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Posts Tagged ‘beginner’

…asked a young man of Tim Wise.  h/t Sociological Images and sister Tope for bringing this video to my attention.

**poster’s note:  For more on this subject, check out the sidebar of our Derailment Series or click on any number of the tags associated with the issues of privilege, guilt, and beginning as an anti-racist.

And because Nikki is a quick-draw on the commenting, here’s the transcript:

Questioner (off-camera): Um, as a white male, should I feel guilty for the sins of my fathers. I affirm that they exist, but should I feel guilty for them?

Tim Wise: No. You should feel angry. And you should feel committed to doing something to address that legacy. It’s like, for instance, with pollution, right? We think about the issue of pollution. Now none of us in this room, to my knowledge, are individually responsible for having belched any toxic waste into the air, or injecting toxic waste into the soil, or done any of the things… we didn’t put lead paint into the housing, you know?

Individually we’re innocent of that. But someone did that stuff, and we’re living with the legacy of it right now, or in this case might be dying with the legacy of it, getting ill, right?.

So it isn’t about feeling guilty about what someone did, even if you were the direct heir of the chemical company that did the pollution, but it is about saying, all of us in the society have to take responsibility for what we find in front of us. There’s a big difference between guilt and responsibility.

Guilt is what you feel for what you’ve done. Responsibility is what you take because of the kind of person you are, right? And so if I see a set of social conditions that have been handed to you, and which not only did wrong by othrs but elevated me and give me advantage that I did not earn, it’s not about beating myself up, I’m not responsible for that having happened, I’m not to blame for it, so guilt is totally unproductive

But in order to live an ethical life, to live ethically and responsibly, I have to take some responsibility for the unearned advantage, which means working to change the society that bestows that advantage. It’s not guilt, but it is responsiblity. It’s no different than looking at the issue of pollution or if you became the CFO of the company, you wouldn’t be able to come in and say, “I intend to use the assets of this company, and I insend to put them to greater use, and I intend to use the revenue stream we’ve got going, but that whole debt side of the ledger? No, I’m not paying any of that because I wasn’t here when the other person ran all that debt up. You should’ve gotten them to pay it before you gave me the job. Now I’m here, and I’m innocent.” We would realize that made no sense.

So isn’t about innocence and it isn’t about guilt, it’s about responsibility, that’s something we all have to take. White folks have to take it, people of color have to take it, uh, men and women have to take… everybody has got to take it, because we’re living with… if we don’t do it, no one does it, and it doesnt’ get done. We’re the only hope we have.

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There is an ostensibly positive stereotype of Asian Americans so ubiquitous that I do not question whether American (and many other) readers have heard or seen some version of it:

Asians are intelligent, studious and hardworking, family-oriented, polite and law-abiding and, through the diligent practice of these virtues in the face of challenges and obstacles, successful. They’ve pulled themselves up by their own bootstraps and attained the American Dream.

Major media outlets, sociologists, and politicians have lauded Asian Americans as a “model minority” or “superminority,” a “trophy population” that has moved “from pariahs to paragons” to become “exemplars of hope.” Television shows and movies feature Asian nerds; even portrayals of Asian criminals tend to be unusually intelligent and disciplined.

Who wouldn’t want to be considered intelligent, hardworking, and successful? Isn’t this stereotype complimentary? So what’s the problem? In reality, this “model minority” myth misrepresents the truth, and it’s harmful to both Asians and non-Asians.

