Racism - Understanding and deconstructing it through a narrative and post-structuralist approach


How can we actively make resistance towards modern racism and create pockets of freedom in our own minds thereby helping them spread to the surrounding community?

Lecture by Jacob Holdt made for the 20 year anniversary of


I do not know anything about narrative therapy nor do I myself have any education. But when a couple of weeks ago I was invited to sit in on Allan Holmgren’s therapy sessions I was struck by the similarity to the racism workshops I have for a quarter of a century conducted in more than a thousand American universities. I wouldn’t be surprised if I started before narrative therapy was even invented – certainly before DISPUK was invented :-)
I am glad to be here at your 20 anniversary celebration.


Tony Harris and I speaking in Oslo Concert house
Tony and I speaking in high school

1. I will therefore take the liberty here to use many of your terms to briefly describe the way I and my partner Tony Harris – seen here – work. I met Tony in my vagabond years when he invited me to counsel prisoners who were drug addicts. When my slideshow American Pictures became a success in Denmark I invited him over as the first of several blacks to help present it in 14 countries. When we started up in America in 1984 we found it necessary to follow up the show with a workshop the next day. The show has an enormous impact on American students who usually come out devastated and crying at the end. They need to process the guilt about their racism and are suddenly motivated to work on it – usually skipping all school classes to participate in our often day or two day long workshops.



I am doing a workshop in University of Michigan in Dearborn - the very racist and segregated suburb of Detroit. The day before one white woman had been sitting outside during my entire slideshow - listening, but not seeing it. "Why?" I asked her. She said: "I thought we should see a presentation about poverty, but I can't feel anything for THEM!" (meaning the blacks I presented in the show).
But she loosened up during next day's workshop.
Tony during an unforgettable worshop in Colgate University. It was the last day before Thanksgiving vacation and everybody had left campus to go home for the most sacred of American family hollidays. Even though a snow storm threatened to snow us all in, the participant were so hooked on the workshop that nobody left. Many snowed in - including Tony and I.

2. In the workshops we don’t talk much about racism. We listen to the pain revealed by for instance a trembling voice and call the person up in front of the others and ask everybody to give the client their undivided loving attention while we ask questions very much like DISPUK about the hurts that person went through. Often when we narrow in on a problem there will be a catharsis – we call it a discharge – which often sets in motion a catharsis in many of the witnesses who realize they shared the same oppression. We always see the oppressor as a victim too and therefore – like DISPUK – externalize the problem. How often have we not asked the client to repeat with us: "I love my father, but I lost my father to racism."



Tony Harris during a racism-workshop in Bethel College, Kansas.


Students in oppression groups during one of our workshops in University of Michigan. This one started at 11 am and lasted to midnight. I recall it with fondness since two of the participants in the Jewish-Palestinian group - a Jew and a Palestinian met there and later married each other. The second time I experienced that.

3. At some point we usually divide people into groups in terms of shared oppressions. The biggest one is usually "children of alcoholics" and the second biggest "incest or rape victims". If such deeply hurt victims do not receive help we know they will in various involuntary ways project the pain out on others in the form of racist, sexist, homophobic, islamophobic thinking. So fighting racism means to help people externalize their deeper problems – not out on other groups, but on various oppressions by helping them to identify them and understand how they work.





Illustration of our open mind at birth with the surrounding memory boxes.

”Ingen er født fordomsfuld”

4. Here is our working model and you will right away see that it is poststructuralist. This is the mind we have at birth when we are open-minded with love and zest for everyone, ready to be filled up with all kinds of information from whatever society we grow up in. All this information flows in here in a steady stream from the outside. First from our parents, later from the narrative environment we live in. Then we try to sort it out and understand it in here. And once we understand it as children we store it out here in our memory boxes, where we feel that this bit of information belongs in. So in the future when we have similar new events happening to us we can immediately go out here and find the bits and pieces we need to solve the new problems with in a wise way, in a logical way, in a way that make sense. This is what is so beautiful about our human mind: our enormous capacity for flexible thinking.

My wife, Vibeke, with our son in 1980          

Edwina Moses with her child Atila in New Jersey

5. But the problem we have is that most of us can’t do this very well because so early in our childhood we get hurt. The first hurt was when we were two or three years old, sitting in the living room with our mother – or father, not to be sexist here – and there was a beautiful play or game between mother or child and it seemed like this could go on for ever. But all of a sudden the telephone rang and there was a disturbing message for the mother – maybe about illness or death in the family or she might have been fired from her job – something the child doesn’t understand. And a few minutes after when the mother comes back she is deeply distressed, in pain, in anger maybe, totally upset. And out of her own anger she might even slap the child who expected this play to continue. So what happened to us at that time? We started crying, we got hurt.


Gene, the mass murderers daughter, whose oppression I have followed on an off for 14 years.  

Three generations of violence. Gene with her violent mother, Tina, and her father who had himself beaten Tina as a child.

6. But crying was a very good reaction to this hurt. For when we cry we somehow make sure that the information we get from such a distress experience doesn’t jam up in here. When we cry we can discharge our pain and still eventually sort it out - out here in our memory boxes. (More text later)


Tina during her mistreatment of Gene at 3 am in the night.

Tina was beating her children constantly when she was drunk but was herself killed recently.

7. But what I very soon found – especially in poor white homes – was the tendency to slap the children or to further hurt them once they start crying with words like "Don’t cry, don’t be sissy, grow up and be a man". Here we see some of the roots of sexism and also how we can eventually hardly cry as men when we grow older.


