The news is full of stories about systemic racism. We have activists pushing for massive police reforms and alluding to other systems and organizations also riddled with systemic racism. The idea of reforms have generated a lot of intense feelings when it comes to policing.
This weekend, I came across an article describing the characteristics of white supremacism that show up in organizations–or in other words, systemic racism. Here is the list (there is a link to the article at the bottom of this blog):
- Sense of Urgency
- Quantity over Quality
- Worship of the Written Word
- Paternalism – decision-making is clear to those with power and unclear to those without it
- Either/Or Thinking
- Power Hoarding
- Fear of Open Conflict
- Individualism – people in organization believe they are responsible for solving problems alone
- Progress is Bigger, More
- Objectivity – the belief that emotions are inherently destructive, irrational, and should not play a role in decision-making or group process
- Right to Comfort – the belief that those with power have a right to emotional and psychological comfort
Let’s just note that there are some corporations and organizations that do better in some areas of this list than others but I think it is safe to say this is what is underlying our large organizational structures in the United States.
When I read this list of characteristics the first thought I had was ” if we applied these to a person, these are the characteristics of a narcissist.” Or perhaps, this is the framework that births narcissists and narcissistic/sociopathic behavior.
Inner and Outer Wounds
For the purpose of this blog, there are two types of wounds; the inner and the outer.
Inner wounds are those wounds that live in our unconscious. They direct our behavior from a purely unconscious level. We are unaware when our wound is activated but our response will be behavior that seeks to deflect or defend. Anything that will keep us unaware of the wound.
Outer wounds are those injuries that we are aware we are working through. For example; the disappointment of consistently being overlooked for promotion or being too emotional in the workplace. These might be reasons one would seek out a therapist or counselor.
The author of the article describes the use of the characteristics of white supremacism in organizational culture this way:
Specifically, I want to talk about the part where it says “they are damaging because they are used as norms and standards without being pro-actively named or chosen by the group.” This is what those in the personal development community call the shadow.
We understand the shadow’s contents (the characteristics) because we follow those norms at work and other organizational settings. However, we are usually completely incapable of having direct conversations about it because what is held in the shadow is unconscious to us and very often contradicts what we believe about ourselves and our organizations/society on a conscious level.
How do the Outer and Inner Work Together?
Inner work is known as Shadow work in the realm of personal development. Shadow work is the process of seeking to reveal and integrate any and all tendencies, traits, or beliefs that were programmed into our unconscious through our process of growing up. We learned these unspoken tendencies and beliefs from our parents, friends, schools, and jobs.
The list of characteristics above are some of the things I have been working to heal in myself from both the outer and inner wound perspective for many years. I never thought of them in terms of white supremacism. I would refer to it as what we learned from society, but language is important and it is important not to cast all of society in a negative light. It is specifically the toxic program of white supremacism that wounds us.
White supremacism harms all of us, white, Black, Hispanic, Asian, male, female, etc. Working with empaths to heal these same wounds is why I started this business. The real wound is always “not fitting in” to the culture of our society. Every wound leads back to this one. And each of us has experience with this wound though it may be hidden in the shadow.
Those of us aware that we were harmed by the system on the outer level and who seek help to heal from our perceived failures at attempting to meet the requirements of perfection, for example, may consider ourselves weak. We often hold shame for seeking out help to heal.
Once we get the healing/therapy we need, we learn we are not weak for needing help, it is common and getting help is in fact a sign of strength.
When those same people then turn around and view others as weak for seeking therapy, they are experiencing the inner wound of white supremacism. I know I have had this belief show up in me from time to time and I am a healer. It is a strong cultural belief that therapy is for the weak or crazy.
These beliefs held in the unconscious are stubborn and require our diligence and emotional honesty to root out and integrate into our conscious belief that, in this case, therapy and personal development is healthy and a sign of strength.
This interplay of the inner and outer wounds makes any progress we make slow going. It is a huge leap forward that so many of us have been able to finally see that there is a problem called white supremacism and it is the foundation upon which our systems have been built.
Being conscious of our thoughts, beliefs, and attitudes keeps us honest with ourselves and accountable to our community.
Doing this work will be an ongoing endeavor and it is important to pace ourselves. It is enough to do our own shadow work. That is how we disrupt the system and build new organizational systems upon conscious beliefs and moral truths.
Working to match our outer attitudes and behaviors with our inner tendencies and beliefs is the very basis of living authentically or as Brene Brown calls it Wholehearted Living.
THE CHARACTERISTICS OF WHITE SUPREMACY CULTURE, From Dismantling Racism: A Workbook for Social Change Groups, by Kenneth Jones and Tema Okun, ChangeWork, 2001