Keeping Small Unintended Racial Slights from becoming Huge Problems at Work, Play, and Church by Chris Bell EdD

Keeping Small Unintended Racial Slights from becoming Huge Problems at Work, Play, and Church

By Chris Bell, EdD
June 23, 2013

Introduction: My sermon this morning is titled “Keeping small unintended racial slights from becoming huge problems at work, play, and church”. A racial slight is an act by a white person that communicates hostile or derogatory racial feelings toward a black person by showing disrespect, disregard, or social invalidation.  Generally these slights are communicated at the person to person level and the white person involved is unaware that he engaged in such communications.  I have witnessed several such occasions where statements innocently spoken were interpreted as racial slights and resulted in problems at a personal level and at the organizational level.
Examples of racial slights: I have compiled a short list of small racial slights and I have added to my list some of the racial slights noted (Note 1) by Dr. Sue, a psychologist, who also compiled a short list of small racial slights.  Dr. Sue refers to “small racial slights” as “racial micro-aggressions.”  Examples of small racial slights include:1. Telling a black person they are a credit to their race2. Refusing to make eye contact or turning away during conversation

3. Avoidant behavior

4. Name calling

5. Demeaning the heritage or accomplishments of a black person

6. Statements assuming Asians and Latino’s are foreign born

7. Statements asserting or implying that race does not play a role in life successes

8. Insinuating that white values and styles are ideal

9. Placing a black in a responsible position and then “scape-goating” or invalidating them or their efforts.

10. Subtle verbal and non-verbal “put downs”.

The fundamental/basic reason that racial slights, big and small, intentionally and unintentionally exist is because of unconscious white racial bias that is fueled by America’s continuing cultural maintenance of white racism. The American culture with its schools, homes, media, economics, and science teaches us our prejudices and stereotypes and helps us to develop our likes and dislikes.  Much of what we learn about race and many other things, we learn subliminally. We all have “made in America minds.”  By this, I mean that all mature, well-adjusted Americans, both black and white have undergone an acculturation, indoctrination or conditioning that generally determines their beliefs, their patriotism, their philosophy of life and their value system.

White superiority syndrome conditioning: One of the most prominent forms of American cultural indoctrination or conditioning that impacts race relations is what I refer to as “white superiority syndrome (WSS) conditioning.”  White superiority syndrome (WSS) conditioning is, according to Bell (Note 2),(Forward, p.29), the everyday educational, social, political, and subtle cultural indoctrinations that persuade, induce, and teach both black and white Americans to believe that white people are “smarter,” “better,” “more beautiful, and  “more intelligent” than black people. This type of learning is generally a subliminal process and Americans become unconscious recipients of these subliminal lessons.

WSS has a long history.  Its existence can be documented as  beginning over two thousand years ago, when white Europeans first went forth and conquered non-white people and made laws and rules to socially control and direct these conquered people.  One of the key underlying principles of the European laws and rules was to instill the belief of “white racial superiority” into the consciousness and sub-consciousness of the conquered people. In America, the English colonists imposed these social control laws and rules against Native Americans and against the Africans whom they imported as slaves.

Unintented racial slights are acts that manifest “unconscious” white racial biases; biases that have generally been acquired as a result of subtle cultural white superiority syndrome conditioning. Several key cultural maintainers of WSS conditioning in America that are active today are:

1. America’s political system and practices: Our review of American history and present day politics shows that many white Americans do not yet believe in the social and political racial equality of black people.  The news media are full of reports that show that many white-led organizations and individuals are engaged in activities that resist equality and fairness in race relations.  The media also report that many militaristic white organizations are engaged in activities set to block and diminish black participation in America’s politics and to promote the notion of white supremacy.

2. White controlled and indoctrinated education systems: Professor Ogbu (Note 3), (p.176) tells us, ”. . . because American society treats blacks as caste minority, black education does not serve as a bridge to the same adult roles as those available to whites on the basis of education. The inferior education offered to blacks is the first step in channeling them away from the more desirable roles open to whites in adult life.” Professor Ogbu states further, ”Education as presently administered to black children . . . is not calculated to prompt blacks to become competitive with whites, but to prompt black children to learn and prepare for their places in the lower caste assemblage of employment and opportunity.” Even when blacks receive equal education, employment discrimination has denied many of them equal access to jobs commensurate with their training and abilities.  It is thus, that the white power elites will not allow blacks to fairly compete with whites in those matters/positions considered by whites to be the white group’s domain.

