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Posts Tagged ‘white privilege’

Beverly Daniel Tatum, author of ‘‘Why are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?”: And Other Conversations about Race, responds:

Many people say “But I’m not racist. I don’t have prejudiced beliefs. As a white person, am I racist, simply because I live in a society in which I’m systematically advantaged?”

For me the relevant issue is not, “Are you racist?” but are you actively working against that system of advantage? Active racism is what I think many people would stereotypically think of as “racist behavior”: name-calling, acts of racial violence, intentional discrimination, cross burning, etc.

But there is a lot of behavior that also supports a system of advantage that we might describe as passively racist. For example, in education – if I am teaching a course in which I exclude the contributions of people of color, only talk about white people’s contributions and only talk about white literature. And I never introduce my students to the work of African Americans, Latinos or Native Americans. I may not be doing that with the intention of promoting a sense of cultural superiority, but in fact the outcome of leaving those contributions out is to reinforce the idea that only white people have made positive cultural contributions.

I know a young woman who went to her English professor and asked, “Why is it that there are only white writers on our list? This is a 20th Century American Literature course. How come there aren’t any writers of color?” Her professor, to his credit, was quite honest and said “I’m teaching the authors I studied in graduate school.” It wasn’t malice on his part. He didn’t wake up one day and say, “Over my dead body will there be writers of color on my syllabus.” He was simply teaching the authors with whom he was most familiar.

Another example of individuals supporting racist systems can be found in our lending institutions. I might be an individual loan officer who considers herself to be quite progressive, very open minded; a person with limited, if any, prejudice. And yet I might work for a bank that has the practice of charging higher percentage rates to people who live in particular neighborhoods — specifically neighborhoods that have been redlined. So when a person of color from that neighborhood comes to see me, my own inclination might be to give that person a favorable loan. But if the policy of the bank is to give loans at a particular rate in a particular neighborhood, I might enact that policy, apart from my individual attitude, and in my decision-making reinforce the institutional racism embedded in that practice.

If we want to interrupt these cycles, we have to be quite intentional about it. Even without any malicious intents, such passive acts of giving into certain institutions or traditions will perpetuate systems of advantage based on race.

Read more.

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The Wall Street Journal had a story last week about a study that shows disparities between white and black perceptions of bias (emphasis mine):

White Americans saw an even steeper decline in anti-black bias: from 9.1, in the ’50s, to 3.6, in the ’00s. But more striking, according to the researchers, was the sharp increase in perceived anti-white bias: Among whites, it shot up from 1.8 to 4.7.

White Americans, in short, thought that anti-white bias was a greater societal problem by the ’00s than anti-black bias.

The researchers described the pattern—which did not vary markedly with regard to age or education levels—as evidence that white Americans see race relations as a zero-sum game, in which one group’s gains must be offset by another’s loss.

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I’ve been really shocked by the virtually instantaneous racist responses to the earthquake and tsunami in Japan (e.g., Angry Asian Man’s depressing roundup of some of these). A number of people, including several public figures, have either made jokes about the disaster or suggested it’s some sort of karmic or divine retribution for Pearl Harbor. In addition to being horrifically callous, these responses inexplicably don’t seem to consider the nuking of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the firebombing of Tokyo (which killed more people than both nuclear attacks combined), or the continued American military presence in Japan to be sufficient “payback” for an attack now nearly seventy years past. Further, they reflect lingering stereotypes of Asians as a “yellow menace” and perpetual foreigners – so foreign that for some, even a disaster on this scale doesn’t warrant any real sympathy for the Japanese people.

Somewhat more subtle but also racist and wildly inappropriate are speculations about why there has supposedly been no looting in the wake of the tsunami. Not only does this claim appear to be false (follow up here), it also echoes racist tropes about the model minority, the passive or emotionally cold Asian, and Asians as completely identical and homogenous. Some assertions about the lack of looting are very blatantly motivated by racial prejudice, as evidenced by the many people using the cover of online anonymity to hold up the racial homogeneity of Japan and the absence of large numbers of black people as the reason for low crime in the aftermath of the earthquake. Beyond being prejudiced, this false claim harms people by erasing the realities of crime in Japan. More importantly, it erases the voices and experiences of Japanese survivors further victimized by people who use the chaos created by natural disasters as an opportunity to rob, defraud, or assault people with impunity – for example, it erases the experiences of numerous women who were raped or sexually assaulted in the weeks following the 1995 Kobe earthquake.

