August 31

Internalized Racial Superiority – Part 1

Martin Friedman

This article was created from the transcript of a podcast recorded by Bonnie, Mahdi, and Martin. You can listen to the original podcast above or on your favorite streaming platform.

Why are we talking about internalized Racial superiority?

Martin

Internalized Racial Superiority is something that a lot of people have probably never even heard about. A lot of times when we talk about internalized racism, we have a tendency to put more emphasis on the Internalized Racial Inferiority experienced by folks of color. We don't really give the same amount of energy into talking about the internalization of racial superiority.  

First of all, what is Internalized Racial Inferiority?

Mahdi

When we think of racism, Internalized Racial Inferiority or Oppression is often the conversation that we avoid and skip over completely. In part, this is because a lot of people are uncomfortable with the feelings this conversation brings up.

It's definitely a conversation that requires us to utilize more of our emotional intelligence. And to get in touch with what it means to be injured through the narratives and identities that we've bought into from society.

These identities have defined us as either being lesser than or greater than. And then we set out into the world to become that identity, even though that's not who we really are. 

The inferiority side of this conversation is about how those messages that we take on from our oppressor disempower us. In other words, that causes us to cognitively become distant from the truth of ourselves. 

The more distant we become from the truth of ourselves as human beings, the more distorted we become in our relationship with ourselves. 

And of course, if our relationship with ourselves is distorted, our relationships with others can't help but be distorted. 

So, what is Internalized Racial Superiority? 

We would say that the same effects created by Internalized Racial Inferiority also exist for white people, only on a different spectrum. 

The spectrum is that the identities given to white people by society have them believe that they're better than, which is not true. And that creates a distorted relationship with themselves, a distorted relationship with others, and especially a distorted relationship with people of color. 

Our society builds all sorts of structures, and we make all sorts of agreements with each other based on some people feeling inferior, and others feeling superior based on race.

That dynamics creates a very sick environment in which we are trying to pretend to have healthy relationships without ever discussing, confronting, or really peeling back the skin to see what falsities we've been perpetrating on ourselves and each other.

All of which directly undermines human solidarity.

Being White is actually disempowering

Bonnie

I've been obsessed with what it means to be white and what it's done to our psychology, our emotional intelligence, our whole being and how it's distorted us.

Internalized Racial Superiority must be recognized as also being oppressive to white people, at the same time that our superiority is oppressive to folks of color. Racism is often described as empowering, in comparison with the disempowering of folks of color, but it very much disempowers white people as well.

It very much separates us from who we really are, it distorts our humanity, it distorts our divinity, as a matter of fact, and it makes us very sick.

If you want to look at it as "whites are on top", then in the United States we are by every measurement of well being and every way that we can try to find out how folks are doing in the physical plane of this life.

However, if you compare us to the rest of the world, we're not doing very well. We're killing ourselves. We're killing each other. We're drugging ourselves. We're drinking ourselves to death. We're lonely. were isolated. It really is not at all an empowering thing.

But the thing about Internalized Racial Superiority is that we're not really aware of it. It's outside our consciousness, but invades our consciousness completely.

It's like having a cancer that has been undiagnosed, and you have symptoms, but they're unconnected to the source of the problem. 

Because of that obliviousness, it becomes extremely difficult for white people to get to the root. And to own it and be able to loosen the hold that it has on us.

Internalized Superiority is this invisible force that really is the engine to most of our behavior, if not all of our behavior.

Socially Empowered but spiritually disempowered

Mahdi

As a black man, learning about internalized racial oppression, I first learned the superiority side - which is that white people are empowered. 

And on one level you would see that white people are systemically empowered and socially empowered. But they're also spiritually disempowered, and that translates to so many aspects of society.

This ends up creating those negative results for white people that [Bonnie] mentioned earlier. I think the average white person is completely unaware of this, and the awareness needs to be raised so that that part of the humanity can be recovered.

And this will also help white people understand why people of color have to do what they do, in an attempting to bring about a transformation in society.

I think that the average white person can't even relate to the experiences of people of color unless they can relate to the damage that has been done to them, and what they themselves have lost due to racism. 

If white people just look at it as something that they have to do help people of color, then it means they really haven't gotten in touch with the impact racism has on themselves, like secondhand cigarette smoke. 

White people need to become aware of the secondhand effect of racism so that they will see what's in it for them to undo racism. Because a lot of people think: "Well, why would a white person work to get rid of racism, when they're benefiting from it?" 