For the sake of brevity, I will focus on one of the many ways this racial stereotype misrepresents the truth: income. Those who tout Asian Americans’ “success” often cite, for example, comparable average household incomes of Asian and non-Hispanic white Americans. Frank Wu has pointed out that upon further examination, however, the appearance of parity falls apart. Asian Americans live, on average, in larger households than white Americans, so household income is often shared among more people in an Asian household than a white one. There’s a difference between $45K shared among 3 people and the same amount shared among 4 or 5 people. An Asian American household is also more likely than a white one to include more people capable of and actually contributing to household income—a higher percentage of Asian American women work, a higher percentage of Asian households include non-nuclear family members over the age of 15. The life of a family that earns $45K by pooling the incomes of 3 people is not really comparable to a family that receives the same amount through a single breadwinner. Asian Americans are also more likely than whites to be self-employed, which usually means working longer hours with fewer benefits and greater risk of setbacks like bankruptcy. $45K eked from the family shop is not like $45K with benefits from the corporate job. Asian Americans are also more urbanized than any other racial group, geographically concentrated in states with higher-than-average costs of living. The Smiths’ $45K goes much further in Smallville than the Kims’ $45K does in Metropolis. Wu further points out that “the figures for Asian Americans are rendered unreliable by the careless inclusion of [upper-management] Asians who reside in the United States [for a few years] but who are not Asian American at all.” The income of a Japanese executive living in the United States is counted in the Asian American average even though the transnational executive is not representative of Asian Americans.

Despite the stereotype, Asian Americans have not attained economic parity with white Americans. Asian Americans are still more likely to live in poverty than whites. Some ethnic groups, like Cambodians and Hmong, have poverty rates 3 or 4 times higher. Racial inequalities persist.

And this apparently “positive” stereotype has negative uses and consequences. For a white person who wants to defend the status quo, this popular and widely-believed stereotype is a handy weapon. In conversations about racism, he throws out “Asians have overcome racism through hard work” and the stereotype allows him to achieve, among any who buy into it, three goals at once: he denies that Asians are still harmed by racism, he suggests that any person of color who has not attained similar success just isn’t working hard enough, and he absolves white people like himself of responsibility to work for racial justice. In a stroke, he’s shifted all the work necessary to overcome racism to those who suffer white racism.

A committed white supremacist might deliberately play on this stereotype not to praise Asians but to use them as a tool to denigrate other people of color, promoting his racist agenda and attempting to sow disunity among the marginalized. This has been done in the past, as Wu documents.

But a white person who believes this stereotype need not be mean-spirited to harm people. I recently read a study showing that non-Hispanic white people who believe Asians are smarter than other minorities (70%) and harder working than other minorities (more than 40%) are also more likely to believe that Asian Americans experience no racial discrimination in the job market. Believing that Asians don’t face such discrimination, whites are unlikely to make any effort to remedy it. This is a problem, of course, because Asian Americans do experience job discrimination. They are underrepresented in management, for example, and when they do receive management positions they are paid less than whites in comparable positions. This is not due to their own preference. Research has shown that Asian Americans do not differ from whites in desiring career advancement and management positions. And as I was writing this, Tim Wise called attention to the fact that when Asian Americans lose their jobs, they have a harder time finding work than whites, so their unemployment lasts longer. Yes, Asian Americans experience racial discrimination, and “positive” stereotypes are part of the problem.

We need become more conscious of the racial stereotypes and prejudices we harbor and take the time to examine them more carefully. It’s not just the obviously negative ones that help perpetuate racism and injustice.

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A week or two ago, I had what we Southerners call a “hissy fit.”  I had been watching the news on several networks and read many different outlets all reporting on how Glenn Beck and his flock were descending upon the Capitol in droves.  A friend sent me a video of interviews with folks who came to D.C. to “call the nation back to God.”  Most faces I saw in the crowd were white.  Every interview I saw or read was with a white person.  Many of them were decrying the political agenda of our sitting President.  Some of them were calling him a racist and saying it was time to take “our” country back.

In my fit, I sat down on several occasions to write a blog post about this phenomenon.  I considered it from many angles.  I started writing about how I’m not one of those white people.  I started writing that those people don’t really get what my God is all about.  I started writing about the Pharisees and the Sadducees and thinking up all kinds of Bible verses that I would hurl back in an effort to halt the parade of hatred and ignorance on TV that whole weekend.  I started to write any number of those things and then deleted it, choking on my own anger about it all.

