Healing our Race-Linked Wounds
Healing Our Race-Linked Wounds
by Dr. Carroy U. Ferguson
Over the years, many visionary authors and wisdom teachers have suggested that we are spiritual beings having a physical experience. In this physicality, the phenomenon of race, which is currently understood as a biological, sociological, anthropological, and psychological concept, is an unavoidable fact of life. Yet, discourses about the meaning of race up to this point have not taken into account the nature of our individual and collective consciousness as it relates to an authentic mind-body-spirit/soul connection. This issue is the focus of my newest book, Evolving The Human Race Game: A Spiritual and Soul-Centered Perspective. In essence, the book provides a spiritual and soul-centered framework for evolving one’s consciousness as it relates to race relations, or what I call the human race game.
Here I want to focus primarily on how I came to write such a book and why I think a focus on consciousness is important for improving race relations.
There is a race-linked wound in the human psyche that requires healing. It is an age-old wound that has been festering since human beings became aware of being aware. This race-linked wound is related to humanity’s past and present inability to comprehend and to appreciate perceived human distinctions and differences at individual and collective levels. It is also related to humanity’s attempt to make meaning out of its awareness of and experience with light and dark. The ultimate culprits of the wound are the mechanistic tendency to reduce people to objects and to engage fear—fear of differences (otherness), of intimacy (closeness), of the unknown (unfamiliar or new things), and of vulnerability (death or annihilation).
I grew up in the segregated South; I had to sit on the back of the bus; I was not allowed to go in the front doors of movie theaters; I was not allowed to eat in most restaurants; I had to use water fountains and bathrooms labeled “Colored.” I lived in a very nurturing all-black community, which was right next to an all-white community. Indeed, I lived one block away from an all-white high school and had to be bussed all the way across town to attend an all-black high school. Whites and blacks did not enter each other’s community space. As a young child growing up in such an environment, I was always curious as to why people “thought” the way they did. I wanted to understand the thinking behind the reality they had constructed.
I attended all-black schools until the age of eighteen and graduated first in my class. Upon graduation, I received an academic scholarship to attend Bowdoin College, which, at that time, was an all-male, predominantly white undergraduate college that was trying to recruit African Americans. I also had a scholarship to Morehouse College (a historically black college), but the significant adults in my life thought that I needed to seize the opportunity of the full four-year scholarship to Bowdoin. While at Bowdoin College, I became the first African American nationally to desegregate the Sigma Nu Fraternity, and I co-founded the first Bowdoin College Undergraduate Civil Rights Organization. I subsequently attended a graduate program focused on community and clinical psychology at a Boston College, where I received an M.A. and Ph.D.
In my life’s journey, I have played many roles: trainer, supervisor, and program manager, co-founder of two organizations, consultant, therapist, researcher, author, tenured professor, president of a national psychological association, and college administrator. However, my interest in consciousness and soul-centered phenomena stems from a couple of expanded states of consciousness that I had in my twenties but for which had no words at the time to explain. Maslow’s “peak experience” concept came closest to an explanation and was a very helpful construct. Yet, there appeared to be something missing.
A presentation on the “inner world” and the “power of beliefs” at an Association of Black Psychologists conference in Boston, MA helped me begin to explore the mind-body-spirit/soul links in a new way. After the presentation, I approached the presenter to talk further, and she recommended a book that I thought was called Self Speaks.
When I went looking for the book, however, I couldn’t find it anywhere. I gave up looking. Shortly thereafter, I was in another bookstore and was about to leave when I asked one of the clerks about this title. He said, “Oh, you must mean Seth Speaks. It’s not in the psychology section. It’s in the occult section. It’s a channeled book and has become very popular.” I was taken aback, but I purchased the book anyway.
I had to overcome some initial fear and skepticism about how the book was produced—I did not know anything about channeling at that time. In reading it, I decided simply to focus on the content it presented. The material, to my surprise, gave me “words” for those expansive experiences I had in my twenties.
Later, I began to read all of Jane Roberts’ (the channeler for Seth) books. I also began to read a number of other esoteric books in addition to psychology books—I was seeking some balance and perspective on these ideas about consciousness. While I felt no need to share any of this with anyone, people who were on a similar path began to show up in my life. And so, I slowly started to talk about the ideas that were emerging for me and how they related to my work in psychology.