Drunk and unemployed migrantworkers in Apopka, Florida

Wellfaremother Eveleen Hall's neglected child in Jersey City outside New York.

8. This is where the worst damage comes in: when we are punished in the process of getting rid of our pain. Then all kinds of damage happens to us. The whole thinking machinery shuts down, we can’t process this information, it gets stuck in here in a big tied up knot of unprocessed information.


Illustration of our mind after the first damages start heaping up

The mass murderer John with his mistreated child. Gene was after her mother's violent death taken into custody by a religious family, but is today - 14 years old - in prison.

9. Later in life when we have similar experiences which seem to relate to that earlier hurtful experience we can’t now find the bits and pieces of information out here which we need to understand the new problems with. No, it comes up in a big tied up knot of this unprocessed angry and emotional information. Some of us – if we have just lost our girlfriend or boyfriend or whatever - we all know that we just can’t think clearly if we have to write a term paper right after. This is this whole tied up knot of hurt and pain which sort of runs our mind there. We simply can’t think very well. The more hurt and abuse we go through, the less well can we think in clear ways.


Billboard in murder stricken New Orleans


”Underskriv begæring om at få dødsstraffen tilbage.” In the 1970’es the US supreme court outlawed capital punishment for being "unusual and cruel punishment". But due to popular demand is was later reinstated.

10. As we get older we get more and more hurt by all kinds of experiences in life. And finally we become chronic distress patterns; we can only act out in ways defined by all this hurt here. We can’t think very well about things around us.

Americans for instance have been deeply hurt by fear living in a very violent society. So they end up voting for capital punishment which other societies would never even think of. We become rigid in our thinking. We loose flexibility – a flexible mind – as we grow older when we become weird and rigid in our ways. When challenged we will defend ourselves and give a structuralist answer: "That’s the way I am." 
No way. That is not the way we ARE. That is the way they have become oppressed to BECOME.



”Sydstatsmand – af Guds nåde.” Man in Louisiana.

Klan man in Alabama.

11. Let us now use this model on racism while in your own mind you connect it to homophobia, sexism, anti-Semitism, islamophobia and all their related cousins. When we talk about how we become racists, I find it easiest to start with those racists whom we think are worse than ourselves. People such as the old-fashioned bigots in the south you saw in movies like "Mississippi burning." How did they become that way? Well, we know that nobody was born that way. A child in any society is born with an open, loving mind - until we hurt it. So how did they get hurt?


Poor family in Florida.

Poor family in North Carolina.

12. Well, probably very early in their upbringing they heard the prevailing narrative from their parents like "Niggers are dirty" or "Don’t play with those children down the road. They will stab you!" 
This is totally irrational and insane information for the open-minded, loving, zestful child we have in all societies to begin with. They don’t understand it. Children don’t see in color or sex or sexual preferential groups, ethnic groups or religious groups or whatever until we hurt them like this.

"Niggers are dirty." What does that statement really mean? I noticed in all the black homes I lived in that blacks certainly wash as much as whites do. I never got diseases like flees, craps, lice from them – only in white hippie homes :-)  And children don’t stab each other. So both statements are totally irrational. The child doesn’t understand them.


Pick up truck driver who picked me up in Alabama.
You can hear my interview with him in this section of my show.

I am hitchhiking in South Carolina.


13. So when it doesn’t understand the information it receives, the thinking machinery shuts down momentarily while it is being hurt. And all this misinformation then jams up in here. They can’t sort it out in here. And later as they grow older, they are now oppressed with new hurtful discourses from their parents and the whole apartheid society they grow up in. So gradually it ties down more and more of their minds like as you saw it in my model. And one day when they grow up, they end up maybe sounding, acting and even looking like this pick-up truck driver I have an interview with in the show, who was talking about "niggers, niggers all the time. He had been deeply hurt in his upbringing and oppressed by the narrative of his time. When he picked me up hitchhiking on Alabama’s back roads I stood with my sign saying: "Touring USA from Denmark." He had no idea what I was doing in America. Well, I didn’t know myself what I was doing in America at that time :-)  Yet, the first question he asked when I got into the car, was: "Are there any niggers in Denmark?" And without even waiting for an answer, he started rambling off these sentences about nigger, nigger, nigger….


Poor white in Louisiana.

Poor whites in Mississippi.

14. I immediately got my tape recorder up, because I knew that that was the voice of history, I heard there. The sentences that had been oppressed upon generation after generation of innocent white children growing up in the South totally tying up their minds so they couldn’t think independently any more. He had lost his mind to racism. There was nothing in the situation which had anything with blacks to do - I mean, me, a white person standing out there? But any little thing could trigger this whole hurt there from his childhood to come up and run him just like a record in a jukebox that comes up and runs your mind with these programmed messages or statements you have heard all your life. He couldn’t think freely any longer. Such a person has been deeply hurt.


Alcoholic woman in Meridian, Miss.

Poor white in Baltimore

15. If such people have been hurt not only by racist oppression, but also by class oppression, then they are in danger. When you grow up as poor whites you are constantly bombarded with the narrative from main stream whites - not least Hollywood movies - that you are "poor white trash", you are good for nothing, your are "bigots", you are "rednecks" and "crackers."


Young nazis marching in Roskilde, Denmark

Poor white in Baltimore.

16. As I will show you later in some of my case stories, when poor white children pick this discourse up – and have at the same time been violently abused - they end up having so much unhealed anger, that one day they might take their anger out on other people in society by joining the Ku Klux Klan or Nazi-groups. After which, I will show, we liberals FURTHER oppress them.


