Subconscious Racism – If We Know It’s There, We Can Call It Out

Psychotherapist Matthew Dempsey (screen capture via YouTube)

With so much turmoil in the nation right now, many people are asking “How can I help? How can I be part of the solution?”

But the social terrain can be scary. Even folks who consider themselves ‘good guys’  – on the side of equal rights and justice – question are they ‘doing it right?’


On Tuesday this week, one trend was to take part in ‘Blackout Tuesday’ in order to show you stand in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement. But some folks got backlash here and there with comments saying, “Don’t do it like that – resist like THIS.”

Even with the best of intentions, folks who want to support the movement are confused.

As a Flashback Friday post, we wanted to share this video from psychotherapist Matthew Dempsey. 

Back in 2015, he shared how an awkward moment in his own life helped him learn to ‘check himself’ even when he knew in his head he was an ally.


“Growing up gay and feeling like an outlier for most of my life easily lends itself to greater empathy for others who’ve felt the same,” wrote Dempsey when he first shared the video in 2015. “My experience also lends itself to the illusion that I couldn’t possibly continue discriminating against others, including people of color. Watch my latest video on how I own racism in an effort to heal.”

“As a gay man, I have this real value set in wanting to eradicate discrimination across the board,” says Dempsey in the video. “The only way that I know that I can really do that most effectively is by being able to check in with myself and seeing what’s going on here first.”

As an example, Dempsey shares how many gay men grow up exposed to homophobic beliefs and how they can become a part of our subconscious. Those thoughts can color how we see ourselves and the LGBTQ community as a whole. But when we’re aware that it’s there, we can call it out.

Being raised in a society where racist beliefs do exist, we are exposed to them whether we want to be or not. Dempsey says when we check in with ourselves about even the most subtle aspects of racism, then we can call it out and own it.


Dempsey references the 2015 film Stonewall which created a fictional white male character as a principal in the storytelling when history knows the Stonewall protests were led by the trans community and gay people of color. As many pointed out at the time, that was subtle racism in overshadowing the historical figures with a white, gay man.

He also mentions the issue of fetishizing the idea of having sex with ‘dominate’ black men, another form of racism.

Before we get to the video clip, we know today is not five years ago. And life at this moment in time is sensitive in regard to each and every word people utter when speaking about race relations.

In sharing this, we ask that you watch the video in its entirety to get to Dempsey’s point.


Instinct reached out to Dempsey to see if he had any followup to his 2015 commentary. He sent us this statement:

“This message I put out there 5 years ago is a perfect example of how acknowledging White privilege is inherently imperfect and wrought with blind spots for us to call out and change. The most cringe-worthy moment as I rewatch now is when I suggest it’s OK to have racial preferences for dating and sex because clearly, that’s some racist bullshit tbh. I know better. Now I can do better. And this is how I stand for BIPOC and Black Lives Matter.”

One more thing: please do not have a knee-jerk reaction to the title of Dempsey’s video. The title makes a point, so watch the video to get to ‘the point.’

1 thought on “Subconscious Racism – If We Know It’s There, We Can Call It Out”

  1. I am sorry, but is that just me noticing that a psychotherapist talks about phobia like it is a thing? Phobia is something different than an opinion (DSM, hello!). Call that bigotry. We need to get rid of that “homophobia” thing, especially when specialists related to psychology.


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