Let’s Look Together at White Privilege – 13

I have always been intrigued by the idea of projecting, the tendency to project onto other people characteristics we don’t want to admit in ourselves. Robin DiAngelo tells us that scholars this is what whites have done to black people. Examples she cites is how white masters of enslaved Africans consistently depicted Africans as lazy when in fact they toiled in back-breaking work from sunup to sundown. Today, blacks are depicted as dangerous even though statistics show that this is a perversion of the true direction between whites and blacks since the founding of the country.

The idea of projecting was particularly difficult for me to grasp. It leads me to want be more alert to who is making racist statements or perpetuating stereotypes.

I was interested to learn the facts about Affirmative Action. It is commonly believed that “if a person of color applies for a position, they must be hired over a white person and that a specific number of people of color must be hired to fill a quota.” Here is a more accurate description of what Affirmative Action is:

“Affirmative action is a tool to ensure that qualified minority applicants are given the same employment opportunities as white people. It is a flexible program – there are no quotas or requirements as commonly understood. Moreover, white women have been the greatest beneficiaries of affirmative action, although the program did not initially include them…No employer is required to hire an unqualified person of color, but companies are required to articulate why they didn’t hire a qualified person of color (and this requirement is rarely enforced). Additionally, affirmative action never applied to private companies – only to state and government agencies.”

As I read this I think of all the people over the years who have complained about how black people or immigrants can take their jobs away because of affirmative action. None of these individuals, by the way, have actually lost a job. That is, no one actually did take their job away. What they were doing was simply repeating racial rhetoric.

I was interested in DAngelo’s statement: “We have a particular hatred for ‘uppity’ blacks, those who dare to step out of their place and look us in the eye as equals.” I believe that this is why Barach Obama roused so much hatred. This seemed to be the case even among my Republican friends and relatives who in the past, would have simply got upset about a Democratic president’s policies but didn’t necessarily hate him. The fact that Obama was far so highly educated and so articulate made him intolerable. He was a black man who forgot “his place”.

 

The Words of Morgan Freeman

I saw a short piece of an interview with Morgan Freeman the other day in which he commented on our current situation around racial discrimination. He said he thinks we should just stop talking about it. I had to reset my brain a bit to see if I’d heard him right. I have a lot of respect for this man. The message I feel I am getting from White Fragility is that we should absolutely be talking about race right now. It is because of not talking, not listening, and not caring that racism has been allowed to go on all these years.

I think what Freeman is suggesting is that we need a higher consciousness, one in which we look into one another’s soul instead of at the superficial. We are not our bodies. We are not even our personalities. We are something much deeper. We are children of the one Creator God. We are expressions of that which is the Source of All. Freeman did wonderful series, The Story of God, which I had the joy to watch. He did another one which had the same depth and love, The Story of Us. My assessment of his words on racism fit with the philosophy behind these two pieces of art.

Unfortunately, we don’t live in a world of people who can see past the facades of race, sexuality, or bodily imperfections. Our actions are reactions to who we think people are, not who they are inside, in their true divine nature. In Freeman’s mind, if we could really see with our hearts, this whole conversation would be moot.

This task I have taken on is a difficult one, longer than I thought. I am determined to finish to the end of the book. I am learning a lot about myself and about my country and my fellow countrymen. In my life, facing the truth about yourself is the beginning of overcoming character flaws. The ultimate goal is to achieve what I believe Freeman has in his life. I don’t know if I will ever get there, but I believe I am moving in the right direction.

Let’s Look Together at White Privilege – 12

In her fifth chapter of White Frigility, Robin DiAngelo expands on her premise that racism is a systems reality. When reduced to individual persons, it would be more appropriate to use words like “prejudice” and “discriminate”. This is helpful to me because I have been working on my own attitude and my behaviors for long time. My level of prejudice is much lower than it once was and I am vigilant about avoiding discriminating behavior. In addition to revisiting the idea of “color blindness” and “I know people of color (in my family or among my friends).” Her point is that even if we succeed in dealing with our own attitudes, racism continues and whites continue to benefit and people of minority races still have to deal with it.