Poor whites in Jacksonville, Florida.

Poor woman whom I lived with in San Francisco. She was immigrated from Denmark.

Liberal racism


Nancy Norton and her daughter Sparky in Ithaca, New York. When younger, she participated eagerly in my racism workshops in Cornell University, where my lecture was mandatory for all freshman student for 14 years.

Nuclear physicist John Watts in Mississippi with daughter. When I was young I lived with his wife in the same town.

17. But let me now talk briefly about the more liberal form of racism and how we became that way. Our racism is far more dangerous since - unlike the Klan - we have the power to hold the blacks out of good jobs and discriminate them in health, education, housing, forcing them into ghettos etc.
So how did we become racists? Well, our parents did not tell us overtly hurtful stuff like "Niggers are dirty". They were more liberal. No, they would bombard us with lofty ideals of American Creed, American liberty, equality and land of opportunity – all these beautiful slogans all societies have up here with the emphasis being on liberty, dignity and equality for everyone. But whenever the topic comes to inner city, slums, blacks, homosexuals – and in Europe Muslims – they will change their voice a little bit, lift their eye brows without even knowing it, and thereby give the hidden message to their child that some people are not so equal as others.

Mixed school class in Skokie, Illinois
Mixed school class in Hvidovre, Denmark

18. And this information was completely as damaging for us and causing our thinking machinery – as we saw it before – to shut down. When you are being told in so many words that everybody is equal and then you see your own parents in so many ways send the message out to you that some people are not so equal, you don’t understand this information. Why are you for instance put in private school if there are too many immigrant or Muslim children in your neighbourhood school? You don’t understand why they move you to Espergærde (or Snekkersten :-) if the schools in Copenhagen turn too "black", as the Danes openly call them. Your whole thinking machinery shuts down, you can’t process it. This is how we all end up racists in America.



Guests at opening in Museum of Modern Art.

Woman with black friend in Florida.

19. Gunnar Myrdal, the Swedish anthropologist who was invited to America in the 1940’s to do a big study on American race relations, came to the conclusion that all Americans have these double standards; they hold on to these lofty ideals, but deep down in their guts they have developed the feelings that some people are not so equal as others. And they have never been able to reconcile this gap – the American Dilemma - as he called his groundbreaking work which proved the government the moral foundation for initiating civil rights laws.

So whenever we are around those people whom we basically feel are not as equal as others, we can only act out in guilt patterns towards them. And guilt, as American blacks or immigrants in Europe will tell you, is the worst form of racism. They can’t stand our patronizing attitudes. We more liberal racists, we constantly act out in guilt patterns without even knowing it when we are around blacks (or in Denmark Muslim immigrants).


Billionaire senator Jay Rockefeller with daughter, Valerie, who 16 years later came and gave me a big hug and her address when she saw my show in which I call her father a mass murderer and alcoholic.

Street people in Washington, DC

20. One example of such a liberal racist was one white woman I had in a workshop in Smith College.
She was talking about how her father, when she lived as a child in the white suburbs of Washington D.C, some times would drive her through inner city. When she saw all those black crack dealers and winos and street people standing out there on the street corners, she would sometimes burst out in racist slurs. Her father – a good liberal – would then immediately hit the brakes, turn around with a stern face and not drive on until she had apologized. For this was not good tone in a liberal family to utter such racist slurs. However, years later, when she grew up and one day brought home a black boyfriend the whole message from her father was a different one.


Rich girl at Tv

Wino in New York

21. So all the time she had been drilled with the dominant narrative that some people are not as equal as others. And she never understood that information. Her thinking machinery shut down and therefore she was trying to act out her pain. All children everywhere in the world are being oppressed and act out their pain in so many irrational ways in the eyes of their parents. And for her it came out – at least on a racial level – in these racist slurs. Under the impact of many blacks in the audience she had a catharsis when we helped her reclaim the father whom she had lost to racism.



Daughter of my ex-wife's best playmate taking care of white family's baby.
Nanny taking care of the son of the mayor of Ocala in Florida.

22. Another variation of this story we often hear in elite schools such Harvard, where many students come from rich families. Often they relate under tremendous pain how they grew up with a black nanny, whom they in the absence of busy hardworking parents developed a deep love for. Often they break down in tears when they recall moments where they were playing with their nanny and their parents unannounced came home and entered the room. They remember "freezing" with embarrassment because they were caught having such love for a black since they had already learned the dominating narrative that such love was forbidden.



Mother with child in Los Angeles.
Woman with children and black Mama in New Orleans.

23. But the overall and most devastating narrative students reveal in the workshops is faintly recalling when they were 2-3 years old driving with their parents. Suddenly when getting too close to some black neighbourhood they heard the door locks go down, click, click, or they were on the bus and when a black guy stepped on board, they felt their mother pull them a bit closer to her – not even knowing she sent that signal. When a child is oppressed with such hurtful information before they can rationally understand it, they are for ever after guided by fear towards blacks. When they themselves have children, it helps them to determine where they are going to live, go to school etc. I never blame these students for being racist since all Americans are. For I know that if they had been given the choice in childhood whether or not to become a racist, they would have chosen not to be. But they never had that choice.

