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 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.