Power, Privilege, and Fragility: Leveling Up Our Conversations About Race and Racism


I want to address the paragraph you start with “But I also think there is a basic ethnicity layer of our identity stack…”

You have to consider that the personality of the child is largely formed prior to the age of 6 years old, there is no rationality that needs to come into play. The dominant factor will be the family environment. I never attended daycare, or Kindergarten, and first attended school in 1962 as a five year and later a six year old- my birthday being in late October. By then, the parameters of my personality were largely defined within my family environment, mostly unconsciously. This has been widely confirmed by various studies. It was not the surrounding culture that formed me, it was my parents and even grandparents. I was born in 1957, so the onslaught of media was not as pronounced growing up in the late 1950s and early 1960s so the family environment was more important.

Also growing up in the Metro Detroit area there were many distinct “white” ethnic groups each with their own characteristics. You might argue that these were stereotypes but in retrospect looking at my own family background I can see how some of these ethnic qualities had an expression in my own family, and came to the forefront, not necessarily always deterministically but as tendencies.

Some other examples, I was best friends with a Greek boy my age, and spent a lot of time with his family. There was also a Hungarian couple across the street. They all had strong cultural differences from the surrounding generic American culture. I also knew Italians, Germans, Poles, Irish, Scots, French Canadian, Chaldean, Armenian, Lebanese, Jewish ( distinctive Jewish backgrounds, those from Germany and those from Eastern Europe), and then there were Americans from the South who migrated up to Detroit, and Mexicans. Western Michigan was known for the Dutch and Dutch were considered thrifty, and high quality craftsmen and builders.

Each group was distinct. All this was whitewashed over the course of some 40 years. I would say that during the 60s, and 70, up until the 80s there was a gradual melding together of these diverse groups, in part due to intermarriage but also due to socialization, and the increasing dominance of media culture. For anyone growing up in the 1960s, I think the ethnic influence was not just generic “white” but strongly influenced by nationality transmitted through family customs and norms as children growing up, and then later this was merged into more standard norms. And sure, once you went to school default norms were imposed on top of the family norms, and to succeed in a career or in the job market you would have to conform to broad norms imposed by the dominant, yes, 'white culture", but that was all after the main formation of personality prior to age five or six. And yes, I can now rationally retrospectively reflect on this process and discern or differentiate my own family customs and tendencies from the broader culture.

For someone growing up in the north, white guilt over slavery was neutralized or didn’t exist largely due to the the action of the Union fighting the Confederacy in the Civil War, and by Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation. When you consider that hundreds of thousands of Union soldiers died to fight against states rights and slavery, and then the long list of abolitionists like John Brown, Henry David Thoreau, etc.; a huge sacrifice was made my those in the north to combat slavery.

The majority of my ancestors came to the United States after the Civil War, and the ones who were here earlier were Quakers in Pennsylvania.

I think you have to take into consideration again that white culture isn’t monolithic and not all whites are implicated equally in perpetuating systemic racism.

We can talk about a generic “we” in reference to a society of all races and ethnic groups, but not in a way that assigns blame or judgement to this group or that group. Therefore, I also can’t be held responsible for the actions of all white people or their ancestors, that would be absurd. Likewise “my people” didn’t invent the airplane or the telephone, nor are “my people” responsible for slavery or systemic racism. I don’t even refer to my own ancestors as “my people” or “we” like in the statement: “we came over to American in 1906.” I’m an individual not some sort of tribal amalgamation.



@tplazibat Thank you for sharing your experience as a child in Detroit. Very engaging and thoughtful. What a magical child hood you had. Thank you.


Hey Corey, love your writing. Given where the discussion is going, it may be hard to redirect this to some other aspects that I find interesting but I’ll try nevertheless:
First, one quick comment: “It is rude to do shadow work on other people” is going to go to the top of my favorite quotes list :heart_eyes: and encapsulates both sides of the argument brilliantly:

  1. Shadow work is real and important
  2. No, you generally cannot force it on others or use other’s need to do it to escape your own responsibility

Anyway, here is what I’m really wondering about:

Do you think this is true, no matter where you grow up? Growing up in a culture where as a child I had almost zero conscious contact with “blackness”, I have real trouble finding any concepts of “whiteness” that I identified with as a child.
Certainly, if we use the definitions of what a lot of the intersectional crowd defines as “whiteness”, for example a preference for logical, scientific thought, etc.–then yes: That was certainly part of my education/indoctrination. But I cannot remember having a definition of “whiteness” or any identification with that, and it seems to me that a definition of it can only come in opposition (or contrast) to “blackness” or otherness in some sense. My definition of these “realities”, I think, evolved much later, and primarily through my contact with American culture. I think it came much more from my engagement with American culture than African culture. By the time I was in high school I had some very limited contact with African culture, but it seems to me that this didn’t have this inherent polarity. They seemed more like one of the many “others”, not much different than say eastern European or Asian or Middle Eastern. I may, of course be kidding myself and not have gone deep enough in my psyche–but I do wonder if someone who grew up at a time and at a place in Africa that was pretty homogenous in terms of “race”–so almost exclusively had contact with “black” people–would have a concept of “blackness” in their stack. Is this really a “racial” or “tribal” reality, so is universal for humans, or is it much more a cultural one, and specifically an American one?

