In an interview with Charlie Rose, Toni Morrison speaks about racism and white supremacy. She makes the most profound statements. In short she states that racism and white supremacy are about a lacking in the individual. The need to uphold one’s self esteem and value upon the degradation of another is a “profound neurosis” that needs to be examined.
Any Black person can tell you about racism and white supremacy. They can describe it in the experiences that they and people like them have endured. They can show it to you in the scars and wounds both emotional and physical that they carry from their lifelong battles with it. But what I like that Toni states is that Black people are not the victims in the story of American prejudice. We are, indeed, at the receiving end of the trauma and brutality that it brings but we are not the victims. The true victims are the troubled souls who are so lacking in themselves that they have to define themselves through the humiliation, the disenfranchisement, the belittling of another human being. Those are the victims. Because how damaged must a soul be to inflict such horrific and terrifying actions upon another living creature?
People who do this thing, who practice racism are bereft. There is something distorted about the psyche. It’s a huge waste and it’s a corruption and a distortion. It’s like it’s a profound neurosis that nobody examines for what it is.
– Toni Morrison
We often discuss racism in terms of policies, systems, and practices but we do not often address the psychology behind it and least of all the psychological implications of those who perpetuate the issue. But when one does consider this, Morrison’s analysis hits the nail on the head: it is a neurosis. It is a depravation of the soul and those people, racists, are in need of some sort of healing. That healing cannot come from Black people and that sickness cannot be healed by legislation.
Whose Problem Is It?
The other thing that stood out to me in Morrison’s commentary is the fact that she places the responsibility exactly where it belongs: with the people who practice racism. I remember in the video where Hilary Clinton is speaking to the Black Lives Matter members and she asks them to tell her what they want and what they want White people to do about the race problem. It is the most common way that racism and White supremacy is approached by White “supporters” – I use quotations because I am not sure how much I would consider such a person a supporter of Black liberation. But in that action 2 things occur – maybe even subconsciously – the first is that it exerts supremacy in that White people can fix the problem and secondly that Black people have the problem and need to provide the answer in a request to the White people. However Morrison asserts that the problem isn’t with Black people.
If you can only be tall because somebody is on their knees, then you have a serious problem. And my feeling is White people have a very, very serious problem and THEY should start thinking about what THEY can do about it. Take me out of it.
– Toni Morrison
We already know that racism is perpetuated through systemic structures that allow our society to disenfranchise people because of the color of their skin and most certainly legislation and policies have to change in order to rectify that. But racism itself has survived numerous policy changes. It endures – no it thrives – right now while the leader of the free world is, himself, a Black man. That in itself tells us that the problem of racism and white supremacy in America is not just a political issue. It is not just a systemic issue. It is also a moral, philosophical and psychological issue. That part of the issue is where White people who are against racism and white supremacy must step up.
I recently had the most profound experience in a workshop. Ironically the workshop was about masculinity and misogyny but while in small groups I had the pleasure of being in a group with a young White man who made a statement that when he is int group settings he felt this compulsion to be in charge. He said that in these groups he would often find himself thinking that the other men in the group, if they were not in charge were not in charge because they were incompetent or incapable of being in charge and that to prove that he was he needed to want to be in charge to try to be in charge. He looked at me with true sincerity and said he didn’t know if I felt that but he definitely did. I looked at him and told him that I didn’t have that but that was probably because I was a Black man and was used to being in situations where I was not in charge, was not going to be in charge and didn’t stand a chance of being in charge. I candidly told him that I felt that must be a White male thing. And as I thought about what he said it occurred to me that what he was describing wasn’t a man thing, it was a White man thing. Somewhere supremacy had been taught and embedded in him to such a degree that he actually felt that he should be in the dominant position at all times because his self worth as a man was attached to that. That is the psychological neurosis that plagues White people. That somewhere, somehow they are taught that they have to be dominant in order to prove that they are competent and worthy. They are not being taught that control doesn’t make one more important. They are not being taught that domination doesn’t make one the best. That is the kind of neurosis that Morrison is referring to and that is why she says that “THEY” have a serious problem that “THEY” need to start thinking about what to do about. Because the only person who can change someone’s mind is they, themselves.
Racism and white supremacy is an American problem and it includes both Black and White people. It will take both White and Black people to solve the problem; however, we have got to start understanding what layers need to be attended to by which group. Racism and white supremacy is a complex monster that reaches across a number of social dynamics and if we are going to prove ourselves a worthy opponent of it with any chance of victory, we will have to recognize it as such and realize that this war is going to be fought on many battlefields each requiring a different strategy. The problem is multifaceted and it has had decades to evolve and root itself in American culture so we have to be diligent in our deconstruction.
I’m not sayin; I’m just sayin,
An Angry Black Man