Natural Barriers that Stop Us Right at the Beginning - or on the Path

The first challenge in countering racism is simply saying “yes” to the journey and leaving our known world and going forth into a great deal of unknown. When we do, we encounter three natural barriers right at the beginning of the journey. If we get past those first three barriers we will then encounter six more natural barriers on the path.  And there is one very deceptive barrier – connecting with others.

Fortunately, there are ways to get past all of the barriers.

The Best Approach:  The best approach to these challenges is to be able to say,  “I know that I will encounter barriers in the beginning and on the path, and I will take them on with excitement and confidence.  I know that these barriers are some of the tests I will encounter, and through which it is possible to grow intellectually, emotionally, socially, and spiritually.”

“Life doesn’t get easier or more forgiving, we get stronger and more resilient.”


— Steve Maraboli

#1  In the Beginning - The Three “Guardians of the Threshold”

Right at the beginning we must get past what are called the “guardians of the threshold” in the heroic myths.  Their purpose in the myths is to turn back the hero figure if he or she isn’t ready for the journey.  Getting past these three guardians is the first major test.  They will be there if we commit to countering racism.

The Three Guardians

These guardians simply come naturally, and we must deal with them to get in the game.

  • Guardian #1 Feeling indicted as a white person personally and/or as a group
  • Guardian #2 Confronting potential losses and the unknown
  • Guardian #3 The specter of incompetence

Four Steps in Dealing with these Guardians

  1. Understand the guardians – what are we up against?
  2. Be clear about the benefits of the journey
  3. Implement the strategies for dealing with each guardian (follow the guiding questions for each guardian in the Explore More section below)
  4. Act – Now. Start small or big, but start

“I know that I will initially need to face the natural and unavoidable challenges of feeling indicted, fear of the unknown and potential losses, and doubts about my competencies in countering racism – and I will not be deterred.”

#2  The Six Barriers on the Path

If we successfully get past the three “guardians of the threshold” there is a common set of six other barriers to action that we encounter on the path.  Their impact varies from individual to individual.  Just like the three guardians, these barriers are normal and natural and need to be addressed directly in order to get past them.

The Six Barriers

These are the six natural barriers on the path.  The ways to get past them are covered in the Explore More section below.

  1. Competing Priorities
  2. Dealing with Frustration, Ineffectiveness or Failure
  3. A Challenge to Our Identity
  4. A Challenge to Our Relationships
  5. Being Too Visible
  6. The Effort Required – Wearing Out

“I know that I will encounter barriers on the path and I will take them on with excitement and confidence in myself.  I know that these barriers are some of the natural tests through which I can grow intellectually, emotionally, socially and spiritually.”

#3  The Deceptive Barrier - Connecting

One of the biggest challenges for White people committing to challenge racism is to get connected – connected to other individuals for support and connected to groups and organizations to further their missions.  This is a deceptively difficult barrier and one that can significantly undermine committed action.

In this section are ten key points about connecting with other individuals and ten key points about connecting with groups and organizations.  They are not a formula – they are just for guidance in dealing with a deceptively difficult challenge.


“I know that connecting with others is critical for support and challenge – and that connecting with groups and organizations is essential for systemic change – and hard to do.  I am committed to doing the exploring and prep necessary to find a good “fit” for me with groups or organizations – and will not be deterred by the challenge.”