Saints Among Us

I turned on the TV this morning only to catch the last five minutes of Justice Ginsburg’s memorial service. I decided I would catch it later on U-tube, which I finally did just a short time ago. I have watched many funerals and memorial services over the past few years. Only those of leaders or significant people are televised. George Floyd’s service was televised and I watched it as my way of supporting Black Lives Matter and listening to the inspirational speeches.

I want to focus in this blog on three because I am struck by something similar between them that people who loved and respected them made a point to highlight. The three are Senator John McCain, Representative John Lewis, and Justice Ginsburg. One thing that is striking is the numbers of people who showed up to expressed the loss of these great leaders. There are hundreds of people serving our country in Washington, some not even known to their own constituents. But these three were known for more than their jobs.

I could list the individual accomplishments of McCain, Lewis and Ginsburg but I don’t think that is what made people want to come forth in droves to honor them. I think what brought people out was love. At each of their memorial services, I heard about their ability to respect the humanity of each person they represented and those they worked with. Not only was McCain honored by President Bush of his own party, but by Obama and Clinton. He knew how to respect an individual who had opinions different than his own. The brief encounter he had with a supporter who spoke nasty words about his opponent Barrak Obama is classic. He corrected the woman. “Obama is a fine American who loves his country. He just has a different way of solving problems than I do.”*

At Lewis’ funeral I heard people talk about how he showed love and respect for each person he met. He was known as the Conscience of the Congress. It was said that when he would speak to you, you could feel the love.

Today, the same kind of thoughts were expressed about Ruth Bade Ginsburg. I heard over and over about the friendship she had with conservative Judge Scalia. She was known for her respect for all, no matter their differences in political opinion.

I would call these Heroes. They were of a higher kind of mind and soul than those who seek to tear down others who disagree with them. There are so few among us, especially those who are in leadership positions. I believe that power tends to corrupt. I don’t say that it always does, but it takes saints like these three  to gain  power and to use it only for good.

 

Peace Pilgrim Speaks

The title of my blog is “My Thoughts on Peace”and Peace Pilgrim is one of my peace-making heroes. I want to share these words with you today which if found tucked in my journal in 2002:

On predictions about the futures, she wrote: “Dwell only on the good things you want to see happen…through thought you create your inner conditions and help to create the conditions around you. We are all helping to make a great decision…the darkest hour is just before the dawn…everything out of harmony is on the way out. The darkness we see is disintegration of out-of-harmony things…eventually God will prevail…it is only how soon that is up to us.”

“Leftists are those who want to push social change faster than can it can naturally go. Rightists are those who want to keep things as they are or turn back the hands of the clock. Both believe in the false philosophy that the end justifies the means…the war philosophy. I believe that the means you use will determine the end you receive. This is the peace philosophy.”

“There is a magic formula for resolving conflicts. It is this: Have as your objective the resolving of the conflict – not the gaining of advantage.”

“Be concerned that you do not offend – not that you are not offended.”

“If you fear nothing and expect good, good will come.”

Let’s Look Together at White Privilege – 16

In  her ninth chapter, “White Fragility in Action”, Robin DiAngelo lists feelings white people experience when it is pointed out to them that something they said or did is racist. She also lists behaviors, claims they typically make that will tend to exempt them personally and finally, assumptions. DiAngelo has been presenting the facts about racism to white audiences for years and I would guess she has seen and heard everything. I am going to mention just a couple of ideas that I relate to here, as we might if you and I were participating in a book club discussion.

If I were at a workshop on racism and the leader suggested that something I said was racist, I would feel singled out, first of all. I consider myself a pretty open and educated person when it comes to race, so I guess I would also feel humiliated. I would get defensive and try to figure out if this person was right or if she was mislabeling me. I might even agree with her that my words were racist but inside myself I would probably think, “I am not really racist. That was just a slip of the tongue.”

Typical behaviors of those feeling attacked or accused might be withdrawal, denying, or focusing on intentions. I think I would probably withdraw or cover-up. I might go overboard a bit in trying to sound more open. I wouldn’t likely say, “Wow, that stung!” I am capable of  being honest but usually, honesty with myself comes after the fact.

DiAngelo listed many of the claims people make in her previous chapters and I have addressed these. I am in a different place today than I was years ago. I know that I am privileged, I know that my experience with people of different races is limited. I am not likely to make any claims to being considered non-racist. I am likely to work on my behaviors as I go about my life. I shared in a past blog my decision to fight my fears when walking in a primarily black neighborhood. I can’t do much about my feelings but can do something about my behaviors.

DiAngelo has a long list of assumptions behind reactions. The one that stands out for me is, “Racism is a conscious bias. I have none, so I am not a racist.” I have been dealing with the idea of biases for years. It is an important concept for a writer. I am convinced that there is no such thing as being unbiased. Bias, to me is simply how you look at a problem. What part of the elephant are you looking at? Bias has a lot to do with what we were taught and what we experienced as children. We usually hold on to our biases until some new truth comes along and pokes a hole in our bias. This is happening for me right now in regards to racism. I hope that it will keep happening throughout my life. It is the life of a learner.

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”.

 

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.