Then one day, last week in the car as I was fuming about everything I’d seen, with no one to call and vent, one of my favorite musicians, a contemporary Christian music artist named Sara Groves, intervened right there in the middle of my minivan.  She sang:

Redemption comes in strange place, small spaces
Calling out the best of who we are
I want to add to the beauty
To tell a better story

I want to shine with the light
That’s burning up inside

And that’s where I decided to write this post.  You see, I could write those other things—about how white people suck; how, collectively, we don’t get “it”;  how as much as I want to not be one of them, sometimes, I am them.  I know that story and many of our readers here at the blog know that story.  It’s familiar and it usually ends badly.

But I want to “add to the beauty,” not just recount the ugly.  So how does one “tell a better story”?  Well, while I believe in the power of shining a spotlight on horrible things, it can’t be all we do.  I believe we’re right to curse the darkness; but, sometimes we get so used to seeing in the dark, we need to adjust our vision.  Rather than focusing on a very vocal and seemingly prominent group of haters, I need to remember that great cloud of witnesses—past and present—who can encourage me forward and who tell me to not lose heart in fighting against racism as a white person.  I need to look at those success stories of white people who turned things around or made some small difference.

I need a redemption story.

I need a story like that of William Wilberforce—who took on a nation of generational slaveholders using his position of power and privilege as a white man to end the British slave trade.  I need a story like that of Lucretia Mott, a Quaker minister, abolitionist and feminist.  I need to read about Father Bartolomé de las Casas—who Kate featured in a Columbus Day post—a man who got it wrong in many ways but came to oppose the torture committed against Native people during colonial conquest.  I need to meditate on the life of Corrie Ten Boom, a Dutch Christian who was interned for aiding Jews in escaping Nazi persecution during the Holocaust.  I need to know about and remember the sacrifices made by Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwarner, two Jewish men martyred in Mississippi for helping to register black voters during Freedom Summer.

I need to hear from teachers like Peggy McIntosh and Tim Wise who make our privilege visible and call us to a better white identity.

I need to get my hands on and my head around stories like those of Chris Rice and Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove—men who forsook their own privilege and the comfort of a homogeneous faith community to live out integration in the all-too-rare situation where white people act as integrators.  Both men explore how their faith in Christ informed and guided their decisions toward anti-racist activism and communal living in their autobiographies: Rice’s story focused on his life as a young man living in the 1980s and Wilson-Hartgrove’s is a more contemporary example from the last 10 years.

Rice’s story is particularly compelling for anti-racist Christian novices as it is almost a primer on the efforts and leaders of the evangelical-side of movement since the days of the Civil Rights era.  Rice describes how he and Spenser Perkins formed a hard-fought friendship and took up the second-generation mantle handed them by John Perkins.  He also shares with painful honesty his struggles to come to terms with his own sense of privilege, entitlement and authority in the midst of a strong black community.  Wilson-Hartgrove is an affirming example of what those of us just now getting involved in anti-racist work can do and how far we can come if we let God transform our thinking and our lifestyles to make us agents of reconciliation.

That day in the car, as the CD moved on, I was still stuck thinking about what Sara Groves had said.  I thought about Glenn Beck and those like him who enjoy derision and division.  I kept coming back to my anger over these things even while I had decided that I want to tell a better story with my life.  Groves had an answer for that, too.  In her song, Kingdom Comes she says:

When anger fills your heart
When in your pain and hurt
You find the strength to stop
You bless instead of curse

When doubting floods your soul
Though all things feel unjust
You open up your heart
You find a way to trust…

When fear engulfs your mind
Says you protect your own
You still extend your hand
You open up your home

When sorrow fills your life
When in your grief and pain
You choose again to rise
You choose to bless the name…

In the mundane tasks of living
In the pouring out and giving
In the waking up and trying
In the laying down and dying

That’s a little stone that’s a little mortar
That’s a little seed that’s a little water
In the hearts of the sons and the daughters
The kingdom’s coming

None of this is easy, friends.  I haven’t been at all this anti-racist stuff for long, but I’ve been at it long enough to know some things get easier, but that’s when God sometimes presses in to challenge us and call us to do even harder things.  In those moments, if all I can offer is a little obedience, sweat and mortar, I’m doing my job.  I’ll remember our white anti-racist heroes, like my white friend Ashleigh, who has in the last year, been awakened to anti-racism and is cultivating a deep passion for justice and reconciliation in her own life.

