Sublimating Prejudice, Anachronizing Racism: A Short Essay
I'm what some people would call a racist. I mean I have a deeply learned aversion to black people and other people different than me, a white, educated-into-the-middle-class, male, with working-class roots. This bothers me. I've taken on progressive, democratic ideals and come to recognize and critique systemic, psychological, and discursive elements of oppression. However, ingrained prejudice is still present within me. For instance, whenever I see a black person, anxiety arises in me from a learned aversion to blackness. That hasn’t gone away.
The topic this week on Speaking of Faith was mindfulness. It is through academic mindfulness in my education at The Evergreen State College (TESC), and through personal meditations like centering prayer, study of scripture, continuous faith in Jesus Christ, and reflective writing (sometimes overlapping with my academic practice), that I have come to see elements of internalized oppression and prejudice and how they are connected to my interpersonal interactions. Currently, I am working on a master's paper in TESC's Master in Teaching program (MIT) in which I ask, "How can I support my white students in the rearticulation of whiteness as an anti-oppressive identity?" This is not just for my students, it represents a question I have for myself: How does transformation happen?
Even after learning and practicing a new way of being, the old way is not unlearned. For instance, I have learned, and am learning, how to have an anti-racist white identity--how to advocate for justice, respect and awareness in political and interpersonal ways. However, as I mentioned, my internalized racism and prejudice has not disappeared. It still rises up within me. The question, then, becomes how to manage the dissonance between my ideals and my multiple responses to difference, not necessarily how to unlearn prejudice. The question is how to stop practicing racism and start practicing justice.
My self-management technique is not to try to stop the prejudicial impulse, but to sublimate the prejudicial impulse into an internal process of naming it instead of acting on it in a racist, exclusionary way. I join this sublimation with a purposeful action on new, anti-racist, inclusionary impulses that I am cultivating. These anti-racist impulses are growing with practice, and I seek out new ways I can act on them. I can only hope that the sublimation of my prejudicial impulses into an internal naming of them progressively deadens them along with my racist identity until it disappears. Until then, I manage my identity in a conscious, purposeful process. Hopefully, this personal work, along with my professional practice, will give the next generations that I touch a boost toward, in a sense, anachronizing racism and truly celebrating diversity.
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