Sachs drew his list from The Racism Root Kit: Understanding the Insidiousness of White Privilege, written by "Paul Pendler, Psy.D., of the Department of Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences, Feinberg School of Medicine, Northwestern University Medical School and Phillip Beverly, Ph.D., Department of History, Philosophy, and Political Science at Chicago State University".
We [White liberals] are one of the millions of white people willing to make a change for the betterment of our country. We actually live by the words of our Declaration of Independence, that "all men are created equal."
At times, though, we feel a distance from our black and Latino friends; a noticeable energetic gulf that separates us from a deeper connection with them. We want to be closer to people of color. Yet somehow, some way, we sense a wall between us. We wonder: Is it me or them?
Maybe years of racism have made it hard for people of color to trust White folks--even Atlantic magazine liberals like you and me.
Or maybe we're saying or doing something racially insensitive--perpetuating racism and white privilege. And we don't even know it.
'What are you in for?' said Winston.
'Thoughtcrime!' said Parsons, almost blubbering. The tone of his voice implied at once a complete admission of his guilt and a sort of incredulous horror that such a word could be applied to himself. He paused opposite Winston and began eagerly appealing to him: 'You don't think they'll shoot me, do you, old chap? They don't shoot you if you haven't actually done anything -- only thoughts, which you can't help? I know they give you a fair hearing. Oh, I trust them for that! They'll know my record, won't they? You know what kind of chap I was. Not a bad chap in my way. Not brainy, of course, but keen. I tried to do my best for the Party, didn't I? I'll get off with five years, don't you think? Or even ten years? A chap like me could make himself pretty useful in a labour-camp. They wouldn't shoot me for going off the rails just once?'
Microinvalidations are momentary acts that serve to invalidate the very people of color we care about. These unconscious interactions perpetuate the hopelessness many African-Americans, Latinos, Native Americans, and other people of color, feel in this country.
'Are you guilty?' said Winston.
'Of course I'm guilty!' cried Parsons with a servile glance at the telescreen. 'You don't think the Party would arrest an innocent man, do you?' His frog-like face grew calmer, and even took on a slightly sanctimonious expression. 'Thoughtcrime is a dreadful thing, old man,' he said sententiously. 'It's insidious. It can get hold of you without your even knowing it. Do you know how it got hold of me? In my sleep! Yes, that's a fact. There I was, working away, trying to do my bit -- never knew I had any bad stuff in my mind at all. And then I started talking in my sleep. Do you know what they heard me saying?' He sank his voice, like someone who is obliged for medical reasons to utter an obscenity. "Down with Big Brother!" Yes, I said that! Said it over and over again, it seems. Between you and me, old man, I'm glad they got me before it went any further. Do you know what I'm going to say to them when I go up before the tribunal? "Thank you," I'm going to say, "thank you for saving me before it was too late."
We might also say: "I'm hurt that you think of me like that." This further draws the attention back to us, and away from the real issue of pain felt by the person of color. When sympathy transfers to the white person, no awareness or learning occurs. No trust is built.
Try this next time you're confronted with something insensitive: "I hear how my words or actions hurt you. Thank you for pointing that out to me."
The door opened. With a small gesture the officer indicated the skull-faced man.
'Room 101,' he said.
There was a gasp and a flurry at Winston's side. The man had actually flung himself on his knees on the floor, with his hand clasped together.
'Comrade! Officer!' he cried. 'You don't have to take me to that place! Haven't I told you everything already? What else is it you want to know? There's nothing I wouldn't confess, nothing! Just tell me what it is and I'll confess straight off. Write it down and I'll sign it -- anything! Not room 101!'
'Room 101,' said the officer.
The man's face, already very pale, turned a colour Winston would not have believed possible. It was definitely, unmistakably, a shade of green.
'Do anything to me!' he yelled. 'You've been starving me for weeks. Finish it off and let me die. Shoot me. Hang me. Sentence me to twenty-five years. Is there somebody else you want me to give away? Just say who it is and I'll tell you anything you want. I don't care who it is or what you do to them. I've got a wife and three children. The biggest of them isn't six years old. You can take the whole lot of them and cut their throats in front of my eyes, and I'll stand by and watch it. But not Room 101!'
'Room 101,' said the officer.
If we as white liberals want to walk the walk, we have to do more. We have to acknowledge the uncomfortable value of political correctness as a change agent.
If we truly want a different world, let's ask ourselves:
These are tough questions. It hurts to know that my words might have invalidated another, and that I may have contributed subtly to racism. For a 40-something White liberal, I'm acknowledging I have more to learn.
- Is it possible that I might unintentionally say something that might be perceived as invalidating by people of color?
- Can I take an honest inventory of my unintentional microinvalidations, if the person of color confronts me? What is my go-to defense? Denial? Hurt? Faux Compassion, Pain Game, Intellectualization?
- Can I engage with people of color without deferring to internal defenses, especially when my unintended microinvalidations and unconscious sense of superiority are confronted?
- Can I be open to the impact of my words, expressing interest and caring how my actions have been perceived?
- Can I simply say: "I wasn't aware my words or actions hurt you. Tell me more so I can learn?"
Millennials seem know that in the smallest of words is where the greatest of pain lies.
'Who denounced you?' said Winston.
'It was my little daughter,' said Parsons with a sort of doleful pride. 'She listened at the keyhole. Heard what I was saying, and nipped off to the patrols the very next day. Pretty smart for a nipper of seven, eh? I don't bear her any grudge for it. In fact I'm proud of her. It shows I brought her up in the right spirit, anyway.'
Only through continued growth, awareness and acknowledgement that #wordsmatter can something as ugly as racism be overcome.
It's certainly not a new idea, but I thought putting the language together on the same page was interesting. Obviously, Sach's prescription isn't Room 101, but maybe it makes each and every white mind it's own Room 101, where the white person is both guard and prisoner.