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Posts Tagged ‘grief’

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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It’s always embarrassing when your hometown makes the news for back-asswardness, but it’s all the more shameful when the bad news is localized to a 5 mile radius surrounding your high school alma mater.  As I return home this Christmas, I’ll be saying a little prayer for the city of Charlotte—a famously “New South” town that just this fall heralded the grand opening of the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African American Arts and Culture, and is now embroiled in a battle over whether or not “whites only” language of yore should remain in the property deeds of homes in one of its most celebrated neighborhoods:

Vodpod videos no longer available.

I guess if they couldn’t have legalized “segregation today,” they’ll settle for titular “segregation forever.”

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Between 1882 and 1968, mobs lynched 4,743 people in a campaign of racist terror across the United States. Over 70 percent of the victims were African Americans.

“Strange Fruit” is a anti-racist protest song written by Abel Meeropol and most famously performed and recorded by Billie Holiday.

Meeropol, a Jewish high-school teacher from the Bronx, originally wrote “Strange Fruit” as a poem about the lynching of Thomas Shipp and Abram Smith in Marion, Indiana, in 1930. He published the poem under the name Lewis Allan in 1936 in The New York Teacher, and later set “Strange Fruit” to music.

The song gained success as a protest song in and around New York and became a regular part of Billie Holiday’s live performances. Her label, Columbia, refused to record the song. Instead, Columbia allowed Holiday a one-session release from her contract in order to record “Strange Fruit” with Vocalion Records. Over time, it became Holiday’s biggest seller.

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Marker:

On this October 30, 2004, we, the Faith Community of St. Augustine Catholic Church, dedicate this shrine consisting of grave crosses, chains and shackles to the memory of the nameless, faceless, turfless Africans who met an untimely death in Faubourg Treme. The Tomb of the Unknown Slave is commemorated here in this garden plot of St. Augustine Church, the only parish in the United States whose free people of color bought two outer rows of pews exclusively for slaves to use for worship. This St. Augustine/Treme shrine honors all slaves buried throughout the United States and those slaves in particular who lie beneath the ground of Treme in unmarked, unknown graves. There is no doubt that the campus of St. Augustine Church sits astride the blood, sweat, tears and some of the mortal remains of unknown slaves from Africa and local American Indian slaves who either met with fatal treachery, and were therefore buried quickly and secretly, or were buried hastily and at random because of yellow fever and other plagues. Even now, some Treme locals have childhood memories of salvage/restoration workers unearthing various human bones, sometimes in concentrated areas such as wells. In other words, The Tomb of the Unknown Slave is a constant reminder that we are walking on holy ground. Thus, we cannot consecrate this tomb, because it is already consecrated by many slaves’ inglorious deaths bereft of any acknowledgement, dignity or respect, but ultimately glorious by their blood, sweat, tears, faith, prayers and deep worship of our Creator.

Read more about the Tomb of the Unknown Slave.

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We’re introducing a new concept on the blog today: Derailment Mondays!

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

Each week, in addition to our regular posting, we will feature a common derailment tactic and discuss (with the help of our readers, of course) how to address it.  So in honor of our first Derailment Monday, I would like us to look at this article from Human Events by Caroline Rushing entitled White Guilt Awareness Day. (Side effects warning: you may have to hold your nose while you read this, or have a bucket nearby because it may cause severe nausea.)

While Rushing’s essay is steeped in conspiracy theory, her main point about any degree of anti-racist education (especially in the form of diversity training) is : You’re just trying to make white people feel guilty.

My primary response to this as a person who has heard this comment many, many times is, “No, I’m not.” Guilt implies wrongdoing.  I think that most white people are not consciously doing wrong on this issue.  Most of us are unaware of racism because of the blindness that privilege imposes on us.  The wrongdoing occurs when, presented with the truth about racism in our society, we choose to ignore it or walk away and do nothing to change it.  In that sense, there are some of us who are guilty, and we should acknowledge that.  But guilt is not the end goal of conversations about race.

I can say for myself that any attempt I make to help white folks see their own privilege and the inherent racism that props it up is not an attempt to make them feel guilty, it’s an attempt to free them from a system that makes them unwitting pawns of oppression.  I don’t want people to “feel” guilty, I want them to “feel” engaged, empathetic, righteously indignant even, over the injustices in our society.

Guilt itself helps no one.  Most of us who have gone through experiences with white guilt know it to be a paralyzing force.  Guilt makes you feel horrible and helpless.  No one person can bear the weight of mistakes made by generations of prejudice and oppression and no one person can make up for all of that. Rushing feels pity on a man she claims was conned into feeling guilty at this diversity seminar:

A ‘privileged’ man in my group fed right into the liberal agenda of the activity and explained he has been ashamed of being a white man when he sees the terrible things that white men have done, the injustices in the world, and how he has so much while others have so little. This poor guy took the diversity day bait hook, line, and sinker.

Clearly this man was at a point of conviction.  He understood the ramifications of our system and he felt compassion and grief over what his privilege costs others.  There is nothing wrong with feeling bad about injustice.  In fact, we should feel that way.  Rushing laments this man’s despair yet at this moment, he is experiencing a revelation that she cannot understand because she entered this learning opportunity mocking it; protective of her own position and defensive toward any new information offered her.

I’m not sure what this man did with his newfound knowledge of privilege.  I hope he is doing something productive.  Rushing implies that he recognized the needs of others, so I hope he takes an interest in helping them meet their needs or advocating for their cause.  If not, it could be possible that he forgets what he has learned and reverts back to being a guardian of the status quo.  As for the author, she has confused guilt with conviction, and thus remained unchanged.

I feel less pity for this man who is experiencing a crisis of conscience than I do for Rushing who appears to have no conscience or consciousness at all.

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