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 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.

Let’s Look Together at White Privilege – 7

Robin DiAngelo in her section on White Supremacy says that it “is a descriptive and useful term to capture the all-encompassing centrality and assumed superiority of people defined and perceived as white and the practices based on this assumption.” As I read this I thought about the hatred people had for Barrack Obama. I am talking about hatred, not distaste or disagreement with his politics. Being the educated man that he had with the confident savvy and amazing knowledge and vocabulary he had, he must have been an affront to people who were already intimidated by highly educated people, viewing them as snobs. To be a black snob was just to much to tolerate.

(Forgive me – this assumption is pretty judgmental on my part., and reflects a pretty snarky remark Hillary Clinton made about Donald Trump’s supporters during the campaign.)

As DiAngelo continues, she reminds us that racism is a structure.”White supremacy in this context does not refer to individual white people and their individual intentions or actions but to an an overarching political, economic, and social system of domination.” There are hate groups, of course, that proclaim that whites are superior, but their existence tends to obscure “the reality of the larger system at work and prevents us from addressing this system.”

Racism occurs in other cultures but the United States, as a global power, spreads the idea of white supremacy through movies and mass media, corporate culture, advertising, US manufacturing, military presence, historic colonial relations, missionary work and other means.

My husband and I had the opportunity to go to Guatemala a number of times to serve in a program managed by Common Hope, a group organized to serve the poor in that country. We worked directly with the indigenous people on projects, got to know their families, celebrated and prayed with them. I noticed that even in their homes that we might call hovels, a family might have a television set. Living in such dire poverty, they were witness to riches Americans had through programs and advertising. Directors in the program told us that the people assumed all Americans are rich. We were dismayed when the father of a girl we sponsored in the program wanted us to take her home with us to raise her. She was just a child. But the director said he believed the life we could offer her so surpassed anything he could offer. We were embarrassed by our wealth, the wealth we didn’t feel we had when we were back home in the states. The indigenous people held us on pedestals we didn’t deserve because of our American whiteness.

Charles W. Mills, author of The Radial Contract, describes white supremacy as “the political system that has made the modern world what it is today.” He says that white supremacy is never acknowledged and that fact protects it from examination and holds it in its place. Below is a breakdown of positions of power and decision-makers in the United States.

  • Ten richest Americans: 100 percent white, seven of whom are the ten richest in the world.
  • US Congress: 90 percent white.
  • US government: 96 percent white
  • Top military advisers: 100 percent white
  • President and vice-president: 100 percent white
  • US House Freedom Caucus: 99 percent white
  • Current US presidential cabinet: 91 percent white
  • People who decide which TV shows we see: 93 percent white
  • People who decide which books we read: 90 percent white
  • People who decide which news is covered: 85 percent white
  • People who decide which music is produced: 95 percent white
  • People who dictate the one hundred top-grossing films of all time, worldwide: 95 percent white
  • Teachers: 82 percent white
  • Full-time college professors: 84 percent white
  • Owners of men’t professional football teams: 97 percent white

It is important to note whites make up about 60 percent of the population in the U.S. but, according to the list above, they hold about 90 percent of the power.

How does this happen? It is actually quite deliberate. Lee Atwater, Republican strategist and adviser for presidents Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush explained what was known as “the Southern Strategy.” It was a way to appeal to the racism of white southern voters without pronouncing it openly.

“You start out in 1954 by saying, ‘Nigger, nigger, nigger.” By 1968 you can’t say ‘nigger’ – that hurts you. Backfires. So you say stuff like forced busing, states’ rights and all that stuff. You’re getting so abstract now (that) you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is (that) blacks get hurt worse than whites.”

It shocks me to read this. While I consider myself a liberal democrat, I’ve had an appreciation of the Republican party that seemed to always be keeping their eye on the budget. To think of budgeting strategies as a cover-up for preventing black Americans from achieving the benefits of their white fellow-citizens gives me pause…and I think may be even hurt my heart.






