The Making of a Racist From a Psychological Perspective

I asked him a few more questions. My questions were intended to ignite the neural networks that could lead us down the road to primal memory–the historical moments when Jordan’s racist parts first came into being. I wanted to understand what were the deep emotional conflicts he was struggling to manage and how did becoming racist help.

I asked, “What emotions do you feel as you rant about back people?” “Superiority,” he said.

This reply gave me an opportunity to explain that superiority wasn’t an emotion. It was more like a state. Then I listed the core emotions for him so we could see what he might be feeling when he rants about black people: sadness, fear, anger, joy, disgust, and excitement? He could identify anger and disgust.

“Where in your body do you sense the racist Part?”

“In my chest,” he reported.

I asked if he floated back in time, how old was he when he first had this feeling in his chest with anger and disgust? He said it started when the lunch lady yelled at him. I asked why she yelled at him. He couldn’t remember that but he remembered vividly remembered feeling humiliated by her and hating her.
He remembered thinking she was inferior so it did not matter what she thought about him. He was better than her so why care about her opinions.

When I asked him how he felt when the black lunch lady yelled at him he said, “Like a worthless piece of crap.” A few sessions later when I asked him how he felt when his father criticized him, he said verbatim, “Like a worthless piece of crap.”

Projecting the Part of him that feels like a worthless “piece of crap” on to an entire group of people is the only way Jordan had to expel the toxicity of the feelings caused by his childhood traumas.

Mis-directed Feelings

Take rage, shame and contempt, add in some anxiety and despair—it all mixes together to form a toxic soup that has to be expelled, as it is intolerable. Instead of hating himself, it feels better hating another group. I refer to it as the hot potato of shame—now it’s yours: African Americans, Muslims, Latinos. Jordan’s feelings are mis-directed.

Jordan’s racist Part of his personality offered Jordan protection from his weak, powerless and vulnerable Parts.

When he was ranting about black people he felt powerful and superior. But, as I explained to Jordan, there was a cost for the protection that racism offered. The energy that goes into hate could otherwise be used for vitality and positive connection.

The racist Parts of you offer protection from hard feelings but they are also maintaining your depression and low-self worth. The cure is to help you deal with the underlying insecurities and emotions directly. I shared my feeling that he was a victim and the fact that he felt badly was not his fault. His parents hurt him. Black people were just the scapegoats to avoid the real people who he hated and who gave him their shame.

Creating curiosity is the first step to change. Jordan was willing to get curious because he was desperate for relief from the misery he felt. This desire to feel better over-powered his racist defense.

We worked together for several months until he moved away. Even though our work ended prematurely, I was satisfied that we had loosened the hold the racist part had on him. The little bit of space we created opened up the possibility that his hatred was a reaction and not a reality. I felt hopeful he had a path to recovery.

Patient details have been altered to protect privacy and confidentiality.


The Making of a Racist From a Psychological Perspective

Hilary Jacobs Hendel, LCSW

Hilary Jacobs Hendel, LCSW, takes the complex world of emotions and makes them easy to understand for all. She is author of the award-winning self-help book, “It’s Not Always Depression: Working the Change Triangle to Listen to the Body, Discover Core Emotions, and Connect to Your Authentic Self” (Random House & Penguin UK, 2018). She is a certified psychoanalyst and AEDP psychotherapist and supervisor. Hilary’s blog on emotions and how to use them for wellbeing is read worldwide. For more FREE resources on emotions and emotional health, visit:


APA Reference
Jacobs Hendel, H. (2016). The Making of a Racist From a Psychological Perspective. Psych Central. Retrieved on May 25, 2020, from


Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 5 Feb 2016
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 5 Feb 2016
Published on All rights reserved.