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, fucks with our personal development and our growth as individuals. Newton’s Talk about embracing otherness is everything for me this week.
The essence of Newton’s talk, is well, why we should focus on our essence and not our ethnicities or the “self-images” we construct. Ultimately, her message is profound and ended in a place I wasn’t expecting. But still, I couldn’t help thinking about the cost of racism and the many selves (masks, really) most of us wear as we navigate American life.
Racism makes self-discovery so much harder
We’re used to thinking about the economic cost of racism, but not enough about the emotional one. Well, let me tell you, the cost is high. It leads to low self-esteem, self-hatred, all sorts of fears and inner conflicts for the vast majority of black Americans. It damages relationships and how we treat each other, especially in our homes…behind closed doors where we’re all too eager to rip off our masks. The constant internal dialoguing required to manage the effects of racism, takes a huge toll on our inner peace. What it does, is leave us less time to think about our personal growth.
As a coach and professional encourager, I’m perpetually asking, “What can we do about it?” In this case, the “it” is something I’ve discussed with friends, and we invariably end these conversations at a loss for solutions. Move to a country where racism is less of an issue is the best one yet. It’s something more and more black Americans are doing.
What can we do about racism?
For those of us who are still here, however, I think we must find ways to better manage and live with it. Some day, I want to have discussions about how to excel in spite of it. I do have a few recurring ideas on how to manage the effects of racism:
I think we need to create safe spaces to express our anger and frustrations. We need to formulate kinder internal responses to the incessant dialoguing racism causes. And, we must figure out ways to prevent racism from taking up so much of our attention. Our personal development is on the line.
I often think of this quote by Toni Morrison when the subject comes up:
The function, the very serious function of racism is distraction. It keeps you from doing your work. It keeps you explaining, over and over again, your reason for being.
Here are some ideas that I’ve been thinking about.
Have creative outlets
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! Find something you can do regularly that you would disappear into.
Build stronger communities
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, including racism. In groups, you can openly discuss the effects of race, learn strategies and find support.
Build strong families
When your home life is good, the toxicity of the outside world doesn’t have the same punch. For black families, it’s more imperative that we 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. Home, though, is where it all starts and we need to make our home lives the best it can be. We must do better at protecting our loved ones. Black families in particular need to be more present for the important moments in 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.
Turn to psychotherapy and counseling
Since moving to Los Angeles a couple years ago, I understand even more about racism. Here, it’s a constant and . Whereas in New York you only encountered racism in select spaces that you can generally avoid (like corporate America), in Los Angels, racism is everywhere. So, off I go to therapy again! The truth is, I need help with a lot of stuff anyway. I need help to balance my full time job with entrepreneurship and having a social live. I need help adjusting to living with roommates and making do with less money, but yeah, racism is the big one.
What I know is, it takes away your choices and no matter who you are, that can stir up anger. Once I noticed this internal shift (and noise), I thought, “Christine, you need to see a therapist!” It’s what I would do if I had a physical ailment. I encourage other black women to use therapy. I personally love sitting down and emptying my mind for someone else to look over with me. It’s such a huge help.
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- judgmental perspective. Our internal dialoguing is calmer and more peaceful.
Practice Radical Self-acceptance
Thandie gives a deeply personal account of her journey to self-acceptance. I hope some of you took something away from her talk.
Given how pervasive and destructive racism is, I hope that those of you who struggle with it, are trying to find healthy ways to process it, live full lives, and stay on your personal development. And because my best solution for distractions is to find ways to maintain my inner peace, me personally… I’m pursuing Zen-mastery. It really helps me to live in a way that protect my inner world from the outside one. I rarely watch commercial TV. My home is my haven. I practice proactive positivity. I take dance classes. I travel.
Christine is a lifestyle coach living in Los Angeles. Using systems, routines, and some psychological trickery, she can help almost anyone hack their mind and life for greater productivity. Email email@example.com to find out if she's available for one-on-one work.