This Virus Sucks

I am taking a break from my White Privilege series. I read this morning and have lots to share, but it is busy day ahead…

I received a picture via text this morning of three of my cousins. They are all slightly older than I am and, given our history, are like brother and sisters to me. Two are compromised as far as their health and are suffering dementia. Louie lives in north Chicago. Frannie and Mary live in Kenosha, WI. The picture was sent by their cousin from their dad’s side who has taken the two sisters in to care for them.

It was planned up until January that Bernie and I were going to take a trip to Chicago to see family. Every time we go, I know that it will be a last time for someone. We are all that age. Together we watched Aunt Maureen pass away knowing she was the last of a generation. I, my one surviving brother, and our many cousins are now the generation that serve as the elders. We will all die in time and then our children will step into that role. Seeing Fran and Mary and Louie brought tears to  my eyes. I don’t know if I will ever see them.

This virus sucks. I wonder exactly why we are succumbing to it, allowing it to take away so much of our joy. One moment of light as I looked upon them smiling so lovingly at me: this is not an end. There is no end. We will be together again. That is a positive. It is just a matter of when. Franny told me she is not afraid to die. Nor am I. Jesus showed that death is not an end. That takes the edge off.

Let’s Look Together at White Privilege – 4

On White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo. Comments on Chapter 1: “The Challenges of Talking to White People About Racism”

DiAngelo names several social forces that prevent white people from attaining the racial knowledge needed to move productively in racial issues. These forces “powerfully hold the racial hierarchy in place.” They are: ideologies of individualism and meritocracy, narrow and repetitive media misrepresentations of people of color, segregation in schools and neighborhoods, depictions of whiteness as the human ideal, truncated history, jokes, and warnings, taboos on openly talking about race and white solidarity.

In yesterday’s blog I  mentioned the woman who violently lashed out at some Hispanic workers who were talking in Spanish among themselves. This is an example of a white person thinking white, English speaking, and dressing a certain way is the “right way” to be American. Hers is an extreme case of white socialization. But all whites are socialized into the white culture and mindset by simply living here in America. The list above is how the socialization takes place.

In this chapter, DiAngelo focuses on the ideology of individualism which “holds that we are each unique and stand apart from others, even those within our social groups. Objectively it tells us that it is possible to be free of bias.” Yesterday I told the story of the youth visiting Red Lake Reservation where they listened to a speaker who told the story of the Red Lake people. He implied that they were in some way responsible for the actions of whites who tricked them into surrendering part of the lake to the state. I don’t recall exactly what he said but I suspect he used the phrase “your people”. Just as DiAngelo suggests, the kids saw themselves as unique and different from the whites who had done the people harm years ago. The native people, however think in different terms. They are part of community and each shares in the pride or guilt of the whole nation. Individualism keeps whites from thinking of white as one’s community distinct from other communities. Having experienced Native spirituality, I feel a sense of guilt when I think about what my American ancestors did to the Indians when they launched into Manifest Destiny.

When discussing the problems that immigrants of color experience when they come to the United States, I often hear people talk about their own ancestors who were not received well when they came here. I am not sure the point they are trying to make, perhaps that they understand or that the new immigrants should stop whining, hurry up and assimilate and things will be fine. I come from Polish and German ancestry. Coming to American goes back only four generation, the first ones immigrating in the late 1800’s. The first among the Poles settled on farms in western Wisconsin. This generation spoke Polish, ate Polish food and kept Polish customs. With children going to school and later working, they learned English and took on other practices and customs they learned in America. Some of this second generation, including my grandparents, moved to the Chicago area where I was born to a daughter, third generation). My grandparents could speak Polish but rarely did so once they left Wisconsin. None of their children in my mothers generation spoke the language. The had assimilated…almost.

I remember my Aunt Jo saying one day how much Polish jokes hurt her. I always thought Polish jokes were funny but she could see that they implied that Polish people are stupid. She took it personally because she felt part of a tribe, a people. My generation had lost that. I think our family was right on target for full assimilation to take place.

