A debate often arises about white people who wish to have a positive impact on racism:
How much time and energy to spend on self-study vs. action?
Howard Eagle, for one, is often challenging me/us to stop the navel-gazing self-discovery and move into ACTION. Of course, he’s right. As one Black woman said in a workshop last fall, “People are dying! Where is the urgency?”
At the same time, if we don’t recognize and understand the origins and the depth of the conditioning that shaped our minds, we will not take seriously the need to deconstruct the result. We will not acknowledge, fully and honestly, the racial stereotypes and judgments we harbor. And if we move to action in this blind state, we will surely become “mess makers”.
IMHO, our direction needs to be BOTH/AND – self-awareness AND action.
I think of the flow as:
With this in mind, I invite you to explore further the development of your own beliefs. I offer a brief history of my lens formation regarding race, as a catalyst to your reflection: How was your own experience similar or different?
I was born in Brooklyn and my extended family on both sides were first or second generation Italians (thus the food pic). Though they still faced some discrimination, by the time I was born they had at least passed as “white”, meaning that their social status had clearly risen “above” Negroes. And in their ascendency, they looked down with disdain. I heard many demeaning, stereotyping barbs. One uncle would refer to Jackie Robinson as “that uppity n……!”
- Moved to Rochester in 1952. No Black families within many square blocks
- Our Lady of Lourdes grammar school – not a single Black family
- McQuaid Jesuit High School – 175 in my graduating class – not one Black kid
- Georgetown – Sue and I met there – neither of us can recall one Black student, other than a few international students, mostly children of wealthy families
- Northwestern for an MBA – 90 in my class, no Black students
- Arthur Andersen – Chicago office – largest accounting office in the world – 1100 professionals. I never worked with any Black professional.
All this time, I certainly had exposure (I wince in using that word, but it fits my mindset at the time) to “Negroes”: Maintenance staff, cafeteria staff, other servile positions. Nate at McQuaid was one of my favorites, often smiling, joking, kidding with us. These were good people – they worked, smiled, didn’t cause any trouble. They seemed content, in my naive assessment, though I had no idea how they actually felt. All was peaceful on the plantation.
Meanwhile, I was being fed images in other forms: Amos & Andy, Redd Foxx and others provided the humorous, bumbling image. Cosby and the Jeffersons showed me that some Negroes could “make it”. And of course, there were all those athletes.
My first blast of reality came in 1964 in Rochester. It’s been called “The Riots of ‘64”. I don’t recall the media at the time indicating that this was an uprising in reaction to a host of grievances. So in my mind, I was mystified:
- How can they do this to their own neighborhood?
- What’s wrong with them?
- What are they so angry about?
- What can they possibly hope to accomplish with this?
I had no knowledge at that time about:
- Absentee white owners milking residents living in their dilapidated buildings
- Kodak, Xerox and others refusing to employ African-Americans (one issue that did get some mention)
- Unequal pay
- Blatant discrimination
- Police brutality
- Vibrant Black neighborhoods being bulldozed to make way for the Inner Loop.
I also was unfazed by the fact that my father’s company, located on Joseph Avenue, employing about 90 people, included about 15 Puerto Rican people, but not a single African-American. My Jackie-Robinson-hating uncle was in charge of Plant Operations. I later ran that company. And I didn’t change that. No one raised the issue, and I was oblivious. This is not a statement of shame or guilt. It’s simply testimony to a conditioned white mind.
Without more detail, I’ll just say that my work/home/community life was extremely white until I was about 40 years old.
As a prompter for you to reconstruct your own formation:
- What are the parallels between your experience and mine? What are the differences? What is your race history?
- What images were implanted in you? Positive? Negative?
- What were your contact points with Black people?
- Which relatives and friends can you ask about their recollections regarding race/racism?
- Complete the Implicit Association Test re race
Again, this history work is not an end in itself, but is a corrective for doing the actions with a more awakened mind, a humbler mind, a less reactive mind. So ACT as well:
- Go to talks, workshops, gatherings, particularly those created by Black leaders
- Volunteer to be part of a campaign during this election
- Offer to drive voters who need rides
- Raise questions of equity and awareness in your workplace, your neighborhood
Next post, guest blogger Howard Eagle will offer us his convictions on urgency vs. gradualism.
How do you relate to this?
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Book: “White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism” Robin DiAngelo. This woman has been unpacking the workings of the white mind for about 20 years. Straightforward.
Article by Robin DiAngelo: http://www.salon.com/2015/06/16/11_ways_white_america_avoids_taking_responsibility_for_its_racism_partner/
Get over the guilt and start working. Huffington Post article: https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/opinion-white-privilege_us_5b79dbafe4b018b93e94f781
Pay close attention to upcoming elections – research candidates’ history and positions on key issues, particularly on race-related matters. For this and future elections, get involved as a volunteer in campaigns that align with your values.
Provide input to City Council members about the need for a Police Accountability Board that meets the criteria sought by community members. D&C review including comments from Rev. Lewis Stewart: Lewis Stewart re PAB – in D&C
“Understanding White Privilege” Tues. Oct. 9, 7:00 – 9:00, 540wMain Community Learning Academy http://www.eventbee.com/v/ceaton85/boxoffice/?mc_cid=984cbc0462&mc_eid=e984ddcba9
“Introduction to Gentrification” Tues. Oct. 16, 7:00 – 8:30, 540wMain Community Learning Academy http://www.eventbee.com/v/ceaton85/boxoffice/?mc_cid=984cbc0462&mc_eid=e984ddcba9