Saturday, December 15, 2012

The Collateral Damage of Racism

My heart is so heavy today as I write.  I have debated whether or not to write this because I know that to some, it might come off as insensitive, which is not my intent.  This disclaimer is to say that I am crying about the babies and adults that were killed yesterday.  They didn't deserve it.  It was not God's will or judgement on America, as some theologians have already put forward.  It was evil.  Pure evil.

Having said all that, I think that there is an elephant in the room when it comes to these kinds of tragedies, and we need to talk about it.  Because I believe what happened yesterday was a consequence of racism in our nation. Allow me to explain what I mean.

I listened to the news on NPR yesterday as soon as I saw the headline on social media.  I scoured the articles on the Internet.  I watched the news on television, which I don't normally do.  I wanted to know, like many people, how and why such a thing could happen.  I wanted to make sense of it.  The host of the radio program was asking a psychologist if there was a psychological profile for these types of criminals who perpetrate these mass murders.  The psychologist said that there was, but the tricky thing is that not all people who fit that description end up committing this type of crime.  And most of the time, people don't realize the "red flags" until after the fact.  As the conversation continued, I was listening for one other piece of information: the racial identity of the shooter.

I have started to listen for "race" in the news, when it shows up in discourse and when it doesn't.  For example, on the nightly news in St. Louis, I don't normally hear direct references to racial identifications, but there are certain "code words" that the newscasters use to let you know who they are talking about (e.g. neighborhood, street names, physical descriptions, names).  Like most people, I have become accustomed to processing the news in racialized ways.  In the case of the tragedy in Aurora, Colorado, I listened and listened.  Not one time did I hear the perpetrator described in racialized terms.  I remember thinking, "They haven't said--I bet he was White."  And so again yesterday, I listened and listened, but never heard once anything to indicate that 1) the perpetrator was White or 2) that the town affected was predominantly White.  So when the radio program host kept pushing the psychologist for a "profile" of "these types" of mass killers, I wanted to shout, "White males! Look for White males!" as if they could hear me and start the hunt right away. 

Now hear me when I say, I am not hating on White males.  I have many White men in my life, including a wonderful husband, sons, and brothers.  What I am saying is that statistically, the majority of mass murderers, serial killers and sex offenders are White men.  Are all White men criminals?  Of course not.  But when you go to check my facts (and I hope you do), it should become clear that there is a racial profile for "these types" of criminals.  In a country where Black and Brown men, along with anyone who looks like they might be from the Middle East, are consistently racially profiled, it is indicative that the very profile we should be on the look-out for is the one we never admit or say out loud: White men.  

The collateral damage of racism plays out like this:

White folks have been socialized to fear Black men.  White towns have fought long and hard to keep Black and Brown folks out (search the term "sundown towns" for more info).  The result is that many small towns and municipalities are currently all White, while people of color are primarily forced into urban areas.  And in these White spaces, there is a sense of security because the "undesirables," the people to be feared, have been kept out.  On the other hand, if you talk about living in an urban area, you will hear White folks talk more about issues of safety.

The governor of Connecticut attempted to give words of comfort to the town of Newtown yesterday.  He said that this was not preventable.  He said, "Today, evil had visited this town."  My reply: Evil was already living in your town.  He lived in a house in your town and had access to guns. Lots of guns.

Initially, I wanted to avoid the issue of gun control, because I thought it was a side issue, although related.  I leaned more towards increased school security, which I still advocate.  But we can't address one without the other, addressing the symptom without first analyzing the disease.

You might think me a conspiracy theorist at this point, but the whole issue of "right to carry" is also deeply connected to a racist system.  First, it is and has always been easier for White people to obtain gun permits than it is for people of color. Throughout most of our history, it was illegal for Black and Brown people to own guns, except during wartime.  Even when it was legal, Black people were seriously prohibited from owning firearms.  Secondly, much of our current White "gun culture" has to do with White militias that were historically allowed to form in order to either hunt Black slaves or just parade around in order to keep the Black population "subdued."  So the argument for the "right to carry" has everything to do with White privilege and the right to form a militia. 

That's why I'm saying this is a consequence of not talking about the effects of racism on White people.  We can notice trends of who these criminals are--White males--and what kinds weapons they use--primarily obtained legally--but we don't.

And while the victims of these crimes are diverse, when the shootings happen in schools, we can notice that they primarily happen at White schools.  But we don't.  

And by "we" I mean us White folk.  Because if a whole town feels secure because "it's just us White people," and everybody owns guns legally, then there is no heightened sense of awareness of possible predators. 

I have been told that there is running line within the Black community that goes something like this: "When our kids bring a gun to school, they might kill somebody on accident.  When a White kid bring guns to school, he kills everybody on purpose."  I don't think this is said with a disregard for the lives of White children, but it does point to a skewed view of reality that White folks would fear a Black man more than a White man.  And it highlights the fact that Black folks have always feared White men for very substantiated reasons. 

Let me say again that this news is devastating.  Heartbreaking.  I hugged my White babies a little closer to me last night and prayed for comfort for the town in Connecticut. I can't read the news updates without crying. But I was also angry.  Angry that people would say that this is an "isolated" event, that schools are safe places, and that there was nothing that could have been done to prevent it.  As a parent, I am not swallowing those answers.   

Because if something happens to my child, I want to know how it could have been prevented.  

Mass killings are not isolated events--they happen frequently.  The psychologist on NPR (and other sources) reported that mass killings have not increased in recent years.  The number of deaths has remained steady, but certain events have been more high profile because of the number of victims and the public nature of the crime scenes (e.g. movie theater, school).

Schools are not safe places--not in Black neighborhoods, not in White neighborhoods, not in integrated neighborhoods--unless we make them safe.  In many urban neighborhoods, there are metal detectors installed at the front door with a taser-carrying security guard looking on. Police officers routinely patrol the area around the school.  In some ways, this could be part of the impact of the stereotyping of Black and Brown youth.  However, in hearing from Black administrators and teachers in the wake of this recent tragedy, I think the security measures are largely in place because Black communities, unlike the governor of Connecticut, are not surprised about evil.  They know that there are people who would try to hurt them and their children.  They don't live with a false sense of security because they have never been afforded that luxury. 

Finally, this type of tragedy must be preventable.  To start, I believe White folks need to have the tough conversation about the false sense of security and entitlement that we feel in our White communities. We need to talk about gun control and question why White folks feel entitled to carry a concealed automatic weapon.