I am hitchhiking 16.000 with my son through America's ghettos
My son staying with Tony's grandmother in Greensboro

24. Having heard this story so often in my workshops, I decided to give my own son a choice when he was 2 years old to be sheltered from the devastating narrative that blacks are dangerous. I hitchhiked 16.000 miles (25.000 km) with him through all the big ghettos. Most of my black friends had never seen a white child in their neighbourhoods and spoiled him with ice cream, love and affection. When such a positive narrative is given a child so early in the formative years, it helps to vaccinate them against racism. Ever since as an adult Daniel has gravitated towards blacks or expressions of black culture such as graffiti and rap music and found friends among Muslims and Africans expressing a similar anger. And when he was 18 he hitchhiked the same route I had taken him on as a child to show his father he could now stand on his own feet.

Our damage

Liberal guests in Museum of Modern Art.

Violent people in Louisiana.

25. Let us for a minute sum it all up. Whether we grow up old-fashioned bigots or we go through the liberal racism, the damage is pretty much the same. Some experts conclude that maybe as a result of all this oppression we only have 10% left of our original intelligence to operate with on a functional way. The rest is tied down in these hurt- and anger patterns I described here. We can’t think very well as a result. And this is for the successful adult whites in America. We know that a lot of poor whites are in much deeper pain. We see them constantly end up in fights where – in the same situations – we can walk in and never get into any fights. Many such people have a hard time making it into elite universities. They are in deep pain. We are talking here about hurt intellect.  

Internalised racism


”Uafhængigt liv”. Poor children at their home outside Charleston. South Carolina.

Baggie, whom I lived with in Greensboro, North Carolina, with president Nixon on Tv. Baggie shortly after received a 25 year sentence for armed robbery.

26. So let me now talk about the oppression of black children in this society. Here the damage is far worse, of course. For they go through a double form of racism. The first one is the overt racism they are subject to from us. We now understand what that is, the unhealed anger from us they constantly perceive and feel wherever they go, the guilt and fear patterns they feel from you liberals, the narrative they hear and see all around.
All black children very early perceive that. They grow up on the wrong side of the tracks in the south. From day one they know that everything about them is wrong when they see themselves growing up in dilapidated housing and see whites living over there in nice homes and see the hostile glares of whites when they walk into the downtown sections of town and so on. Or they grow up on the south side of Chicago and see millions of blacks around them – never a white face – until they turn on the TV and they realize that whites are in power all over in this society. This is deeply damaging for the self-esteem of a black child.
But today this more overt racism is not the worst. No, there is another more vicious aspect to it called "internalized racism." What is that? Let me try to illustrate it: wherever in the world we have a group being oppressed, the members of that group will further internalize the views of their oppressors and help to further drag each other down in oppression, hurt each other and instil these values in each other.

....just like internalised sexism



Married couple in North Carolina. I never saw him work in the house.

27. Women know it all very well. As a result of sexist oppression women everywhere in the world are the best examples of people telling each other that the woman’s place is in the home, in the kitchen or has to go trough e.g. female circumcision. Throughout history they have been in collusion with their oppressor about not taking male power in society.


....just like internalised homophobia


Married couple in North Carolina. I never saw him work in the house.


27. Art Fischer in his lecture yesterday mentioned how often he has colluded with heterosexist oppression to save his life. I know what he is talking about since I am often called to speak in universities where there has just been homophobic attacks or even murder such as when Matthew was killed in Wyoming. As a result of a rape by a self-loathing black homosexual on my first day in America I became active in the gay liberation movement from the beginning in San Francisco – 5 years before Harvey Milk came out of the closet.


....just like internalised anti-Semitism


Larger photo comes later



Picture comes later




Typical anti-Semitic charicature
Sarah measuring noses with my wife


27. Sarah Bloomington I had stayed with when she was a top grade student in Harvard. She has since earned all kinds of honours as a professor in China, Russia and the USA. But when I travelled with her in Peru studying the Incas every night she would be crying. She was depressed about her crooked nose and convinced that her ”uglines” was the reason she never could find a boyfriend. ”But I love your nose, I would love to marry you!” I said. ”Yes,” but you’re already married,” she said and kept crying.

Her parents - both leading psychologists whose entire families were murdered by the Nazis - gave up using psychology on their daughter. Instead they gave her a very expensive nose operation. And, wow, the same summer with her new looks, she found and got married to a Jewish professor with exactly the same problem. I have seen many other American Jews spend fortunes to overcome how they for centuries have internalized our violent attacks on their identities in Europe. In spite all their American success they are still not free.


Children mistreating each other in Jean Ellison's shack in Georgia. She lives with 24 persons, but no grown men

Tracy Coleman spanking her child in Louisiana.

28. Let me give some similar examples from internalized racism. One thing I constantly experience in ghetto homes is fights among adults who scream things like "You ain’t shit, nigger!" which is deeply damaging for the black child. In other words they constantly hear from early childhood our crushing message "You are worse than dirt" – reverberating white society’s narrative and low opinion of them.


SBlack students in Wayne State University in Detroit with sign: If you are mad enough to fight each other, You're mad enough to fight the government.

Sandra Johnson and her mother Julia in their apartment in  Queens. Sandra got an education in spite of the tragedy which the photo indirectly reveals. Thoughout her childhood she was raped by her father.

29. Or for black students who go to elite universities, it is very painful and difficult to adjust to all this white power if you have been shaped by a black ghetto culture. And a lot of black students are not capable of adjusting to it – especially since they don’t get help from us whites. So the black attrition rate in integrated schools is enormous. But if they are capable of adjusting to all this white power, they are often - when they come home to their ghettos – ridiculed for now acting white, thinking white and being called "oreo cookies."

