Signs and Symptoms of White Racial Shame (Otherwise Known as Shame Survival Strategies)

Flashback: My 2007 Interview with Urusa Fahim, Ph.D., Diversity coordinator at Spirit Rock Meditation Center
June 29, 2013
From White Racial Shame to Empathy for People of Color Part II
July 5, 2013

Over centuries, white people have developed and practiced collective coping strategies to avoid feeling our shame about participating in and benefiting from genocide, slavery, internment camps, economic exploitation of prison inmates, and other historical and current forms of white supremacy and racism.

These shame coping strategies take the form of automatic individual and collective practices: as we have resorted to these practices over and over again, they have become default practices in the dominant white culture. When we see evidence of white racial shame, we are actually seeing these shame survival practices in action:

* Denial: mental or emotional dissociation from the realities of racism and white privilege)
Example: “Racism is in the past, we have a black president now.” Emotional denial can look like talking about racism in an abstract, heady or detached way. Or silence. Fuzzy brain (dissociation)

* Isolation: isolating ourselves, emotionally or physically from other white people; lacking and devaluing white anti-racist support. This can take the form of judgment (competition; comparison; shunning) and/or detachment (disconnecting from white and/or white ethnic community and white identity; having an individuality-based identity; failing to reach out to white people.)

* Anger/defensiveness
Examples: getting angry at people of color when they point out racism; getting defensive; not listening

* Over-responsibility
Examples: feeling responsible to correct everyone’s racism; harsh responses to white people’s racism; over-work/burnout; accepting mistreatment from people of color

* Under-responsibility–similar to denial: not being accountable for racism;
Example: “I didn’t cause this, it’s not my problem”

* Self absorption
Example: when in conversations about racism, changing the focus to themselves and their feelings

* Absolution-seeking
Examples: engaging in anti racist action so people will forgive us; “confessing” wrongdoings to people of color and expecting empathy and understanding

* Paralysis: freezing up
Examples: getting frozen or stuck when it is time to respond; unable to speak up or respond to racism

* Image management: Working hard to present/prove self as “enlightened” white person;
Examples: not being authentic around people of color; being silent around people of color; terrified to make mistakes

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