If we continue to ignore the elephant in the room, ignore the collateral damage of racism, these types of incidents will continue to happen.  But for today, I agree with the prayer that the President prayed, that God would heal the brokenhearted and bind up their wounds. 

Friday, November 9, 2012

So what's the plan now?

If I wrote a letter to the elders of my church, it might look something like this...

I grew up going to church.  Nondenominational, Bible-believing, Jesus People, middle-class White people, VBS camp, church.  By the age of nine, I was pretty sure I was an informed Republican ready to vote.  As an adolescent, I watched my pastor get arrested for protesting outside an abortion clinic.  I had no grid for difference as I went off to college.  Fast forward almost ten years...

I now believe that many of the major issues I grew up hearing about in church are potentially more complex than anybody let on or even knew.  Having said that, I am more convinced than ever that the gospel of Jesus Christ, the good news of redemption, is meant to impact the world that I live in.  I just seriously doubt that the "grown ups" in my world have any idea how. 

Because here's the thing.  Twenty years ago, my church group was pretty sure that our society was going to hell in a hand basket because Clinton was in office.  And then they were pretty sure that we were all going to be saved when Bush took office. And now I hear people talking about everything from deep travail and mourning, to forming a militia now that Obama has been reelected.  And all I have to say it...

It's not working, guys. 

Whatever this plan is to impact society, the hope that we would wake up and suddenly abortion would be illegal, all the gay people would be gone, and the Palestinians would suddenly have amnesia and declare peace--it didn't happen.  

In fact, according to your estimation, everything is just getting worse.  And I want to know--so what's the plan now, guys?  What words of wisdom will you, those with more life experience and wisdom, share with the younger generation?  How then should we live?  

Don't get me wrong--I too long for the day when women feel safe and secure so that they can choose to give birth to their babies instead of abort them.  I want to see homosexual people find hope in God.  I also pray for peace in Jerusalem.

I just am seriously doubting your plan to elect the "right candidate" is going to work, and wonder how you managed to decide who was the "right candidate" was, anyway.  I also have serious questions about why laws should govern abortion, but not also poverty.  Or sexuality, but not ostentatious wealth.  Or why I should be concerned about Israel, but not Colombia, Iraq, or Puerto Rico. 

There are Christians who imagine politics in different ways, but you say those people aren't really Christians.  And some of those Christians say you aren't really Christians.  And people who aren't Christians think we are all the same--judgmental, close-minded, and irrelevant.

Maybe the bigger issue is that I'm starting to think the "outsiders" might be on to something.  But if my gospel is not relevant to the neighborhood I live in, then the problem is not with the gospel, the problem is with me... or "us."

So what's the plan now, guys?

Should I bury my head in the sand, circle up the wagons and try to stay away from people who are different than me?  Should I rally the troops, buy a gun, and start a third party?  Should I blame it all on those Christians who really aren't Christians, and just make sure I hang out with the "right kind of people"?

This probably sounds harsh.  I don't mean it to be harsh.  I seriously want to know if I can reconcile seemingly opposite visions of the world, or if our differences are irreparable.  I want to know if you are the kind of "grown up" that I want to become, or if I am the kind of "youth" that you want to "convert." 

Holla back.



Saturday, October 6, 2012

"You callin' me a racist?"

I shared one of the anecdotes from the book “What if all the kids are White?” (Derman-Sparks & Ramsey, 2011) on my facebook page.  It was about two White boys who were playing together.  One of the boys tries to exclude a Mexican-American boy because his skin is “too dark.”  The other White boy insists that all children are allowed to play with them.  When questioned by the teacher about how he knew that, he replied, “My dad tells me civil rights stories.”  The authors went on to explain that the father of this young boy used to be an anti-racist activist in his college days.  He turned his experiences into adventure bedtime stories that he told to his son.

There was something very poignant in that story for me beyond the sheer force of the anti-racist intervention by this four or five year-old child.  It reminded me of the kind of parent I want to be, of the legacy I want to leave for my children.  I shared the story and got mixed reactions.  One Mexican-American facebook friend shared a story about her daughter, who is of Native American ancestry, who was excluded from childhood games because of her dark skin.  The daughter went through a phase of trying to scrub the color off her skin, much to the dismay of her mother.  

On the other end of the spectrum, a White facebook friend posted, “So it’s ‘white boy,’ not ‘American American.’”  I responded, after writing and deleting a few times, “White = European American.”  After that I noticed that my Mexican-American friend’s comment had disappeared.  I had not posted a strong rebuttal to this White man’s comment in hopes of not starting an argument.  However, I realize now that while I was slightly offended by the comment, my Mexican-American friend was deeply wounded and angered in a way that I cannot truly understand.  I commented again using part of what I was originally going to write, “White is not more American than any other racial identity, so the comment ‘American American’ can be seen as an assertion of White supremacy.”  But in my mind, it was too little, too late.

I had just finished listening to a podcast of a report from Yale’s Dr. John Dovidio about a study (Kawakami, Dunn, Karmali, & Dovidio, 2009) in which White participants all failed to speak out against an overtly racist comment against a Black person they had just met.  Further, after the incident, 71% of the participants chose to work with the White person who made the remark instead of the Black person at whom the comment was directed.  These same participants had just denounced overtly racist behavior that they saw in a video recording.  The researchers concluded that White people overestimate their actual response when confronted with blatantly racist behavior or comments.  This study further examines “aversive racism,” a subtle, and perhaps unconscious, bias that manifests as a preference for White people and an avoidance of people of color.  This bias is “more likely to be expressed under conditions of situational ambiguity—when identification of prejudice is rendered less obvious,” allowing the person to maintain a positive (not prejudiced) view of self (Hodson, Dovidio, & Gaertner, 2004, p. 120).  This correlates to the discursive patterns of colorblind racism (Bonilla-Silva, 2003).  White participants used predictable rhetorical tools to explain and talk around their underlying bias.

In moments of critical reflection, I realize that I am not exempt from this analysis.  The eye-opener for me is the discovery that White people frequently fail to speak out in incidents of overt racism.  How much more do White people fail to speak out when racism manifests itself more subtly?  How many times do we not even recognize that it is racism?  And so for every time that I have spoken out against an obvious case of racism, there are probably ten cases in which I did nothing.  The psychological studies indicating that this bias is unconscious relieves my guilt to an extent; it is the clinical way of saying I have breathed the smog in the air or have been walking along with everyone else on the moving walkway (Tatum, 2003).   

