5 Ways to Rebound When You’re Racially Stereotyped
- Dr. Audrey Davidheiser Crosswalk Contributing Writer
- 2021 18 May
It was a regular stop at a regular red light until a sedan held up the right-turn lane by pausing next to me.
The driver motioned to me to roll down my window.
Had I known what was coming, I would’ve declined.
“Zza pluh groyb,” he said (or something like that).
My confused face answered, “I’m sorry. I don’t understand.”
That’s when he switched to English and asked, “Are you Filipino?”
If I had a dime for every time I’ve been asked this, I’d still be annoyed, but at least I’d be sulking in a Porsche!
No, I’m not Filipino. I’m actually CIA—Chinese Indonesian American. But when inquisitive inquirers as varied as bank tellers, postal workers, restaurant servers, hotel housekeepers—the list goes on—keep peppering me with the same question, sometimes eschewing English altogether, I started to develop a sensitivity around the subject.
Can you relate to being mistaken for someone else because of your outward appearances? Quick observations can mean correct conclusions, and it feels good when that happens. But when it doesn’t—like between that driver and me? Cringe.
And if you’ve endured multiple cases of offensive behavior because someone racially stereotyped you, it’s possible for deep hurt to develop over time.
Yet, as though oblivious to our feelings, Jesus instructs us to love our enemies (Matthew 5:44). In Greek, the word means “to have a preference for, wish well to, regard the welfare of” that same person who has just stereotyped us.
How are we supposed to pull this off? Here are five recommendations.
1. Do Not Ignore Your Feelings
I’ve been a churchgoer all my life. Because of this background, I’m familiar that some within the Church believe feelings are to be dismissed due to their alleged deceitfulness. This principle, however, is foreign to my profession. As a psychologist, part of my job is to facilitate a safe environment for my clients to share sensitive information, feelings, and memories they’ve tucked away from the world, including the Church. I’ve witnessed over and over again how healing is only possible when my clients stop denying their feelings.
The importance of acknowledging the status of our inner world is supported by the Bible. Psalm 51:6 says, “[God] desire[s] truth in the innermost being” (NASB).
Therefore, when it comes to loving the individual who has racially stereotyped you, don’t slap a smile on your face and attempt to show love while shoving your hurt feelings under the rug.
It’s possible to love any offender without sacrificing your feelings.
2. Listen to Yourself
In my book, Surviving Difficult People: When Your Faith and Feelings Clash, I utilize a psychological theory called Internal Family Systems (IFS) to strengthen our faith when it comes to dealing with difficult people. I practice IFS because it permits us to have different mindsets without labeling us crazy (IFS explains why you can like your friend’s Facebook post because of how cute her cottage looks while also resenting her for, well, how cute her cottage looks.).
According to this theory, each soul consists of many parts. I realize this concept may seem strange, but bear with me. Notice how 1 Corinthians 12:12 affirms the unity of the human body regardless of the existence of its parts: “The human body has many parts, but the many parts make up one whole body” (NLT). But our God works in patterns throughout His creation. For instance, the triune God consists of three members (Father, Son, Holy Spirit), just like each person contains three entities—spirit, soul, body (1 Thessalonians 5:23).
If the body can have many parts, why can’t the soul?
Some of the soul’s wonderful parts work overtime to protect us from possible hurt while other parts are stuck with burdens from the past. Either way, when someone treats us poorly, it’s likely some of our parts will react in anger, hurt, or both. When they’re triggered, try taking the time to listen non-judgmentally to what they have to say. Chances are, calm will eventually return.
3. Distinguish the Internal from the External World
As you’re listening to your parts, ask if there’s anything they’d like you to do to right the wrong. This is where the distinction between the internal and external becomes extremely important. Let me illustrate. When I kept hearing the same question—"are you Filipino?”—I started noticing an activated part of my soul. As I befriended this part of me, it informed me how every time someone mistook my ethnicity, this part felt unseen. Invisible.
Validating how hurt my “unseen” part felt was all it needed to restore its equilibrium. However, let’s say another part pushed me to lash out at the people who assumed I was Filipino. If this were to be the case, I’d remind that angry part how “a gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger” (Proverbs 15:1). Why exacerbate an already awkward situation?
To summarize, it’s safe to listen, soothe, and assure parts of your soul that were injured by racial stereotypes. These activities remain on the internal side of you. But if you sense an urge to do anything in the external world, exercise prudence.
4. Realize the Intentions
Racial stereotyping can appear even when someone simply wishes to connect with you. I’m certain none of those who asked me the Filipino question aimed to ruin my day. They just wanted to find commonalities. If I told them I was Filipino, they would’ve likely launched into a friendship-building mode.
Because of this, pausing to appreciate the intentions behind someone’s words is helpful. I realize you might be thinking not everyone carries positive intentions! Absolutely. That’s why I’d like to offer the following observation. Even if the one who offended you is a first-rate racist, it’s possible he or she is acting out of loyalty to fears and traditions handed down in that person’s family rather than a concerted effort to spread hatred.
If you struggle to discern a well-meaning intention behind your offender’s harsh actions, however, lean on 1 Samuel 16:7. The verse says, “The LORD does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart." The Lord who sees your offender’s heart will allow you to peek at it—if you ask Him. After all, Matthew 7:7 assures us, “ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.”
Investing the time to appreciate the intention behind the other person’s action pays off. Why?
Because forgiving someone’s offensive actions becomes less challenging when we can reasonably assume the offender didn’t plot to purposefully assault our peace.
And when we forgive, we get to reap a host of benefits. Forgiveness:
- eradicates our own wrongdoings. “Forgive, and you will be forgiven” (Luke 6:37).
- facilitates answered prayers. “If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me” (Psalm 66:18).
- ushers in healing. “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective” (James 5:16).
- restores relationships. “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you” (Ephesians 4:32).
- matures us to be more Christlike. “The Lord our God is merciful and forgiving, even though we have rebelled against Him” (Daniel 9:9).
If your soul has similar parts as mine, it’s possible you might hear an internal objection as you attempt to forgive your offender. They don’t even know the impact of their actions on me. If I forgive, it’s as though the only one who cares about what happened—me—is now erasing the record of their misdeeds.
You’re not the only one who cares about the insult inflicted on you. God cares too. So why don’t we borrow Jesus’ forgiveness prayer, uttered in the midst of excruciating pain, on behalf of the soldiers who crucified Him? “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). Our offenders may have no notion as to the impact of their behavior on us, but the Lord does.
We can choose to forgive because God holds our pained hearts tenderly.
Photo Credit: ©Getty Images/Wavebreakmedia
Audrey Davidheiser, PhD is a California licensed psychologist, certified Internal Family Systems therapist, and author of Surviving Difficult People: When Your Faith and Feelings Clash. She founded and directed a counseling center for the Los Angeles Dream Center, supervised graduate students, and has treated close to 2,200 clients. Dr. Audrey devotes her California practice to survivors of psychological trauma. Visit her on www.aimforbreakthrough.com and Instagram @DrAudreyD.