Sunday, June 2, 2013

The psychology of racism

With the AFL now using their racism reeducation program on members of the public and not just footballers anymore, it seems an opportune time to examine this issue.

In the counselling room one hears people express all kinds of views, prejudices and so forth. When the client realizes you are not going to judge them if they make statements that are bigoted and they know because of confidentiality their statements will never leave the room they can open up at a deep level in this way. They express thoughts and views which they would rarely express in public because they know they would be seen as racist or bigoted in some way.


I would suggest there are two different types of racism of perhaps two different ways that racist views can fit into the personality. I was actually working with a man recently who expressed this exact point. He was raised in the United States and reported that as a boy when he was with his father often in the car together, the father would express quite racist views about african americans (I think that is the term to use these days). 

He reported that as he grew up he took these on and became quite racist in how he viewed blacks and other ethnic groups. However as a young adult he joined the military and reports that this cured him of his racism. He was forced to live in close quarters with people of a wide range of ethnic groups and indeed to rely on them for his very survival in combat situations. He discovered first hand what many of them were actually like. He reports that now he has good friends that are African American and so forth.

Children will automatically and instinctually take on those attitudes that are expressed around them especially by the parents and other parent like figures. If parents make open racist comments around children then children will introject those at least to some degree.

This type of racism would probably be suited for systems like the AFL reeducation program. These attitudes are usually not that hard to deal with, in the sense that they are not deeply rooted in the personality. 


However there is another situation where the racist attitudes are more insidious and form a more integral aspect of the personality. This is shown by the life position I+U- (I’m OK, You’re not OK). In my reexamination of the life positions I have shown that this weltanschauung or world view is more accurately represented by the life position I-U-- (I’m not OK, but You’re worse).

Some children grow up with a basic feeling or sense of not OKness. They feel bad in themselves and about themselves. To cope with this they project it out onto others. The thinking goes, “If I can prove they are bad then that means I am good.” This person’s  racist views are how they maintain some sense of self worth and thus will be very resistant to change. Often the bully type person has this structure in his personality. The AFL reeducation program will be of very limited use in such circumstances.



  1. My father was incredibly racist as I was young. Ironically, he married a lovely Chinese woman.

    When I was growing up I was on the receiving end of school yard racism because my parents were foreign. Wog, refugee, foreign body etc. I remember thinking how much I wanted to be an Aussie. But that never transpired - I grew up and was just me. What is an Aussie these days anyway? My son has friends from every background, it's great. Funny enough, he only has one friend who is Australian. That is how diverse his school is.

  2. The school yard can be a bad place Linda. The chinese woman is your step mother?

    Yes my boys had very few kids in their classes that had real Aussie names, like I had when I was at school. Australia is now a very multi cultural society I think.


    1. She is my stepmum - though I was about 25 when they met - after my parents divorce. I miss her very much even after more than ten years.

      School yards can indeed be bad. I am glad my son has gotten through school thus far relatively unscathed.

  3. It sounds like you had a good relationship with her Linda.

    A precious thing I think


  4. My wife appears to have a I-U-- life position. So, how can I help please?