How to Help Co-Create an End to Racial Injustice
By Due Quach
As cries for ending racial injustice and police brutality continuously resound across the country, people are making clear that it is time for the changes demanded by the Civil Rights Movement for over 60 years to finally become reality. Tragically, the pace of structural and legislative reform to address systemic racism has been slowed by how mindlessness, inertia, and complacency preserve the status quo. Because the cost and suffering from waiting are too great, what is urgently needed is a collective shift to a higher level of consciousness to accelerate change at the systemic and institutional level.
I would now like to share a mind-hacker’s perspective on how to make this collective shift. This will consist of 2 parts. First, I’d like to explain how racism is carried out through conditioning different patterns of brain activation and what it takes to counteract this conditioning. Then I will share 5 ways people can mindfully work with these patterns of brain activation to help co-create an end to racial oppression.
Part 1: How human beings fluctuate between three patterns of brain activation and how these patterns can be used to either perpetuate or end racial oppression.
In Brain 1.0, the freeze-fight-flight reaction keeps people in self-preservation mode. Blood drains away from the parts of the brain that enable higher-order thinking, executive functioning, compassion, and empathy, rendering people cognitively impaired. For people who experience repeated trauma, Brain 1.0 becomes so sensitive to being triggered, that they live in a continuous state of hypervigilance. This is a state of toxic stress that takes a toll on their physical and mental health and erodes their ability to regulate their emotions.
In Brain 2.0, the reward and acquisition system keeps people chasing anxiety relief, immediate gratification, and ego and status enhancement. Examples of this include drinking, drugs, and other forms of self-medication and addictive coping behaviors, materialistic consumption and accumulation, and elevating one’s power, status, and control over others. Brain 2.0 is a form of dissociation in which the neural networks for emotional intelligence and self-awareness get shut down. In Brain 2.0, people live in tunnel vision focused on acquiring the objects or outcomes they desire. They tend to treat other people as objects who either enable them to get what they want or stand in the way of getting what they want.
In Brain 3.0, the neural systems for higher-order thinking, executive functioning, emotional intelligence, and well-being are not hijacked or impaired by Brain 1.0 and Brain 2.0. People in Brain 3.0 are able to see the bigger picture, take a long-term view, and make decisions for the greater good. The inner narrator (the voice in your head) in Brain 3.0 plays the role of an “Inner Sage” because it expresses wisdom and compassion and guides people to understand complexity, build connection, and lift people up. When people make the effort to strengthen and develop Brain 3.0, they gain the ability to calm and inhibit Brain 1.0 and Brain 2.0, and start to develop immunity from being hijacked into Brain 1.0 and Brain 2.0 when interacting with people in Brain 1.0 and Brain 2.0. Those who have significantly developed Brain 3.0 are able to envision a better future, inspire people, and initiate and create projects that make the world a better place.
Living in Brain 1.0 and Brain 2.0 means living in a mindless and reactive state of low consciousness. All human beings have an instinctive aversion to experiencing Brain 1.0 (because it is very uncomfortable), so by reflex, we turn to Brain 2.0 to escape Brain 1.0. Then whenever we don’t get what we chase in Brain 2.0, we end up in Brain 1.0 again. Until a person recognizes these patterns and intentionally develops Brain 3.0 to break them, they can spend their whole lives on a roller coaster ride between Brain 1.0 and Brain 2.0.
In addition, there are clear patterns for what activates Brain 2.0 (power, praise, pleasure, gain, prestige, status, wealth, control) and what activates Brain 1.0 (powerlessness, blame, pain, loss, stigma, demotion, poverty, lack of control). Social conditioning acts on Brain 2.0 and Brain 1.0 through reward and punishment to inculcate the behaviors, narratives, and ideologies that make up a culture.
Throughout history, people in power actively conditioned Brain 2.0 and Brain 1.0 to enable the mass dehumanization and oppression of human beings by other human beings in ways that preserved and grew their power and wealth. For example, to justify the perpetual enslavement of Africans, slave traders and slave owners created the ideology of white supremacy and invented anti-Black narratives to dehumanize, pathologize, and animalize Africans. Thus, whiteness and the characteristics of white culture got associated with Brain 2.0 and blackness and the characteristics of Black culture got associated with Brain 1.0.
People can end their participation in the perpetuation of dehumanizing narratives and ideologies by intentionally activating and strengthening Brain 3.0 until they develop the capacity to hold space to feel and experience the discomfort of Brain 1.0 without giving in to urges to escape into Brain 2.0. This capacity enables people to harness the full functioning of Brain 3.0 to face and address the social injustices and systemic inequities that have confined large groups of people to living a majority of their lives in Brain 1.0.
It will require a collective shift into Brain 3.0 for our society to finally have the capacity to hold the space needed to compassionately face and heal the long-standing wounds of racism and other forms of oppression.
Part 2: 5 ways you can start using Brain 3.0 to help co-create an end to racial oppression.
1) Mindfully examine the socially conditioned narratives and biases that play out in your mind. Ask yourself these questions:
- Does the voice in your head narrate stories that dehumanize, otherize, pathologize, or criminalize non-dominant groups and people who look different from you?
- Do these stories take the form of an “us versus them” paradigm?
- Do these stories turn off your innate compassion and empathy for the pain and suffering of a fellow human being?
- Do these stories reinforce ideologies and narratives used to oppress and disempower people in non-dominant groups and instill complacency towards helping them?
- If you heard these things said about people you love, would you stand up for them?
