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White Noise: Innocence and Goodwill

22525853 - businessman covering his ears on black backgroundOne definition of white noise: “Meaningless or distracting commotion, hubbub, or chatter”. White noise is also used to describe the intentional background sounds that help one sleep. Babies sleep better with a white noise generator humming.

For many years, I had witnessed the racial tensions in the U.S.. I was concerned, caring, compassionate. I did my best to treat Black people in my life (there were a few) with utmost respect and sensitivity. Of course, I was righteously appalled by the KKK, white supremacists, neo-Nazis, and other alt-right racists. And I would be (silently) critical of any white person exhibiting racist attitudes or behaviors – when I could detect them.

About 4 years ago I began to recognize all that goodwill and sensitivity as “white noise”, an elixir. I had to acknowledge that my caring, compassion, etc. did nothing to remedy the situation. These actually sustained me in a bystander status, blind to the subtle ways in which I was complicit in the very systems I said I abhorred. White noise. Sleep on.

Innocence, ignorance and denial are other manifestations of white noise. Consider these statements:

  • “When I meet people, I don’t see race. I’m colorblind.”
  • “There’s a Black person in our department (or neighborhood or class …), and she seems very comfortable with us.”
  • “I really don’t know much about race.”
  • “I think we should all just see each other as individuals.”
  • “I know Black people face discrimination. But I can’t make that go away.”
  • “I believe anyone can make it in America if they’re really trying.”

Author/researcher Dr. Robin DiAngelo (“What Does It Mean to be White?”) unpacks comments like these to reveal the combination of innocence, ignorance and denial they represent . All serve to blind us to the well-documented evidence of structural and institutional racism, and more importantly, our participation in their perpetuation. These statements also provide evidence of the myths and stereotypes we’ve absorbed simply by being alive and impressionable.

Bottom line: I use white noise to shelter myself from the responsibility of ACTIVE engagement.  This is why, after mass shootings, many legislators have heard comments similar to this:  “Keep your ‘thoughts and prayers’!  Change some damn laws!!”

Here is a stark learning that is helping me wake up: It is not possible to be non-racist! We are either racist or ANTI-racist! So many of us whites want to claim that we are not racist. This claim echoes among liberal white communities particularly. As long as the KKK, neo-Nazis etc. are the standard for being racist, we can excuse our failures to speak up, to advocate for changes in laws, policies, practices that are racist, to actively support political candidates who will pursue changes in laws and policies.

  • ANTI-racist means active engagement, intentional involvement.
  • ANTI-racist means being outspoken in our families, workplaces, neighborhoods.
  • ANTI-racist means pro-actively seeking ways to become allies to Black-led initiatives, following their lead, their understanding, their convictions about what needs to be done.

Reading this blog does not make one ANTI-racist. Only action can do that.

This might be a good point to mention GUILT. The previous couple of paragraphs are intentionally provocative – provoking to action. A common white response would be to slide into guilt.

  • “I’m not involved enough.”
  • “I’m part of the problem.”
  • “I should be engaged somehow.”
  • “I feel bad about this.”

Guilt is white noise! It’s like an internal repeating cycle: do nothing, feel guilty, wallow in the guilt; do nothing, feel guilty, wallow in the guilt, etc.. Guilt is harmful to the guilty since it is a state of dis-ease. More importantly it is harmful to minority communities because our inaction perpetuates the systemic, institutional practices that are literally life-and-death issues.

You can scroll to the bottom of the page to “Leave a Reply”.

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Resources:

“White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk about Racism” Book by Dr. Robin DiAngelo (new release)

“The Top Ten Phrases Used by People Who Claim They Are Not Racist”  Article by Michael Herriott

“White Awake: An Honest look at What It Means to Be White”  Book by Daniel Hill; reflections from a white Christian perspective

“White Man Walking: When we’re deeply asleep we don’t wake up all at once” Article by Paul Hartzer from “The Good Men Project”

Action:

Use those resources.

Get a subscription to “Minority Reporter” at www.minorityreporter.net. This bi-weekly publication provides coverage of issues affecting minority groups in the Rochester area, as well as activities often not publicized in mainstream media.

