Race Relations in America: Hate, Pain, Rage, and Despair

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Race Relations in America - Imago Relationships North America

What is unfinished from the past is reborn in the present.

As a Marital Therapist, I say to couples, "When an issue comes knocking more than two times in your life, and it comes with a certain amount of intensity, it is because it has long tentacles that reach way back into the childhood (unconscious) agenda and it's showing up today so that it can be acknowledged, dealt with and eventually healed. This is a process, not an event."

What is unfinished from the past is reborn in the present.

These racially fueled killings and violence continue to come knocking in present-day life with such robust intensity because we haven't dealt with racism at its root — individually or at the group level.

Social change requires us to dive below our old habit-songs, automatic knee-jerk responses, defenses— underneath the words themselves — to examine our conditioning. The interconnected framework of reality points us towards ultimate reality. Relational reality is the poignant elixir that makes ultimate reality possible — and we cannot know ultimate reality outside of our own bodily experiences.

We are made of habit, and our relationships are conditioned and formed by habit. As such, we need to understand how we have been conditioned to relate to each other before we can know real freedom and wisdom. It's similar to the process of getting sober and healing from addiction. One must follow the tentacles that reach back into one's history to understand the deeper underlying causes and conditions that led one to drink and use drugs addictively. This is how I know that with awareness, change is possible.

I'll also say this: Black folks are genetically, intravenously afraid of the police — myself included. These days, I feel such deep angst for the Black men, women, and children in my family and for my own heart, which needs more than I can give it at times. The senseless and incessant suffering passed on has to be understood, dignified, and reorganized.

When harm of such magnitude is inflicted, and in many cases deliberately, it makes trauma more difficult to overcome psychologically — snowballing into a communicable social disease that affects all humanity's well-being. We all have unforgettable markings of trauma, perennial wounding, and the grace of survival.

Race Relations in America

What is unfinished from the past is reborn in the present.

Let's examine the most recent event, the killing of George Floyd by a policeman, Derek Chauvin. The police officer's knee on the neck of Mr. Floyd is well-documented. Events that are also well-documented are the lynchings of Blacks, which were often festive family occasions for the white people performing the killing.

Stay with me here.

As I examined the photos of Derek Chauvin, I looked at his face. His knee in George Floyd's neck. His sunglasses still securely on his head. Where were his hands for 8 minutes and 46 seconds? I make the assumption (because the behavior is so intense) that this type of behavior has long tentacles that reach back not only into Derek Chauvin's history but also into American History. This isn't new. 

So I examined some old photos of white folks gathering after lynching a Black man. I looked at and reflected on the faces of the white spectators watching the life being drained out of the Black man. Many of these men (and some women) are smiling, some even wearing their Sunday best — they look proud —pointing their fingers at the body hanging from the tree, with what appears to be a sense of accomplishment on their faces — all together standing around one, dead, unrecognizable face, of a Black body — hanging in front of them.

Kentucky Lynching

In both instances, I wondered…

  • Whether or not these folks had children. 

  • I wondered how those children were feeling. 

  • What was happening in their hearts and minds? Although they were not directly involved in the actions, they witnessed a horror that was deemed normal. 

  • Were the children frightened? 

  • Did they have questions? 

  • Were they opposed? 

  • What was required of them to fit into that moment? 

  • What would have happened if they had objected, resisted attending? 

  • What price did they pay emotionally and spiritually to maintain a sense of belonging? 

  • How did they behave to ensure love and acceptance? 

  • How did they adjust their hearts to live with such human hatred?

  • What human price over the generations was to be paid for such denial, dissociation, rage, and amnesia? 

  • What unfinished business was passed down to the next generation?

Begin to inquire. What are you aware of? What is obvious? 

Take your time.

We might also imagine what was in the minds and hearts of George Floyd's family and other Black families (historically too, because the pain comes with such sharp intensity), as they helplessly witnessed such hateful acts, most likely from a distance, or who may have dreaded that such evil could happen when their son, daughter, father, or child didn't return home at the end of the day.  

Young black man contemplates blood-stained mask

I wondered...

