Sit back for a minute, because you haven’t heard what I’m about to say before.
Ever wonder why it seems natural to see race, but not to see racism?
Look, none of us chooses the family we’re born into. If you’re white, and probably even if you’re not, you were born into a ready made pattern of racism. I’m not judging you, but I am going to bear witness to you.
I’m going to tell you straight up that learning this will change your world if you let it.
Racism is hard to see because it acts like a family dynamic.
Whaaaaat are you talking about? Ok. Big words. But stay with me. Most families go through times when they’re getting along pretty well and have their lives together, and other times when it’s not so much. If the family has pretty good habits of getting along, they can weather a lot. Being flexible and looking for the next right step, fixing the problem instead of the blame, everyone feeling valued, and really respecting each other are all good habits that can make for a well-run family.
But lots of families either always or sometime turn dysfunctional. They stop being able to sort themselves out from one another, they don’t get much done, they grow rigid and stifled and usually have abuse symptoms of some kind (addictions, beatings, criminal activities, yelling mean all the time).
Why do families stop functioning? They get stuck in a game.
The game isn’t one that anyone wins, but it gives emotional satisfaction. That means you can feel really good about yourself if you play the game.
The game is a substitute for boundaries.
Here’s how it works. There are three roles that each person or group can play: the Heroes, the Bad Guys, and the Victims.
Scoring is simple. Heroes get Gratitude Points. Victims get Sympathy Points. Bad Guys get Drama points. Everyone in the game gets to share all points racked up, but there’s an extra rush of Acceptance Points to whoever is playing a role at the time.
The catch is that you can’t think of any other possible world outside the Three Role Triangle. You have to keep jumping into one of the roles to build the Acceptance Points and do your part for everyone in the game.
Since not everything you need to have a good life fits into the Triangle, you’ll start to suffer. So will everyone else. But instead of connecting your actions with consequences or trying to fix the problem, you only have the Triangle. Everything is the game. Without the game, you don’t know who you are. Without the game, there are no Acceptance Points.
You panic when you realize you could lose your Acceptance Points. You work harder to fit everything you experience into the Triangle. You settle into a comfortable pattern of being a Savior. Maybe you don’t get to meet your own needs or reflect on your own soul, but you have the thrill of the Gratitude Points that help you control the people around you.
Wait. What? Control? I thought this was a game. Yes. It’s a game where people control each other by insisting that the Triangle is the only way to function or understand life.
Why are you talking about a game instead of racism?
The Three Role Triangle functions exactly the same in racism as in dysfunctional families.
- That’s why you’re comfortable sending money or going on mission trips to black people far away, but you don’t cultivate friendships with black people near you. +4 Gratitude Points
- That’s why you think, on the rare occasions that you hear a black person say that you are hurting them, that YOU are the victim. +2 Sympathy Points
- That’s why you’re not going to stand around and let those teenagers just dress differently from you. (Pull up your pants!) +3 Drama Points
- That’s why you think that talking to a person with brown skin is something that deserves congratulations. +1 Gratitude Points
- That’s why you hate it when the media tries to act like we’re living different experiences from black people. +5 Sympathy Points
- That’s why you automatically think that any black person you meet wants your help. +7 Gratitude Points
You are the Hero and Savior of brown and black people, and if you’re not the Hero, you’re the Victim of slander or unfairness or the burden of being such a good person, because you’re a Hero, but sometimes when it’s all too much, you’re the Aggressor, dammit, because someone has to show them their place. Decorum and Class are so necessary –why are they trying to take that from you, a Victim, when all you, a Hero, want is what’s best for them?
The only way out is to break the cycle, and I’m sorry to have to tell you, but it’s going to be hard as hell. You will have to learn to stop yourself from playing the game you’ve played your whole life.
You’ll think you’re out of it, and you’ll find yourself slipping right into a warm bath of hurt feelings when no one thanks you for acting like a decent human being toward them.
You’ll want to agree with the lady in line at the grocery store that black women need to stop having kids when they aren’t married, and you’ll have to remember that your desire for those Drama Points for judging someone and Gratitude Points for sharing your superior white wisdom means you’ve backslid right into the game.
You will have a thousand choices every day to break the cycle. You will look at the lady offering to share a pool of Acceptance Points with you, and you will feel the pull of them like the belly pit pull of desire. You’ll want to meld right into that invisible role and be one with this stranger beside you. You were taught that you are supposed to feel like this and to call that feeling good–Points upon Points with no consequences and nothing to lose but your freedom and soul.
You will snap out of it. You will hear the lady say, “Those black women ought to stop having babies with all them different daddies,” and you will remind yourself that the game is not real. You don’t have points at all when you unplug from it. You have a conscience and eyes and ears and a heart and a God, and you know better than to say yes to the seduction.
“No,” you will say to yourself.
You will mourn. All those years thinking you fit in and were accepted, when the other white people only wanted you for their game. They weren’t really your friends. They were your co-oppressors – oppressing you and them together, and reaching out together to oppress all the world with the rules of the Triangle. You will look at that lady and you will see someone who is not your friend after all. She is a lady buying enemas and a carton of Salems and a half gallon of orange juice and a box of Little Debbies on a Tuesday morning, and she hates herself and wants you to lie to her so she can pretend a little longer that the game is real.
“You know what?” you’ll ask the lady, “I think you and I are better than this.”
You will be rejected. This will hurt, but accept the pain as a gift. Your teammates have thrown you out of the game. In the long run, when you’ve learned to make real friends, their rejection will help. In the short term, let the tears wash your eyes so you can see better.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” the lady will snap. She will mutter a cruelty loud enough for you to hear it but softly enough for her to award herself as both a Savior and a Victim.
You will keep going. The black checkout clerk will tell you thanks for saying something to that lady, and you will not get any points. You will feel humbled and sad that you had to fight so hard to do so small a decency and much more sad that the clerk thought it was unusual and much more so that she knows white people are in the Triangle and gave you the option of Gratitude Points. You will look her in the eye and try not to cry, and you will tell her something incoherent but sincere that will make you a Crazy White Lady but in a cautiously good way. “I’m so sorry you have to put up with that. I wish it wasn’t weird for someone to stop that nonsense. Oh, I did get celery. Would you look at that?”
You will fight fight fight the urge to define yourself by an imagined game. And you will not even scratch the surface of what the black people around you have to deal with.
You will learn to listen without curating other people’s stories. You’ll break the habit of thinking you’re in charge of the Accepted Understanding of what people mean when they speak. You’ll start to love other people honestly and humbly. You’ll look at them in wonder as your eyes start to see the joy of God who made them and you for this very thing.