One defense that wasn’t brought up in her earlier chapters is when people say, “I marched in the sixties.” My husband and I were just starting our family when marches took place in the 60’s. We did not participate in any marches, but we were keenly aware of them and had a lot of discussions with friends about what was going on. We saw ourselves as standing on the right side against racism. I was inspired by Martin Luther King. But we come across people our age who did march in the sixties, and just as DiAngelo suggests, they use that experience as a way of saying, “Therefore, I can’t be a racist.” Here is what she writes about this defense:

“Someone who tells me that they marched in the 1960’s – like the person who tells me they know people of color – is telling me that they see racism as a simple matter of racial intolerance (which clearly they don’t have or they could not have tolerated marching alongside black people during the civil rights movement). They are also telling me that they believe that racism is uncomplicated and unchanging. Yet in the 1960’s, we thought race was biological. We used terms like Oriental and colored. Nevertheless, in the light of an action they took more than fifty years ago, they see their racial learning as finished for life.”

She also brought up that some people think they can’t be racist because they live in the north, i.e. Minnesota. I have to admit that I was stung when, after George Floyd was murdered, I learned about the history of racism in the state of Minnesota. The Star Tribune reported how Minnesota is doing for African Americans compared to the other 49 states.

Minnesota ranks 39th in Educational Attainment
41st in median income
44th in Unemployment
45th in Labor Force Participation
48th in poverty and home ownership

I know that the inequities in education come up often in the legislature when it comes time for funding for education. In fact it comes up again and again which leads me to assume not much has been done to address the inequities. I was surprised to read that while racial covenants (that prevent Blacks from buying or renting in white neighborhoods) have been illegal since the Fair Housing Act of 1968, in Minnesota the racist language remains present in many housing deeds and Blacks are still prevented from buying where they choose.

DiAngelo has more to say about one’s upbringing. People will say that they are not racist because their parents taught them that racism is wrong. Knowing what I know now, I think it is more accurate to say, it is wrong to discriminate against anyone because of their race. Prejudice is an inside attitude and parents would do best to pay attention to their own language and behavior and finding ways for their children to interact with people of other races. Whether talking about race or sexuality or disabilities, comfort with people who are different than oneself goes a long way. I think honesty is important, too. We can share with our kids that we once had prejudicial attitudes ourselves.

As for racism, it takes a whole lot of education to learn the ins and outs of it in our systems. This is the task at hand.

 

 

Let’s Look together at White Privilege – 11

There are a few more ways DiAngelo suggests in which whites experience race differently than other races. One has to do with White Solidarity, which she describes as “the unspoken agreement among whites to protect white advantage and not cause another white person to feel radical discomfort by confronting them whey they say or do something racially problematic.” A good example of this was given earlier when college students kept a journal. I admit my own guilt here. I have had to face the fact that by not wanting to hurt someone’s feelings, I was supporting the spread of racism…and people were being hurt by my inaction.

Some talk about returning to the Good Old Days. For people of color, the old days were not so good. Consider the following: “246 years of brutal enslavement; the rape of black women for the pleasure of white men and to produce more enslaved workers; the selling off of black children, the attempted genocide of Indigenous people, Indian removal acts, and reservations; indentured servitude, lynching and mob violence; sharecropping; Chinese exclusion laws; Japanese American internment; bans on black jury service; bans on voting…and on and on. Some practices like redlining are still happening today. In other words, nostalgia for the “good old days” is a white luxury. I think of President’s campaign slogan, “Make America Great Again” and think, “for whom?”

Under White Innocence DiAngelo talks about the experience of black and Latinx youth going before a judge where guilt is more often attributed to something internal to the person (more animalistic, less capacity for remorse).  When white youth go before a judge, guilt is more often attributed to something external (upbringing). This corked me: “a 2016 study found that half of a sample of medical students and residents believe that blacks feel less pain.” 2016? Medical students? Shocking. During one of our trips to Guatemala one of our team members shocked us when she suggested that people of poor countries suffer less at the loss of their children because they lose so many and get used to it. This whole scenario makes me feel that some of the people in this country are living in a different century.

