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New Book Explains How to Overcome Racism

If you are white and live in America, the odds are - no matter what your economic status or educational background - you have inherited much of the racist beliefs and behaviors of the society. While it may be painful and embarrassing to admit, we all have long-standing and instinctive attitudes, stereotypes and prejudices towards other ethnic and racial groups.

Overcoming Our Racism: The Journey to Liberation (Jossey-Bass), a new book by Derald Wing Sue, Professor of Psychology and Education at Teachers College, Columbia University, is designed to help people of all races or ethnicities to take an honest look at themselves and make some changes.

The book is written in a style that is directed primarily to white Americans. Professor Sue notes, "The premise of the book is very much what Spike Lee talks about-that all of us have biases, stereotypes and misinformation about certain groups in our society."

Through a process of social conditioning, well-intentioned, moral, ethical individuals have unconsciously taken on prejudices that our society perpetuates toward various minority groups. "The damage to people of color does not come from the skinheads and the white supremacists, it comes from ordinary, good, moral citizens who are unaware of their unconscious biases and how they are enacted in everyday interactions with people and through the social policies that we as a society pass," Professor Sue added.

In the book, Professor Sue offers readers a way to become aware of how their thoughts, actions and feelings reflect biases. He provides specific suggestions of how to eliminate racist thinking and behavior after taking the first step of becoming aware of it.

While adults can learn to become more culturally sensitive, Professor Sue believes the most powerful way to prevent the development of racism is to include multicultural awareness in the classroom. "Higher education is remedial-it's almost like ‘untraining,'" he said. "We have to do it where people can take on racism and be preventative. That is where the K-12 curriculum needs to become multicultural-not just in content but through experiential activities. To become culturally sensitive, aware and competent is not an intellectual process alone, but an experiential exercise."

Professor Sue was past President of the Society for the Psychological Study of Ethnic Minority Issues, the co-founder and first President of the Asian American Psychological Association, and is currently President of the Society of Counseling Psychology. He was called upon by the White House during the Clinton administration to testify before the race advisory board in Washington, DC. He was also instrumental in creating a newly endorsed set of multicultural guidelines to be used by the American Psychological Association that will have a major impact on accreditation and training in the field of psychology.

"My focus is not only on standards of practice, but the codes of ethics," Professor Sue explained. "Professional organizations all have standards of practice and codes of ethics. They don't want individuals to behave in ways that are unethical, which is legitimate. What happens when these codes are culture bound and come from only one cultural perspective? What if other cultural groups don't consider those codes acceptable to them?"

Professor Sue's journey in this field of bringing multicultural awareness and social justice to the counseling profession will be featured in an article to be published by the Journal of Counseling and Development. He has also completed a series of 4 tapes the psychology of racism and anti-racism to be distributed through Microtraining Associates, including: The Psychology of Racism: Where Have We Gone Wrong?; What Does It Mean To Be White? The Invisible Whiteness of Being; Overcoming Our Racism: What Can I Do; and Surviving Racism: A Personal Message to Brothers and Sisters of Color.

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