Throughout my personal life, I have occasionally stumbled into various challenges that were so very painful in that moment.  Some of these issues kept repeating themselves in various forms until I was able to truly face up to them.  When I was able to hold myself and my hidden beliefs up in a mirror, I was able to become “conscious” for the first time of what I had secretly (and sometimes not so secretly) believed that had led to my current predicament.  The good news was that with such awareness, I was able to set an honest intention to change and set a new course for that area of my life.  Each time, I healed a bit of my hidden shadow.

Our collective lives as Americans are similar.  After all, our national consciousness is made up of the individual thoughts and beliefs of each of us.  As such, we will be doomed to repeat and repeat the painful aspects of our collective lives until we face our national shadow, our hidden feelings and beliefs regarding our racial differences.

This past week has truly been painful for America.  The police shootings once again of unarmed black victims in Minnesota and Louisiana caught on video and shared on social media have for the umpteenth time in our recent past have raised concerns among many over police treatment of blacks.  The lone sniper shooting of white policemen monitoring an otherwise peaceful Black Lives Matter protest in Dallas has broken our hearts.  My heart goes out to everyone who was touched personally by all of these tragedies.

None of this is acceptable in the America I want to live in.

I have hope that this time enough people will scream loudly that “enough is enough” that we as a people will face the root causes of our problems and begin to take steps to heal them.

Some people want to avoid the issue by arguing around the edges, like treating symptoms rather than causes.  It’s like taking a pill to ease our heartburn when the real culprit is our diet we don’t want to change.  We mask the issue for a moment, but it will return again.

Is it “black lives matter” or is it “all lives matter” as some want to debate.  I wrote about this last October in this post where I pointed out that “all lives matter” is a lofty and wonderful goal and vision to which we can aspire. However, until then we will sometimes have to highlight the lives of individuals who are being oppressed and treated as if they didn’t matter — hence the need to remind us that “black lives matter”.

Key reminder: Let’s not be distracted by these words.

Some folks, like conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh, want to fan the flames of hatred and divisiveness. Why?  Sure Limbaugh has gotten rich over playing on people’s fears, but why does he even have an audience for his vitriolic messages?  The reason is related to the same reason that the racial comments of Donald Trump have found favor among many—we have an unhealed shadow regarding our racial past and that shadow finds its expression via support for both men.

As Deepak Chopra recently pointed out, Trump “stands for something universal, something right before our eyes. It’s an aspect of the human psyche that we feel embarrassed and ashamed of, which makes it our collective secret.  Going back a century in the field of depth psychology, the secret side of human nature acquired a special name: the shadow.”

He goes on to point out that our shadow “compounds all the dark impulses—hatred, aggression, sadism, selfishness, jealousy, resentment, sexual transgression—that are hidden out of sight.”   Part of it may be conscious but much of it is unconscious.  And, as I  mentioned in regards to my personal life, the shadow will keep rearing its head over and over until healed. Like the rise of Trump, our racial divide is driven by these “dark impulses”.

Can this be the time we heal it? 

If so, we are going to have to collectively go deep.  And to do that, it means that each of us individually is going to have to do some soul searching on our own.  What hidden beliefs do you hold regarding other races?

If you are white such as me, then you may want to reflect upon the words of black writer Michael Eric Dyson in this recent piece in the New York Times.  There he states, “In the wake of these deaths and the protests surrounding them, you, white America, say that black folks kill each other every day without a mumbling word while we thunderously protest a few cops, usually but not always white, who shoot to death black people who you deem to be mostly ‘thugs.’ ”

Do I believe this?  I like to think I don’t. What about you?  But do I raise my voice loud enough in protest over the police shootings of unarmed black men?  Have I done all I can in my realm of influence to say “enough” and push for reforms? If I am honest with myself, I probably have not….