On whites living segregated lives, DiAngelo quotes James Baldwin and I would like to offer the whole quote here:

“I don’t know if white Christians hate Negroes or not, but I know that we have a Christian church that is white and a Christian church which is black. I know that the most segregated hour in American life is high noon on Sunday…I don’t know whether the labor unions and their bosses really hate me…but I know that I am not in their unions. I don’t know if the real estate lobby is against black people but I know that the real estate lobbyists keep me in the ghetto. I don’t know if the Board of Education hates Black people, but I know the textbooks they give my children to read and the schools that we have to go to. Now this is the evidence. You want me to make an act of faith risking…my life…on some idealism which you assure me exists in America which I have never seen.”

“Most of us would not choose to be socialized into racism and white supremacy,” says DiAngelo. “Unfortunately we didn’t have that choice.”

We now have the earning the tools to help make change. The first step is to grapple with the white racism that has shaped the way we act and think up until now.

Let’s Look Together at White Power – 10

In chapter 4 of her book, White Fragility, author Robin DiAngelo looks at how being White shapes our perspective, experiences and responses. I use the word “our” as she did because I see this study as an exercise for my white fellow- Americans. People of color have been actively doing their own inner and outer work for years. Until now, we haven’t had to.

The first benefit that whites get from living in a racist culture is a sense of belonging. Most of us were born into a world where white doctors and nurses tended our white mother and other white mothers. Parents who attended childbirth classes likely did so with other white couples taught by a white instructor. As children we played in parks with other white children and attended schools with mostly white kids and rarely was a teacher or administrator anything other than white. Conversely people who cleaned hospital rooms and janitors in schools were more likely to have been of a minority race.

When we went to work, offices were filled with white co-workers, unless our work was at the lower end of the economic scale where it was more likely that we had co-workers of color. When we travel, the same holds true in the restaurants and hotels we use. Mostly white people greet us and assign us to our rooms, while we often see people of color cleaning our rooms.

The sense of belonging that whites are allowed to feel is supported in all areas of our lives, in the TV and commercials and movies we see, in our history books where the heroes and achievers of our country are most notably white men. Whites never have to question whether we belong. We are in the soup of what seems to be the norm.

A white person might feel they don’t belong in a subgroup such an economic class. I can still remember feeling outclassed when I went to a “tea” given for young women considering attending the college I later entered. I had never heard of a social event called a “tea”. I remember everyone wore a hat except me and my girlfriend, Anita. I was embarrassed. Anita was not. I couldn’t figure out how she could not feel embarrassed. She just had a better self-esteem than I did.

Whites have freedom from the burden of race. DiAngelo writes, “Because I haven’t been socialized to see myself or to be seen by other whites in racial terms, I don’t have to carry the psychic weight of race; I don’t have to worry about how others feel about my race. Nor do I worry that my race will be held against me.” When I worked for the Burlington Railroad years ago, I had no idea that the black women who worked in the waybill department may have worried about this. But now I believe this was a concern for them. We as whites have “a level of  racial relaxation and emotional and intellectual space that people of color are not afforded as they move through their day.” As whites, we have a freedom of movement in virtually any space seen as normal, neutral, or valuable.

Whites, DiAngelo says, are “just people” – our race is rarely if ever mentioned. I spoke to this in yesterday’s blog. I rarely hear on the news that a white person broke into a bank but the race of the suspect is mentioned if that person is of a race other than white. We are the norm, just people. People of color are a particular kind of human that has to be identified in conversation. Because I am a writer, I was struck when DiAngelo wrote, “White (male) writers (are) seen as not having an agenda or any particular perspective, while racialized (and gendered) writers do.”

The parent educator in me was struck by what DiAngelo wrote about models for child development and its stages. Theorists, she says, present human development as though it were universal, but, considering all the dynamics she has discussed so far, “Is an Asian or an Indigenous child’s development the same as a white child’s within the context of white supremacy?” While I was serving as a parent educator for an early childhood class in Swanville, MN, we had the opportunity to serve women and children from among the migrant workers that served on farms in the area. There was a language barrier that we were not able to overcome before these families moved on. We regretted that we were not prepared to serve them. Truthfully, we believed that language was the only barrier and we looked at providing materials written in Spanish and having interpreters present. It never occurred to us that there may have been differences in the development of these children or in the parenting challenges given their unique way of life and their racial differences.

