In this Talk, actor Thandie Newton tells the story of finding her “otherness” — first, as a child growing up in two distinct cultures, and then as an actor playing with many different selves. It’s a fascinating talk and it got me thinking about how isms, particularly racism, impede our personal development.
Racism makes self-discovery so much harder
We’re used to thinking about the economic cost of racism, and if you live with it, the emotional cost too. On the emotional level, racism causes low self-esteem, hatred, and it takes a huge toll on our peace of mind. The constant internal dialoguing required to manage the effects of racism—from the overt to daily microaggressions—means we’re left with that much less time to think about our personal growth. The work of becoming our best selves becomes an after-thought. Having never really given the subject this much consideration, I want to say, I do feel a little out of my depth. I wonder who am I to be trying to come up with suggestions on how to deal with the effects of racism. I’m no psychologist or expert on dealing with racism… but my recent experiences and my background gives me a perspective that I think can be valuable.
As a coach and professional encourager, I’m always interested in “What can we do about it?” What can we do about the anger, pain and incessant internal dialoguing racism causes? How can we prevent it from taking up so much of our attention? And how can we prevent it from having such negative effects on our peace of mind?
Having outlets help
Acting and dance gave Thandie outlets through which she could disappear and simply be. She found she could disappear into the roles she played and when dancing, felt the sacred within her. As she shared in the talk, she felt free and unoccupied with her otherness in those moments. This is an excellent tip, isn’t it? What is something you can do regularly that you would disappear into?
Racism batters the soul and if you’re experiencing it in silence, life will be that much harder. Forming communities and support groups work for all types of trauma, and would here too. In groups, you can openly discuss the effects of race, learn strategies that help others deal, and find support.
Build strong families
When your home life is good, the toxicity of the outside world doesn’t have the same punch. It’s more imperative for black families to learn to communicate well and have patience with each other. If you can’t find peace at home, then you must build it outside the home and within yourself, but home, when it is good, makes everything better. We need to lean into that. We must do better at protecting our loved ones. Black families in particular need to be more present for the important moments of each other’s lives. We need to make sure family members feel supported and heard. With a solid family foundation and when we feel loved at home, the isms of the outside world won’t sting as much.
Because I spent the first 15 years of my life in a predominately black country — Jamaica — my identity as a black person was always positive. I grew up believing black people were smart, have integrity, and were second to none. Because this is what I knew, I didn’t internalize microaggressions as the average black American might. My usual response was to think, “What an asshole!” and keep moving. After living in Los Angeles for the past two years though, I feel a shift happening.
Here, racism is carefully packaged as something else but it’s constant and it’s everywhere. In this place, for the first time, I’ve come to understand how racism can preoccupy our thoughts. I only felt my inner self begin to calm down once I made the decision that I can move someplace else (mild weather be damned!). I felt my power (and self-determination) returning after that. Racism takes away your choices and there’s an anger that begins to stir inside you as a result. Once I noticed this internal shift (and noise), I thought, “Christine, you need to see a therapist!” I personally love sitting down and emptying my soul… but that’s not how most black Americans feel about therapy. And yet, it’s something that would be a huge help. If you can find a therapist you can relate to, get therapy.
Practice mindfulness and meditation
Daily meditation lets us do a centering before we go out into the world, and is a tool I recommend for almost every challenge. It makes us less reactive and helps us see the world from a detached non-judgemental perspective. Our internal dialoguing is calmer and more peaceful.
Thandie gives a deeply personal account of her journey to self-acceptance. Because I spent the first 15 years of my life feeling valued, told I was beautiful and viewed my skin color as a non-issue, I was programmed with self-acceptance. So I cannot imagine the unlearning that someone who didn’t have this early development might have to do to reach self-acceptance. It’s why I questioned whether I had enough experience to give advice on this subject.
My LA experience opened my eyes but still, it doesn’t qualify me as a race expert. I do though know this, isms like racism are distractions that keep us from our personal development. And because I know the best solution for distractions is to find ways to maintain our peace of mind, that’s the angle I approached the topic from.
Coaches try to approach problems from the most positive place—by focusing on what we can change. So while I don’t have sweeping solutions to racism, I know how much a peaceful mind protects us from its effects. I also know it’s the most positive place from which to tackle the problem–from the inside.