But Poles are white. The Irish and Italians are white. They are bound to assimilate, but what of races like Black and Hispanic and Asian? In the above story, the workers who experienced the wrath of the woman could easily have been several generation Americans. But that was not the woman’s perception. Her perception was effected by their brownness and the language they spoke. I have an Asian friend who was asked once where she was from. When she answered Minneapolis, the person said, “No I mean where are your people from?” She said, “Montana.” The man assumed she was an immigrant because of her Asian features. The problem, of course, is that in the United States, whiteness is considered the norm to which all other races need to imitate…but one cannot change their skin or features.

It is humbling to read DiAngelo’s words. Becoming more conscious of my tribal identification with the white race, I wish I could feel pride.

I look forward to your reflections and stories.


Let’s Look Together at White Privilege – 3

Reflections on White Frigility by Robin DiAgnelo, Introduction.

DiAngelo explains in her intro who she is and how it is she came to write the book. A white woman, she was a diversity trainer whose job it was to work with people in a workplace to educate them about racism and, hopefully, improve the workplace situation. “I was taken aback,” she writes, “by how angry and defensive so many white people became at the suggestion that they were connected to racism in any way. The very idea that they would be required to attend a workshop in racism outraged them.” In order to understand, DiAngelo linked racism to the idea of being bad. As I suggested in yesterday’s blog, being racist, she said, also meant an individual would actually want to do harm to others because of race. It is no surprise that a person would want to defend themselves.

It is important that people realize that we are all swimming in the same racial water, as she puts it. If I accept that racism is unavoidable, for ANYONE, then maybe I can “understand racism as a system into which I was socialized (and) I can receive feedback on my problematic racial patterns as a helpful way to support my learning and growth.”

Years ago, I had a taste of racism and the white reaction to racism when each summer I took teens from my church to the Red Lake Reservation in norther Minnesota to do service work. It was the Catholic mission that that we visited and they put us to work in the school and on the church grounds. The staff set up opportunities for the kids to listen to speakers and have some cultural experiences while we were there.

There was on man, a native elder, who often came during our visits, to teach the history of the Red Lake people and about native spirituality. He was pretty straight-forward, even confrontational, suggesting that this group of white teens were somewhat responsible for the actions of their ancestors as they manipulated the tribe in wrangling a piece of the lakes by tricking them in the wordage of the treaty. That drew quite a reaction from the kids, as you might expect. Their ancestors might have been unjust, but THEY hadn’t done anything wrong. While I didn’t say so, I sided with the kids. I felt protective of their fragile feelings as teenagers. And my own, I guess.

I wish I had understood back then about white privilege. This would have been a perfect moment to teach them.

On one of our trips to Red Lake we happened to be there during pow-wow days. This was a fairly small pow-wow compared to others I attended because Red Lake is a closed reservation, though there were a few whites from the surrounding areas. After the pow-wow, we gathered in our space at the mission’s convent where we were housed to talk about the experience. One of the girls, who I recall was quite feisty and outspoken, said, “They aren’t very friendly.” I asked her what she meant. “Well, we were sitting there in a group and not one of them came up to talk to us.” I asked her what she expected them to do and she said she didn’t really know, just that they weren’t friendly.

I asked her what would happen if a group of young Native American teenagers came from Red Lake to attend a football game at St. Cloud High school. “If they were sitting together in the bleachers just like you were today,” I said, “what would you do? Would you go up to them and welcome them?”

She said probably not. She would be too embarrassed to do so. I said, “The people at the pow-wow may not have known why you were there in the first place. But if they failed to welcome you, it is probably for the same reason.”

There was more we could have talked about. Embarrassment, perhaps, but fear also. Fear of the other. How did the Red Lake people at the pow-wow know whether these young white teenagers were there to cause harm? If a group of native kids showed up at a football game in St. Cloud, what assumptions might the white spectators make about them and their intentions? How complicated this becomes!

I look forward to your stories and your insights.