How White Denial of Racism Can Refuel Inequality

Blind man with Denial has been said to be the trademark of addiction, and has long been identified in the field of psychology. Denial is also related to the experience of trauma. These include trauma, injury and trauma survivor witnesses. In addition, the white denial of racial trauma is the breath of racism.

What is denial and why do people do it?

Denial is a refusal to accept reality in order to be protected from a painful event, thought, or feeling. It is a common defense mechanism that gives man time to adapt to situations that cause discomfort. For example, a person with a drug or alcohol addiction will often deny that they have a problem. People who deal with addiction, such as addicted family or friends, may also deny the seriousness of the problem.

It is possible to deny certain aspects of reality while accepting other aspects. For example, a person may recognize that there is an issue (such as addiction) by denying the need for action (such as stopping the drug).

Denial is not limited to individuals. It has also been recognized on a cultural scale. Current examples include claims by conspiracy theorists that the Holocaust never happened, nor did global warming.

Some experts believe that denial occurs in linear, progressive stages. These types of denial include the following:

  • His refusal fact ("This is not true")
  • His refusal awareness ("I had no idea")
  • His refusal responsibility ("It is not my mistake")
  • His refusal effect ("That was not my intention")

Denial is initially an unconscious adaptive response. It can also be one of the most primitive, which means that while it can be very effective in the short term, it is ineffective and potentially harmful in the long run. Staying in denial interferes with change.

How denial can contribute to racism

The stigma associated with racist behavior often causes white denial – the refusal to accept racism. Racism can be defined as the discrimination and / or oppression inflicted on persons belonging to a socially constructed racial category. Racism occurs on three levels:

  1. Institutional-Treatment through laws or social rules.
  2. Atom-When a person distinguishes a minority group.
  3. Internalization-When a marginalized person believes stereotypically about their group and / or accuses themselves of any discrimination they face.

Racism requires a combination of prejudice, power, access and privileges. It has been summarized as a pathology of power characterized by ignorance.

The famous photograph of Rubin Stacy's horrific shaking in 1935 is a striking example of white denial. The photo shows a white kid in the crowd dressed better on Sunday. She smiles looking at the dead body of a black man hanging on the tree.

The transformation and healing of the social trauma of racism must include healing the numbness of people who benefit from racism.The child could be seen as a visual representation of how short-term neglect evolves into a long-term strategy. The photo shows how racism can be incorporated into the culture in which we grow up (institutionalized). It also shows how our belief system and our physiology can integrate racism (personalized and internalized).

Epigenetic studies reveal how trauma responses can be transmitted through generations, not only through learning and preparation, but also through genetics. One study shocked male mice while exposing them to the smell of a cherry. The mice then showed an injury reaction each time the fragrance was present, even without shock. The trauma response was also present in children and grandchildren of mice when exposed to the cherry aroma, although they were never shocked. Their genes changed.

The study suggests that a person may not have to deal with a traumatic event immediately to provide a trauma response. In other words, a traumatic response to a related trigger can occur even when a person does not know what the original stimulus was. In terms of photography, loved ones who mourn the death of Rubin Stacy could have passed on their reaction to their offspring. White offspring's future offspring may also incorporate their normal response.

White denial and the identified normal response may be related to the concept of "the privilege of numbness". The term refers to emotional numbness as a negative effect of racism. This numbness can allow white people to ignore or perpetuate a system of racism that benefits them without feeling guilty about the suffering of others. The transformation and healing of the social trauma of racism must include healing the numbness of people who benefit from racism.

When ignorance is dark

Conscious acts of denial can also occur when people face ethical dilemmas. A study examining market behaviors found that if consumers were specifically warned that a product was unethically manufactured, consumers would not buy the product. However, when consumers made the choice to listen to the history of the product, most people chose not to know it.

Researchers asked participants to sort jeans by selecting two of the four categories to do so:

  1. Style
  2. Colour
  3. Price
  4. Whether child labor was used to make clothes or not

More than 85% of participants did not choose child labor as a category for their assessment. These results indicate that the overwhelming majority of participants were "preventively ignorant". The researchers found that the conscious act of denial was at least in part due to an unconscious fear of being upset by what was discovered.

Researchers then asked genuinely unknown participants what they thought about consumers who chose to research a brand's work practices before making a purchase. The answer? Intentional ignorant intentions tended to degrade moral consumers, not only with criticism but also with character attacks.

Why hate? The research showed that the participants were unconsciously exercising their own guilt feelings. Perhaps even more so, a related study has shown that savage ignorant consumers who degrade their moral peers are less likely to support the social cause in the future.

Dealing with denial through self-control

Challenging is usually an ongoing process of self-examination and radical honesty. The denial is universal – everyone understands the events with personal bias. Therefore, the treatment of denial often begins at the individual level.

When questioning your own denial, remember to consider the following:

  • Realize that denial and personal prejudice are largely silent and unconscious processes. Revealing and addressing social preparation requires constant effort and external feedback. We all have blind spots.
  • Remove responsibility and shame. Binary judgments of good / bad can further increase stigma. Stigma in turn can enhance defense mechanisms and cause trauma reactions (ie, denial).
  • Replace responsibility and shame with vulnerability, curiosity and humility. Embrace the emotions that allow growth. Seek understanding. Stretch your worldview.
  • Get to know the body. Increase your awareness of your body. Understand how you react when you are stressed or ashamed. Learn to tell the difference between suffering and pain.
  • Focus on being responsible and responsible. Make sure your internal and external resources are used according to your values. Action often relieves guilt.

Sometimes dealing with personal prejudice or mistakes of the past can feel emotionally overwhelming. A licensed therapist can provide confidential support without judgment. You can find a therapist here.

Bibliographical references:

  1. Aizenman, N. (2016). Do these jeans make me look immature? National Public Radio. Retrieved from
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  3. D & # 39; Angelo, R. (2011). White fragility. The International Journal of Education, (3) Retrieved from
  4. Kendi, I. X. (2018). The heartbeat of racism is denial. The New York Times. Retrieved from
  5. Lewis, T. (2013). Frightened experiences passed on to mouse families. Live science. Retrieved from
  6. Lynching by Rubin Stacy in Fort Lauderdale, Florida [Photograph]. (1935) Retrieved March 2019 from
  7. Raheem, M.A., & Hart, K.A. (2019, March). Counseling people of African descent. Counseling Today, 61(9). Retrieved from
  8. Winn, M. E. (1996). Strategic and systematic management of denial in the cognitive / behavioral treatment of sex offenders. Sexual Abuse, 8 (1), 25-36. Retrieved from

© Copyright 2019 All rights reserved. Publication permission was granted by Tahmi Perzichilli, LPCC, LADC, therapist in Minneapolis, Minnesota

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