On the other hand, there are commonalities, I believe, issues and concerns that parents of children of any race could relate to. Not long ago I went to a presentation in a nearby town intended to help the white residents better understand their new Somali immigrant neighbors. My favorite talk was given by a man who told how he struggled over whether or not to let his daughter go to a pajama party to which she’d been invited. He didn’t know the parents and worried terribly about her safety and how she would do with these new friends. While race played a part in his concerns, his worry about his little girl was something every parent could relate to. I remember being new to a town and my daughter was invited to a pajama party and I didn’t know the family. I ended up finding an excuse to bring over a treat just so I could step into the house and meet the parents. In that instance, the parents were not home. You can imagine, I took my daughter home, much to her embarrassment. When talking about families, I think there is much to share that transcends race. We need to do more of that kind of sharing to find our common humanity.

 

 

Let’s Look Together at White Privilege – 9

In chapter 3 of her book, White Fragility, Robin DiAngelo takes a look at the changes in the face of racism over the years, particularly after the civil rights movement. Racism, according to sociologist Eduardo Ponilla-Silva says that racism is quite adaptive and changes over time. This continues even after the passage of civil rights legislation. She suggests the following as some ways racism has changed:

  1. Color Blind Racism
    After the Civil Rights Act of 1964, it was less acceptable for white people to admit to racial prejudice. Sometimes you would hear them say that they are blind to color differences or “I don’t see color.” The idea that people can’t see color is based on a line from the famous “I Have a Dream” speech by Dr. Martin Luther King in 1963. He said that he hoped one day he might be judged by the content of his character and not the color of his skin. Whites seized upon the phrase as a simple way to reduce racial tension. It sort of works as can stop a conversation in its tracks.
    Frankly, it is ridiculous to say you can’t see race, unless you are actually blind -or am I the one that is a fool? After reading this chapter, I had to drive home from my daughter’s home in Bemidji, MN. Along the route, I saw just a couple of Black people and, gol darn! I couldn’t not see the color of their skin no matter how hard I tried.
  2. Aversion Racism
    Aversion racism is prevalent among well-intentioned people who see themselves as educated and progressive. (When I read this, I stiffened up because I see myself as well-intentioned, educated and progressive.) Such a person might say “I have lots of friends of color” or “I judge people by the content of their character, not the color of their skin.”
    There are two ways I saw this in my life. The first I may have mentioned earlier…I tended to be “surprised” when I encountered a truly intelligent person of color, as though they were the exception to their race. The second way is that when I was telling a story about someone, if they were Black or Asian or Hispanic, I would mention their race as a way to identify them but not if they were white. When I caught myself doing this, I stopped it. Yet even now, as I tell a story, not mentioning race is a choice in the moment. It still doesn’t come naturally. I notice this a lot in news reporting.
    DiAngelo mentions that white people in this type of racism may perceive white people as dangerous. I related to this as well. I can remember two occasions when I was traveling in Minneapolis and happened to be driving through primarily black neighborhoods. Each was a situation in which I was lost and needed directions. I admit that I was scared, but I told myself, “You are being stupid. Why should these people be any different than people living in a white neighborhood? In both situations, I swallowed my fear and stopped to ask for directions. In both situations, I encountered people eager to explain to me how to get where I wanted to go.
    I realized at some point in my life that prejudice is learned and that the best way to overcome it is to step out and engage in situations that used to frighten me. Prejudice is more than a set of ideas in one’s mind. This is why receiving statistics that refute the beliefs about minority people doesn’t necessarily change one’s feeling. I believe in the adage, “Act as if…” I would never have had the experience of friendly helpers had I not taken the chance.
  3. Cultural Racism
    I think of cultural racism as racism that is so part of the culture that one hardly notices. I experience it in the telling of racist jokes or the use of racist phrases such as “jewing somebody”. One study of 626 white college students at 28 colleges were asked to keep a journal of racist comments and actions by white friends and family members . They recorded more than seventy-five hundred examples. Again, as I grow, I am more attune to such innuendos and racial-laced jokes. I am also becoming more brave about saying something. “Act as if…”
    I thought about current programs designed to deal with bullying in the schools when Diangelo talked about the dynamic of racist acts where there is a protagonist who initiates a racist act, a cheerleader who encourages it, bystanders who stand by in silence, and (very rarely) a dissenter who objects. She said that in virtually all incidents that were cited, “all dissenters were subject to a form of peer pressure in which they were told it was only a joke and that they should lighten up.”

