I spent three weeks in Mexico City this year, and I realized something about myself that I wasn't all too fond of. I'm big on walking—especially in a new city. As I wandered around the busy streets and glanced at the locals passing by, I noticed a sense of superiority bubbling within me. And worse yet, I almost felt I deserved the attention of the Mexicans, simply for being a being a big ass white American that deserved to be marveled at.
I shared this embarrassing insight in a blog post, and I got some criticism from a friend about it. In the post, I make the case that the racial biases I noticed were in large part driven by my own insecurities. I felt that it wasn't so much that I felt that Mexicans are inherently inferior to whites. It was more the case that my ego was so fragile that I believed just about everyone to be inferior to me. And I just so happened to be a big goofy white guy whose also insecure. This certainly can't be the full picture. The media and our society has long perpetuated stereotypes that place white men on a pedestal, and I'm not immune to this messaging. And there's real inequality on display in America. But regardless of how I came to have the biases and sense of superiority that I was confronted with on my trip to Mexico City, I argued that this feeling was just a part of me. And another of part of me knew the idea that I'm superior to anyone, especially because of something as arbitrary as skin tone, to be obviously silly.
I didn't spend much time in the first post exploring the very real structural racial inequalities and biases within our society, and I'm not going to do that here either. I have a degree in Sociology (which at UCSD was basically the study of why white men suck), so I could speak on this topic. But race is a complex problem that carries a lot of baggage. Frankly, addressing it properly would require more time and care than I'm willing to dedicate to this weekly blog right now. So while my friend also took issue with my seeming ignorance of the problems at hand, I will continue to perpetuate the illusion by focusing this post elsewhere.
So there's two pieces that I think my friend took issue with that I'd like to explore here further. The first being that there are parts of us that make up the whole. The second, is that we should meet these parts with acceptance, kindness and compassion instead of punishing them with shaming, hatred and aversion.
I believe that the self, the sense that there's a single and unified me to point to, is an illusion. I've talked about why I think think this is true in other posts, but if you're not on the no-self train, I'd recommend you read that post and hop on board. This idea has major implications for how we should think about issues like this. Concrete labels like "racist" break down if there's no one to be racist. This isn't to say that there aren't people who tend toward racist thoughts and behaviors. It's simply to say that these people don't have racist and unchanging souls bouncing around somewhere in their heads. We're made up of thoughts and sensations that are always in motion. They arise and change as a result of the inputs we're getting from our environment, and all of this is happening outside of our control. I can't control the next thought I have or action I take any more than I could control which parents I was born to. The illusion of free will is another counterintuitive fact of reality that I've written about prior that's important to this discussion. Moral blame is a non-starter in a world where people don't really have control over their actions, but I digress.
During this trip to Mexico, I started to intuit that there was more subtlety to our selfless nature than I'd realized. It's not quite the case that we have random thoughts and emotions that drive actions that are outside of our control. There are patterns. And these patterns or habits of mind fit into the groups or parts that make the whole. So while one part looked down upon those around me, another recognized the ridiculousness of the notion that I'm more worthy than anyone I come across.
There was a familiarity to both of these parts that led me to describing them as such. And without separation, it's hard to reconcile how I could be both racially biased and opposed to the idea that anything should be gleamed from a person's skin color. I can't be both simultaneously. But the parts of me can.
I've since then come across the work of Dr. Richard Schwartz. As a practicing psychotherapist, he's developed a method called Internal Family Systems that uses this parts-based model. As I read his book Introduction to Internal Family Systems Model, I found myself nodding in confirmation as he listed off all of the parts of me that I'm not so fond of. To go along with his theory of parts or sub-personalities that make us up, is a counterintuitive method for meeting these parts of ourselves.
Well, that's all I can muster on a Sunday afternoon. Join me back here next week for Part 2: Making Friends With the Parts of Me