Racial Stockholm Syndrome

Margo Stebbing
Oct 7, 2017 · 5 min read

For those of us who are people of color,
who were raised by one or more white parents, I am wanting to speak to this, because it needs to be named, it needs to be called out for what it is: racial Stockholm Syndrome.

Those of us raised, either by white kin or white mentors, who have natural familia bonds with white people, who find when we speak truth to power about white supremacy and its right and left hands of privilege and fragility; who find that we go through a terrible psycho/emotional backlash, who find that to say emotional labor doesn’t even come close to what this is. Who find that it is closer to a trauma response than to the fact of emotional labor. Who find that to speak truth to power, and the power is in the status quo conditioning of all who live in this white supremacist culture; that to speak truth to power is an uprooting experience, a subterranean earthquake experienced in our psyches, it perfectly suits naming this phenomena as racial Stockholm Syndrome.

We had bonded to our captors of white supremacy, and now we dare to leave the abduction. We dare to speak of the systemic harm in the face of those white people we have known, loved and formed bonds with. What we encounter instead of acknowledgement, forget even the trace of celebration — is the insidious white fragility that wears a thousand masks, cuts with a thousand knifes, has a thousand different strategies to avoid the painful acknowledgement of the roots of a presupposed superiority that has embedded its twisted logic in the bedrock of their whiteness. Being born in the Western world, none of us are inoculated against White Supremacy.

Some of us people of color, often of multi-racial identities, have formed emotional bonds to the people born from white supremacist culture, we, perhaps, as children and then adults spent our years trying to fit in, to change our shape, to walk and talk in a protective invisibility that would render ourselves safe; all the while knowing that we were not cut from this cloth. But who could name this? What child could hold the fierce contradictions of this, and so all of this content is placed in the deep freeze of unconscious Prima Materia.

Fast forward to these times where we finally can speak the language of racial literacy, racism is in the collective conversation, where the beautiful and the brave are calling out racism, are naming it, pointing it out, turning up the volume on it. And we join those conversations. We finally, can articulate what we have experienced our entire lives, we dare to step out of the crazy making of white supremacy. We feel the exhilaration of freedom in this, and we also feel the powerful consequences, the shadow backlash of speaking out.

The Stockholm Syndrome of fear, doubt, even the unconscious fears of survivability arise, as we leave the container that we had crouched in our entire lives. And as the frozen feelings start to thaw and the huge waves of anger and grief crash: we dare to get angry, dare to express our outrage. And then it comes, always the boomerang affect, the crushing kickback of Stockholm Syndrome.
Always the second guessing, the self doubt, the shaking muscles that are new to the heavy lifting of this fuckery. A fear of our very existence, survivability because we leave the structure of playing nice to white supremacy, of playing nice to white fragility, of saying to what maybe were our sacred communities of health, wellness and spirituality that they are carrying the trojan horse of whiteness and its superiority in their ranks. We are then escorted out the back door, as our voices become the thorn in their side.

We then become the refugees of communities that we once sought belonging with, that we once sought any semblance of understanding, any source of healing with the unnamed racial trauma that we carry. In the new-age-spiritual-self help industrial complex, which is probably 95% white, we are told about shame resiliency without even their naming the shame producing machine of white supremacy. We are offered shelter for our voices that give racial education, but only if we stay nice, only if we can leave their white fragility intact, only leave them their favorite wardrobe of white supremacy to wear in their feel good bubbles. Leave the bubble intact and let us pretend we care about diversity, without doing the real work of dismantling racism within ourselves and extend that out to our communities.

And so where does that leave us, in the process of recovery from racial Stockholm Syndrome? I only know that the first steps of healing begin in the naming of a thing. And that perhaps in the makeshift camps of social media, that perhaps other kindred souls that resonate with this naming and begin to further embody the support that it would take for us to break away from this systemic abductor, and begin to calm the roiling emotional tsunamis that rage, whenever we dare to express the now melting frozen content of our grief and anger. Whenever we no longer stand in the shadows, silenced. Whenever we use our voice that is filled with decades of rage, and decades of sorrow. Whenever we step forward to name the lived experience of racial trauma, the lived experience of being silenced by white supremacy.

Yet that silencing is being called by other names: the need to not be divisive, the need to stay on a ‘higher plane’ of consciousness, the need to remain colorblind, spouting the need for unity that is spiritually by-passing the lived realities of those who live with oppression. And so, I must live through the dueling needs of standing up for racial justice, for my own racial justice, with the parallel threat of isolation, with the aggression of being scapegoated, with the demand to eat the shadow, your shadow of your inherited white supremacy. I will endure and hope that in time, I will no longer experience the daunting lived experience of living with racial Stockholm Syndrome. The good news is that this throw down is ejecting the internalized hatred and rejection. Let us place it where it belongs and name it. In the meantime, it’s a fucking bitch to live with.

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