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Let’s Look Together at White Privilege – 15

DiAngelo, in chapter 8, “The Result: White Fragility”, extends her discussion on how whites will get defensive when it is pointed out to them that they are using discriminatory language or action. It felt a little redundant to me as she shared more stories.

I am part of a spiritual path that nudges me to look deeply at my own behaviors and attitudes. The phrase, “It is all about me” is one I and my friends will use, usually joking about ourselves, when we realize that we are making someone else’s pain be about us, as though we are victims. The thing is, once you face this tendency in yourself to make everything about you, it begins to loosen its grip.

This is exactly what DiAngelo is promoting when she says that white reluctance to take a look at their racist behaviors stops progress in its tracks. It stops one  individual from progressing, but it also stops dialogue between people of different races and social change that reflects equality and justice for all. Have you ever tried to talk to someone about how they’d hurt you and been dismissed as being oversensitive? I have. I came to the conclusion that talking to this person is like talking to a brick wall. So, what is left is to deal with one’s own hurt and resentments with no satisfaction and no solution. It is crippling to a relationship. In the case of racism in a white dominated society, the problem is that one is not alone with their feelings. For the black community, parents watch their brothers and sister and children suffer discrimination and live in fear daily. Small, innocent children get to grow up with this. Imagine the woundedness to their little souls.

I have seen the videos of George Floyd taken from police body-cams and the phones of bystanders. The man was terrified. He had every reason to believe from the moment he was singled out by the police that he was about to die. His panic as they tried to get him into the police car was absolutely understandable. It seemed to me like a man being pushed to the edge of a cliff and being asked to submit to the people who were pushing him. I can also imagine that white people watching might say, “Why didn’t he just do what they wanted him to do? This wouldn’t have happened if he’d only done what he was told.” That is white privilege! We don’t have to be afraid when police officers pull us over or stop us for questioning, other than getting a ticket or being arrested. But odds are really high that for whites that death is not likely imminent. White Privilege – the privilege of not having to be afraid.

But now DiAngelo is talking about White Fragility. This is the stop-gap. When whites put themselves into the role as victim, there is no need for change. The person of color becomes the bully because they made me feel bad when I am a good person. What they, the black people, have been experience is not the issue…the attack against me is the issue.

Just a couple of interesting pieces from this chapter that I want to mention:

  1. “More than half of whites – 55% – survey sat that, generally speaking, they believe there is discrimination against white people in America today. Notable, however, is that though a majority of whites in the poll say discrimination against them exists, a much smaller percentage say they have actually experienced it.” (Sounds like those who claim immigrants are taking their jobs but have not actually had their jobs taken away by an immigrant.)
  2. In situations in which the author was called upon as a consultant, she was cautioned that employees who had been to diversity training workshops had experienced trauma and she was cautioned to “proceed slowly and to be careful”. (Would you call this PTSD?) She adds that by employing terms that connote physical abuse, whites tap into the classic story that people of color (particularly African Americans) are dangerous and violent. Thus not only is there no progress, but stereotypes are being reinforced and the situation is made worse.

Let’s Look Together at White Privilege – 14

This is the 14th issue in the study of the book White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo. Today I am commenting on her 7th chapter, “Racial Triggers for White People”. “Most white people have limited information about what racism is and how it works,” she says. Many have taken an isolated multicultural course in college or required cultural training in their workplace, but these may not even touch on racism let alone white privilege. This reminded me of the courses I took at the end of my education for parent education. The two classes I took were intended to increase our awareness of differences between cultures in practices and beliefs. I don’t want to diminish the value of these but DiAngelo is right. It wasn’t until later, in situations outside of the school setting, that I learned about racism and white privilege. It was a deliberate action on the part of social concerns communities that education was sought through speakers and inter-cultural dialogue and experiences.

DiAngelo says that when courses and training do address racism, white responses tend to include anger, withdrawal, emotional incapacitation, guilt, argumentation, and cognitive dissonance. Progressive whites may not respond with anger but “they still insulate themselves via claims that they are beyond the need for engaging with the content because ‘they already had a class on this’, or ‘they already know this’.”

Being so quick to react at the suggestion that one might be racist is the basis of DiAngelo’s book title, White Fragility. She closed the chapter with the story of a teacher addressing two female students as “Girl”. One of the students reacted. “Did you just call me girl?” she asked. The other student said it was OK because the teacher calls all of her students girl.

The teacher later shared the story complaining that he had to be “so careful” and “can’t say anything anymore.” He thought the student was being oversensitive and the other student’s statement confirmed his belief. DiAngelo said that his reaction was a typical white narrative. As I was first reading the story I was tending to agree with the teacher, until I read this: “The teacher never considered that in not understanding the student’s reaction, they might be lacking some knowledge or context. They demonstrated no curiosity about the student’s perspective or why she might have taken offense. Nor did they show any concern about the student’s feelings.” In other words, it was all about him.

This is one of those moments when I have to  take stock. If I say or do something that offends another person, rather than assume they are being to sensitive, I need to be curious about why my action was offensive to them. It may be a door into a deeper understanding of another person or, perhaps, of a whole community of people.

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.