I’m hoping that over time, I’ll be able to look on angry scenes like the one I saw on the news the other week and say as Christ did from the cross, “Forgive them, they know not what they do.”  Until that day comes, I pray that when I look upon the horror stories our world has to offer, that even as I rail against them, I’ll be mindful that all of it is only the prelude to a better story: a kingdom coming.

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Today I read an incredible guest post over at Macon D’s Stuff White People Do that almost killed me.

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.”

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Irene’s Daughters have been away for a Christmas vacation, but here’s a link to tide you over!

How to be an anti-racist ally
written by Love Isn’t Enough contributor Julia

Points included:

Broaden your definition of racism

Acknowledge how racism has shaped you.

Acknowledge your white privilege.

Accept your limitations.

Get comfortable with humility.

Share power.

Educate yourself.

Recognize that it’s not about you.

Listen to people of color and accept their truth.

Accept that effect counts more than intention.

Speak up and do your part.

Don’t forget the many resources for beginners right here at Irene’s Daughters, including “A Beginner’s Guide to Anti-Racism for White People”!

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I’ve often struggled personally with how to reconcile my education as a budding anti-racist with the realities of my family life.  Inevitably at this time of year, when prayers of thanksgiving are offered in my church and in the homes of various family members, we tend to gloss over or flat out ignore the significance of this day in our nation’s history.

As kids, we’re taught all kinds of wrong things about the first Thanksgiving.  Fortunately, things are improving from the time when I was a child parading around in a paper-feathered headdress in a school play.  Scholastic even has some advice for educators who still haven’t gotten the story right.  As Resist Racism points out, this is often the only time of year that non-native people even think about Native Americans, and sadly, our thinking is usually caricature.

While in my own little piece of the world, I’m reading and blogging about racial injustice, white privilege, and the life, what happens when I go home with my head full of this stuff and encounter challenges at the dinner table?  How can I present what I’ve learned in a gracious way but still remain committed to my ideals?

Love Isn’t Enough has a great guide for alternative activities that would be helpful if I were teaching elementary school, but inviting my family over for a day of mourning in solidarity with my native brothers and sisters wouldn’t exactly fly at Thanksgiving with the in-laws.  The mere mental image of that scene reminds me of the passage that says,

And they took offense at him. But Jesus said to them, ‘A prophet is not without honor except in his hometown and in his own household.’ -Matthew 13:57

I’m not looking to get run out of town, or stoned, but I know that often times those are the breaks for doing the right thing. I’ve taken my fair-share of attempts at insult, bearing up under the labels of “bleeding-heart” (which doesn’t really hurt my feelings) or hearing, “lighten up, you’re so sensitive.”

For me, it’s not just limited to participating in activities where people will remember to thank God for the bounty of America, while ignoring the past and present pain our riches have cost others.  We never neglect to give thanks for the troops, but often forget all those civilians killed in the crossfighting.

It’s also the fact that in many of these family gatherings, there will be open use of racial slurs, or stereotypes.  Because ours is a white family, we are a meeting of “us” that can launch into conversations about “them.”  Do I confront these things?  Make passive-aggressive sarcastic comments (as I’m prone to do)?  Should I make a scene or let these things pass knowing that this will be my children’s only exposure to most of the folks for a whole year, and my husband and I can clean up the mess later?