I am guilty by virtue of inaction and unconsciousness, which somehow feels better than guilt of active participation in a white supremacy group.  The problem is that my implicit bias doesn’t stay in my unconscious.  It does surface, often in moments where I could take real anti-racist action, but instead go along with the flow.  It dictates my choices, where I will live, where my children will go to school, who I hang out with on the weekend, where I go to church, how I interact with people at the grocery store or in my family.  And all of these choices have real consequences for people.  All of these choices add up to my individual participation in systemic, institutionalized racism.

So I’m guilty, but it’s unconscious.  Does it count if my intentions were good?  As the researchers in the Yale study demonstrated, the answer is a resounding no.  All of those participants had really good intentions of getting very upset and speaking out when they watched a video of racist behavior, but when push came to shove (read the study to find out why that is a pun) they not only failed to confront a racist comment, but they still preferred a White person displaying racist beliefs over a Black person.  

Going back to my facebook interaction, I have a few thoughts.  First, social media is a strange animal.  No one seems to know what the rules of engagement are, and I’m not quite sure if it falls in the category of authentic, human interaction at times.  However, there are still real human beings who post comments, albeit without facial expression or tone of voice to indicate a joke.  But even in the case of a joke, for example, the comment “American American” with reference to White people is still hurtful to people of color, revealing an unrealistic view of what it means to be White in America.  It encapsulates the idea of “White as norm” that children as early as two years old begin to absorb (Derman-Sparks & Ramsey, 2011).  

Secondly, I did fail to speak out.  My fear of a negative reaction outweighed my anger on behalf of a person of color, revealing my complicity in this incident. Again, the fact that this happened on social media compounds the issue; people often tell me it is better to say it face-to-face than on-line.  But the incident happened on social media, not face-to-face.  I don’t actually interact on a daily basis (or even yearly basis) with my 600+ facebook friends.  So when is the right time and place to say something?  I am beginning to believe the answer is right away or as soon as possible. And I invite others to confront me when my implicit bias surfaces, as well. 


References
  • Bonilla-Silva, E. (2003). Racism without racists: Color-blind racism and the persistence of racial inequality in the United States. Lanham, Md: Rowman & Littlefield.
  • Derman-Sparks, L., & Ramsey, P. G. (2011). What if all the kids are white?: Anti-bias multiculture education with young children and families. Early childhood education series (2nd ed.). New York: Teachers College Press.
  • Hodson, G., Dovidio, J., & Gaertner, S. (2004). The aversive form of racism. In J. L. Chin (Ed.), The Psychology of Prejudice and Discrimination: Racism in America (pp. 119–135). Greenwood Publishing Group.
  • Kawakami, K., Dunn, E., Karmali, F., & Dovidio, J. F. (2009). Mispredicting affective and behavioral responses to racism. Science, 323(5911), 276–278.
  • Tatum, B. D. (2003). “Why are all the Black kids sitting together in the cafeteria?”: And other conversations about race. New York, NY: Basic Books.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Cross-cultural Communications Conference

This past Saturday, I had the honor of presenting at the Baobab People conference on cross-cultural communication.  It was a first in many ways for me.  First time using Prezi, first time giving a presentation on "race" and anti-racism, and the first time I spoke in front of people and nearly passed out.   This is only of interest if I tell you that I used ham it up in front of audiences in plays and musicals, choir concerts, and improvisation.  However, I think this took it up to the next level.  My brother who is a Marine tells me that in public speaking, the body responds as if it is in combat.  Which would explain the lack of breathing and the red splotches that appeared on my face and neck by the end.  Sorry, no pictures.

Overall, the conference was wonderful.  Everyone had questions, learned something new, met someone they would not have ordinarily met.  I was so grateful to be in this company of people committed to cross-cultural communication.  Who knows where these relationships will lead us in the future.

For those of you who couldn't make it to the conference, I am linking my Prezi on Social Constructions of Whiteness.   We forgot to record it, but perhaps that is for the best if I was hyperventilating at the time.  Who knows how shrill my voice got, and nobody wants to listen to that.  :o)

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Engaging with race in everyday interactions

Mica Pollock takes anti-racist action in the form of teacher education.  In a workshop called Everyday Antiracism for Educators, which Pollock teaches at Harvard University, teacher candidates wrestle with how address issues of race and racism on a day-to-day basis.  Pollock, et al. (2010) examine three tensions that the teacher candidates faced as they progressed in the workshop, all centered around the question, “But what can I do?”  As the teacher candidates read and discussed essays in the draft version of the book Everyday Antiracism (Pollock, 2008), they wanted to know how to apply abstract concepts into practical actions in schools.  They also wrestled with how to address systems of racism and injustice, while at the same time, taking practical steps to address inequality in their classrooms.  Finally, they struggled to reconcile their personal development with regards to issues of race with their professional persona.  

Pollock et al. found that the teacher candidates that left the workshop feeling the most empowered to engage in antiracist activity were the ones who could accommodate the three tensions listed above.  Pollock et al. (2010) suggest that teacher educators explicitly make teachers aware that these tensions may never be resolved over a lifetime.  

The textbook Everyday Antiracism underwent a few other revisions after the initial pre-service teacher workshop.  One of the additions included discussion questions at the end of every essay that can facilitate moving from general principles to strategies, and then concrete actions that one can “try tomorrow.”  The essays are written by wide range of scholars in many different fields, but they are all aimed at helping teachers and parents develop practical strategies for combatting racism and racial inequality.  

The authors offer suggestions about how to talk with students about “race” as social construction, and not a biological reality.  However, the authors also address biases that teachers may harbor about different racial groups.  While most of the authors challenge teachers to talk about “race” in strategic ways, rather than “colormute,” one author boldly maintains that teachers should actually be “colorblind” in their treatment of individual children.  In other essays, authors give examples of how teachers might address unequal opportunities in school, engage students’ home communities, and develop critical multicultural curriculum for children and teenagers.  This textbook offers a substantial amount of information and ideas that answer the question, “But what can I do?”  I believe this should be required reading for all teachers.