But the reality is that while on one level there is a benefit, on other levels, there is more taken away than given.

Bonnie

Without having our white skin in the game, when it gets hard, or when it gets challenging, we always have that option that the boat is always tied to the dock for us, and we can always just retreat to safety.  

One of the biggest distortions white people experience is that we don't know what true power is. We mistake fake power for true power, true spiritual power.

I think of the harm that does to us. I don't really believe in altruism. I think people act in their own self interest. And I know that's gotten a bad rap. But I think that we should be acting in our own self interests.

We came into this world to do something, to make a contribution. And we want to be standing strong in being able to do that. So I think that to find the self interest to me has been critical when working with other white people.

When I try to do this out of paternalism and to prove that I'm a good person, there's no roots to that. There's no way to to stand in the wind with that.

Martin

It is such an insidious concept, right? Because while it damages us, we have the idea that we're not being damaged at all.

We don't even know that something's happening to u  so it's almost like being bitten by a snake and not knowing that that snake is biting you.

Or being bitten by a snake and it kind of feeling good at first! Wow, this actually kind of feels good. But there's a dual insidiousness of not knowing what's happening to us from being in that place where we're essentially de-racialized in a racialized world.

Along with that, we're also being convinced that ending racism would be bad for us, and not good for us.

Seeking Numbness From the experience of internalized racial superiority

Bonnie

I think the numbing out that we see from white people actually is our body's response to knowing somewhere deep inside that something is up, that something's very wrong with this deal.

We numb out in so many different ways and I think that it's because the body knows the truth. And so we have to numb the body and the mind. 

I think it's a way to resist the truth.

Martin

On the surface level, we don't have consciousness about this. The way I think about it is I think about the things that don't happen to us.

So if something is continually not happening to us, we don't really have a direct conscious connection to it on a day to day basis. We're thinking about all the things that we are experiencing, and not the things we aren't experiencing.

So I'm actually 100% in alignment with what [Bonnie] is saying, that the numbing comes because what we really know deep in our soul cells the impact of internalized superiority.

But on our conscious level, we aren't feeling it. And that's what I think really creates that cognitive dissonance and then the need to numb through addiction, drugs, alcohol, sex, drama, everything moving forward from that point.

Bonnie

I think that one of the biggest results, one of the biggest manifestations of internalized racial superiority is an addiction to comfort. And that's another place where the numbing comes into play.

We run from this ill-at-ease sense that we have when we stop consuming whatever it is that we're consuming. So to keep the lie alive, we have to stay out of our bodies and out of our skin. So we numb in a million different ways.

We'll even numb by going up in our heads and intellectualizing. We'll go into Excel sheets! I know some people that are addicted to excel sheets. But we'll just the argue the facts and intellectualize the entire conversation without empathy.

I certainly think that's a characteristic I recognize in myself. And by the way, I recognize everything we're talking. So I've I've been there. I've been the number one case study in this for me.

Mahdi

When we start doing this work, we have to become the number one case study. So many people in the social justice movement or social conscious movement are always focused on other people.

And they could tell you precisely what other people need to do and why they need to do it, but they don't quite see themselves. And when when you start seeing yourself is when you start doing the real spiritual justice work.

Because we haven't been giving ourselves spiritual justice. We've really been secretly mistreating ourselves and wanting the world to give us justice when we haven't been given justice in our private lives and our internal relationship with ourselves.

The addictive nature of lying

When [Bonnie] talked about lying, I was thinking about the addictive nature of lying. If you tell one lie, it becomes hard to come back and tell the truth, depending on how deep the lie was.

The deeper the lie is, the more you have to keep it up and tell another lie, and another lie, and another lie. Which makes it more and more difficult for you to come clean with the truth.

For example, think about our history and how history has been told. Whiteness lied to us about history which makes it very, very difficult for whiteness to come back and say, okay, that's not true. Because everything would then be unraveled.

So then there's a there's an investment in lying to whiteness, that really creates a convoluted consciousness within itself. Because so much of what it means to be white is sitting on top of a whole bunch of lies.

Once you start getting honest with yourself, it's sobers you. And then you see yourself being brought back to a level of humanity that you didn't even know was available to you. That the lies kept you away from without you even knowing.

And you knew that they were lies. And the reason you knew they were lies is because you never asked any questions.