3. Law enforcement/judicial system administration:
The literature and news media are filled with reports showing how white police agents often act unlawfully with unjustified arrests, false charges, planted evidence, intimidation, unnecessary force and the imposition of brutality in prisons against blacks. For generations, white groups have used police power to perpetuate the conditions and mentalities of both races to think and behave in accordance with or in compliance with the white superiority syndrome (WSS) precepts.

4. Economic and employment discrimination:
The literature and media are full of reports of economic and employment discrimination by whites against blacks.  Economic and employment discriminations take the form of employment hiring discriminations, job promotion inequities, white supervisory prejudices, and job ceiling limitations.  These economic and employment discriminations persist and have a negative effect the psychological well-being of black job-seekers and a  negative impact on the living conditions of black families.

5. Christianity is also a white superiority syndrome (WSS) maintainer and conditioner. To be more precise, Christianity is a white male superiority syndrome maintainer and conditioner. Christianity requires believers to worship Jesus Christ, who depicted as a white male and is referred to as the Son of God. In today’s Christianity, when non-white people and white females bow down and worship the image of a white male (Jesus), while white men bow down and worship their own likeness, these non-white people and white females are unknowingly committing an act of gross self-negation and self-diminishment because “Jesus worshipping” is equivalent to “white male worshipping.”  When non-white people and white females participate in “Jesus worshipping”, they become complicit in their own psychological oppression, emotional stress, and social diminishment. According to Bell (Note 4, pp50-52), Jesus worshipping is the most effective, most creative, and masterful subtle tool of white male superiority syndrome (WSS) conditioning that has ever been designed and exploited.  This is because the “Jesus Worshipper” is promised a heavenly after-life with a gentle, loving master who is the Savior of the world; a situation most desired by poor, enslaved, downtrodden, dependent or conquered people.

6. Media and Entertainment: The media are dominated by icons and ads that promote whiteness as beautiful, exalted, and desirable, and blackness as superstitious, lazy, athletic, or criminal.  All echelons of cultural entertainment extending from movies to magazines, from radio to newspapers, from English Literature to comic books are dominated by a naturalness of circumstances that happen to promote whiteness as the ideal of beauty, integrity, and strength, and feature blackness as otherwise.

These several WSS maintainers and reinforce each other in indoctrinating Americans with an unconscious white supremacy bias.  So for the most part, in America, WSS conditioning is effective; UNLESS individuals have experienced intervening influences, events, or teachings that have allowed them to become aware of and to avoid subliminally acquiring heavy doses of white superiority syndrome (WSS) conditioning. Hopefully this sermon will be helpful to you as an intervention experience.

Now how does WSS conditioning affect the attitudes of those who have acquired heavy doses of WSS conditioning?  Let’s look at a list (See Note 2, pp29-33) that I’ve compiled of the attitudinal profiles of persons deeply influenced by their WSS conditioning.  As I read from this list, I ask you to compare your own racial attitudinal profile with the attitudinal profiles that I read from my list.

A.  Racial attitudes of white persons with WSS conditioning.

1.      We whites should be in charge, and have priority and don’t you forget it.

2.      They’re black, they’re different from us; in a bad way.

3.      All right, I’ll help them.  They’re so like children.

4.      Their kind is always making trouble

5.      Black people are okay as long as they know their place

6.      Blacks are only good for manual labor

7.      An educated black is still a black

8.      Blacks have no business being in charge of whites

9.      I can tell by looking that they’re not as smart as I am.

10.    All that blacks want is to get on welfare

11.    We’re better looking and more intelligent than black people

12. We’ve got the power. God gave it to us.

13. Let that child be the angel in the play; give her the blond wig.

14. Blue-eyed skies and blond sunshine, a perfect Dixie day

B. Racial attitudes of black persons with WSS conditioning.

1. There’s no need to try, the white people are smarter.

2. I hate white people, they’re evil controlling devils

3. If you’re white you’re all right; if you’re brown stick around; if you’re black stay back.

4. His eyes were blue like Lord Jesus Christ

6. A black man ain’t nothing and everybody knows that a black man ain’t nothing

7. I can’t do it because the white man won’t let me

8. I’m light-skinned so I am better than dark-skin blacks

9. There’s no need to try, I’m black

10. He may look white but he’s black and I hate him.

When you compared your own attitudes to those I listed, how did you rate yourself?  Keep that question in mind.

A new way of thinking: To keep unintended racial slights from becoming huge problems at home and work and at church, we need to learn a new way of thinking that would help us to deal with what we now know is our deep unconscious racial biases. I might have started my sermon on this point, but then most of you would not have known why and how you acquired your deep unconscious racial biases.  Most of you would not have known that your education, economics, ethics, entertainment, politics, and even your fairy tales have flooded your psychic with hundreds of subtle notions of the legitimacy white supremacy and the naturalness of white racial aggressiveness.