So again, it seems that you are saying that a meaningful “ethnic” identity related to “blackness” and “whiteness” exists as a thing in itself (so should exist, even before any “white” person ever encountered any “black” person), rather than as an imposed concept that was constructed later by somehow grouping certain outer characteristics (skin color, body shapes, etc.) and origins/lineages (from Africa, from Europe, etc.) and possibly social status (privileged, disadvantaged) together and calling them “black” or “white”, and then building an identity on that. Is that right?


Hey Mbohu, some really great and nuanced questions here! You too tplazibat, you also raise really important points that I hope to address below, even though this is mostly voiced as a response to Mbohu. But I ABSOLUTELY agree with you that we do not all contribute equally to “systemic racism”.

I think much of this simply comes from the natural differentiation process we all go through as our ego begins to individuate in early development, which is when a sense of “otherness” begins to come online. In that sense I think it is universal “deep-feature” process that we all go through, yes. But as for the contents of that process — these particular notions of “whiteness” “blackness” etc. — I think those are probably the surface features, and largely depend on the context of your upbringing.

It probably does have a LOT to do with how your family and surrounding culture (communities, neighbors, media, etc.) talk about and characterize the various groups that you happen to be surrounded by, however those groups are defined by your culture and society. As soon as you see someone treating or talking about some group differently, that “sameness/otherness” line gets drawn somewhere in your own identity.

So as you say, every time the concept of “blackness” is enacted, the concept of “whiteness” gets reinforced. Some people are fortunate to have been surrounded by diverse people and influencers who, whenever they drew those lines, they did so in truly empathetic ways. Some (most) are surrounded by people/influencers who draw them in both empathetic and hurtful ways. Some are only surrounded by people who look like themselves, and who only drawn these lines in hurtful ways. There is absolutely a spectrum here, and that spectrum is going to help shape just how fragile, resilient, or anti-fragile whatever our core “ethnic” identity happens to be.

From a very early age we are introjecting a great deal of these LL biases into our identity, making other people’s shadows our own before we even have an opportunity to encounter and understand these “other” groups for ourselves.

And by the time our egos have fully individuated, we might not even be aware that these hidden tribal identities within us – identities that still operate on incredibly low-resolution concepts of “sameness” and “otherness” because they came online so early in our development, but also identities that are incredibly foundational to our overall self-concept for the exact same reason. (And they are identities that are often difficult for many people to make into an object of awareness because they run so deep and are often influenced by experiences that occurred before we even began forming long-term memories.)

Which means the question of “fragility” is really a question of “how many cracks to you have in your foundation?”

So is there a generic “white American” ethnic identity that is shared by most white Americans? I think so, because it is certainly a shared identity that prominently existed before and during the civil rights era, and all of that history is transcluded in today’s broadest cultural matrix — and therefore continues to inform who we are and how our self-identify develops. Particularly for kids who come from families who don’t necessarily have a traditional ethnic heritage, and simply identify as “white mutts”. (I was both — I have a “white mutt” identity from my mother and biological father, and was raised from the age of 5 by a step-dad who came from a family with a very strong Polish identity. So that added a strange one-foot-in/one-foot-out ethnic layer to my own identity stack. Also, I won a gold medal for Polish line dancing. So I have that going for me, which is nice.)

When it comes to that generic, inherited “white American” construct, I can only speak from my own introspection — I have absolutely found some cracks in the foundation, coming from a few places (among others I am sure):

  • The internal dissonance between a broad “American” identity that includes multiple ethnicities (sameness), a generic “white mutt” identity that doesn’t (otherness), and an odd “simulated” ethnicity from my step-dad’s family (semi-otherness).
  • Inherited generational trauma from slavery and Jim Crow that persists in very different ways for “white Americans” and “black Americans”, and has never been fully metabolized by either. This generational trauma lands in each of the core identities in different ways (both my generic American and my generic “white” identities feel these traumas deeply, and both are implicated in different ways. My pseudo-Polish identity probably has its own generational traumas to worry about.)
  • ironically, the understandable cultural taboos around cultivating a healthy amber “white pride” (regulated by healthy orange/green of course). Because a proud culture is a resilient culture, which is the opposite of a fragile culture. And a genuine “white pride” can never truly come online if we do not confront, metabolize, and fully own the generational traumas that our “white American” forebears created (and that some of “us” continue to create, sadly).