In one of the Seth-Roberts books, it is suggested that the ways in which people think about the nature of their inner lives impact their feelings about race relations, and particularly black-white relations. As a psychologist and a university professor open both to intuitive experiences and scientific inquiry, I wanted to put some science behind these ideas. I devised a comprehensive empirical research study, using a variety of instruments to collect data. The study explored the differences between outer- and inner-oriented Caucasians by examining how they related to the black race and race-related colors and concepts in American society. The thesis was that outer- and inner-oriented Caucasians may carry different fears and evaluative associative thought patterns; may have different connotative meanings for race and race-related colors and concepts; and may show fear differently in terms of projections and level of fear when the black race is a factor in regard to power and intimacy. The study also explored the symbolic link between anti-black dispositions and fear of (as well as evaluative attributions to) the nature of the unconscious.
I found that many race-linked “associative thought patterns” (core beliefs) were triggered when respondents in the study thought about the “nature of death” or the perception of the annihilation of consciousness. It was in these patterns that light-good and dark-bad connotations were present. That is, when these respondents thought about the nature of death as the annihilation of consciousness (darkness), an externalized projection onto the black race was evoked such that the black race “represented” the dark, unconscious, feared, and unknown parts of their senses of self. I presented my research findings, along with all of the instruments used in the study, in a book, A New Perspective on Race and Color: Research on an Outer vs Inner Orientation to Anti-Black Dispositions.
The findings were consistent with the ways in which darker members of a population are often the recipients of harmful projections and acts associated with the race-linked wound in the human psyche. In U.S. culture, for example, we simply use a color code to mechanistically “objectify” racial groups (black, white, red, yellow, brown), and we ascribe good-bad connotations to those color codes, knowingly and unknowingly, at both individual and collective levels. The color code itself is not the issue. The issue lies in the meanings associated with the language we use. As our minds assign good-bad meanings, distortions take place in our consciousness and, therefore, in our language in ways that influence our race-linked core beliefs, perceptions, and actions. This often happens without much awareness (e.g., black lie; white lie; black sheep; black cloud; brides wear white; mourners wear black; the God of Light; Satan as the Prince of Darkness). This is how, I believe, in his consciousness, Darren Wilson saw Michael Brown as a “monster” in the streets of Ferguson, MO.
Because our associations with black/dark/bad and white/light/good are so deeply rooted in our unconscious psyches, healing the race-linked wound in the human psyche ultimately requires a quantum shift in our consciousness both individually and collectively. When Barack Obama was first elected U. S. President, many wanted to believe that the United States had finally moved into a post-racial society. However, as we have seen over the past years, we are far from that place. If we are to take the necessary steps to change race relations on a deep level, we must become aware of our own limited consciousness and begin to awaken to the possibility of being conscious co-creators in evolving the human race. We can do this by examining our self-limiting, race-linked beliefs about ourselves and “the Other.”
In my recent book, Evolving The Human Race Game: A Spiritual and Soul-Centered Perspective, I suggest that becoming aware of self-limiting, race-linked beliefs about security is a good place to start with evolving one’s consciousness. Here I share an adapted free association exercise from my book that may assist with self-exploration at the security level of consciousness.
To begin, in a journal, make a list of what makes you feel safe and a list of what makes you feel unsafe. Be honest. As you review your developing safe/unsafe lists, relax, go within, and ask your innermost self the following questions:
Do I experience the universe as a safe place or as a fearful place?
Do I feel that the universe supports my well-being or that the universe is arbitrary in this regard?
Do I have an intuitive sense of my special space in the universe or not?
Do I trust my self and the world or do I have difficulty trusting?
Do I ever use race as a screen through which I judge others in regard to my safety, well-being, space in the universe, and trust of the world?
When you feel you have completed your safe/unsafe lists and your reflections on these questions, set the list aside for three days. At the end of each of those three days, record in your journal any experiences you had or noticed directly (face-to-face) and/or indirectly (second-hand information from others, the media, books) with the issue of safety. Make a note about whether or not the experiences were race-linked. Also, in your journal, for at least one of the experiences you record, answer the questions:
Could there have been a different way for parties to “be” in this situation if human care were exhibited?
How might that have looked?
After the three days, you may want to continue the practice, adding to your safe/unsafe lists and reflecting on these questions and your experiences.
This exercise allows you to assess your current stance in the world in regards to your ideas about security. Your response to the questions and your safe/unsafe lists will indicate whether or not and how you are “acting out” our human desire for safety using self-limiting and/or race-linked ideas. Our sense of security is one of the areas of consciousness that can be transformed in an effort to heal the race-linked wound in the human psyche and to evolve our consciousness and the human race. §
Dr. Carroy U. Ferguson has a Ph.D. in psychology from Boston College. He is the president of the Association for Humanistic Psychology and is a tenured professor and former dean at the College of Public and Community Service at University of Massachusetts-Boston. He is also a co-founder of Interculture, Inc. and Associates in Human Understanding, an associate editor of the Journal of Humanistic Psychology, and the author of various books on race, consciousness, and education.