The most personally challenging essay was titled Resisting the “Lone Hero” Stance, in which the author draws lessons from examples of two white teachers’ failed attempts to bring an antiracist message to friends and colleagues.  This article is also appropriate considering that 84% of K-12 teachers are white (Simon, 2005).  The author concludes that patience and humility are needed to engage in antiracist work.  Particularly for white folks, the challenge is to listen to the perspectives of friends and colleagues of color in a way that empowers and affirms the work that people of color engage in on a daily basis.  There is a danger for white folks to attempt to create an image as the white person who “gets it.”  This only serves to alienate other white folks most of time.  It can also be a hypocritical stance, as another essay points out.  

It is important that those engaged in anti-racism also examine their personal lives for inconsistencies.  Do I live in an all-white neighborhood, attend a white church and associate with only white people in my social sphere?  How am I raising my children?  What schools do I choose for them to attend?  I blogged about my own hypocritical attitudes recently.

While I was frustrated with Pollock for her participation in the silence regarding racism at Columbus, I see how she has taken that experience as a way to launch her into action.  I wonder how many universities have adopted this type of critical multicultural education, though.  And how many white pre-service teachers, when presented with this information, take positive steps towards antiracist action?  How many feel overwhelmed with guilt and cynicism, and withdraw from dialogue?  I don’t want to devalue the efforts of engaging white teachers in antiracist dialogue and action.  However, I also wonder why there aren't more substantial efforts to recruit teachers of color. Whether or not teacher education programs actually took that route might indicate just how committed to antiracism they are.  

References

Pollock, M. (2004). Colormute: Race talk dilemmas in an American school. Princeton, N.J: Princeton University Press.

Pollock, M. (Ed.). (2008). Everyday antiracism: Getting real about race in school. New York: New Press : Distributed by W.W. Norton & Co.

Pollock, M., Deckman, S., Mira, M., & Shalaby, C. (2010). “But what can I do?”: Three necessary tensions in teaching teachers about race. Journal of Teacher Education, 61(3), 211–224.

Simon, C. C. (2005, July 31). Those who can, and can’t. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2005/07/31/education/simons31.html

Race wrestling and race talk dilemmas

I feel that I have come full circle in my readings this summer.  I started in schools, and now am ending in schools.  At the beginning of the summer, I found myself shocked and amazed at a new understanding of “race,” how racial difference is socially reproduced in schools, and the fact that racist attitudes and behavior still “happen” in our society. 

At this point, I am less shocked.  As I read Colormute by Mica Pollock (2004), I could see patterns already at the beginning of her story.  She painstakingly laid out the details of a multi-year qualitative study of a multi-racial high school in California.  For me, it seemed too slow.  As I had already immersed myself in theories about racialization and racial stratification, I wanted to point out the “problems” immediately and seek to redress them.

I see great wisdom in the careful, longitudinal approach.  Already someone close to me had warned that people like me go “to graduate level classes where you learn racism or learn hate of people labeled racists” and eventually, “after having become sensitized by reading all this material that you will see racism under every tree, bush, rock…”  This accusation haunted me throughout the summer reading course, and apparently still has a sting.  

 I did start seeing racism, seemingly everywhere.  Each social interaction and news story took on new meanings and dimensions.  My whole framework for understanding “race” and racial difference had been replaced.  I learned new nuanced definitions for racism, as it manifests in both blatant and covert everyday attitudes and actions.  And sadly, I did react harshly with white folks I felt didn’t “get it,” as I unintentionally initiated conversations that confirmed the worst of what they already thought of me. 

The brilliance of Pollock (2004), as with so many other scholars I have read over the summer, is that she goes to great lengths to give a thorough account of what happened on a daily basis at “Columbus High School.”  She is a white woman who taught one year at this racially diverse school, so as she began to collect data about how students, faculty and staff talked (or didn’t talk) about “race,” she was also in process of working with all the stakeholders.  Therefore, she goes out of her way not to paint participants as “racist” people, but simply as they appeared in the drama of the school.  She also includes her own contributions, missteps, and omissions to the racial dialogue of the school, which essentially incriminates her along with anyone else who might be “blamed” in her unfolding story.  Essentially, she does uncover racism, although she rarely names it as such.  

One might argue that is precisely because she was looking for discussions that included or omitted racial terms.  However, she has a few strange twists and turns in her study going for her.  The first is that she initially started out with the question of how “race” affected the way that students “got along” with each other.  As she began to collect data, she began to notice a predictable pattern of how people in the school did and did not talk about “race.”  She then changed her research question to examine when “race” did and did not appear in conversations. Secondly, half-way through her study the school was “reconstituted,” meaning that all the faculty and staff were replaced with new people in an effort to improve school outcomes.  She was able to continue her study with the same students, but all new adult participants.  During this time, she noticed the same patterns in the way that the adults talked or didn’t talk about “race” in the school, and this from a group of complete strangers! 

The general conclusion of Pollock’s study was that the adults at Columbus shared in a “colormute” discourse.  In other words, while they did talk about “race” in matter-of-fact ways in some instances, discussion of “race” and racial groups remained absent from faculty meetings and public communications.  Predictably, adults spoke of racial groups for multicultural events (e.g. “The Samoans are going to do their traditional dance”) or in instances of violence in the school (e.g. “The Filipinos were fighting the blacks”).  Adults also commented in private conversations about “race,” such as the on-going debate about what do about the black students in the hallway and whether it was really only black students.  But these private conversations never surfaced during meetings or discussions with students, and so in the case of the students in the hallway, nothing was actually done about the situation that so many faculty and students noticed.  

Likewise, while patterns student achievement could be analyzed in terms of racial groups, this was never explicitly done.  There was discussion from the predominantly white faculty of how to help all students, who were mostly “low-income minorities,” there were no explicit attempts to examine which racial groups in the school fared worse.  These statistics showed that blacks and Latinos were disproportionately disciplined, had lower achievement rates, and were more likely to drop out and not graduate than other groups.  In fact, the Consent Decree that outlined the desegregation policy for the district contained language that focused on black and Latino students, and the focus of the reconstitution echoed this concern.  However, this focus was never directly communicated to faculty before or after the reconstitution.  And although certain faculty and administrators were aware of the language in the Consent Decree, the discussion of how to meet the reconstitution goals never took place in a public forum.