A very sad example I had in a workshop when a black student was telling me how his girlfriend had just been accepted into an elite school and given a big scholarship. But when time came to start school, she found out that her mother had spent all the money on herself. When she confronted her mother - feeling her whole future now was denied her - the mother snapped back at her and said "You shouldn’t go to that white school anyway. You should be proud of your own people. You should stay close to home and your roots." A very sad example of how blacks – just like our marginalized people in Denmark - are dragging each other down in further racist oppression.


Two toung guys giving the brotherly ”hi-five” handshake in Raleigh, North Carolina.

Two toung guys giving the brotherly ”hi-five” handshake in Richmond, Virginia.

30. I hope you now see the model here. We have thousands of examples of how the oppressed are replaying the dominant narrative on each other in every oppressed group in the world. One classical example among blacks is the game called "playing the dozens." They call it different things in different cities in America. In my hometown New York they call in "snapping." It is a game in which young blacks stand for hours insulting each other, hurting each other, humiliating each other, attacking family members. That is where the term "motherfucker" comes from. And then the game is to "stay cool" – not to get upset or angry – or you would immediately loose the game.


I often saw Virginia Honore beat Louis in childhood. But ever since he turned 17 he has been in the Angola prison, where her husband, who is a prison guard, took care of him.

The violence against many black boys later lead them right into prison whereas I usually see that those who received loving attention are doing much better later.

31. Why are they trying to hurt each other like that? Sociologists have traced this back to slavery, in the need of black mothers at that time to hurt and humiliate especially their male children to prepare them for a life in slavery, to make sure that they would never make rebellion against the slave master because that could get them instantly killed or punished. In other words, it was a survival measure at the time. But it doesn’t serve that function any longer. It has been deeply internalized among blacks. And the fact that these traits of internalized racism continues 150 years after slavery ended is the best proof that slavery never ended in America. Because these traits we do not see to nearly that extent in other ex-slave-societies. I will get back to that in a second and you will see it clearly.


Girl in New York after fight.

Black watching white Tv in Alabama.

32. So the black child has been hit by a two-edged sword and gone through a double oppression; partly from our external racism and partly the far more devastating internal racism from their own. Let me now put an estimate on the loss of black intelligence in this society. And while I talk about this, don’t forget for one minute, that this is not scientific stuff. It is just one postconstructionalist way for me to help create a new narrative for both whites and especially blacks. Most of my students are fairly liberal, yet, deep down they have developed the racist discourse about blacks – that somehow because of some inherent deficiency they can’t make it in school. They have seen this phenomenon or heard about it wherever they live in America. And that, they feel, explains why they see so few blacks in their university. They are fighting these feelings through guilt, but have them nevertheless.


Sam was beaten to death by police in Alachua, Florida, half a year after I took the picture.

Lefus Whitley near Raleigh, North Carolina. He died Marts 13th 2005.

33.  Again and again they have from their grandparents heard all these narratives about "my ancestors came over here dirt poor from this or that country, Poland, Ireland etc, and pulled themselves up by their bootstraps. So why can’t they?" – talking about the blacks in the ghettos. As young idealistic students they get angry when they hear such racist narratives and start defending blacks saying that it was something in slavery which caused them to be functionally inferior and so on. But without help they can’t create an alternative narrative about blacks. So it just ads to their anger and guilt around this whole issue.


Janet Bromleys two children in West Palm Beach, Florida.

Boy with tire in the Brownsville ghetto in New York.

34. So they are dying to hear the alternative narrative I create for them by honestly bringing up the forbidden word, when talking about blacks, namely the word "intelligence". For let us now try to estimate the loss of the black intelligence in a racist society in relationship to the loss of the white one. As I said, blacks have gone through a much more severe form of oppression, totally being stripped of self-esteem, belief in the own abilities and hope for their futures. So I will say that maybe as a result of all this oppression – overt white racism combined with internalized racism – that blacks growing up in America might only have 5% left to operate with in a functional way of the vast intelligence we are all given at birth.


Graffiti in New York's subway: "Voice of the ghetto."

Morning man in Miami

35. The rest is tied down in all these anger patterns ….similar to those my students say they have at the end of my show….feelings most Americans walk around with all the time. Let us look at them for a second, for they are increasingly the same feelings my Muslim immigrant students in Denmark come up and tell me they walk around with for exactly the same reason.
Oppression leaves you feeling: Guilty, paranoid, frustrated, drained, upset, numb, tense, angry, pissed, silenced, dumb, confused, unworthy, cautious, inferior, powerless, fearful, meek, passive, protective, inattentive, hostile, turned off, shrewd, playing games, deceitful, plotting, manipulative, retaliatory, superior, observant (of the oppressor), crafty, detached, cagey, destructive..….. and finally VIOLENT!

Professor Eddie Moore, who each year organize the big ”White priviledge”-conference on racism in Iowa.
Angry students demonstrating in Columbia University

36. If your mind is tied up in these angry knots you are not doing very well in school. A black scholar, professor Harry Edwards from Berkeley, is on the college lecture circuit often speaking about when he first entered university. He was sitting there just staring at the text books, he couldn’t understand them. Finally one day he gave up and started crying and crying realizing he had no future now. Afterwards he took a look at the books again and now understood, "this is a white man’s text and I don’t have to agree with him." This is the mental block American blacks have towards anything associated with the oppressor in the same way for years women had mental blocks towards science and math associated with the male oppressor. By discharging Edwards now somehow loosened some of these tangles which started the process making him one day to a leading scholar. But perhaps the majority of young blacks these days do not get help with their emotional tangles and their anger increasingly leads them into prison.


