One of the reasons we still have problems with race isn't necessarily because people are racist, though, there are out and proud racists. It's more that well intentioned people are unaware that many of their impulses and thoughts are conditioned responses, meaning, we don't think about them, we just feel them and it makes us uncomfortable.
Deconditioning unwanted behaviors is something I specialize in. I have a background in behavioral conditioning. I know the science of how to make unwanted behaviors (including thoughts), stop and I also have the practical experience to know why exactly it is so hard to change, even when we want to. And yes, I have a course/book on that (Why is Change so Hard?)
First, I want you to read this thread by Claire Willet on Twitter. https://twitter.com/clairewillett/status/1266894029498675200
This thread is super important for white people to read. It's about the history of our conditioned responses to black protests. Specifically, how we have been conditioned, intentionally, to feel uncomfortable with black people protesting. And yes, we were and are being conditioned to respond to protests by people seeking to not be shot for no reason, with discomfort. And there is a super long history in the USA of this happening. And yes, it was done intentionally. And yes, our government did it intentionally. Read the twitter thread!
That uncomfortable feeling you have been having about how black people are protesting? It's there for a reason. You have been conditioned to feel that discomfort. And that was done intentionally to help people in power, stay in power by denying social justice movements support by other moral people, by making them, uncomfortable and afraid.
I have a background in behavioral conditioning. I can attest that what Ms. Willet describes in her thread, is true. What she is saying, about how even when we find out we've been lied to, we still believe things that aren't true, because it feels true even when it isn't - is absolutely spot on.
That is the power of conditioned responses. Conditioned responses bypass your normal thinking. It's your gut reaction. You don't know why you have this gut reaction, you just do. And yes, your thoughts can be conditioned and ARE conditioned. All the time.
If I start a commercial jingle, chances are you will sing the rest and would have a really hard time, stopping yourself. Let's give it a try ... "plop, plop, fizz, fizz."
There are people who want the rest of us to be afraid of black people asking for help. And they have spent, literally centuries convincing people to be afraid and uncomfortable around black people and about discussing discrimination against black people and minorities. And all this discomfort and our inability to deal with it, is preventing us from finally, creating a society where everyone is given the same opportunity and where people can actually be judged on their character and not on the color of their skin.
But in order to get there, we have to start deconditioning ourselves of these habits of thoughts that cause us to have negative thoughts when confronted by race. We have to decondition the habits that cause us to look away or deflect.
The good news is that these various deflection responses, are a normal part of the deconditioning process. The bad news is that, unless you force yourself to challenge your own brain, you won't get past them, which is why collectively, we haven't gotten past it.
The other good news is that once you understand your own resistance response, you can help yourself decondition the uncomfortable responses you have whenever the subject of race comes up.
So if you want to support black people but keep finding reasons why you don't actually support black people, then I have a few suggestions for you. And yes, I mean even well meaning liberal people who think they are beyond this but are afraid to go to the 'black' part of town because they are worried about crime - you too. Especially you.
What I want you to learn is first, why change is so hard (https://humanistlearning.com/book-and-program-why-is-change-so-hard/) I want you to understand the resistance ideas that pop into your head for what they are, resistance to change. Then, you can calmly encourage your brain to calm down and think explicitly about whether the assumptions you have about a given situation are true.
The next thing I want you to do is think humanistically about yourself and about the situation you are concerned about. Think explicitly about the values you think are most important. Then, apply those values to the situation at hand. Keeping in mind that what you think, may be incorrect because of your implicit conditioned biases to think negatively about black people doing anything other than being subservient to white people. Try to understand why black people are upset and think, if this happened to you, would you be upset? Yes, then the black community is protesting for good reason and you should support them.
Finally, you will make mistakes. That is ok. You will stumble. That is ok too. If you are worried about black people judging you because you are not a perfect ally, well yeah, that will happen. But how you handle learning that you made a mistake is key. Accept you made a mistake and learn from it, and your efforts will be appreciated.
The problem with centering yourself.If you have started to become aware you may have had someone say, stop centering yourself. Here is what that means and why you should NOT center yourself. First. you don't need anyone's approval or acknowledgement to do the right thing. The right thing is to say plainly that an injustice is in fact, an injustice. For instance, cops killing unarmed people who have broken no laws, is an injustice.
Second: If your willingness to support people who are being abused is based on whether you get credit and props for doing the bare minimum of what a moral person should do, which is to say, what happened is wrong, then something is wrong with you. And you should check yourself. Because when an injustice is occurring, the focus should be on the injustice. Not on whether or not your allyship is being appreciated by people who are literally fighting for their lives.
If someone tells you, you are centering yourself, you are. Don't argue. Focus on the person who needs help. Not on your need for approval.
Stick with it
Undoing and unlearning conditioned thoughts is a time consuming process. Every time you manage to identify one of your triggered conditioned responses, don't get upset you thought the thought. You were conditioned to think it. The goal is to recognize WHEN you've had a conditioned thought and to consciously and explicitly challenge that thought.
And you can do this for anything. My son is convinced math is hard and he has some fairly extreme deflection responses anytime he is asked to do math. I won't go into the details of why he has these responses except to say that he came by his aversion to math the hard way. As I am working with him to get past his aversion, which is a conditioned response, I have been encouraging him to challenge his negative thoughts and replace them with other thoughts. Even if they are sarcastically positive, it is still a better response than the extremely negative thoughts he has when math is presented to him. As we practice turning the negatives into positive, it gets harder for a bit. Crying has been involved in it. But, the resistance eventually gets less hard and his ability to pivot improves.
Positively reward success:
Every time you successfully challenge one of your conditioned responses, reward yourself. Recognize how hard that was to do for yourself and congratulate yourself. Treat yourself to something.
The only real way to get rid of a learned response/thought is to replace it with a different learned response/thought. And whenever you succeed in doing that, reward yourself. Positively reward the behavior you want. Don't beat yourself up for continuing to have the thoughts/responses you want to decondition. Just focus on converting them to something positive and eventually, you will get through this.
For a full list of my programs and books check out this list. https://humanistlearning.com/jennifer-hancock/ Pretty much everything on it, includes some of this behavioral learning. And the best part is, the more you learn how to do this, the easier it becomes and the less you resist it.
Even if you start small, with just one identified response, like, the discomfort you feel about black people protesting the wrong way, start there and work through it and past it. Your response, that discomfort was conditioned by people with an agenda. Don't let them control you.
PS - we need to do the same thing for sexism.