Pollock concludes with some observations about the difficulties in talking about “race” and racial inequality:
  • We don’t belong to simple race groups, but we do. (i.e. Individual identity is complex; however, students still identified with racial groups at different times, and faculty regularly categorized students into simplistic racial groups.)  
  • Race doesn’t matter, but it does.  (i.e. “Race” is a social construction, not a biological reality; however, social interactions in schools create racial difference and inequality.)
  • The “de-raced” words we use when discussing plans for racial equality can actually keep ups from discussing ways to make opportunities more racially equal.
  • The more complex inequality seems to get, the more simplistic inequality analysis seems to become. (i.e. Even though Columbus was racially and economically diverse, the students seemed to get lumped in to one category, that of “low-income minority.”)
  • The questions we ask most about race are the very questions we most suppress.
  • Although talking racial terms can make race matter, not talking in racial terms can make race matter, too. 
Buehler (in press), in a similar study, found similar discourse patterns in a high school in Michigan.  She, like Pollock, suggests that talking about “race” in strategic ways can actually help to remedy racial inequality in schools.  Buehler begins with the premise that faculty and students are already engaged in “race wrestling,” that is, an internal struggle about how “race” should matter faced with how it does matter.  She recommends thoughtful discussion about “race talk” within individual schools.  These initial discussions should shed light on the ways racial difference and inequalities are being socially reproduced in that particular institution, and hopefully inform antiracist strategies.  Talking honestly and judiciously about “race” is, perhaps ironically, the first step towards moving beyond “just talk” and into anti-racist action.   

References

Buehler, J. (in press). “There’s a problem, and we’ve got to face it”: How staff members wrestled with race in an urban high school. Race, Ethnicity & Education.

Pollock, M. (2004). Colormute: Race talk dilemmas in an American school. Princeton, N.J: Princeton University Press.

Friday, August 3, 2012

White Olympics

As I have been watched the Olympics, I have wondered if anyone else noticed that almost every European, Latin American, U.S. and even African team was predominantly white.  The volleyball team from Brazil, a majority black nation (although with admittedly different ways of categorizing black/white than the U.S.), was all white except for one player, as far as I could see.  The U.S. volleyball team was all white, I believe.  Swimmers from all over the world, including Zimbabwe (!), were white, with the exception of one black man on the U.S. swim team and the swimmers from Japan, China, and Korea.  The only exception to this trend was in the track events, in which most of the athletes were black, according to what I have seen so far.  Again, I could be wrong about the exact numbers and I don't have any stats to back up these observations, but I challenge viewers to see if they also spot these general trends.

And then, of course, there was gymnastics, where we have one celebrated Cuban-American on the men's team, one African-American man, and the now gold medalist, African-American Gabby Douglas.  Following her gold medal performance, Bob Costas gave a controversial commentary in which he said that Douglas was the first African-American to win the all-around.  He then proceeded to say that the "barriers have been down for a long time" (i.e. legal segregation), and indicated that the lack of African-Americans in gymnastics has to do with "how one sees oneself" (i.e. internalized racism on the part of black people).  He then proclaimed that he was pretty sure there were African-American girls watching Douglas and thinking, "I want to do that, too."

I did a search on the Internet to see what people were saying about race and the Olympics.  There were almost no blogs that I could find.  There were a variety of reactions to Bob Costas' commentary.  Interestingly, the trend on social media had to do with the audacity of Costas to even mention race.  People tweeted, "I didn't even see her [Douglas] as 'black' until you pointed it out."  They said, "Thanks for making a 'non-issue' an issue."  In scrolling through these comments, I should point out that the majority of the photos by the tweets were of white folks (based on profile pics).  But to summarize this trend, people were saying that Bob Costas made "racist" comments simply by pointing out that Douglas is black.  

Scrolling through the tweets from black folks (based on profile pics), comments centered more on the fact that Costas had called Douglas the "flying squirrel" and that a commercial featuring a monkey doing gymnastics had followed her gold medal win.  These are both valid observations, although one might chalk them up to accidental (in the case of the commercial) and unfortunate (while it may well have been her nickname, it sounded strange coming from Costas).  There were a few comments about how Douglas should be a role model for all girls, not just black girls.  Finally, there was the uproar from black women about how Douglas should or should not have worn her hair, which I will leave to black women to discuss since I can only begin to imagine what it is like to live in a society where my hair is constantly under-represented and devalued. 

Taking these arguments one at a time, is it "racist" to notice race in the Olympics?  In my introduction, I commented about the racial make-up of the Olympic teams.  Why should that matter?  Is this a "non-issue" as some would say?

My stance is that given a history, both in the U.S. and worldwide, of systemic anti-black racism it is not inherently "racist" to notice the race of the athletes, especially when it is directed at pointing out racial inequality.  My concern with the mostly white Olympian teams is that blacks in various countries are not afforded equal opportunities to enter and compete.  In the end, the Olympics are not about who is the best athlete of any given country, but who has the right combination of wealth, access to facilities, social networks, and lastly, athletic ability.  Only rarely do we hear about a true "rags to riches" story.  The first three elements I mentioned, wealth, facilities, and networks, all indirectly correlate to race.  In the U.S., people of color have unequal access to these resources, or social capital, due to the cumulative effect of "white privilege" and racism in all arenas of society.  So Bob Costas' remark that Douglas was the first African-American to achieve gold in the all-around was first, a factual observation, and second, a celebration of a young woman who had overcome barriers to racial equality.  Noticing race in this way is useful because it acknowledges that people from different racial groups have unequal life experiences because of the way racial difference is socially constructed through daily interactions.

Having said that, there are instances where mentioning race could be "racist."  A famous historic case involved Jesse Owens, the famed African American track runner, who won several gold medals in the 1936 Olympics in Berlin.  More commonly cited is the fact that Hitler refused to shake hands with Owens.  Less commonly known is that the President of the U.S. also failed to shake Owens' hand.  Further, upon return from Germany, Owens was forced to undergo rigorous medical testing.  No, they weren't looking for drugs; they were looking for an extra leg bone.  You read that right--they were trying to find out how a black man could have performed so well in these games.  Scientists failed to find anything drastically different with Owens' physique (contrast this to Michael Phelps, who actually has strange proportions, but which are never attributed to race).  However, with black athletes Jesse Owens and Joe Louis came a shift in the ways white Americans viewed black Americans.  Suddenly, athletic ability was seen as unrelated to intelligence (blacks were still considered to be mentally inferior), and the "exceptional black athlete" stereotype was born.  To this day, many white folks, and potentially some black folks, hold the belief that blacks are genetically more "athletic"  than white people (although only in certain sports).  This is a racist belief because it holds that one race (i.e. the "black race") is superior to other races in one arena (generally sports, but more specifically basketball, football, and track), but inferior in other areas (education, business, etc.).  It also ignores the fact that race is not a biological reality.  See this article from the "Race: The Power of an Illusion" website for more information. 

