Through protest and social media you made your standpoint known,
And you imagine that you’ve done something…not much, it will be shown.
You’ve hopped aboard that big cruise ship that everyone says is rad,
And you’ll deny with all your heart you booked tickets on a social fad.
You wave your signs, you point and chant: “That’s the devil across the street.”
(It would surely make things simpler if evil was so nice and neat.)
But life’s complex and no one is known in complete totality,
and when you shame the even-handed voice you commit your own brutality.
A wise man cautioned against the urge to turn the part into the whole,
He’d come to see too many times that’s how we lose our soul.
The problem is never just out there, the Gnostics tried to help us see.
As it is above so it is below, such a thought might set us free.
Is there no voice within yourself that you ignore, suppress or deny?
Are you so inwardly democratic and just that you don’t brutalize on the sly?
You wonder how, after all these years, discrimination still exists,
you do not see the reason be that of projection it consists.
Whether white, black, red or brown we each have despots been,
perhaps not to any outer soul, but to the soul deep within.
If protests and social pressures help, that help, I think, is slim.
So if you want to change the world, face the slaves you hold within.
[words by Andy Drymalski; music by Luke Drymalski]
Protests—even peaceful ones—can be dangerous. They can give participants a false sense of accomplishing something—such as raising people’s consciousness—when this is not actually taking place. In fact, protests often occlude consciousness more than they expand it. This is because they generally promote projection (seeing only in others what is actually also a part of yourself) more than they facilitate the withdrawal of projections.
Currently in our society a great deal of anger and dissatisfaction is being expressed. As part of the Black Lives Matter movement statues of historical figures associated with racism are being torn down, products are being cleansed of racial references (e.g., no more Aunt Jemimah), laws are being changed and transgressors of our purported ideals are being shamed and/or punished. We add our voice to the collective chants and slogans of this social movement through involvement in protests and social media. We may believe what we are saying and for some of us these activities and involvements may be the right thing to do.
However, there is often a persona element to these activities. We make a public stand as a way of announcing to others—and perhaps in an effort reassure or convince ourselves—who we are and what we believe. We sleep easier at night and our conscience is more settled when we assure ourselves: “I am not a racist. I don’t discriminate against others. I am a liberator and defender of the rights of others. I fight for justice and equality.”
In addition, social movements can be a magnet for opportunists. Savvy entrepreneurs move in, capitalizing on the good will and generous mood of the now righteous masses. Harvesting donations and wooing government leaders to invest in their community programs which promise to promote equality and aid the disadvantaged. Good intentions and creative ideas of a few are co-opted by the opportunistic entrepreneurs who see in the “wheels of change” the gears of a money machine. Corporations rebrand themselves and announce their grand donations. It all looks so good. But inside these businesses it is still typically “business as usual.” For example, their promotion, pay and hiring practices often remain unchanged. There’s hype, excitement and groundbreaking for new programs and projects. But when the money runs out, the opportunists leave town.
People wonder why, sixty years after the sixties, racism remains so prevalent in the United States. “Haven’t we changed or grown at all?” many ask in exasperation. I think we don’t understand that resolving racism is an inside job. By this I mean it involves wrestling with your own shadow, your own dark side. Outward changes may occur through the demands of enough people. For example, laws can improve lives and promote social justice. But real development of consciousness and character occurs individually, and often against considerable resistance, one person at a time.
In some ways protesting and changing laws have as much of an effect on the average person as prison time has on a psychopath. You may alter the psychopath’s behavior through incarceration, but you rarely change his nature or basic worldview. Getting caught and serving time just impresses upon him the ways in which he needs to be more careful. He does not learn to value or respect human life or property any more than he did before. It merely teaches him how to be more cautious, clever and socially presentable.
Truly altering and changing one’s character is a difficult, typically painful and humbling process. It is one thing to call out the oppressor, exploiter or racist you see in society. It is entirely another thing to really face, own, and call out these characteristics in yourself. And the more you are blind to these very human dimensions of your own personality, the more inevitably will you project them onto your fellow human being. We feel far more comfortable fighting the battles outside of ourselves than those within. The former is emboldening. The latter is humbling, but also potentially transforming.
Have you really faced your own inner racist? Sure, you may not discriminate against any person based on color, gender, ethnicity, religious viewpoint, etc. In fact, you may be a role model for equality, justice, and respect of all people. But I will wager that there is still something of a racist inside of you. Think symbolically here. When I use the term “inner racist,” I’m talking about the part of you that discriminates against what you don’t know, understand or want to admit into the larger community of your conscious personality. Like the outer racist, your inner racist tries to deny, silence, banish, imprison or otherwise control that which it fears.
Perhaps, if nothing else, you are a racist against your own inner racist. You may say, “Well that would be a good thing, wouldn’t it?!” But I disagree. We unconsciously do to others what we do to our own soul, and if you deny your inner racist—that is, your own tendency to suppress the marginalized and minority aspects of your own being—you will merely project it outward and wage battles outside yourself which ought first and foremost be fought within. When this happens all apparent change is mostly cosmetic and 60 years from now you or your children will again be asking, “Haven’t we changed or grown at all?”
Am I suggesting, then, that you allow yourself to behave in a racist way towards others? Definitely not. But perhaps if you can acknowledge the truth that you also unfairly discriminate against, judge and project upon others aspects of yourself, you may be able to approach those who are more outwardly racist with humility, and interact in a way that builds bridges and heals rather than fans the flames of hate and divisiveness. After all, it is kind of pathetic to see two groups of people throwing accusations at each other in the shared unconsciousness of opposing projections.