Join Showing Up For Racial Justice (SURJ) Rochester . This is the local chapter of a national organization of white people who work as allies to the Black community. They regularly publicize events for education and for supporting Black-led efforts.

SPEAK UP!

Let others know about this blog – through your social networks, work, family, etc.

16 thoughts on “White Noise: Innocence and Goodwill”

  1. Howard, when I use the example of a “program” I further explain what that would look like. Yes, it is individual in that it requires educating ourselves and becoming aware of our privilege and biases.
    It especially requires the growth of humility on our parts to step back and not insist on being the leaders and to understand that we will never be the experts when it comes to racism.
    But the next part is the “program” I present is systemic interruption and change through action. And always speaking out and pointing out the racism present in most situations. If we do
    It especially requires the growth of humility on our parts to step back and not insist on being the leaders and to understand that we will never be the experts when it comes to racism.
    But the next part is the “program” I present is systemic interruption and change through action. And always speaking out and pointing out the racism present in most situations. If we do not do these things, we are still a practicing racist.
    The complete racism recovery package is educate, legislate, and agitate. All are necessary. And you never graduate.

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  2. “Join Showing Up For Racial Justice (SURJ) Rochester . This is the local chapter of a national organization of white people who work as allies to the Black community. They regularly publicize events for education and for supporting Black-led efforts.” WHAT??? WHAT???

    “They regularly publicize events for education and for supporting Black-led efforts.”

    WHAT??? WHEN??? WHERE???

    https://www.facebook.com/tidpc/

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    1. That’s their stated purpose, Howard, and I have seen that they do this. I don’t recall seeing publicity given there for the MAMA/TIDPC initiatives. I don’t know why. Have you had any exchanges with them about that?

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      1. Frank, is your statement that you “have seen that they do this” — a reference to your apparent belief that “working as allies to the Black community” translates into simple, nearly irrelevant gestures — such as so-called “regularly publicizing events for Black-led efforts.” Is this your idea of so-called “working as allies to the Black community”???

        The following link is very, very interesting relative to a recent Facebook discussion, in which numerous, local, Black, anti-racist activists, and other activists, are weighing in regarding their observations and opinions about so-called SURJ. What are your and your readers thoughts about this: https://www.facebook.com/rrwilt/posts/10160628823175123?comment_id=10160629786820123&reply_comment_id=10160629945030123&notif_id=1531490577850726&notif_t=feed_comment_reply

        ————————————————————————————————————-

        https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/whites-only-surj-and-the-caucasian-invasion-of-racial_us_58dd5cf7e4b04ba4a5e25209?ncid=engmodushpmg00000003

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      2. I’m torn on this, Howard. I do see the issues the article mentions as critical ones. I also see SURJ at least locally re-examining its own accountability after some tough interactions. I’m watching to see what comes of it. And I’ll keep paying attention to your critique of it. Meanwhile, I do see it as the best example locally of white folks taking responsibility for their own education, pointing people to Black-led efforts, and creating valid accountability.

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  3. Your Blog topic was very helpful to me. I need to declare myself “anti-racist” and judge my actions or non-action accordingly.

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  4. Thanks for these thoughts, Frank. I would add that all white people are racist using the accurate definition of racism. We (white people) can and should perform anti-racist actions, and we should work every day to unlearn racism, but I dont believe it’s possible for a white person at this point in time, in the US, to not be racist.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. As my good friend, Pat Mannix says, “You’re either a racist or a recovering racist and if you’re a recovering racist, you have a program and you work it every day.”

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Wilma, it sounds like you’re describing what an individual journey is generally like for those in “recovery,” which is OK, but racists working their individual “programs daily” does NOT automatically, nor necessarily translate into anything significant, concrete, or measurable — relative to chopping off the two most vital, insidious, and dangerous heads of the tripartite beast and illness, i.e., the institutional and structural heads: http://minorityreporter.net/the-tripartite-beast-and-illness-of-individual-institutional-and-structural-racism/

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