(Can I just say — I highly recommend doing Big Mind + Shadow Work with your various core identities, whatever they happen to be. Try to find your basic magenta/tribal and amber/ethnic identities inside of yourself, and ask them to confront some painful realities. Ask the Voice of the America how these generational traumas feel, what sorts of responsibility it takes, what it wants to do about it, etc. And then ask these same questions to your own “whiteness” or any other core ethnic or tribal identity you have within you. All sorts of interesting and complicated stuff comes out.)

So I think that we simply accumulate a number of these tattered, tribal identities and biases at a very early age, identities that can become strongly reactivated and reinforced when we hit the amber stage. And many of these go totally unexamined throughout a person’s life until they either develop the capacity to ask themselves some very insightful questions, or they are confronted with it by the world around them — either by media or by a punch in the face.

And the funny thing is, in my case it was both! I’ve talked before about the two times I was forced to confront my own “white American” identity — the first was watching Roots, which was definitely traumatizing (as it should be), and the second was during the Rodney King riots when, all the way across the country in Western Massachusetts, I got jumped and ass-whooped by a group of black kids when I was in 9th grade. Which ended up being one of the most formative experiences of my life, because it actually made me feel what it was like to be targeted for my “otherness”, and that kind of popped me into a more universal sense of empathy and understanding. The best ass kicking of my life :slight_smile:

Anyway, that was a lot, but I hope it helps clarify my own thinking here. My overall philosophy is that it is better to try to meet these ideas in good faith, up-level them when we can while wrapping appropriate integral guard rails around them. That to me is better than dismiss them altogether. I think there are some real babies in all this bathwater, and I think it is important to try to rescue them if want to see a healthier green flourishing.


I mean, you are both an individual AND a tribal amalgamation, right? So much of our identity is an accident of birth. You would be a completely different person if you came from a different tribe, as the rest of your post bears out.

So here would be my question. If you think that “white American” is meaningless, how about just “American”? Is there some part of your ethnic identity that resonates with that? Is there some part of you that feels just a little bit proud that we were the first people to the Moon?

Because if we can feel proud for something like that, something we had nothing to do with personally, then we can also feel some guilt and even some fragility because of slavery, Jim Crow, and continuing racism.

When I take that perspective, I can see that there are always multiple sides to generational trauma, and I think it is unfair to only ask one of those sides (African Americans) to do the work to get over it.

Which to me, is the effect of saying “whiteness is a totally meaningless construct.”

No culture is a monolith. but “white Americans” is just as meaningful as “Asian Americans”, which also includes multiple different ethnicities with some shared characteristics. “Black Americans” are not a monolith, it consists of African Americans who descended from slaves, African Americans who didn’t, and non-African Americans who trace their family lineage from elsewhere in the world. And all those African Americans themselves descend from different cultures in different locations on the African continent.

But that doesn’t mean terms like these are meaningless. I think that horse is already way out of the barn — obviously we as a society have placed a tremendous amount of meaning in that construct. They may be somewhat low-resolution, but so is ethnicity itself. Polish Americans aren’t a monolith, etc. But this is just the way American society has come to differentiate itself – by broad physical and cultural similarity (white Americans, black Americans, Asian Americans, latin-Americans, etc.) — which in turn shapes some of the fundamental ways we self-identify and think about the world.

We are a melting pot after all, and here we are reducing countless national ethnicities into a handful of broad American subcultures. Look at us mix! :joy:

The problem is, when it comes to our identities as white American, black American, Asian America, etc., we’ve begun focusing too much on the first word and not enough on the second.


Thanks for the reply, Corey and for diving a bit deeper and letting us see how some of this exists in your own psyche/identity-stack.

Personally, I grew up in Austria in the early seventies (born in the mid-sixties). I have now lived more than half my life in the US, so certainly feel that I have absorbed enough of the “white American” identity to feel somewhat connected and “responsible” for it (certainly I’m benefiting from some “privileges” afforded to that identity), but as I agree with you that the deepest parts of our identity get formed much earlier in life, I have trouble seeing this type of “blackness”/“whiteness” as something universal and see it primarily as a specifically American experience.