  • What stopped them from going insane or erupting in a rampage? 

  • What behavior was required to survive? 

  • How did they adjust their hearts to exist with such human hatred? 

  • What did they do with their feelings? I'm sure they had some. 

  • Did it affect their ability to be intimate, alive, curious, and empathetic? 

  • What kind of adults did the children become? 

  • What did they teach their children about race or the value of a life? 

  • What human price over the generations was paid for such suppression? 

  • What unfinished business was passed down to the next generation?

  • How do you think this and other historic crimes of the '60s, '70s, '80s, '90s, and 2000s live in your heart and mind today?

  • Why are some folks granted the right of citizenship (whites), and some folks are expected simply to submit and obey (Blacks)? 

A discerning heart recognizes that this reflection is not about blaming, denying, suppressing, or solving a problem as much as it is to open to what is revealed and shift our relationship away from a struggle toward healing and freedom.

I believe it is essential and life-giving to understand the blood-stained soil of U.S. history and recognize how white supremacy has systematically and intentionally resisted human equality in favor of power and greed and how this cultural swamp has impacted us all.

Begin to inquire. What are you aware of? What is obvious? 

Take your time.

One only needs to think of what happened to Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd— to recognize that these traumas are not just a thing of the past.

What is unfinished in the past is transformed and re-authored in the present.

Old trauma, once a wound, is now a scar! Yet, when brushed against, the scar reminds us of what we must never forget.   

Race Relations Organizations to Learn More:
Race Relations Books to Learn More:

We must never forget the suffering that broke

our hearts and woke us up.

If you're struggling with race relations right now, we are here to help. We have both in person therapy and online therapy for individuals, families and couples.

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Paula M Smith, MDiv, MA, MFT-1This blog was written by Paula M. Smith,  Ph.D., M.Div., M.A. MFT. 
Paula M. Smith, Ph.D., MFT, M.Div., is an Adjunct Professor, Imago Faculty Candidate, Advanced Imago Clinician, Certified Imago Therapist, Workshop Presenter, and Consultant. Dr. Paula is a co-Founder of Imago Relationships-Providence with her spouse Yael Bat-Shimon, a Certified Imago Therapist & Workshop Presenter. Together Yael and Dr. Paula offer “Getting the Love You Want” Couples Weekend Workshops for Interracial Couples & LGBTQIA couples. Dr. Paula also offers Getting the Love You Want Weekend Workshops for BIPOC couples. As partners in an interracial marriage, Yael and Paula draw from their own relationship journey towards embracing, honoring, advocating, and celebrating each other’s differences, and they help couples do the same. 
Dr. Paula is passionate about helping ALL couples create safe, healing, egalitarian, connected partnerships in deeply perceptive, precise, and appropriately playful ways. 
For 16 years, Dr. Paula has worked exclusively with couples. Over the past 8 years, she has developed a specialization in 2 and 3 Day Private Intensives for couples in crisis, engaged couples, and couples struggling in the aftermath of an affair. The Couple Private Intensives are process-driven, exclusive, profound, and life-changing because they allow couples to explore relational issues and dynamics that cannot be understood in shorter sessions. She dives deep with partners over a span of days for deep exploration, understanding, connecting, and fun. Dr. Paula opens couples’ eyes to previously unseen and unfolding possibilities in their relationship. 
Having experienced the miracle of healing and recovery herself, Dr. Paula's life’s work is rooted in a deep belief in the transforming power of relationships. She's been active in 12-step spiritual communities for 36 years. She teaches Introduction to Couples Therapy at Antioch University New England and has also taught courses on topics related to Race, Racism, Whiteness at Harvard Divinity School, Harvard Medical School, Rhode Island College, and Imago Relationships North America (IRNA). 

Topics: Human Connection, therapy, personal growth, Creating Healthy Relationships, Trauma, Childhood Trauma, Listening, Race Relations, Black Lives Matter, Healing Trauma, Imago Insights, unconscious racism, Racial Bias, Racial Tension, Diversity, BLM, Racism, Racial Issues, Black Mental Health, Discrimination, Bigotry, Systemic Racism

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