Dyson goes on to point out, “black people protest, to one another, to a world that largely refuses to listen, that what goes on in black communities across this nation is horrid, as it would be in any neighborhood depleted of dollars and hope — emptied of good schools, and deprived of social and economic buffers against brutality.”

There are two essential points in that message for me:

One, people lash out when they feel powerless to effectuate change.  What role have I played in allowing fellow humans around me to reach such a state of helplessness?

Two, black communities have been hit disproportionately hard by the growing income inequality in our country feeding an even greater sense of helplessness.  What role have I played in this?

Our country was born with this racial shadow.  Blacks were not equal from the beginnings of our nation and the initial writing of our constitution.  Our early wealth and success was built on the backs of slaves. We fought a civil war that ended slavery but it neither ended segregation nor brought racial equality. Our shadow continued.

I grew up in the deep south in the 50s and 60s.  I vividly recall racial segregation….separate water fountains and bathrooms and signs that said “for whites only”. For blacks to attend the movie theater in one town I lived, they had to enter an entrance that was essentially a fire escape staircase so as to gain access to the only area they were allowed — the balcony.  There were white schools and black schools, white areas of town, black areas.  I remember the personal feeling of shame I felt over the treatment of blacks.  Although I was young, I supported the societal changes that ended segregation. Things appeared to be changing. Yet our shadow continued.

I remember the excitement that I felt when Barrack Obama was first elected President.  I was filled with hope for our country.  Maybe this time, in some many needed areas, there would be positive change.  And, although we made great strides racially in his election, we also began to bring out that shadow a bit more via certain types of (IMO) racially motivated political backlash.  Yes, the shadow was still strong.

I find it ironic that there has been a recent resurgence in interest in the O.J. Simpson case.  There was a recent mini-series drama and then a multipart documentary.  I recently finished watching the documentary and was reminded of how the pattern of Los Angeles police and court mistreatment of blacks for so many years there played a factor in Simpson’s acquittal in his trial for murder.  The feeling of the public on the ruling was split on racial lines….blacks celebrating, whites feeling that there had been an injustice.  Is there any coincidence that this case is coming back into our collective awareness at the same time as we are experiencing all of these other tragedies?

Blacks driving are stopped by police at a higher rate than others.  Blacks are incarcerated in our country at rates higher than others. Blacks are more likely to be unemployed than others.  More blacks are in poverty than others.  Is this just?  Is this the America I want to live in?

To this day, I have been a political progressive who has spoken, voted and acted for equality.  I know many who have.  But again, the question becomes….have I done enough? Have I taken all of the steps that I can to heal our collective shadow?  Since my country keeps coming over and over to this issue, I have to consider that we have not….and we will continue to face these issues until we heal the root cause.

What can we do?

One:  We can reflect on our personal beliefs and statements regarding race.  Where are we holding to old stereotypes and prejudice?  Where are we saying and doing things that continue to perpetuate a sense of racial divisiveness?

Two:  With this awareness, we can set the intention to act in a manner that releases the old belief and actions and replaces them with thoughts and actions that unite us.

Three:  We find areas within our life — our personal sphere of influence — where we can publicly act for change.   Speak out for equality whenever you can.

This past week, I recorded an upcoming Conscious Bridge Radio program with a couple of friends of mine on the topic of seeing the world as sacred.  One of them, Gregory Toole, followed the conversation with an article on his website where he stated, “Those who commit harmful acts toward others really don’t know who they themselves are, and our collective calling becomes to help every person know the greater truth of who they are, their sacredness, their goodness and value to us and to the world.”

Well stated.

Ultimately, when we each take action to heal our individual shadow, we heal our collective shadow.  As we do so, we shift our perspective on life to recognize that both ourselves and every person has value….is “sacred”.  And when we remember our truth, we cannot help but act to foster love, peace and equality on this planet.

Ultimately, love will “trump” fear.  It’s time to act in love.

Mark Gilbert


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Photo credit: Paul L Dineen via Source / CC BY