Yes, that is very much the direction I am thinking in. There is a deep collective trauma in the American psyche that has not properly healed and maybe in some sense not even started to heal, and I think it’s at the root of a lot of why this race problem is so intractable and in spite of lots of progress in the lower right quadrant (and I agree with Diane that this progress is not complete in any sense, but agree with you that it is quite astonishing how far it got in a single generation) the problem won’t go away without a real healing in the lower left.
The personal experience that this type of trauma comes closest to is, of course, related to my nationality’s history with Nazi Germany and the Holocaust. I still remember that I was relatively young when a TV series called “Holocaust” came on TV. Austria only had 2 TV channels at that time, so it was a very big deal and almost everyone got to see it or at least heard discussions about it. It was–as far as I remember–a pretty honest (and therefore brutal) reckoning with the reality of the Holocaust and it challenged some attitudes that were a bit more common back then in Austria (that somehow we–as a nation–weren’t as responsible because the Germans kind of annexed us). There was lots of discussion about it, and I remember, my parents let me watch it, even though usually this content was too brutal for my age. It made a huge impression on me. To make it clear, my family background was–by default–on the “perpetrator” side of this particular trauma as we did not have a Jewish background.

I do have a sense that in Germany/Austria there was a real process of collective healing around this trauma (not saying that it is complete in any sense, of course, but it started) that allowed the German identity to establish itself in a new different way. I feel this process is completely lacking in America.
In Germany we could see the difference such a healing process or reckoning made, when Eastern Germany reunited with Western Germany. Western Germany had gone through this healing process. Eastern Germany had not, and suddenly there was a sharp rise in neo-nazi attitudes in Germany, as many Eastern Germans had no other “proud” German identity to refer to than the old one from before they became part of the Eastern Block.
So, while this may be mostly symbolic, I keep coming back to the need of America making a clear and unequivocal statement of admitting the terrible wrongs it has done through slavery (and the genocide of Native Americans) and to do so in a detailed and official manner–this may be combined with actual reparations or not. I think the important part lies in the lower left quadrant and would be healing for both sides, not just the “victim” side (allowing the “perpetrator” side to start building a new identity, cut loose from any pride–or need to minimize–connected to these events.)
I think that the demand for white navel gazing (white fragility, etc), while not completely without merit, is still a bit misplaced, as it focuses on upper left quadrant, versus lower left, where the collective part of the trauma is sitting.
I recently watched a series of videos about the demonstrations at Evergreen University (which in some way were a precursor to the current Black Lives Matter demonstrations–even if maybe a bit more distorted) and I was struck by how it felt that no amount of equality, equity and even “humiliation” of the white other seemed enough to the “black” demonstrators (Not all of them were black of course, but they clearly identified with the victim side in some fashion). They had their “white allies” bring them water and food, while they were not allowed to eat themselves, told them not to speak, asked them to form a protective shield around them so they would be the ones having to take any physical violence, told them that it was not up to them to define how they wanted to be an “ally”, etc.–and you could feel that even that did not FEEL enough for them–there was simply nothing “whites” could do, no concession they could make, that would have been enough. To me that seemed like a deep trauma acting itself out.
On another note, if you look at the issue of statues you can also see the difference between what happened in Germany and here: Naturally you do not see ANY statues in Germany honoring nazi generals or “war heroes”, but in almost every larger city there would be some sort of monument commemorating and remembering the victims of the Holocaust–and yet this does not feel humiliating to Germans. I know, in the US it is a little more complicated, because there is a second collective trauma–the civil war (brothers from one nation fighting against brothers from the same nation)–that I think is distinct from the trauma of slavery. I think the fact that we have civil war “heroes” from the South displayed publicly possibly has more to do with that second trauma and the need for the loosing side to recapture their “lost pride”. Unfortunately, this type of holding on to old identities reminds me more of Germany’s need to hold on to their lost pride after WW1, which eventually led them right into the 3rd Reich and WW2.

Anyway, I wonder if–even after all this time–some kind of official reckoning of America with its historical shadow, is what is needed first, and I wonder if otherwise all the work in the lower right and even upper left quadrants will not suffice to start a real healing process.


Excellent way of explaining it, Corey.
What I would say though is (in case it wasn’t clear from my previous, wordy, post): Since the trauma and responsibility is on the collective and not the personal side, should the solution and the healing not also be primarily on the collective side?

So: Can there be a way that from some official representative of “white America” there is a statement that we are aware of the terrible wrongs that were done and that we are offering some kind of “reparations”, be they psychological, symbolic, material, or a combination of all–and could this then be internalized into the part of our personal psyche that relates to this identity?