Unscientific illustration of the loss of original intelligence for whites and native blacks measured in relation to median income.

School class in Washington, North Carolina

37. So why am I saying 5% here? Because – and it is only one way of measuring it - it reflects the overall success rate of blacks in America for centuries. This is the white median family income in America. Here we put it at 100%. In relationship to that blacks now make only 56%.

And this is the only reason I say half over here on the diagram. There is not necessarily any correlation. When I first came to America it was 63%. Since then blacks have fallen behind. Basically this was the same share they had during slavery. At that time they didn’t receive money, but food, clothes, housing and so on and since most whites were poor then, economists have concluded that blacks pretty much had half the living standard of whites.


Original photo of slaves

Jean Ellison's shack in Georgia with 24 inhabitants.

38. In other words: for centuries there has been no progress for blacks in this society here – economically speaking. Politically there has been tremendous progress. We now see black mayors and presidents, but economically speaking we see no progress. So what does that do to our thinking? Century after century when we hear about all these immigrants, who come to America and make it up the ladder to the American dream, we think that that racist grandfather’s narrative was actually right. So deep down my students can only come to one conclusion: that somehow for some inherent deficiency in blacks they can’t make it.


Sort og hvid The biggest most popular black magazine

Time Magazine on the black middle class.

39. I have been travelling enough in America to know that all whites think that way. And it gives them tremendous guilt because they want so badly to hold on to all those lofty ideals about how we are all equal. So this makes us despair because we want to believe this. We are not vicious racists; we do not any more want to hold blacks back. So we despair when we see this relationship between blacks and whites century after century.



West Indian office worker

Middle class blacks at poetry festival in New York

40. And therefore I will now present a narrative with more hope; namely by looking at those blacks in America who are making it; those who come from other societies and have not been shaped by our racism. They have to come from other societies, because all American blacks have been deeply shaped by our racism. I am especially talking about the blacks who came from the Caribbean, West Indian blacks. How well are they doing economically in relationship to this?


Mrs.Pabst who own Pabst Beer. She came to America poor, but married into a rich family.
John D. Rockefeller, called Jay, whom I lived with when he was a governor in West Virginia. Today he is a senator. The family was at the time the richest family as owners of  EXXON, MOBIL etc.

41. Well, they make up 94% of white median family income. Now, don’t forget that 1% of whites – the Rockefellers, Bill Gates and that type of people – own and control 30-40% of the wealth. Most of them did not work their own way up in these high positions. They inherited their wealth. So if we allow ourselves to take away that 1% of whites, who did not work their own way up, you will find that West Indian blacks are completely on the level of whites in this society. And they all worked their own way up from poverty. Nothing was given to them. And this figure here of 94% includes the boat refugees from Haiti coming here from one of the poorest, most illiterate and oppressive societies on earth. The minute they are in America – or a generation after – they are up in the middle class….to the astonishment of native American blacks in say Miami who are in disbelief: "How can they do it when we can’t?"


West Indian couple at a reception in New York

West Indians in Washington DC.

42. So why is it so easy for foreign blacks who come here to "make it up the latter" and not for American blacks? Most West Indian blacks are living in the area from Washington DC, New York, Hartford and up to Boston. Most of the top black positions in that area – or a great majority - are held by West Indian blacks. People like Colin Powell, former secretary of state.

A lot of the West Indian blacks live in Brooklyn in New York and if you as a white person walk in there, you immediately feel like you are in some Italian, Polish or Irish neighbourhood: you see clean streets, thriving business, hardly any on welfare, prod home ownership – West Indians are staunchly opposed to welfare – and more young people in college than are in prison. But then you walk into the native American black areas in Harlem, Bronx or other parts of New York and you immediately see the stereotypical white racist ghetto image we have in our white mind….of dirty streets, broken glass and litter in the streets, burned out stores. In many ghettos I go to these days, like Detroit, almost the only stores left in the ghetto are owned by outsiders. Up to 40% are on welfare and more young people are in prison than are in college. Now we start understanding the tremendous damage we are inflicting on American blacks.


Lesbians of West Indian descent. Yvonne at right today own a big music company in Hollywood.

My lecture booking agent Saphire was found as a baby in a trash can in Haiti, brought up by a non in the USA and since got an education in Harvard.

43. In this new narrative we are not talking about race any more, for the blacks from the West Indies came from the same tribes in Africa as American blacks, they went through the same type of slavery - namely the Anglo-Saxon form which was vicious. But there was one important difference. And what was that difference?  That their slavery ended 150 years ago, it never ended in America!



My West Indian organizer at a university. A great deal of my shows are organized  by Jewish and West Indian students.

West Indian woman in Amherst, Massachusetts

44. After slavery ended in the West Indies most of the whites left the islands. From now on the blacks could start recoup all that which was stripped from them in slavery, dignity, self-reliance and pride which the American black has never been allowed to recover again. Plus they started seeing black role models all over in their societies which is extremely important for the motivation of black children. So when - a century later - they come into this very racist society in America you can say that they come here as recovered human beings. Even though they operate in a very racist society they somehow can now use it as a vehicle for success. It doesn’t seem to hold them back. Haitians for instance, make a joke out of racist narrative about a "white protestant work ethic" with their "black catholic work ethic". For they typically hold both two and three jobs at the same time while going to school at night. That is of course the way they make it.



Jewish student demonstrating against Nazi groups in  University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.