Returning to Costas' commentary, was it helpful to mark Douglas as a role model for black girls?  This is potentially the section of the commentary that is most rife with inherently problematic beliefs, so I will need to deconstruct it first before answering.  We must go back to the comment that came before, the one about barriers having been removed for a long time, and "how one sees oneself" contributing to success or lack thereof.

The view that "slavery was a long time ago" and "segregation is a thing of the past" is a prevalent one among white Americans.  While these statements appear true at face value, they ignore the cumulative, generational effect of slavery and legal segregation that I mentioned before.  They also fail to recognize the de facto segregation that exists in U.S. society today, almost to the same extent as the de jure segegration during the Jim Crow era.  And finally, these statements blatantly disregard discrimination currently experienced by people of color on a daily basis.

The other issue I have with Costas' remark about "how one sees oneself" is that it essentially blames the victim.  In other words, according to Costas, there aren't many black gymnasts because black girls have poor self-esteem.  If they could just visualize themselves succeeding and work hard, they would make it.  While there is value in seeing black role models achieve at high levels, the idea that there are not many black gymnasts in the Olympics due to a wide-spread epidemic of poor self-esteem in the "black community" is far-fetched at best.  First of all, this negates the apparent good self-esteem held by black gymnast Dominique Dawes, who reached Olympic gold without seeing any black, female role models in the same position, not to mention the self-esteem of any other black gymnasts who have competed at lower levels in the past.

Secondly, this seriously downplays the effect of discrimination in a sport like gymnastics.  Consider it takes at least ten years to make an Olympic-level gymnast (6-16 years old), take into account that legal segregation ended almost 60 years ago, and then factor in that the Olympics only take place every 4 years.  Now, I'm not good at higher math, but I calculate that in an ideal world, that would have allowed for 4-5 generations of black female gymnasts, if young black girls had been allowed start training the day segregation ended.  However, this would have required that black people immediately be allowed access to white neighborhoods where the gyms were located, which still doesn't happen because of illegal deed covenants and racist real estate practices.  This would also have required that white coaches start actively recruiting black girls for the gymnastic teams in these white neighborhoods, which was unlikely considering that the eradication of racist laws did not also immediately eliminate racist ideology.  And this also would require that these black families have a large amount of money for the cost of training, which takes generations to accumulate in the form of real estate (highly restricted by whites), good paying jobs (also restricted by whites), and inheritances (preceded by two elements I just mentioned).

The ideal situation is above, of course, not what happened, for reasons I mentioned.  So the achievements of Dawes and Douglas happened in real time; in other words, they overcame barriers that still exist in our society today, contrary to what Costas would have us believe.  In that sense, their achievements should be celebrated all the more.  The extent to which they were able to overcome historical and current racism and racial inequality is a tribute to the strong character and strength they and their families possess, and it gives us hope for positive change in our society.  However, the fact that there are not more black Olympians from the U.S. and other countries indicates to me that we still have a long way to go.  Since we have thoroughly disproved genetic/biological racial difference, and since we know it's not that black people don't value hard work and success like white people (i.e. example of cultural racism), then we must conclude that systematic and related barriers are still in place for black people and other people of color.  Until this systemic racism is dismantled, we will not see a truly representative parade of nations at the Olympics.

Postscript: I will not comment at length about the "flying squirrel" comments or the ridiculous "monkey commercial," except to say that networks have been known to do stupid things before. 


Thursday, July 26, 2012

Repentance

I finally am ready to write, but this is difficult. 

Our chickens died this week.  I wish I could say "of natural causes" or that we ate them for dinner.  But, no, we forgot to give them water, didn't let them out of their yard, and they dehydrated in extreme heat... as I enjoyed the air conditioning inside my house only 20 feet away.  We feel awful.  I cried all night. 

We have had chickens for a little over a year now.  At first, I helped out, but slowly my husband ended up with most of the duties.  I have hibernated indoors for the summer with a reading course to finish, a baby, and a toddler.  And my husband worked full-time in the heat.  All of this made a recipe for disaster the morning our routine was disrupted because of a dentist appointment.  I keep replaying it in my mind, but no amount of regret can bring them back.

"They're just chickens," I keep telling myself.  But we kind of got used to them, their clucking, the way they tried to sneak onto the deck, the way they ate our garden produce and kitchen scraps... We will miss them. As my sister said, "They were a weird part of your little family." 

One part of the loss is the death of our urban farming dream.  We had such high hopes when we began, two children ago.  But the truth is, we aren't farmers.  We work full-time jobs and have two babies.  We have worship practice on the weekends.  We have no idea how to cope with extreme heat advisories month after month without air conditioning, which is isn't helping our garden.  

When I really examine my heart, however, I find that the greatest death is my pride and sense of achievement.  I mean, we really let those poor chickens down.  They were depending on us to protect them.  They were God's creatures. 

And also, I realized my own little "attitudes" that I had about "having chickens."  I sort of felt a little smug, as if we were really hip, organic, edgy.  It created an image for me.  Wannabe hipster. Pathetic. 

So I am repenting.  For animal abuse, for arrogance, for over-committing myself and my little family. 

And this made me think about other ways I have been arrogant, how I have portrayed an "image" that is really more show than action.  Like how I feel so good about myself for living in "the city." In reality, I don't have one black, Hispanic, or Vietnamese friend who lives by me, even though these racial groups make up the majority of my zip code.  Most of my friends in this area are white people who either go to my church in South County or are people I know from that church.  Not that there is anything wrong with South County or white people, but to hear me talk about it, you would think that I was somehow "better" because I lived in a "diverse" neighborhood.  My circle of friends is actually almost all white people, which is no different than if I lived in South County. 

All my hypocrisy is complicated, not entirely consistent, and potentially riddled with good intentions.  But the end result is that I am repenting.  Repenting for judging people, including myself, for where they choose to live.  Repenting for segregating myself and not making friends with people who don't look like me that I live around.  Repenting for not bringing my message in love to those in my sphere of influence. 

