As a white person, one of the gifts of working inside a community center serving primarily people of color (i.e. non-whites), is that I get to work on purging racist stereotypes from my mind. When I was a young boy in small town Maine, my community was as white as the winter snow blanketing the frozen ground.
As a consequence, my world view was limited to what I encountered in my all white grade school, what I saw around my all white town, and what I picked up in the all white media of network TV. Although it might sound harsh to say that cultural privilege entails ignoring a long litany of lies, suffice it to say that there are many people who have a different take on the following conditioned assumptions about life in America:
“Columbus discovered this land. The savages who inhabited America before Europeans arrived are much better off now that they are free to partake of the advances brought on by the Industrial Revolution of the 1800s. Money brings happiness. America is a democracy. There is equal opportunity for all.” As for Columbus’ discovery, that’s an out right lie. Columbus was a mass murderer of native people in what is now the Dominican Republic and Haiti. As for the rest of the statements, they are half truths at best.
There is no scientific basis for race. It’s a social construct that has been used by members of the dominant class to disempower, disenfranchise, control, subjugate and decimate. It is has also long been used deceitfully by southern politicans to drive a wedge between economically poor white people and blacks.
More subtle still are those messages which are not explicitly taught in school text books or clearly stated through media avenues, but nonetheless, work their way into the mass consciousness by default. For example, in my childhood, I was somewhat aware of poverty. There was a (white) family that lived down the street from me in a dilapidated house . I only vaguely remember that “they were dirty”.
Do we ever pause to examine the labels and stereotypes we carry around in our heads? Oh how I wish now that I had had the presence of mind to not buy into this garbage thinking, and had instead held a respectful attitude towards everyone, seeking to understand rather than quickly judge and label out of fear or mistrust. Can you imagine what this world would be like if everyone set aside their conditioned biases?
Recently (editor’s note – this was first written in 2007) I’ve become aware of the invisible tension that exists between myself – a person of white skin, professional credentials, male gender, and middle-aged life span – and the mostly youth-of-color teenagers who frequent a Boys and Girls Club next door. There is no overt hostility, but simply a subtle sense of separation that seems to exist – separating those of a different age, race, and educational level. Neither of us created this – this is the legacy of centuries of institutional racism – reinforced at all levels of our culture. And it’s up to each one of us to dismantle these walls if human society is to survive and thrive again.
At times, I’ve been successful at briefly crossing over the line – those moments when my heart is open and all I see is another person’s humanity, their essential aliveness beyond all the conceptual labels our cultural conditioning has packed our brain full with.
One of the gifts of acupuncture is to bring that essential aliveness into focus – beyond all conceptual filters. We simply feel awake, renewed, fresh, a child of humanity. Separation between self and other vanishes and global healing, world peace, dawns in that very moment.