I have greatly struggled with the modern discussion on racism. For one, from my perspective, the definition of racism has drastically changed in the last few years. We used to distinguish between bias and racism. Racism was limited to situations where a person hated another just because of their race. This was not seen as a common situation. Bias, on the other hand, was something we all struggled with. Some forms of bias were good, and some not.
This raises the question, how are biases created? I am no expert, but in my recent studies of mindfulness, I have come to understand that we are the product of our experiences. Experiences are things that enter the brain for processing. During this processing, certain judgments and/or conclusions are created. Our mind is programmed to form conclusions and judgments that keep us safe and on the path of happiness. The end result can be the creation of defense mechanisms or set methods of dealing with similar situations. This whole process is natural, but the unconscious process does not always create valid conclusions and judgments; valid defense mechanisms and the like. I would suggest that biases are formed in this processing of experiences.
From this understanding, one can begin to understand my frustration with modern dialogue on racism. First, it takes what may be faulty biases, and creates shame because of the emotionally charged context of the word racism. Plus, the structure of the dialogue limits the potential personal growth related to addressing unhealthy bias to race relations. The truth is, we can all use some form of reflection so as to undo the damage done by the subconscious processing of our experiences. We can all benefit from growing in self-awareness, and I think that in becoming more self-aware, we learn to live life more fully.
This concept of re-engineering faulty conclusions is at the heart of the spiritual journey. Jesus is the light. Our darkness, in part, is based on the fact that we perceive our identity as based on the conclusions and judgments formed in this subconscious processing of experiences. Thus, as we pray, we step in to the light. It is hard to come into contact with misperceptions of who we are; however, St. Catherine of Siena says that before we can love God we have to stand in self-awareness. Stated otherwise, God is truth. If we do not fully understand ourselves in truth, we cannot stand in the presence of God. If we are in the dark, we cannot stand in the light.
Spend some time with the Holy Spirit looking at where your experiences have caused you to form faulty conclusions. Ask him to show you where your biases are keeping you from living life to the fullest; where they are keeping you from being fully engaged in the body of Christ. Ask him to show you how to cooperate with him to heal these things. Spend some time in silence. Think of silence, in part, as being under the influence anesthesia, while you let the doctor do his work. As you close your time of prayer, thank him and praise him for all that he does for you. Ask him to help you be aware of when your improper biases are coming into play, and to teach you to rely on him to deliver you from these behaviors to healthy new behaviors.
Ms. Debra D. Weldon, O.P., JD, MTS