- Do these stories escalate the freeze-flight-fight reaction (this leads to Brain 1.0 taking over your mind)?
- Do these stories trigger an urge to avoid, escape, find relief, or control the situation through manipulation, power, or force (this leads to Brain 2.0 taking over your mind)?
If your answer to any of these questions is yes, hold space to observe these stories in a detached manner. Write them down to help yourself see them more objectively. These stories are most likely tangled up with Brain 1.0 and Brain 2.0. Believing and replaying them will keep you from being able to see the situation in Brain 3.0.
2) Own your power to say yes, no, and not yet.
- Be conscious and take responsibility for everything you say yes to. Set an intention to stop saying yes merely to be polite and avoid ruffling feathers when there is something that you feel uncomfortable about. For example, I will not say yes to invitations to speak on panels where I would be the only person of color, unless there is an explicit intention on the part of the organizers to make such a panel part of a longer-term process of increasing racial inclusion, diversity, and inclusion.
- Be clear and firm about saying no or not yet when you have a concern that what is being presented to you perpetuates racial exclusion, inequity, and injustice. Use your voice to request that organizations and groups change what they are asking you to accept until it becomes something you can clearly say yes to. For example, I look at who is not in the room (or will not be in the room). When there is a lack of diversity among speakers at an event, I request the organizers invite more POC to serve as speakers; when there is a lack of participants or membership who are POC, I ask organizations to consider what invisible barriers may be preventing POC from engaging with their organization.
- Whenever you become aware of your ignorance, say not yet, and get educated.
- Do your homework: read, watch talks, listen to podcasts, participate in group discussions. To help you get started here is a list of anti-racist books on Goodreads.
- Ask questions in a manner that does not burden others to do the inner work you need to do.
- Take responsibility for activating, strengthening, and developing Brain 3.0 so you can more easily calm Brain 1.0 and Brain 2.0, and hear the guidance of your Inner Sage on when to say yes, no, or not yet.
- Practice mindfulness meditations to develop your ability to observe your inner narrator with detachment and curiosity
- Practice compassion meditations to strengthen your neural networks for compassion and empathy. This will enable you to see people from all races, ethnic backgrounds, and religions as human beings, even when Brain 1.0 or Brain 2.0 are activated.
- Access more resources to activate and strengthen Brain 3.0 at CalmClarity.org.
3) Diversify who you socialize with.
- Honestly assess the diversity of your social network. This research study based on the 2013 American Values Survey revealed that for white Americans, 91 percent of people comprising their social networks are white. Further, 3 out of 4 white Americans have social networks that are entirely white.
- Make a proactive effort to ensure you don’t spend your life in a self-segregated bubble because this makes it easy to otherize and dehumanize groups with whom you don’t regularly interact.
- Set a goal to spend, at the very minimum, 25% of your social time each year getting to know at least 10 people from racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic backgrounds different from yours on a deeper and equal level as human beings.
4) Invest your money, time, and energy to reverse the disparities caused by economic racism. Below are a few suggestions for how people can leverage their financial and social capital. I invite you to brainstorm more ideas.
- Improve the quality of education in inner cities:
- Compare the budget of an inner city school with one for the same age group in an affluent suburb; help raise funds to make up the difference each year.
- Reverse the brain and money drain into private schools. Instead of paying private school tuition, advocate for parents to move their children en masse into a public school, donate what they would have paid in tuition to the school, and participate in the PTA to advocate to improve the experiences of all students in that school.
- Support enterprises and businesses owned/run by people of color (POC):
- Proactively buy goods and services from POC businesses.
- Invest in startups run by POC and/or help them access larger amounts of capital.
- Proactively mentor POC entrepreneurs and help them make important connections in the business community.
- Hire, develop, and value POC talent who come from low-income communities:
- Rather than take the safe and convenient path of only recruiting people from affluent backgrounds who are groomed to have stellar resumes, take a chance on people without pedigrees who have the traits and work ethic to make a valuable contribution to your organization.
- Notice any urge you may have to judge POC colleagues by your cultural standards and pressure them to assimilate into your/dominant cultural norms. Instead, build a safe space for them to express their values and perspectives.
- Value what POC bring to the table. Be curious. Politely ask questions to learn more about their culture and background and to learn the insights they have on the various situations that you and your organization face.
- If you live in an affluent community, proactively support affordable housing initiatives that increase the racial and socioeconomic diversity of your community.
- Go out of your way to make new residents from non-dominant groups feel welcome in your community.
- Invite residents from non-dominant groups to join formal and informal community organizations and associations, and ask for their input and participation in community-level decision-making processes.
5) Choose restorative justice over punitive criminalization.
- Make explicit your decision-tree for the situations in which you feel calling the police is necessary and warranted by writing it down and examining it
- Observe any impulse you may have to call the police as a means to “put people in their place” and to enforce “law and order.”
- Seriously weigh any actions that will result in trapping a person in poverty in the criminal justice system.
- Wherever possible, as a first resort, activate family and community channels to talk through the consequences and hurt inflicted by someone’s actions and request restorative justice and reconciliation. Learn more here: http://restorativejustice.org
- Support efforts to reduce public funding into institutions that are entangled with mass incarceration, and firmly withhold support for any proposals that reinforce and perpetuate mass incarceration.
Due Quach is the author of Calm Clarity: How to Use Science to Rewire Your Brain for Greater Wisdom, Fulfillment, and Joy, the founder and CEO of Calm Clarity, and founding chair of the Collective Success Network.