretend it does not register. What she could not fully fathom was the possibility that their parent had to be pathological on some level. Consider America the parent in this analogy. The example speaks to how white and black people collectively, who are truly siblings in the sense of sharing the same environment but with vastly different upbringings, have been historically regarded and treated as a result of systemic racism.
A position of authority that makes it possible to cause deliberate damage and continually make excuses for horrifying behaviors could be almost too unbearable to admit — depending on whether someone is guided by a conscience. Of course, those devoid of adequate compassion — an inability to love – have no interest in gaining insights that could help healing to emerge. They see the harsh realities of how unwarranted disadvantages (systemic oppression due to race) and unearned advantages (privileges provided on the basis of race) can adversely affect human lives from cradle to grave, but fail to support change.
Unending hostility, conflicts, resentments, distrust and other unresolved issues are an inevitable outcome where such blatant differences cause severe harm — ongoing disparities and injustices within a family system, affecting diverse people across generations. These patterns of habitual dysfunction and toxic influences have rendered the nation stagnant in many ways. Obliviousness and indifference to underlying psychosocial dynamics and quality of life outcomes imposed by the replication of racist ideology in different manifestations, have resulted in history repeating itself. Stubborn refusal to acknowledge and take consistent steps to make right major wrongs and replace non-sense with common sense, restricts breaking the cycle in significant ways.
We cannot escape the impact of the past on the present. Despite many citing racism as America’s original sin, we cannot legislate morality, either. The fact that racism still exists suggests that enough people benefit from it, despite the pain and suffering it causes to blacks and other people of color. White privilege gives incentives to collude in maintaining a system that gives unfair advantages. This is why racism represents the nation’s Shadow – it requires massive denial for the white population collectively to pretend that racism no longer exists even while they benefit from it. This points to a realization that white supremacy ideology demands that people support a building block of lies that require blunting their conscience. It is also why a paradigm shift can best derive from understanding the roots of racism as a sociopathic system.
Sociopathic thinking attempts to normalize the abnormal. It represents an emotionally insecure and psychologically immature way of being in the world where fears about survival result in overreacting to everything and everyone, as if the environment itself — diverse people and diverse nature — is a constant threat to one’s basic foundation. Confronting willful ignorance is necessary to break through ego-defensive beliefs and other rigid barriers that block paths to individual and collective consciousness for the psycho-spiritual advancement of human beings. Ignorance may be bliss for many, but it is deadly when a system holds humanity hostage so that no new information can be integrated to broaden one’s understanding of self and others.
This is what systemic racism seeks by boxing people into a narrow trajectory for how their entire lives should unfold, based on strict parameters intended to make people predictable. Racism relies on creating engineered probabilities at the expense of genuine human developments. Due to extreme fears hijacking objectivity, racism results in limiting potential for the expression and experience of many affirming components of life — creativity, beauty, civility, cooperation, functional trust and other aspects that make appreciation and joy more likely from taking in the loveliest little things of daily existence.
Those who profit most from oppressive conditions often remain hidden despite how their inhumane agendas impact diverse masses. The diversions they create keep the focus off of them while no one is held accountable when the lives of many decent people are destroyed by pathological people and systems. White supremacy as the ideological basis of racism provides benefit of doubt to even those who do not deserve public trust by putting forth false claims, pretending that skin color determines legitimacy and defines credibility. This man-made agenda has been mass-produced by widespread propaganda, and taken as an inevitable given despite other options for supporting collective human survival and collaboration.
Elements of racism imposed in America and abroad create ongoing conflict due to discounting the contributions, worth and value of diverse humanity across the globe. It is a backwards approach to suggest that race is more important than character, talents, moral values, work ethic, diligent effort and other factors that make individuals authentic. Internal qualities about people are far more important, but racism depends on placing trust on external and shallow factors as indicators of who should be considered a friend or foe. When diverse people find themselves distracted by petty issues that absorb too much time and attention, it often leads to frustrations that deplete energy so people do not have time to deal with what really matters. These factors often limit opportunity for collaboration among those with common struggles to resolve pressing problems for the benefit of diverse humanity.