I feel convicted by the words that God spoke to the prophet Jeremiah,  
"Therefore, thus says the Lord,
“ If you return, then I will restore you—
Before Me you will stand;
And if you extract the precious from the worthless,
You will become My spokesperson..."

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Theorizing racial structures and racial stratification

I just finished Feagin’s (2006) Systemic Racism.   I feel that his work can shed some light on the misunderstandings I have had in some recent conversations with friends and family.  As I stated before, I don’t believe my friends and family, or most white folks for that matter, are “racist people.”  I know my friends and family well enough to see that they have very good intentions and want to love people as well as they can.  However, the recurrent theme in these conversations is the minimization of race and racism.  It is as if talking about race itself is seen as “racist."  Conversely, the subject of “white privilege” seems to elicit protestations of “reverse discrimination” or the equivalent.  I realized that in most cases, we were not coming at the subject from the same understanding of racial inequality.  Feagin’s work is key for theorizing about racial structure and stratification/hierarchy in the U.S. 

First, Feagin does not see a dichotomy between past and present.  In other words, our society is not fundamentally different from the period in history when we became a nation.  Feagin documents the overarching trend of systemic racism in the U.S. from the “founding fathers,” through slavery, the “Jim Crow” era, the Civil Rights movement, until the present. Feagin extensively shows how, over the history of the U.S., systemic racism has been foundational and continuous, not just something tacked on to an otherwise healthy society or something that has cropped up in different points in history.  In general, the narratives of elite white people that Feagin documents reveal denial, amnesia and alexithymia regarding the oppression of black people and other people of color.  As white people have remained mostly segregated, they have socially reproducing racial hierarchies.  This elitist narrative has been transmitted from one generation to the next relatively unaltered and unchallenged by white people.  There is a cumulative effect in terms of oppression and privilege that has created and sustained racial inequality to this day. 

The power of Feagin’s work, however, primarily lies in the voice of African Americans throughout the work.  In line with standpoint theory, he documents how oppressed participants in history have a singular view of not only their own experience, but the experience of their oppressors.  They have grappled with these concepts, struggled for their freedom, resisted and subverted the status quo.  They have displayed greater moral integrity than the men who are traditionally considered to be the heroes and “founding fathers” of this nation. 

This book has strong implications for education, given that this full view of history has been omitted or suppressed in textbooks and curriculum.  This would explain why most white folks, along with some people of color, today have a hard time talking about racial inequality.  Without a view of systemic racism, racism that has “spread throughout, system-wide, affecting… society as a whole,” we are left with weak cultural arguments, or even resort to biological explanations to try to explain inequality that is blatantly racialized.  In the post-Civil Rights era, white people instinctively feel that talking about race might get you labeled a “racist,” so there is an effort to make it “anything but race,” further exacerbating attempts to address societal inequity. 

I just recently revisited Tim Wise’s website (“Michelle Alexander & Tim Wise on Racism and the New Jim Crow,” 2012) and listened to "On the Other Side of the Myth: A Conversation with Michelle Alexander and Tim Wise."  There were a few points that stood out to me, and which I felt related to Feagin’s (2006) work.  Tim Wise commented that indifference, not overt hatred, is actually the core of oppression, Feagin calls this indifference “social alexithymia,” a general inability to empathize with the experience of others, especially those we have made to be very “other” from ourselves.   This “otherizing” or dehumanization, the rationalization of racial difference, is then accompanied by a general amnesia about past oppression.  This has been foundational to racial stratification over the history of the U.S., and is the essence of the “new racism.” 

Many scholars are pointing out that while overt racism still exist, there is a new "color-blind racism" that seems much milder, and yet is much more persistent for the very fact that it is harder to address and dismantle than blatant racist speech or acts.  Tim Wise mentioned that many black people are leaving the West Coast, for example, and moving to the South.  He speculated that in some ways, it might be because the blatant racism of the South is easier to identify and resist than the slippery, “now you see it, now you don’t,” colorblind ideology.  The bottom line, of course, is that neither style of racism is just; both need to end. 

Some of Tim Wise and Michelle Alexander’s conversation centered around how much progress is to be hoped for in the anti-racist movement when many times anti-racist activists are trying to convince white people of something white folks don’t believe is there.  Tim Wise mentioned “interest convergence,” which is based on the premise that most progress in anti-slavery and civil rights movements took place when there was a convergence of white elites' interests with the goals of civil rights activists.  For example, at the time of the Civil Rights movement of the 1960’s, the U.S. had a strong need to appear democratic in the face of worldwide Communism.  This was actually documented in a brief prepared for the legal counsel during the hearing of Brown vs. the Board of Education.  Wise suggests that one tactic is to convince white folks that racism and oppression actually hurt them economically and psychologically. While Michelle Alexander agreed that this approach could be useful at times to get in the door, she maintained that there is a need to build a moral consensus to sustain momentum.  She recommended a call to the “beloved community” in terms of spiritual consequences as a way to build a lasting anti-racist movement.   

On a more positive note, I had a pleasant conversation recently with the man who owns the building next door.  He is an African American minister who lives in another neighborhood but comes by to work on his building occasionally.  I think we honestly didn’t know what to make of each other for the first year or so that we knew each other.  Slowly, we have been getting to know each other, and the other day we had a quite enjoyable conversation about what I have been reading.  As I listened to the pastor, I found myself amazed as he talked about history, white privilege, race relations, racial inequality, etc.  He used none of the terms that I just mentioned, but he was talking about these concepts as I have been reading about them in books.  It was a moment of self-reflection for me, because I realized that I should not be amazed.  He, as an active participant in his own struggle, has thought deeply about racial structures and racial stratification. 

I am only just now reading and thinking about these issues because of my privileged position closer to the top.  In my whitewashed world, I never looked down to see the structure or those who have experienced the systematic, interrelated barriers of the structure.  Only later in life were there white people who pointed out the racial stratification to me, and only now I am finally listening to people of color talk about their perspectives.  As I think about my own developing understanding of systemic racism, this progression should inform my interactions with other white folks.  I hope that I am better able to communicate information in way that can be well received, with an understanding of the deficiencies in my own knowledge. 

References

Feagin, J. R. (2006). Systemic racism: A theory of oppression. New York: Routledge.

