White People — Give Space to Black People’s Outrage

Societal Transformation Requires Us to Listen, Validate, & Engage

Justin D. Henderson, PhD

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Photo by Clay Banks on Unsplash

Protests are emerging all across the country in response to the chronic injustice that has impacted black members of our society that has largely gone by without any meaningful acknowledgement and change. The American rebellion that is emerging is an ongoing effort to awaken American society to the continued injustice faced within the black community by systemic racism.

And so the response by some white citizens usually starts with something like: “I agree that the death is sad but why do they (black Americans) got to be so angry?”

Commonly in these contexts, white people will make no mention to the reason why there is a rebellion to begin with but instead clench their jaws at the sight of groups of people protesting in the street.

This reflexive reaction has many component parts that we need to unpack. Hidden within these responses is the white socialization that contributes to the larger social ills for which these protests are attempting to illuminate and dismantle.

We all need to recognize with absolute clarity that there is an invisible defense system by which white folks may use to respond to people of color’s suffering at the hands of white supremacy. It’s aim is to help the white person return to a state of comfort.

The defense system is a social-psychological protective belt that prohibits the acknowledgment that racism is central to the present suffering and pain as well as undermines the productive movement toward racial justice and equity. It’s the comfort blanket that is clutched at the very insinuation, for example, that racism is at the heart of George Floyd’s death as well as others.

The first levee in the white defense system is denial and repression pushing out the pain of black citizens and to return to a more comfortable state of being. In order to do this effectively, a person has to employ any number of rationalizations to return to the comfort of the status quo including:

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Justin D. Henderson, PhD

Dr. Justin D. Henderson is a psychologist, professor of counseling, and organizational consultant. He’s a Medium Top Writer in Leadership and Business.