Student demonstrating in Boston

45. Let’s just play on anti-Semitism here for a second to get a better understand of this. "Black Jews" – what does that mean? Here we are playing on the notion that Jews are successful in business because West Indians own and control most of the business in the black ghetto in Hartford. Also in New York City you see this. Whenever you walk into banks in New York and see black employees, ask them if they are from the West Indies….and you will see that it is usually the case. They are very successful in the financial world. So you see we are here really playing on anti-Semitism, the worldwide narrative about "Jews being successful in business".


My first American girlfriend, Marlene Sockol, was a Jew of Russian descent. At that time in 1971 Russian Jews made up the highest income group. 

Marlene in 2006 in her office in san Francisco, where she is a psychiatrist for the city's leading personalities.Today Asians make up the highest income group.

46. So what happened to the Jews over the last 2000 years? Well, again and again they were forced to flee into foreign countries; often invited by the kings or rulers to make up an entering wedge between the rulers up here (showing on graph) and the masses down here. A low level anti-Semitic propaganda was kept alive all the time so if rebellion suddenly broke out in the masses against the rulers up here, they could manipulate the anger of the masses out against the Jews instead of against the real oppressors in society. And thus the Jews were forced into pogroms or Holocaust or forced to flee into new countries. Their sad history is well known. Then rulers in the new countries would invite them – again only to abuse them the same way as entering wedges. Often the only jobs they were allowed to hold in those days were in the financial world which is how one aspect of the anti-Semitic narrative comes from.


Ghetto school in Jersey City, New Jersey.

Better off West Indian family in San Francisco.

47. But throughout the whole oppression the Jews were somehow capable of escaping the worst aspects of gentile oppression. They brought with them a strong cultural narrative, so they could somehow tell their children that "you are better than your gentile oppressors, but this is a vicious anti-Semitic society. So you must work twice as hard as everybody else to make it." So they were often pushing their children with all kinds of techniques such as "Jewish guilt" which you who are Jewish knows all about.

And this is very similar to what happens to West Indian blacks. They move into a very racist society and almost use racism as a vehicle for success. They tell their children that "you can do it, but you must work twice as hard as everybody else." And therefore they can do it and continually make it. One way they especially do it is through education. 


Harvard students

Boy doing homework in Jean Ellison's shack in Georgia.

48. Now I am going to show something very interesting. There are 41 million blacks in America. Out of those only 800.000 are West Indians. In other words, they make up only 2% of all African-Americans. But one thing both I and Tony Harris were astonished to learn in our workshops in the most elitist schools was that up to 85% of the black students in these Harvard-league schools - where the grades or SAT scores are very high - are of West Indian descent - or have one parent who is West Indian. They make up only 2% of the black population out there and yet are totally overrepresented in higher education.

Black students at ”White priviledge” conference in Iowa.
Black, most West Indian, students at Cornell University.

49. A lot of liberal arts colleges every year fly out to the Caribbean to recruit what they call "qualified blacks" so they can look like a diverse college. But don't forget that out in those countries there are only a total of around 12 million blacks. Out of 41 million American blacks these elitist schools can't find enough of "qualified blacks."


MMuslims with West Indian fellow student at Harvard Business School 2007.

Children in delapidated ghetto school in East St. Louis.

50. So that raises the question: what are we as whites doing to our native American blacks to so effectively screen them away from a good education and thus from high paying jobs and positions? Why is it so hard for the 98% native blacks to make it into Harvard, Yale, Stanford etc when it is so easy for blacks from very poor countries to do it? This is the damage our racism is inflicting on American blacks. Until this minute most of us had learned the negative narrative about blaming the victim for failing. We all knew it was happening, but somehow found all these structuralist rationalizations for it - that this was due to some inherent inferiority in blacks and so on. Now we see it is entirely the result of OUR oppression. We now understand that this has nothing to do with race or skin color, for West Indians are even blacker than American blacks since they were not so mixed up with our white forefathers.

My black partner, Tony Harris, usually says something I can’t say: "We blacks are ALL mentally ill." The narrative I just presented in this model is the only one I know which can lift them out of their permanent depression caused by their feelings of inferiority and not belonging. But it gives whites just as much hope.

The curve of racism



51. So here you see that blacks are not the problem, racism is the problem. This curve illustrates this problem and is the proof that there is racism in a society. When we all in a society become part of a negative narrative, we end up retelling the story endlessly. When we whites sit on the power to define the others – as we do in America and Denmark - we have the power to get our victims to believe our stories. From very early childhood you see black children internalizing our racist thinking in which we constantly find faults with blacks, blame them for everything and disassociate ourselves from them. Black and white children enter pretty much on the same level in first grade school. On the average whites make it in a straight line up to college. But black American children start getting affected by internalized racism - believing our negative thinking of them - very early. And after 4th grade it starts showing - they start distrusting themselves, doubt their own abilities, doubt their future and gradually loose their motivation - and start falling behind in the school system. They turn inattentive, turn off and often become hostile the more they loose hope. That lack of hope is so devastating. If you have no hope, there is no way you are ever going to make it. So after 4th grade they fall behind whites. And then this become a self-increasing process, they fall further and further behind the whites and immigrants. And by the time they should make it into college - not to speak of Ivy League schools - they are so far behind that there is no way the great majority of them can get accepted. They have long ago learned to live with the street and therefore end up in greater numbers in prison than in college. And this is a worsening oppressive pattern these years. When I first came to America in the 70'es there were more blacks in college than in prison. Now it just the reverse!  