I think this is a more appropriate process and I think it gets around the objection of people that like to say “I, personally, had nothing to do with this, and why do I have to be forced into an identification with this?”…when of course they likely have accepted an identification with some other aspects of this identity. So: Start the healing on the collective level, where the trauma is primarily located. Does that make sense?
I think some of this is happening, for example, with cities officially painting “Black Lives Matter” on their sidewalks, but it still isn’t specific and official enough. It’s like a small substitute for the real statement that is asked for from white America, and that seems so hard to deliver for an identity that has so much invested in always being the “winner” and the “good guy” and that views “humility” as nothing but “humiliation”.


I wonder if there is a danger that a hierarchical response from an official representative, however well meaning , would ex serve only to further establish “white supremacy “ . ie the fact that I (the representative) am in a position to say mea culpa on behalf of the whites is only possible because of my privileged position. I would like to work towards a society where it would be meaningless to have an official representative of an ethnic group.


True, it would be strange as a representative of an ethnic group (who would that possibly be?) That’s not quite what I meant. But there is an entity called the United States and it could make official statements. Something a kin to a “Truth & Reconciliation” process may be a possibility, and there are other options.


Thomas Hubl has done a lot of work in the area of collective and generational trauma, bringing together Germans and Israelis around the Holocaust and war and concentration camps, emphasizing an embodied feeling experience for individuals, as well as small and large-group healing-oriented rituals. Granted, his work is not happening in a heated moment as we’re experiencing around race relations in the U.S. now. But It does seem to me that work needs done in both the UL (i.e. psychospiritual processes inside ourselves as individuals, for those willing to undertake that) and the LL.

While BLM painted on streets and the taking down of some statues and such are surface, symbolic responses, symbols have impact on the psyche, and are an important piece of it all, even when some of these symbolic acts seem to have an aspect of antagonism (e.g. towards the President) in them. I don’t see how things turn a significant corner for good without ultimately some kind of public, “official” stance that represents a truth-and-reconciliation moment (for Native Americans as well). I don’t know what that would look like, and it may be far off, or who knows? in the immediate future, but it seems it needs to happen. And of course, there is still work to be done in the right-hand quadrants as well. While the LL is the source of the current noise, there’s a whole lot that can be improved in the UR and LR (voting rights, for instance) that will make a difference in terms of showing good-faith.

On a somewhat unrelated topic, I wonder if Integral isn’t about to “rise.” I say that from an intuition, but also because the very-recently-deceased leftist Michael Brooks paid homage to Integral Theory on his final streaming podcast. And then today, David Fuller on a Rebel Wisdom podcast also spoke of Ken Wilber and Integral Theory as instrumental in helping to bring some order to the “multipolar” cultural wars.

And for anyone who hasn’t watched it, The Daily Evolver’s latest episode on race and culture was really good, I thought.


Hi LaWanna,
Yes, I love Thomas’ work and I think his focus on collective trauma is very much needed right now. With a lot of what’s happening, I sometimes feel it just sounds like multiple traumatized groups screaming at each other. Did you see the video of the woman trying to paint over the BLM writing on the street (funnily, she was just turning it into black writing, instead of yellow) I couldn’t help feel compassion for her–as well as the bystanders screaming at her. They all seemed a bit taken over by something, and not at all responding to the present (which of course is a sign of a trauma reaction.)


Hello to you Mbohu; nice to bump into you again here on these pages. Hope all has been well for you. No I didn’t see the video you’re referencing, but trauma dissociative responses do seem a little rampant these days in the heat of all that is going on. I’ve been reading a new history of the Lakota Indians covering the period from the early 1600s onward, and talk about historical collective (and also generational) trauma–not just for the Indians, but the Europeans as well. I doubt there are many places on this earth one can place a foot that hasn’t been drenched in blood. I once did a vision-and-dialogue exercise on a relatively private California beach lined with eucalyptus and pine trees that was being considered for a hotel development, asking the land what it wanted. It answered “Blood!” Doing some research later, I learned the site had once been a whaling port, so perhaps the land had gotten used to the blood; it is a good fertilizer, I suppose.

Fortunately, we’ve come a long ways from hatchets and gun powder balls, at least in parts of the world, but surely, we have a long ways yet to evolve. Should such an opportunity be granted; nothing these days seems a sure thing. Ain’t that edgy?!


From my point of view the world is better than ever, More access to basics (water, food, knowledge) and more equality and access to opportunities than ever. "The system is governing us by stuffing our heart with desire and filling our belly with food, reinforcing our ambitions and strengthening our bones.

As to riots shows that the majorities are at archaic level (as Corey will say green language being use by infra-red mindsets).

Two steps forward one step back we are getting there, I hope.

Thanks for your sharing.