Racial Justice & Stereotyping

June 5, 2020

This week, a great deal has been written about racial justice. The world is reacting to the systemic racism that led to the murders of George Floyd in Minnesota, Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia, Breonna Taylor in Kentucky, and countless others before them. Here are a few thoughts we’d like to add to the conversation.

We believe one piece of what’s needed right now is for people to truly listen to each other – to bring a “beginner’s mind” to deeply understand what’s being said, especially by people who are different from us or who disagree with us. We could all work to suspend judgment, to release our commitment to being right, and to let go of the idea that there is an “objectively right” answer. We believe open discourse builds empathy and can begin the process of real and sustainable change. 

The current situation also reminds us of the importance of continually addressing the human habit of stereotyping. The brain stereotypes and prejudges as a kind of “mental shorthand.” We all do it. We stereotype on the basis of age, race, gender, even Enneagram type. (For instance, we often hear people associate Eights with being “the boss,” Twos with nurturing mothers, and Fives with Spock-like social ineptitude, but these are rarely accurate or useful.) These kinds of habitual thought patterns, especially in the context of race, are the building blocks of systemic bias.

That’s why it’s so important to bring awareness and self-honesty to our own mental habits and stereotypes – and to shift them. The best way to question long-held beliefs and assumptions is to ask, “Is this belief ACTUALLY true? Can I absolutely know that IN ALL CASES, it’s true?” Then ask yourself, “How is the opposite of this belief true?” (See Byron Katie’s “The Work” for an excellent resource on this cognitive restructuring process.)

For society to change, individuals must change. It starts with each of us. It requires waking up, getting uncomfortable (growth always is), and approaching other human beings with consciousness and empathy. So, ask yourself: What stereotypes are you holding? How are you contributing to the current situation (including through inaction and silence)? Be self-honest. If every person were to work on recognizing and shifting their biases, things would begin to change.

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