Ronald Chisom, co-founder of the People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond, teaches that racism dehumanizes, and that anti-racism efforts serve to humanize us. Chisom and others say that for those who are white, recovering from participation in racist systems necessitates understanding white privilege and how many developed an addiction to a need to feel special based on skin color. Legitimate and life-affirming options exist to help Natives, blacks and others recover from the disenfranchisement and traumas caused by historical and ongoing racism. Solutions rooted in reason, compassion and related components that involve promoting equity through practical socioeconomic, systemic reforms and other improvements have been proposed by various scholars, researchers, grassroots activists and others. The work to undo racism is hard, but tapping into emotional and ethical intelligences — along with practical expertise from diverse sources and knowledge based on objective facts versus subjective opinions — provide a realistic path forward.
Confronting White Supremacy Gaslighting
Pathological people – referred to on a continuum ranging from malignant narcissists, sociopaths and psychopaths -- can be found among diverse people, and make up a relatively small percentage of the human population. But aspects of pathological narcissism and sociopathy can be expressed in different degrees among those who are otherwise normal but highly unconscious or dysfunctional to the degree that they are under the influence of pathological people and systems.The sociopathic mentality represents a closed, cold and calculated approach with primary emphasis on competition and conflict, chaos and disorder, for purposes of power and control. Extreme absence of empathy, habitual lying, bullying behaviors and a self-centered disposition suggesting that other people simply do not matter, are the most common combined indicators. Anyone who has had extensive personal or professional contact with someone with a major personality disorder has likely experienced gaslighting, which is a sophisticated manipulation tactic used to create confusion and doubt in the minds of others. It is easy to be fooled by those who look normal and come across as confident and charming, but have significant defects that are likely to become known over time.
White supremacy reflects a sociopathic mentality. As a political, economic and social disorder, it should not be confused with general mental health issues that many individuals face, despite sometimes overlapping terminology describing some conditions. Racism equates to prejudice plus social power stemming from white supremacy ideology. It is based on manufactured dogma using skin color as the basis for defining inherent superiority or inferiority. It is systemically reinforced and maintained by contrived stereotypes and related factors that lack merit, despite creating real-life consequences. Standard operating procedure dictates placing whiteness on a pedestal while marginalizing people of color, to uphold the racial status quo. Enforcement of white and male superiority seeks to restrict inclusion of diverse people within the larger society. These result in a significant waste of human potential and misuse of natural resources that would allow different people to thrive based on available options and ability to contribute to society. Lack of critical thinking and limited interactions among diverse people as a result of extensive segregation have made it more possible for sociopaths in power to hide in plain sight. Many manipulators, in roles as puppeteers, employ divide and conquer strategies to promote fear and exploit different populations.
Those with a sociopathic orientation – whether due to nature or nurture – exhibit patterns of unconscionable thinking and behavior, deem themselves superior, are often predatory and callous, without guilt or remorse, and operate from a self-centered and often nihilistic worldview. The nation suffers at various levels due to many incompetent people who routinely create rather than solve problems. This includes many in authority who are viewed as credible but unequipped to manage human systems that support empowerment for diverse people. They set the tone for how leaders influence others, and their failure to be responsive to the legitimate needs of diverse masses is proof of major psychosocial limitations, among other indicators.
Many with an aversion to facts may attempt to argue that white supremacy isn't a thing, yet evidence is clear through European justifications for the colonization of lands originally occupied by black and brown people The ideological roots of racism invaded America by replacing previous cooperation by the white and black working classes in early history before slavery became a race-based system that “legally” spanned 246 years. Native and African Americans were scapegoated, dehumanized and severely harmed by genocidal practices and generational enslavement imposed by violence from segments of the population defined as white. Those in power – a contingent of white men with primarily profit motives, now referred to as the elite – exploited, divided and conquered those with common concerns by making it easier for poor European immigrants to feel kinship based on outward appearance shared with the elite in positions of authority. Content of character took a back seat as the social construct of race became more prominent due to propaganda, creating a hierarchy and caste system that served the interests of a relative few at the expense of diverse masses. These realizations offer the general public reason to look more objectively at ourselves and others, if we are to determine the real qualities of people beyond surface and shallow factors.
Gaslighting involves manipulation of information to confuse people about what is really true or false. It is a form of emotional and psychological abuse. Destructive patterns of misinformation accumulate and cause clouded perceptions due to ongoing exposure to lies. The distortions of reality can bring many people to the brink of questioning their own sanity. Institutional and other reinforcements of white supremacy support gaslighting by allowing people who benefit from racism to assume other people should believe they are superior despite clear evidence of their very real flaws and other human limitations. These same people become defensive when their unrealistic expectations are challenged. When others do not comply with the idea they should consider themselves inferior, racists often engage in bullying, hostility, intimidation and passive aggressive actions. Objective evidence demonstrates that black and brown people have various strengths and positive qualities as well as shortcomings, just like white people.
