News commentators have been trying to figure out what motivated a group of white University of Oklahoma students on an outing earlier this month to sing a racist chant laden with anti-black slurs and a reference to lynching.
The episode made national headlines after it was captured on video, and it led to the expulsion of two students, the disciplining of a few dozen more, and the closure of the university fraternity to which they belonged.
The students have apologized and appear contrite. Yet they probably don’t fully understand what possessed them to behave so badly. Commentators have attributed the action of the students to racism, bigotry, and cultural influences. But the episode can be understood, for the edification of everyone, at a deeper level.
The students were unwittingly expressing a hidden aspect of human nature. In varying degrees, all of us can feel vague doubts concerning our intrinsic value. At times, many of us feel deep inside a sense of being flawed, unworthy, bad, and insignificant. This is not something people readily talk about.
This impression can consist of a deep-down suspicion of being a fake, a fraud, a nobody. The existence in our psyche of this negative sense of self can, when acute, produce shame, anxiety, and guilt. People instinctively cover up or defend against the realization of how emotionally attached they can be, how identified they are, with this irrational impression. (The origin of this painful sense of self is discussed in an earlier post.) [Read more…]