    I am still working on this. I believe overcoming prejudice is an inside job, though I think that working on oneself should not preclude action in helping to overcome racism in our culture.

Let’s Look Together at White Privilege – 8

The term “white racial frame” was first coined by sociologist Joe Feagin to describe “how whites circulate and reinforce racial messages that position whites as superior.” He says that the racial frame is deep and extensive and stored as “bits”. I think of yeast in the dough. Work it in and the bread will begin to rise. The bits here refers to things like movies, TV, news, and other media, and stories told by family and friends. Constant use of these bits keeps the framework going and getting stronger and stronger.

The most general level of the racial framework: whites are superior in culture and achievement and people of color are generally of less social, economic, and political consequence. At the next level, because social institutions (government, schools, the military, etc.) are controlled by whites, white dominance is unremarkable and taken for granted. At the deepest level, the idea that people of color are innately inferior is reinforced and accepted.

DiAngelo offers questions we might ask ourselves about the framework in which we grew up. I will answer each of these from my memory…you might want to do the same.

  1. How old were you when you became conscious that there were people of different racial groups than your own? I think I was first aware during early school years, first in literature, ie. Uncle Remus, then in sports, Chicago’ Luis Aparicio and Ernie Banks come to mind. Later, while riding on public transportation or driving through black neighborhoods.
  2. Did your parents tell you that race didn’t matter? I believe my Dad did. My parents often got in arguments with politically racist relatives, taking the side of minorities.
  3. Did they have many friends of color? No, none that I was aware of.
  4. If people of color did not live in your neighborhood, why didn’t they? Now I think it was red-lining. When I was a child or teen, I didn’t know.
  5. Where did they live? In the areas closer to the center of Chicago and on the south side of the city.
  6. What images, sounds, kinds of activities did you think went on there? Most of what I saw was run down, absent of any parks or lawn areas, some garbage strewn about against the buildings and in the gutters. Sounds…the “el” train. (I realize now I never really penetrated the neighborhoods. I only saw the areas along the train tracks and along the highways.) I couldn’t imagine them hearing the sounds of birds except pigeons or growing flowers or vegetables.
  7. What kind of activities did you think went on there? People sitting on their stoops, talking, kids playing barefoot in the streets, watching TV.
  8. Were you encouraged to visit these neighborhoods or were you discouraged from visiting these neighborhoods? We had relatives living in areas that were turning black. We had to be cautious while we visited them or while visiting museums or White Sox Park, both in or near black neighborhoods.
  9. What about schools? What made a good school? Who went to good schools? Catholic schools were good, public schools not so  good. Catholic kids went to good schools. Protestants went to the bad schools. I didn’t think about white and black, rather public and parochial when it came to school. My cousins on the south side had black students in their schools, but they were Catholic, I assumed.
  10. Were schools in black neighborhoods considered equal to, better than, or worse than yours? I don’t recall ever thinking about that. I was pretty stuck on the Catholic thing.
  11. Why did busing go in one directions and not the other? This didn’t happen until I was an adult and I actually asked that question. In the rift between Camilla Harris and Joe Biden in the Democratic debates, I took his side…though I think he could have done a better job of articulating his position. I believed back then that the real solutions to equal education was to upgrade all schools and make them equal while working on the problem of redlining so neighborhoods would become equitably integrated. I saw busing as only a temporary measure and worried that it got people off the hook for improving the inner city schools.
  12. The next question does not apply to me, but I include it here for the readers to consider. If you went to school together, did you all sit together in the cafeteria? If not, why not? Were the honors or advanced placement classes and the lower-track classes equally racially integrated? If not, why not?
  13. When was the first time you had a teacher of he same race as yours? Did you often have teachers of the same race as your own? I never had a teacher of a different race until I went to school in the nineties for my masters. That was a teacher in my human relations class in which we studied diversity.

DiAngelo suggested to consider the geography. I lived in Chicago proper, not the suburbs, but in a middle class, white neighborhood on the north side. She didn’t mention age, but I think it is important to consider that. I was born in 1944.

I hope you will consider answering the questions for yourself. Write out your answers and send them to me, if you like.