Now that you understand the effect of your environment and conditioning on your unconscious learning and attitudes, I am suggesting that you take the following actions to re-work your attitudes and your unconscious biases:

1. Be mindful of the attitudinal profiles we cited earlier of persons with strong doses of WSS conditioning and try to re-direct your own thinking away from such attitudes.

2. Try to visualize, think, and identify yourselves in ways that extend beyond your race or ethnicity and shares a portion of the identity of those “others” who don’t look like you.  For example: if you are white and think of yourself as an American, try to expand your thinking to accept non-whites as Americans too or you’ll forever feel uncomfortable around  non-whites. If you are black and you’ve never felt comfortable thinking of yourself as an American, try to expand your thinking to embrace an American identity or you’ll forever feel uncomfortable around whites in America

3. Remember race does matters, but it doesn’t matter much at all.  You must understand that most of the people you meet every day are superior to you in one way or another in some particular human skill, talent, attribute, experience, sensibility, etc.  But the reverse is also true, i.e., in one way or another you’re superior to most of the people you meet.  Your task then is to try purposefully to think of ways to keep your “race” from becoming part of the equation you use to determine how to measure yourself and others.

4. Try to learn to think that all people, regardless of race, have the same need for acceptance, comfort, and hope, just as you do.  When you are able to do this, you will have become color-aware and will have recognized that you also present yourself as a color/ethnicity entity to others, and that these others think of you as looking different and being different.

5. If you are white and you work with blacks, become self-aware and allow yourself to see yourself as a white person and to recognize the normalcy of the privileges, and wholesome assumptions that your whiteness enjoys as compared to the suspicions and ill-thoughts directed toward black people.  This is a hard task and it is a task that rests at the very core of America’s racial dilemma.

6. If you are black and you work with whites, begin self-monitoring and become self-aware by looking in your mirror every morning and saying “I love me.”  If you’re not able to honestly say “I love me,” you’re probably suffering from a mild depression which may be due in part to daily stress related to an exposure to uncomfortable race-related conditions.  With this self-awareness protocol, you’re better able to mentally and emotionally plan and act in ways that are not physically or socially self-destructive, but in ways that lead to greater self-satisfaction and improved self-acceptance.

Conclusion: Today we’ve been talking about unintended racial slights that generally are a product of our unconscious racial biases; biases that have been acquired as a result of our American acculturation, indoctrination, or conditioning. a conditioning I have referred to as white superiority syndrome conditioning.

What does all this mean to you who are Unitarian Universalists (UUs)?  As UUs, you have a head-start in overcoming your unconscious racial biases, if you haven’t already done so.  My guess is that many of you have already become conscious of what were once your unconscious biases, and have remedied your behavior accordingly.  But for UUs who are just becoming aware of their subliminal conditioning, I say to you that as UUs, your first three (3) Unitarian principles can serve as your roadmap in this regard. These three principles are:

1. The inherent worth and dignity of every person;

2. Justice, equity and compassion in human relations;

3. Acceptance of one another and encouragement of spiritual growth in our congregations;

The questions for you are:

1. Can you learn (and learning is necessary) to believe that all human beings, regardless of race, really have inherent worth and dignity and that their racial identity has no weigh in matters relating to their worth and dignity?

2. Can you learn to believe that Justice, equity and compassion should reign in human relations regardless of the race of the people involved?

3. Can you learn to accept others who look different from you into your congregation (a place of worship and fellowship) and encourage their spiritual growth and responsibly attend to your own spiritual growth?

If you can learn and commit to these three challenges you will have gripped tightly onto three mighty interwoven strands of a moral, psychological, and emotional rope that has its upper-end anchored to the distant vision and high goals of racial economic fairness, mutual racial respect, and equal racial justice. Now with your grip, can you pull yourself up and along the length of this moral rope toward its anchored upper-end? To do so will take work and determination directed at your own conscious.  Are you willing to try? These are the questions that each UU must ask and answer in the quietness of his own soul.

My hope is to see you, each of you, at the upper-end of the rope where it is anchored.  Amen.


1. Sue, Derald Wing et al.,(2007) Racial Micro-aggressions in Everyday Life, American Psychologist, Vol. 62, No.4, 271-286,

2. Bell, Christopher, The Belief Factor and the White Superiority Syndrome, Authorhouse, Bloomington, IN, 2001

3. Ogbu, John U. Minority Education and Caste, Academic Press, NY, NY, (Winter 1978)

4.  Bell, Christopher, The Black Clergy’s Misguided Worship Leadership, Trafford Publishing, Victoria, Canada, 2010

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