Racism relies on pretending that human nature is normally hostile and people are always predictable when in fact everyone is unique — black, brown and white alike (referring to people as yellow and red seems inappropriate). The system seeks to maintain environmental and other conditions – through various policies and practices -- to preserve a vicious cycle of violence and other disorder, with ongoing blaming and shaming that impedes problem-solving. This is why debating about whether peaceful co-existence is possible given the realistic differences among people becomes moot, without consideration of the extensive impact of systems that socialize us, affect access to resources and influence the functioning of all to some extent. As Gail K. Golden writes in White Privilege as an Addiction: “As we come to understand something about institutional racism, we begin to have some clarity about how people of color can be made ill by endless and unrelenting assaults against their very being. We learn about internalized racial inferiority and the toll it takes on people of color. We begin to understand the impact of racism on the physical, emotional and financial health of people of color. What we are much less attuned to is internalized racial superiority and the ways in which being part of a dominating culture creates its own pathology, that of white privilege.”
A major barrier is the psyches of white people collectively. It is interesting to note what Marybeth Gasman, a white female and professor, recently wrote: “Our nation’s overall disdain for African Americans, is, from my perspective, tied to many whites wanting to forget our nation’s behavior toward African Americans — slavery, beatings, rapes, Jim Crow, discrimination, murders, lynchings, theft and so many other atrocities. Many whites want to pretend that we live in a colorblind society.” Indeed, resistance to African Americans causes a major problem due to whites who come across as if only they have answers, even though black and brown people offer innovative ideas and unique insights. Their collective experiences could help the nation move forward if adequate resources were provided to implement initiatives people of color can offer as workable solutions.
Whites in America have been socialized to cling to an identity that makes them feel secure only if they control most major resources and everything else. Letting go of white supremacy — due to ingrained patterns of adversarial thinking that demands domination, corruption and greed to boost flawed foundations of a false superiority ideology — can help release the grip of a negative loop of irrational beliefs so that white identity is no longer built on lies. Their fears of blacks also seem far out of proportion than realistic wariness would warrant. White people actually need faith in the universe that their survival is not threatened by those who are different, with understanding that retaliation is not in the best interests of diverse humanity due to shared interests and realistic interdependence.
Change is possible. But it will require white people to face some basic historical truths that have imprisoned them for far too long in defensive postures, just as black people are collectively forced to evolve from learning important lessons about their human dignity despite enduring trauma caused by historical and ongoing racism. Confronting the nation’s Shadow rooted in the false ideology of white supremacy, offers opportunity for the contributions of diverse people to be acknowledged. It makes room for the voices of blacks and other people of color to be heard and heeded as equally legitimate leadership and reference sources of information, despite different perspectives.
Listening, learning and engaging in efforts to help dismantle racism rather than cause ongoing harm, will involve trial and error. Clarity is important to come to terms with many misconceptions: Prejudice is not the same as racism, there is no such thing as reverse racism, and pretending to be colorblind is not a legitimate approach to dealing with diverse people, since respect for differences makes appreciation possible more than reason for fear. All of us can demonstrate compassion for ourselves and others rather than condemn mistakes as we practice ways to undo our own biased beliefs. As Josh Cole (aka Feelings Detective) reminds us, “It is possible for a liar to say true things and it is possible for a person with established credibility to lie. That’s why testing the truth and falsity of a comment should come first, regardless of the source of information. Blind trust is blind, and the modern world is built on many lies. Context also matters a lot.”
Racism attempts to force compliance with systems designed to insult human intelligence, undermine the heart and compromise the soul. People who know themselves to be generally decent are not required to be perfect, but everyone can make a difference to help improve things. Rejecting superiority and inferiority ideology lessens the grip of the sociopathic roots of racism, allowing life-affirming changes in our thinking, feelings and behaviors. Raising consciousness on an individual level can lead to breakthroughs that extend into our communities, and ultimately impact the entire nation. Reducing and removing the stench of a stale status quo is necessary to prevent history from repeating itself.