Episode 81: John Williams – “Understanding Internalized Racism.”

Every person born into the system of racialization in the United States develops internalized racism. Some are more aware of this than others, but every American has a form of internalized racism.

If that sounds shocking, try to think of racism as an infection. Thinking of racism as an infection, our individual racialized internalizations would be analogous to the symptoms each of us manifests after being infected. Now, we all do not present with the same symptoms. In fact, the way we manifest these symptoms is strongly impacted by our cultures and the way we are perceived racially by others … so while there is variety in our symptom profiles, we all still have the disease. And without understanding the affects the disease of racism has on us, we cannot begin to hope to treat the symptoms.

The conversation on today’s episode is not for those who deny that racism exists, or who personally believe that are uniquely unaffected by racism. Those who believe these things are not able to understand and discuss this kind of deeper conversation about the impact of racism, though some in denial may come to understand it more from listening. This episode is a conversation for people who already acknowledge that racism exists, those who want to get sober from it. This is a conversation for people who have already begun the journey of antiracism.

It is at this point that I want to introduce you to John Williams. John is the Director of the Center for Racial Reconciliation at Fellowship Church in Monrovia, California outside of Los Angeles. He is a former lawyer turned anti-racism educator – leading workshops and multiethnic civil-rights tours to help Christians understand the experiences of people from a variety of racialized groups in the United States. In particular, John is an expert on Internalized Racism, and is in the middle of putting out multimedia curriculum on this and other topics through the Center for Racial Reconciliation. To return to our metaphor from earlier, if racism is a disease, and anti-racism is a 12-step treatment program, John would be a seasoned meeting leader and sponsor. He is that good, and he has a lot to say worth listening to. He and a team of 18 anti-racism trainers were in Grand Rapids just prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, which is where he and I sat down for this interview.

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