The author, a blogger named IzumiBayani, describes himself as “100% Japanese, 100% white, 25% deaf, oppressor and oppressed,” and in his post, he works around a theme that attempts to understand, instruct and encourage white men who want to participate in the work of social justice.
Because we talk a lot on this blog about struggles against institutional white privilege, some visitors may have come away feeling that we are anti-white people or anti-white men, in particular. I am not anti-white people. I am a white person. And I am definitely not anti-white men. I am the daughter of a white man. I am married to a white man. I am raising a white man.
Recently, a friend who is serving a year as a missionary in Chicago told me about her initiation through that program into the world of racial justice. One of the first books she read (a book we highly recommend here at ID), was Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? My friend told me that in her mission house, one person struggled most with the implications and the expectations the book raises. That conflicted missionary was the only white man in the house. He felt what many of us feel, guilt, hopelessness in the face of injustice, fear of stepping out into a community filled with people of color who, because of his race and gender, might dismiss him as being “like the others.”
In my last post on the debacle over a “Black History Month” menu, I confessed that my husband and I had been having long discussions about the situation. Many times I am challenged by his experience as a white man to explain my opinions on these subjects in such a way that he can access my ideas and appreciate where I’m coming from. I often get angry with him and wish he would be as passionate or as convinced as I am about certain things. And in those moments, I forget how much work he puts into trying to figure all of this out. I forget the obstacles that unearned and unsought privilege places in front of him as he seeks to engage in these things. I forget to show grace and patience to someone who is willing to support me and join me in this work.
We’ve talked on the blog before about how we white folks need to be patient and understanding when people of color distrust our efforts. For me that’s often a no-brainer. I can see the need for that more clearly. It’s harder for me to see what privilege does to the privileged because I am one of them. The injuries racism inflicts on people of color is visible to me. What’s often invisible is the injury done to me, my husband, my kids in how racism shapes our attitudes, our lifestyles, and our capacity to love and serve all people (including each other).
White men who participate in racial justice are willing to go through repeated initiation, to be inspected and suspected even when they have pure motives. They are willing to walk in situations where everything society has imprinted upon them tells them they should feel threatened. In small, microcosmic ways, they are taking up a cross of vulnerability and rejection that people of color have borne for centuries in the larger context of American society. As IzumiBayani says of his white friend, Ecrib:
I don’t tell Ecrib this often enough, but he needs to stay humble. No one is asking him to lead us out to the promise land. In fact, he can’t be a dominant leader in a social justice movement because of his identity. This space is for PoC and to some extent WW. He can support, but he can’t lead. That invokes the White Savior Complex. White male arrogance can easily ruin his credibility and get him thrown off the boat.
It’s hard for white guys. And some of them don’t deserve it. But that’s how racial injustice works.
IzumiBayani asks this at the end of his post:
what can we as PoC’s and women do to balance staying safe and giving dominant identities a chance?
I’d invite you to post your responses to this question here AND at the original blog. My answer is to love them and let them come. To allow them to get it wrong from time to time and correct the well-intentioned with truth and gentleness. To give them a place to be angry about what this system has done to them by making them oppressors by default. To encourage them to go out and reach the very audiences that they can influence because of their privilege.
My missionary friend told me that the other man in the house, a man of color, kept repeating to his grieved white friend, “YOU are not racism.” I love that. I’d add to my own white men, “but in Christ, like all things, you can OVERCOME it.”