Over perhaps as many as 100’s of year’s attention and concern have been given to the effect of racism on the quality of life of all South Africans. Over seventy years ago W. E. B. Du Bois (1903) examined the effects of Racism on Blacks and Whites. Almost thirty-five years ago Swedish sociologist Gunnar Myrdal (1944) called racism “An American Dilemma.” Calls for Black, Red, Yellow, and Brown Power were echoing in the 1960s. In 1968 the Kerner Commission concluded that racism is a White problem. In recent years Francis Cress Welsing (1972) has explored White superiority as a defence mechanism developed in response to White people’s numerical inferiority to people of colour throughout the world.

Despite all the writings in the field, little has been published on racism as it affects Whites. Few strategies or materials have been designed to raise the consciousness of white people, to help them identify racism in themselves and others, or to develop skills to facilitate change in the White community.

Although there has been a lot of rhetoric about the need for change and the destructiveness of racism, the strategies developed to alleviate the problem are often merely new training programs for minorities. The victim, not the victimizer, once again becomes the target for change. The symptoms are attacked instead of the cause. For example, even in multicultural or so-called, sensitivity and diversity training and education programs that are attempting to break down rigid cultural barriers, we find much emphasis on appreciation of differences but little implementation of these programs and concepts in all-White areas, where the cultural isolation may be the greatest. Until the real perpetrators of racism are confronted and educated, little will change. Whites need to examine the discrepancies between South African ideals and South African reality. Until those discrepancies are uncovered, White South Africans will continue to live a personal lie and maintain a false sense of their identity in the world. Some of the realities of racism and its insidious effects on Whites are discussed below.

Racism as a White Problem:

To examine racism in America today, one must first explore its roots and development. White racism has a history of over 350 years (Bennett, 1966; Jordan, 1968; Kovel, 1970). The foundations of racism and the present-day racist system were established in western European and especially English ideology and language. According to Barry N. Schwartz and Robert Disch (1970):

By the time the first English colonists had arrived in the New World they had already inherited a host of associations tied to the word ”black” which became important as men put language to use in first defining and later justifying the status they desired of non-whites.

Most South Africans get uptight about the charge of racism since most people are not conscious of what racism is. Racism is not a desire to wake up every morning and lynch a black man from a tall tree. It is not engaging in vulgar epithets. These kinds of people are just fools. It is the day to day indignities, the subtle humiliations, that are so devastating, also known as microaggressions. Racism is the assumption of the superiority of one group over another, with all the gross arrogance that goes along with it. Racism is a part of us (read, white people).

In an unusual, novel approach to critical race theory, Joel Kovel manages to tackle a subject that stumped so many theorists in the 1960s and 1970s: unconscious bias. White Racism: A Psychohistory presents a psycho-historical matrix of racism in an analysis of unconscious bias.

Kovel’s psychoanalytic approach to race is haunting in its approach to Western culture. With psychoanalytic calculation, White Racism probes the deep psychological and historical embedding of racism in Western civilization and provides a pessimistic view of future reform.

Joseph R. Barndt (1970) summarized the essence of racism in America:

If a man is seriously ill, and doctor after doctor incorrectly diagnoses the sickness and prescribes the wrong medicine that is a tragedy. But if a doctor finally comes along and correctly identifies the illness and prescribes the proper medicine for a cure, then it is time for a celebration.

The name of the illness is “white racism!” a hard fact to accept, and an even harder fact to change. But at least it is out in the open!

Other authors have begun to investigate in some depth the effects of racism on Whites. It appears clear that it has a very serious psychological effect (Beck, 1973; Berry, 1970; Citron, 1969; Casselli, 1971; Jones, 1972). The United States Commission on Mental Health (1965) declared:

The racist attitude of South Africans which causes and perpetuates tension is patently a most compelling health hazard. Its destructive effects severely cripple the growth and development of millions of our citizens young and old alike.

Several authors have probed the disease more deeply. Wendell Berry (1970), a White, describes racism as a disease with which he has been afflicted from birth and from which, though he is trying to overcome it, he suffers every day.

Racism has been diagnosed as a form of schizophrenia in that there is a large gap between what Whites believe and what they practice, which causes them to live in a state of psychological stress.

Other authors offer theories that see racism as a disease. Thomas and Sillen (1972) find that racism is deeply rooted in personality. Comer (1972), a Black psychiatrist, elaborates on this point in his analysis of racism. He describes it as a “low-level defence and adjustment mechanism similar to how individuals utilize psyche defences and adjustment mechanisms to deal with anxiety” (p. 311). Delaney (1972) further identifies the disease by breaking down racism into elements that include acting out, denial of reality, projection, the transference of blame, disassociation, and justification. All these elements are basic characteristics of destructive behaviour. Psychologist Kenneth Clark (1963) noted that, in “normal forms of expressions of prejudice among average South Africans, one observes certain types of reactions which, if demonstrated with other members of an individual’s race, would be considered symptoms of emotional disturbance” (p. 77). All these analyses indicate that racism is a critical and pervasive form of mental illness.