Also making the rounds is a video by a white UCLA student who complains about ‘hordes of Asians” at “our school,” mocks Asian and Asian American students for talking on cell phones in the library (complete with Charlie Chan-style “Asian” accent and fake “Chinese,” and claims that Asian students are ignorant of proper “American manners.” You know, because people of Asian descent can’t possibly be American like white people are, and UCLA rightfully belongs to white people. You can watch the video here, but you’re not missing out on much if you don’t.

I loved Beau Sia’s response to the video because, rather than personally attacking the student, he explores the anxieties, fears, and ignorance that inform her rant, turning it into a teaching moment instead of just a reactive one (credit Angry Asian Man for that last insight).

after watching “asians in the library,” and many subsequent postings in response, i wrote this. rather than attack alexandra wallace for her thoughts, i decided to write a persona piece in her voice, as a means to address some of the greater issues revealed in her rant. in the end, this poem isn’t really about her and what she said, but more the thoughts and beliefs people hold, without considering the entire history that may have led them to think and believe in the manner that they do. my hope is that we can all use this moment to recognize that we all need to improve our ability to understand and share this world with each other. this is just a small contribution to furthering that conversation. thank you for listening.

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…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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Last year for Columbus Day I looked back into history. This year I would like to draw your attention to the present by recommending Walt Rodgers’ recent article “Uncle Sam’s Shameful Treatment of Today’s American Indians.”

Here’s an excerpt:

Jim Adams, a historian and former editor of the national weekly newspaper Indian Country Today, says the maltreatment of the Indians in the Trans-Mississippi West “is directly proportional to their resistance to migrating whites in the 19th century. Those who took arms and gave the US Cavalry its greatest thrashings have been treated most harshly from the 1876 Custer massacre until today.”

Americans fancy themselves a fair and forgiving people. Today, we are one of Vietnam’s largest trading partners. The US and Vietnamese navies recently conducted joint naval maneuvers. But our discrimination against the victorious tribes at Little Bighorn is unconscionable. We treat Iraqis and Afghans better than native Americans.

If you associate reservations with shiny casinos, go look up tribal health and poverty statistics. From unemployment to disease and suicide, they paint a picture of third-world conditions.

The Oglala Sioux who spearheaded resistance in the 1860s and ’70s may feel the punishment worst. Some still live in tar-paper shacks. The White Man’s vengeance is often subtle. We took proud, self-sufficient people and condemned them to a dependent reservation culture. Then we arrogantly ask “Why are they lazy? Why do they drink?”

A white woman who works at a Sioux school said, “There’s a part of me that asks, ‘How long is this going to go on?’”

Read the rest of the article.

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The following is a cross-post from Becky at Becky not Becky.

Our oldest child is one year away from Kindergarten.  That statement is probably not as surreal for you as it is for me, but there it is.  My son is a pre-schooler in the literal sense of the term.  And for my husband and me, that means it’s time to evaluate our education options.

I am a big believer in public education.  I went to public schools, as did my husband, and while we had different experiences, we were both served pretty well when it came to the basics.  Both of us had opportunities to explore our interests in and out of the classroom.  Both of us had encounters with loving adults (and some not-so-loving ones) who in one way or another helped to direct the course of our lives.  We support public education, and we are proud to say that next year, our boy will be beginning his formal education at a neighborhood elementary school.

But as happy as I am about our decision, I’m sad to say that it was a forced one.  You see, while friends of ours are looking intensely at three different but equally weighted options, we were ruling out homeschooling and private schooling as possibilities.  We’ve known since our kids were born they’d most likely be public-school bound.  And recently, I’ve become frustrated and jealous reading about the wonderful experiences of moms who homeschool.  I’ve felt scorn for those who send their kids off to Christian schools, where they will learn at the feet of teachers who profess and confess a love for Jesus Christ.  I’ve felt this way because I want those choices, too.  But the biggest source of aggravation is knowing that I can have them, and I don’t.

