Racism continues to plague our country for a lot of reasons. Similar to organizational cultural change work, when you have a dug-in leadership presence in control, nothing changes. In America, White Supremacy is our de facto leadership presence, which continues to thrive with its “top down” systemic, oppressive strategy.
That’s why it’s up to the rest of us. And a lot of us are doing good work in our own ways - taking various forms of action that all contribute to changing the system, albeit slower than we’d like. But we need more people… more White People.
Granted, some White People want to hold onto their privilege. And others, want to feel good about being White while knowing that it’s our responsibility to dismantle White Supremacy without asking for help from the oppressed.
And then there are those on the fence - the low hanging fruit. They suffer from a dissonant state where they know White Supremacy is wrong, but they don’t know what to think, much less do about it, and they’re afraid of what other White people they care about will think of them.
These low-hanging fruit White People who are not taking action to dismantle White Supremacy are stuck in their stories. (we all are).
Early on in my career as a copywriter, while learning brand strategy, I read an article that gave me a new perspective on the power of brand, using Coca Cola as an example.
The crux of it stated that if every manufacturing facility, shipping and distribution center of Coke, in two-hundred countries, all burned to the ground simultaneously, it wouldn’t put Coke out of business. Coke has the wherewithal to borrow billions of dollars to rebuild, on the strength of the brand they created.
I learned that all corporate brands are stories.
For context, let’s go back to the beginning of storytelling. Seventy-thousand years ago, the Cognitive Revolution (Harari, 2015) took hold. Prior to that, we Sapiens didn’t differ much from the animal kingdom in that we were both familiar with objective entities outside of ourselves - like rivers, trees and rocks. And both animals and Sapiens experienced subjective thoughts like feeling fear, joy and desire. The Cognitive Revolution not only separated us from the animals, it was the spark that led to the ongoing extinction of most animal species.
Seventy-thousand years ago we Sapiens first began talking about ideas that only existed in our imaginations. We began to develop fictive language, which quickly scaled into fictional webs. Back in the hunter gatherer days, stories of one tribe’s worshipping of a revered member, or the value of a specific shell or bead, only had local ramifications. And for the next 58,000 or so years, it remained that way; made up stories only spread as far as a tribe could walk.
Then about 17,000 years ago, farming made it possible to feed hundreds, then thousands of people. The Agricultural Revolution provided the base for local stories to exponentially proliferate into what Harari calls “Intersubjective Networks.” A couple thousand year later, about 15,000 years ago, privileged men, most often tied to religious entities, began writing down history - stories which codified Patriarchy by leaving out the thoughts, experiences and stories of fifty percent of the population.
Most of the stories we’ve been taught, the lessons we learn in school and religious institutions, books, TV, films, social media, or the ideas that we have a soul or inner essence we call “self”, or even free will, are stories. Fiction. Just like corporations and paper money. They are stories we have been conditioned to believe so that we continue to ensure the fulfillment of the White Supremacy strategy.
As we all struggle to become more aware of the water we fish swim in, we will need to begin and/or continue to ask more questions. Not just about what we’re inundated with externally, but first and foremost, what’s going on in our heads.
We humans have two-side brains that are constantly processing over six thousand thoughts a day. And if you think you are in control of your thoughts, try to think of nothing for the next minute. Good luck.
Harari’s “Homo Deus” (2017) shares a lot of fascinating, proven data about the left and right hemispheres of the brain as scientists worldwide are heavily concentrating in this area and how it pertains to artificial intelligence. We have known for a long time that each hemisphere has its own duties, ie: the left side plays a bigger role on logical reasoning and speech and the right does more processing of spatial information.
Now, it’s becoming clear (through experimentation, including humans) that the left side is our “Experiencing” side and remembers nothing. Our right side, the “Narrative” side interprets our experiences, makes memories and creates our stories. But it doesn’t use an entire experience to draw its conclusions from. It only pays attention to peak moments and end results to create a story that feels right to us.
So where does that leave us? How do we believe our own thoughts?
We need to develop the habit of questioning our thoughts. We need to get into the habit of saying (to ourselves), "Where did that thought come from and how did I get it?" And it’s not easy. I am striving to do it daily with limited success, but I feel like I am progressing.
It’s a challenging commitment because habits are hard to acquire and give up. But I am seeing my efforts rewarded with a new level of “thought-awareness”. Again, it's not easy and I am not nearly as consistent as I hope to be. So I’ll keep trying.
We all (not just White people) will benefit from spreading the wealth of “thought-awareness” by asking other people the same questions - where did that thought come from and how did you get it?.
I believe all change begin with our thoughts.
Just as the leader of an organization must be the one to initiate and model meaningful change, our grassroots efforts as White people working toward the demise of White Supremacy begins with analyzing and questioning our thoughts.
So ask yourself, one thought at a time, what’s your story… and how much of it is true? Then ask someone else and help all of us to spread a grassroots "thought-awareness" movement.
We need more anti-racist White People. One brain at a time.
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