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How Racist Are You? Moving Beyond 0's and 1's

Updated: Jun 20, 2022

By Ben.

One of my pet peeves about myself, and perhaps the way the human brain functions in general, is how we are so quick to put everything into binary categories. We discussed this in episode 2 of the podcast. I mean, think about how everything we encounter, we quickly store away into one of two categories: good vs. bad, problem vs. no problem, racist vs. not racist, liberal vs. conservative. At the same time, I get it. This binary functioning is incredibly efficient and cuts down on a bunch of energy and time, which is why computers use this form of functioning. The problem is that reality is not binary and that this approach to assessing different areas of life prevents nuance. You may not see this as a problem until you understand how missing this nuance prevents us from engaging in meaningful growth and change.

We can begin by looking at substance use. If someone were to ask you about your substance use, we typically respond by placing ourselves into two categories of problem versus no problem. The "problem" with this is that 2 categories do not represent the myriad of ways in which substance use impacts people's lives. Instead, there is a whole spectrum regarding the way in which substance use impacts people's lives, and, by reducing it to these two categories, we prevent ourselves and others from meaningfully understanding areas of growth we may need to consider. If John drinks everyday and passes out each night and has had a DUI, he may still not consider himself having a problem if he knows people who have had more problems than he has experienced with his substance use. As long as we know someone with greater challenges with substance use, we will be hesitant to lump ourselves into the same category. But there is a solution.

What if we were to ask John about the different types of problems he has experienced with substance use? We could explore the way it has impacted him legally, vocationally, emotionally, physically, his relationships with family and friends... etc, etc, etc!!! If we were to explore the issue on this spectrum, we might start to get John to open his eyes to how his relationship with substance use, while not being as intense as his peers, is still impacting his life in ways that are preventing meaningful growth and connection with people he loves. By helping him place himself on a spectrum with no problem at one extreme and BIG problem at the other extreme, he may find himself leaning towards one of those extremes. This realization may help him to clearly see where he is currently at, help him understand where he would like to be, and also show him the steps to slowly move in this direction.

What I love about this spectrum model is that you can apply it to any area of human growth. Lets take the sensitive topic of racism. People are often so afraid of being considered as the binary category of racist that they go out of their way to prove they are not, often making the situation very messy indeed, and turning conversations into court rooms where they present the number of friends from different cultures as evidence. What if instead of asking ourselves "Am I racist?," we ask ourselves: "How racist am I?" What if we then looked at the different blind spots we have in our life, the different areas of our life that we are unable to relate to the experiences of different groups, and areas we chose not to trust different groups when they share how their experiences have been different? We could build a similar spectrum to the substance use one and look at the steps of moving closer to our goal of existing on the not racist end of the extreme.

It is my belief that so many areas of our life would be enriched, and growth would become more transparent and tangible if we were to investigate ourselves using spectrums instead of binary assessment. But these are just my thoughts. You should give it a try and see what you learn about yourself and others close to you. Then come back and let me know which binary box you have decided to place me and my beliefs in :-)

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