Several years ago, long before we had kids, my husband and I decided that whatever our own biological capabilities, we were going to pursue adoption at some point in our marriage.  We’d had friends who went through infertility and turned to adoption after failed attempts to build their family on their own.  We’d had friends who adopted internationally, transracially, and locally: some through fostering first, some with specificity that they wanted a certain kind of baby.   Given the wide range of experiences being open to adoption can bring, and given that any number of those options could make our lily white family less monochromatic, we began to evaluate our church, our community, and our lives for diversity.

We were found wanting.  We went to a white church.  I taught, for the most part, in a white school.  We had white friends.  If we were going to open our lives for an adopted child, we’d have to radically change the spectrum of influences and relationships we had in order for that child to feel at home and free to explore their own identity in a safe context.  But then, in reading more about race, racism and racial identity development, we discovered something we’d never considered.  What does all this homogeneity mean for our biological white children?

What experience were we giving them raising them in such an isolated context?  Thankfully, through very little work on our own part, the Lord moved us to an area where no matter where we chose to live, we’d be making a choice for diversity.  We visited churches and prayed about where to attend and in every case, we made racial diversity a factor.  Our current church is developing satellite campuses, and in the last few years, this has helped to broaden the membership beyond the occasional inter-racial couple, and our satellite is reaching out to communities of color and reflecting all these changes in staff hiring. I’m still not sure if these moves are intentional on the part of our church leadership (though we have one elder pushing hard for it), but God is moving our church in a direction that we feel is consistent with our family’s values.

So our white kids are living in a neighborhood where they are in the minority.  They are attending a church where their race is representative of the majority, but those proportions are swiftly tilting to reflect our community.  But now we have this school issue.

As I’ve looked into homeschooling, I’ve been discouraged by the numbers.  According to the National Center for Education Statistics, in 2009, 76.8% of homeschoolers were white.  Many proponents of homeschool say that their kids have plenty of social and athletic opportunities through homeschooling groups and leagues, but they never tell you that those opportunities are as segregated as the statistics show.  While I’ve been able to find some blogs or groups of parents of color homeschooling their children, these are vastly outnumbered by the white mommy blogs on the subject.  And, honestly, I’m equally disappointed looking at curriculum options.  The traditional religious curricula I’ve seen are as problematic, if not more so than, the generally monochromatic public school curricula for literature, history, and the social sciences.

Private Christian schooling is also disappointing.  I know from experience as a teacher in a Christian school that often the curriculum ignores race, and omits important authors of color or literature from anything other than a white-male canon. History can be anyone’s best guess, and in a conservative evangelical school, can be filled with reverence for the Founders and ignorance of the oppression of and contributions by Native Americans, African Americans, or immigrants.

Last year at MOPS, we had a panel of professional women each representing public, private Christian and homeschooling options.  During the discussion on private schooling, one white mom stood up and shared that her husband was black and her child was biracial.  She was concerned that in a Christian school, her child would be the only person of color in the class, perhaps in the grade.  The white teacher on the panel said she had the same concerns for the exact same reason: her son was biracial.  She said the lack of diversity was the only thing that gave her pause about enrolling her son in the school where she taught.  She added that her son participated in county sports, not school athletics, in order to feel connected to different types of kids and families and that her family was constantly looking for ways to offset his school experience.

I felt for both those moms.  And I wondered why the other moms of white kids weren’t likewise concerned.  I’ve thought about the idea of “offsetting” a whites-only education with other experiences, but all of it feels like compromising an important value for our family.  I don’t want my kids to grow up without a teacher who is a person of color.  I don’t want my kids only having sleepovers, birthday parties or field trips with an all-white class (even if that class consists of me and their siblings).

So, we’re left with public school.  And we’re glad to have it.  Our local elementary school is only 29% white.  The majority of the school is Latino, then black, then white, then Asian.  It’s a good school and the teachers work toward cultural and linguistic competency so that they can best serve students and their families.   Also, the principal is a woman of color.

I know my lament is one of privilege.  I could easily choose to homeschool or send our son to private school.  We have the means and the opportunity.  But for us, the choice is not easy.  It’s hard because our values on this tell us those doors are shut by the same forces that kept schools segregated in the past: a compulsion to commit to the status quo and the ability of white people, in particular, to be completely comfortable and at-home only in contexts where they are in the majority.

If any anti-racist out there has found a way to make homeschooling or Christian-schooling work for their kids, I’d love to be wrong about this.  Until then, I’m a little frightened that I’m right and that it’s our organized Christian culture that’s wrong.

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