West Indian blacks apparently follow this white line all the way up. They have no problems. What you see here is the curve of oppression we have in all societies. Wherever we have oppressive narratives by the group in power, the oppressed group tends to fall behind in the educational system. In Israel we see it between Sephardic and European Jews or between Jews and Palestinians - even though Palestinians make up much of the academic elite in the Arab world, in Malaysia between Chinese and bumiputhras.

In Denmark you see the same curve between the Danes and the Muslim immigrant children etc. and that they fall just as much behind in PISA studies as American blacks. In Denmark there is a very aggressive negative discourse about immigrants. If you go to Sweden, where both the politicians and media has a more politically correct narrative about immigrants, you can see that they don’t do nearly as bad in school as in Denmark. And in America where most citizens themselves are immigrants there is a directly positive and inclusive discourse about immigrants to the point of romanticizing them. Everybody welcomes them in their neighborhood and wants to sit next to them in school while the Danes take their children out of school to avoid that they are with immigrant children – completely as Americans do if there are too many blacks in school. With such a positive discourse immigrants learn to think well of themselves. And as a result they perform just as well in the school system as whites - even as I said black immigrants. They become an enormous resource for America and even make all Americans safer. For in America the crime rate of immigrants and Muslims is 3.5 times as low as that of average Americans while in Denmark we make ourselves unsafe with our racism. Here the crime rate is higher among immigrants than among ethnic Danes and in our cities we have in no time created gang wars and a hateful language among immigrant children completely parallel to what I have seen among blacks kids in American ghettoes all my life.

Racism = Prejudice + (social) power

Such a hateful language against whites I often hear referred to as “reverse racism”. “The blacks are just as racist as us,” they say. No, this is internalized racism. Let me describe it. You have a black man in America walking cheerful down the street. A white man comes up and slaps him in the face. He keeps walking. Another white comes up and slaps him in the face. By the sight of the third or fourth white man the black will raise his arms to protect himself and after a while this reflex becomes internalized at the sight of any white. One day it will then change to a clenched fist and may turn into criminal anger or even terrorism. It took three centuries to create this internalized racism in American blacks. It took just one generation to create the similar response in immigrants in Denmark. But it is not racism, for racism means to have power to affect the life of the target group. American blacks and Danish Muslims have of course prejudice against us as oppressors, but they have no power to, say, force us to do bad in the school system. What happens if all blacks or Danish Muslims really hated us? The only power they have is to give us a little fear, but how do we deal with that? Fear is just some emotional stuff and we can just move further away from those we fear. Or we can pay our way out of it by going to the shrink….yes, by trying to externalize the whole problem in DISPUK But what happens if we don’t like them? Well, then we end up discriminating them in education, health, housing and especially jobs. They have to come to us for all those tangible things. This creates tremendous pain if you don’t have equal access to those things and this they can’t pay their way out of some emotional trouble in DISPUK. Because part of the problem is that we make them poor with our racism. No, reverse racism you can't have in a country where whites are solidly on top. Black Americans or brown Danes do not have the power to force white children behind in school. But I found such a situation down in Costa Rica. In the 1870'es - after slavery ended in the West Indies, Trinidad and Barbados - the freed slaves came over to work for the United Fruit on the Atlantic coast of Costa Rica. Little by little they started buying up small plots of land and by the 1930'es many of them had become fairly affluent landowners. At that time we saw a migration of poor whites up from the highlands of Costa Rica to look for work out there in the Limon province. So suddenly we see a reverse situation in which black employers are giving work to poor whites. And once such a system of oppression has been set up it tends to get worse just like we have seen it in America between blacks and whites. So what you see there now today is something which has really astonished me. When I sat around with these affluent, cultured and extremely conservative blacks and listened to their narrative - well, listen to what they are saying about those poor whites, they have to hire: "When I meet two whites at night, I immediately cross over to the other side of the street." or "Whites are prone to violence, whites carry knives, whites will backstab you. Don't ever trust whites." or the best one is "Whites are oversexed. Whites have got too much sexual drive."

So what happens to the poor white children in that society down there, who are forced to internalize all these negative narratives of them. Well, they fall behind in the school system. The blacks often make it up to university; the whites don't make it, fall behind, stay back on the plantations or go to prison. As I said, once a system of oppression has been established, it tends to get worse and worse. The blacks have now become so rich that they do the same as the rich all over Latin America. They send their children to be educated in the United States and there they often come up and tell me about this when they participate in my workshop. Up here they have become a part of the successful West Indian community. In fact, you can hardly any longer see this reverse relationship in Costa Rica because most of these rich blacks end up staying in the USA after studying here 

When I asked black parents in Costa Rica "What do you hope for your children?" they usually answered "I hope my son will become a lawyer, a doctor etc."  If I asked white parents, they usually said something like "I hope they will survive." This is the complete reversal of parental expectation in America. So this is a system of reverse oppression and it is extremely important narrative to tell my students in America – both black and white – to make them understand that the problem is not race or skin color, but oppression. Until I tell them this they despaired. They did the same mistake as the frog sitting in the bottom of the well here (showing a ring). They looked up at the sky up there and concluded: "The sky is no bigger than the opening of the well."  They had no better information in a racist society, so they came to a structuralist conclusion that "this is the way blacks are, this is the way whites are." What I just did here was to show you a little bit of the sky which was denied them in their upbringing. That is why I can never blame any American for being racist, for they had no better information.

Yes, how really could WE avoid becoming racist?
See here how I became one myself:

Case stories


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