I’ve done it all, and rarely gotten any of it right.  Anyone out there have similar experiences?  How (if at all) do you handle it when you go home with this for the holidays?

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About a year ago, my husband and I were out with a white acquaintance and somewhere in our extensive conversation about real estate, the man made a racial joke.  There was that inevitable uncomfortable moment where neither my husband nor I were laughing, so the man quickly covered his tracks by saying, “well, I can say that because my wife is black.”

derailment (n): a defensive argument, statement, or question that dismisses or seeks to undermine anti-racist arguments in an effort to preserve privilege or the status quo

We’ve all either done this or heard this in discussions about race.  An errant comment is dismissed by a disclaimer: “I’m not a racist.  I have black/Asian/Latino friends/coworkers/or in this guy’s case, a spouse.”  Because we know or have affection for a person of color, somehow that makes it okay to make a racial slur. [This is the point where I would express a certain amount of ?!@#$%$^$??]

What struck me about the situation at the top of this post was that the man’s black wife was not present for our conversation.  I often wonder if our “black friends” were around, would we say the same things?  Perhaps.  But often, we have better judgment when we are among a more diverse group.  Even if we say such things in that context, do we ever really consider how that makes our “friends” feel?

Occasionally, I’ve seen conversations among a diverse group of colleagues or friends go like this:  a white person utters a regrettable remark and then asks the representative person of color if the comment offended him/her.  “You know I’m joking, right?” or “No offense, k?”  At which point the person of color is faced with these choices: 1) call even more attention to himself/herself by rebuking their colleague, 2) laugh and ignore it like it wasn’t a big deal, but it really might be a big deal or 3) laugh because they, too decide to embrace the stereotype in order to be accepted in the group.  In any of these options, the imposed-upon person is being asked to pardon the offender without any condemnation of the act itself.  Is this something we really want to do to “friends”?  Create awkward situations where they cannot voice the hurt we’ve caused them? Or worse, compel them to accept and adopt our prejudices in order to fit in?

The whole idea makes me question the nature of our friendships with people of color.  At least two of my grandmothers regularly referred to all black people as “colored” but had befriended their black neighbors or nurses.  At least one of them still used the n-word from time to time.  In their minds, these women were “exceptions” to the “rules” they had accepted about black folks.  Even while my white grandmothers accepted these women into their lives and homes, the invisible social dynamics of our country, reinforced by the language and behavior of my grandmas, kept them from ever really knowing and loving one another as friends.  They were still unflinchingly attached to a system of prejudice that made egalitarian friendship impossible.  With this attitude, were my grandmas truly acting as friends to their black “friends”?

In a more contemporary example, I’ve heard younger relations make racial slurs against black folks, Native American folks, and Latino folks all with the disclaimer that they have friends of those races.  Again, those “friends” are never around when those things are said because all of us know that those hurtful words would never be spoken in their presence.  If it would hurt our friends to say these things in front of them, do we not think it would be as injurious if not more so to say these things when they aren’t around and evoke their names and friendships in defense of our bad behavior?

In my experience, when I become friends with a person different from me, I become more defensive of them or their cause, whatever that might be.  Having friends of color makes me more sensitive to the things that threaten and injure them, not less. Having Republican friends makes me more likely to stop one of my liberal friends from ranting about the collective idiocy of conservatives.  Having a cousin with intellectual and physical disabilities makes me more likely to call someone out for making offensive comments about “short buses”, etc.  I would think that if we really care about our friends of color, we’d be quick to correct false stereotypes.

If we were really a friend to those folks, we’d certainly not be perpetuating prejudice and using our friendships to prop up our wrongful behavior.  To those who say, “I’m not racist [despite the racist comment I just made], I have black friends,” I have to ask, which part then is the lie?  The comment you just made, or the affection you claim you have for your friends?  Let us not betray our friends of color by participating in conversations, ideas or ideologies that tear them down.

From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers,these things ought not to be so. Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water? Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a salt pond yield fresh water.   -James 3:10-12

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