Because the truth, demands of us that we question it. The truth is not afraid of being questioned. It is the lies that are afraid of being questioned.

So every time I see people opposed to being questioned it makes me wonder about what lies they've told themselves because the truth always stands up to questioning.

Being honest with our children

Bonnie

This reminds me of conversations with folks I've been having while doing some work and webinars around how we white people can raise our children to not be living a lie and to not be disconnected and dismembered from our humanity and our souls.

One of the things that I hear a lot from people, is that we must be age appropriate, or we can't do this or that with young children. It's too traumatic. We can't tell the truth to them.

And it's so clear to me that we don't tell or we haven't told our young children as a collective, because they would be asking us questions about it. They would be questioning how we were living our lives.

So you know, we the so the lie inside that lie is that we're protected our children when in fact where we're protecting ourselves from that unraveling that you speak of.

Mahdi

I remember something that my ex-wife Stephanie said she learned about parenting from our two youngest daughter's. She discovered how much she lied. And the reason why she discovered how much she lied was because the girls started questioning.

I can say the same thing. I discovered I told a lot of lies as a parent. You tell your kids they can ask me whatever they want to ask you and when they start asking you questions, you discover what you lied about and what you forgot that you've lied about.

So we've imagined a whole world, a whole society, built on lies. But there is a due date to that invoice. The truth will catch up with us, eventually. It always does.

And I think right now we are living in one of those moments where the truth is catching up with us all.

How lying manifests itself to others

Mahdi

I've experienced it as a constant seeking of validation from people of color. As a way to measure or signal: Am I doing this right? Because a real relationship hasn't been established with themselves.

It's a constant questioning, am I doing this right? Am I saying this right? There's such a disconnection on the inside, between themselves, their consciousness and they own humanity, and their own souls, that it is a distortion.

One of the things I would say that white people need to do more than anything is reestablish a relationship with their own feelings. Because there has clearly been a divorcing from their feelings.

When we believe lies, and we know that they're lies, we can't keep feeling because we know those feelings are true. And when we stop feeling, we have to go into this performative expression thing where most of what we do is performative. A lot of stuff that I see white people do is performative. Rarely is it natural expression.

And unless they start to do the work and getting into the flow of what it means to be a full human being, they won't get back into natural expression.

But for the most part, performative expression is what they are driven by. Because think about it, when we go to school when we don't receive natural education, we receive performative education.

Natural education teaches you how to take advantage of yourself, your skills, your talents, your gifts, etc. How to work your life. Performative expression prepares you for others to use you.

Most of our education has been performative. That ties into this too.

So white people are performing just as much as people of color, but just for a different reason. And white people are under just as much pressure to perform as people of color in a race based society that has defined us in such a derogatory way. 

How does internalized racial superiority damage to our humanity

Bonnie

Just to reiterate, I see this show up in myself. Less and less, but it's definitely still there.

First, a difficulty in being able to do an internal inventory. For example, you ask someone, "hey, so what are you feeling?" And you can see them trying to open that closet door with all this stuff, that's all the shoes and clothes and boxes.

And they either can't open the door or they don't even know where to start. Because of that though, one of the ways that we can start to see what we're feeling is something that white collectives do, psychological defense and projection.

So a lot of times whatever we're seeing other people doing is a hint as to what might be happening to us.

But we're disconnected from that. We just think it's happening in the other person and I can talk for a long time about how we've done that with folks of color.

Secondly, is the inability to be spontaneous.

Thirdly, and I think perhaps the most damaging of all (though I'm not really ranking this), is the inability to imagine anything different. The inability to imagine that we're cut off from our humanity. And we are completely cut off from that.

So I think that the costs are high. The costs are very high.

Emotional Connections in Part 2 

Martin

This is gonna wrap up part one of this conversation, we're gonna have Part Two and I think that's exactly where we're going to start because one of the things that I have experienced over the years of doing this work and talking about Internalized Racial Superiority is that often we don't have an emotional connection in the same way that people of color have an emotional connection to the internalization of racial inferiority.

Part 2 will start with that idea of the emotional connection to the damage. What do we feel and how is that really acting to keep us from being effective in this work, and also to keep us from being effective in our lives.

And then we'll also talk about we can heal from this.

All of our podcasts are going to be available on all your favorite platforms, Spotify, Apple podcasts, all of that. And we just want to let you all know that we love every each and every one of you and we want you all to be safe and be well.

And above all else, stay Soul Focused.


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