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Posted Friday September, 4th 2020

Working With Internalized Racism

Screen Shot 2020 09 04 at 9 29 57 AM

As a white man, I can’t fully appreciate or speak to what it’s like to be Black in this country, although I’m trying to learn. But as the developer of the Internal Family Systems (IFS) model, I can offer some thoughts about helping people navigate their inner worlds to release the extreme beliefs and emotions they absorbed from our culture, including internalized racism.

Over the past several years, our country seems to have been reaching a critical point of reckoning with its legacy of racism. After seeing how the Trump regime has worked to legitimize white supremacy, after witnessing the way the pandemic has highlighted racial disparities in public health, after repeatedly seeing videos of the brutal spectacle of unarmed Black people being murdered by police, many white people have finally arrived at a tipping point in facing how deeply racism is woven into the fabric of our society and of ourselves.

So what are we to do with that awareness? While the Black Lives Matter movement has increased the country’s understanding of the pernicious impact of racism in all aspects of our national life, how do we do the internal work of recognizing and grappling with racist thoughts? Some recommend that, after becoming aware of them, we should confront, challenge, and expel them. But this head-on approach can have the unintended consequence of making our racism even more hidden, unconscious, and implicit—filling us with more blind spots that obscure awareness of our participation in structural racism and white supremacy.

Is there another way? I’m not an expert on racism, but over the past couple of decades, I’ve been using IFS to work with the coalition of parts (inner subpersonalities) in well-meaning white people, including myself, that may interfere with the ability to face, and act to change, the ongoing damage that’s been done to people of color. To understand how this process works, let’s start by looking at some of the reasons white people resist looking at their own racism.

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