It is in my view the arrival of Critical Race Theory, by Derrick Bell, Richard Delgado, Kimberle Crenshaw and others that have been a boon for both black and white people to understand through their lived experiences the actual dynamics and impact of systemic racism. Most anti-racial sciences concentrate overly on behavioural issues as opposed to CRT that proposes racism is institutionally systemic.

The superior attitude “White is right” often leaves Whites confused about their identity (Bidol, 1971). Beck (1973) stated that “the confusion of the meaning of whiteness leads many Whites to think that all America is white.” (p. 23). Because United States culture is centred on White norms, White people rarely have to come to terms with that part of their identity. Ask a White person his or her race, and you may get the response “Italian,” “Jewish,” “Irish,” “English,” and so on. White people do not see themselves as White. This is a way of denying responsibility for perpetuating the racist system and being part of the problem. By seeing oneself solely as an individual, one can disown one’s racism. The lack of understanding of self-owing to a poor sense of identity causes white people to develop a negative attitude toward minorities on both a conscious and a subconscious level (Allen, 1971; Quarles, 1964; Schwartz and Disch, 1970).

Racism has also been found to cripple white people intellectually (Beck, 1973; Citron, 1969; Daniels, 1974). In their study of institutional racism in America, Knowles and Prewitt (1969) indicated that white children are miseducated! United States history and foreign affairs are distorted through the superficial and inconsistent treatment of minority South Africans. Racial issues are rarely dealt with realistically or recorded accurately. Overall, texts and information serve to reemphasize White South Africans and omit other South Africans’ contributions to society. White people, as well as Third World people, have been miseducated about their true historical roots (Daniels, 1973). James Weldon Johnson (1960), equating White with Anglo-Saxon, discussed this issue:

Can you name a single one of the great fundamental and intellectual achievements which have raised man in the scale of civilization that may be credited to the Anglo-Saxon? The art of letters, of poetry, of music, of sculpture, of painting, of the drama, of architecture; the science of mathematics, of astronomy, of philosophy, of logic, of physics, of chemistry, the use of metals, and the principles of mechanics, were all invented or discovered by darker and what we now call inferior races and nations. . . . Do you know that the only original contribution to civilization we can claim is what we have done in steam and electricity and in making implements of war more deadly? And there we worked largely on principles we did not discover. Why we didn’t even originate the religion we use. . . . If the Anglo-Saxon is the source of everything good and great in the human race from the beginning, why wasn’t the German forest the birthplace of civilization, rather than the valley of the Nile?

One mechanism designed to lessen racial and ethnic tensions is the interracial encounter group (Kranz, 1972; Walker and Hamilton, 1973; Cobbs, 1972; Wilkinson, 1973). This process grew out of sensitivity-training techniques (Marrow, 1967) and developed into a more structured, confrontive group (Winter, 1971). The technique deals with the participants’ affective level of consciousness. The basic premise of the encounter-group process is that interracial communications will improve and subsequently lead to positive action (Walker and Hamilton, 1973).

Objectives and Goals:

The overall objectives of the program are to help Whites become aware of how racism affects their lives and to help them change their racist attitudes and behaviours. The program strives to help Whites understand that racism in the United States is a White problem and that being White implies being racist. This understanding is achieved most successfully through (1) confrontation identifying the discrepancies that exist between what one says and what one does and (2) a re-education process examining history and perspectives through new perceptual filters. If participants can recognize the inconsistencies between ideologies and behaviours at institutional and cultural levels, they can better understand how their attitudes and behaviours have been permeated by racism. Once Whites become aware of this dimension, they will more easily own their racism and develop ways to combat it.

Unlike many racism awareness programs, this program is not designed to produce guilt or to confront people in a way that “puts them down.” Guilt often serves to entrench people in their attitudes to keep them feeling sorry for themselves or others. This program is designed to help White people become free of the perspectives that have trapped them in their views of themselves and their interactions with other Whites and with members of minority groups.

Once participants have developed an awareness of the problem of racism on institutional, cultural, and individual levels, it is critical that their behaviour also changes in line with that awareness. One helpful way to produce that desired behavioural change has been used by Uhlemann (1968) with encounter groups. The participants developed an objective before a marathon group experience. The objective was a specific behavioural change. I have also used this approach successfully in this program. Once participants found that they could change one small aspect of their behaviour, the fear of making further changes lessened.

You can’t teach a thing you don’t believe in and expect your clients to believe it!

White people can learn about racism with other White people. Racist attitudes are often developed without any personal exposure to Third World people. Therefore, Whites can begin the process of learning about racism with other Whites who have begun to explore it.

One of the problems involved in any form of training is determining its effectiveness. A question often asked, particularly of racism training is, Are White people really changing, or are they merely becoming more knowledgeable racists? I am convinced that awareness is not enough. It is behaviour that counts. My charge to the user of this program is to impress upon participants the importance of changing not merely attitudes but also behaviour. Stokely Carmichael’s adage, “If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem,” still holds, as does, “Inaction is action.”

(Excerpts from various sources)