Michelle Alexander & Tim Wise on Racism and the New Jim Crow. (2012, June 25). Tim Wise. Retrieved July 12, 2012, from http://www.timwise.org/

Discourse and colorblind racism


I have been getting into a lot of conversations lately.  Friends ask, “How’s your summer going?”  “Great,” I say with a wry smile, “I’ve been spending the summer reading about systemic racism.”  

I really need to learn the art of chit-chat. 

Of course, these conversations inevitably end up being more difficult than I intended.  I am in a certain frame of mind right now and I forget that all my friends haven’t been reading along with me.  I liken it to a study abroad experience: I have been changing slowly in my way of thinking, and I expect that everything will be the same with the people I have known for so long.  My point is not to say my friends are not also changing and growing, it’s just that we are having different experiences. 

The latest book I read was called Racism without racists: Color-blind racism and the persistence of racial inequality in the United States by Eduardo Bonilla-Silva (2003).  Again, not a conversation starter in most circles, and if a conversation did get started, I have a feeling it would get ugly rather quickly.  But since you are reading this blog, I assume you would like me to explain why this is an important, insightful work.  

Bonilla-Silva conducted two large studies, one with hundreds of white university students, and the other in the city of Detroit with black and white adult participants from diverse backgrounds.  He and his fellow researchers conducted hours and hours of interviews with these participants.  The interviews centered on issues of race, racism and racial inequality.  For example, most of the participants were asked, “What is your opinion about affirmative action?” or “Interracial marriage is a controversial subject.  What do you think about this topic?”  The interviews were recorded, transcribed and then analyzed.  The goal was to look at the ways in which people, black and white, talked about race.  This included body language, silence, tone, volume and rate of speech, and other speech patterns, like stuttering or false starts. 

I should make clear at this point that the goal was NOT to analyze the speech of well-meaning individuals and reveal, “Hah!  We knew it! You’re a racist!”  In fact, Bonilla-Silva makes it very clear he doesn’t believe that people are either “good, non-racist” people or “bad racist” people.  Bonilla-Silva also noted that participants, regardless of age, mostly did NOT use racial slurs or other explicitly racist language more typical of the “Jim Crow” era.  Instead, with the understanding that racism is both systemic and institutionalized in the U.S., Bonilla-Silva wanted to see how people are influenced by this dominant ideology, even if their language is not overtly racist.   Therefore, the interviewers were very careful to ask questions in a way that would show the racial beliefs of the participants.  I might even describe it in terms of “innocent until proven guilty”—the interviewers attempted to help the participants clarify their views in ways that would show that they did not hold racist beliefs if that was the case.  

Bonilla-Silva found that many white participants, who were mostly complete strangers from across the state of Michigan, shared ways of talking about race, racism and racial inequality.  He calls these “frames.”  For example, one of the main frames is that of “cultural racism,” which has been traditionally described in terms of a “culture of poverty” (e.g. “Blacks don’t place much emphasis on education.”)  Ostensibly, it replaces essentialist racism, but since it presents culture as monolithic and stable it has been called the “biologization of culture.”   This was offered by many participants as a primary explanation for racial inequality in society.  While it seems like a compassionate response, it ignores systemic racism and places the responsibility on the victims.  Bonilla-Silva found that white participants used this frame, but that this frame also seemed to indirectly affect the discourse of some black participants, as well. 

An extension of the cultural racism frame is the narrative of the “exceptional black,” that is, the belief that most black people are culturally deficient, but there are a few exceptions (e.g. “I know a black guy who makes more money than I do.  He didn’t let discrimination get him down.”)  This is also similar to a rhetorical move that many participants used: “If the Jews/Italians/Irish/Asians can make it, why can’t the blacks?”  This is in line with the belief that if a person just works hard, they can succeed.  Ultimately, this view minimizes institutionalized racism against blacks specifically, but also against other people of color.  It also can be yet another way to “talk around” a belief that black people are culturally deficient. 

Bonilla-Silva found with the participants in his study that the use of color-blind discourse combined several frames and rhetorical moves.  Other frames were “minimization of racism” (e.g. I don’t think discrimination really happens these days.”) and “naturalization” (e.g. “People like to stay with their kind of people. It’s just the way it is.”)   Rhetorical moves included projection (e.g. “They are the racists ones.”) and claiming interracial friendships (e.g. “Some of my best friends are black.”). 

Again, the use of these frames and rhetorical devices do not reveal that the participants are inherently racist people; however, it does indicate problematic and faulty beliefs about racial inequality, discrimination, and privilege.  Secondly, the evidence of the “racial grammar” of color-blind racism in the discourse of many unrelated white people, and even some black people, is further proof of a hegemonic racial ideology in the U.S. (Frankenberg’s power- and color-evasive discourse, or Feagin’s white racial frame).   It is possible for the participants to have been influenced by this color-blind ideology and have incorporated it into their discourse without active awareness, especially if they had been socialized in predominantly white environments.  My advisor suggested that one way to think about discourses is that they speak “through us” in imperceptible ways.  It is this color-blind discourse, however, that allows people to navigate around issues of race so that a few pernicious racist perceptions remain unrecognized and unchallenged.

It is important to point out here that most black participants, and a handful of white participants, did show a “race cognizance” (Frankenberg, 1993).  In other words, while they may have displayed some influence from color-blind discourse, they recognized that racism still exists and that while race is merely a social construct, it still matters in terms of life outcomes in the U.S.  This shows, in line with other researchers, that it is possible to break out of the cycle of socialization, recognize the dominant discourse, and reject it. 

Most of the conversations I have had recently with white folks have ended poorly and left me feeling rather confused.  It’s like we are speaking different languages.  And it turns out, we almost are.  As I shift into “race cognizance,” I am finding more and more examples of color-blind discourse in the conversations with friends, family, and even strangers.  I also recognize that in the past I have been guilty of buying into and using several of these frames and rhetorical moves.  As I moved from my white segregated context to work with urban mercy ministries, I attempted to explain the inequality that I encountered.  Even though I had excellent mentors who told me about institutionalized racism, I still functioned from the whitewashed version of history that I had learned from my family, friends, church and school.  It has been a huge shift for me to realize that systemic racism currently, and over the course of the history of our nation, accounts for the majority of racial inequality that exists within our society.  Cultural explanations for racial inequality are deceptively gentler versions of racism because at the heart is a view of “black culture” as monolithic and essentially inferior. 

My understanding of solidarity has also been refined as I have realized the fallacy of cultural racism.  While it purports to be compassionate, I realize that I cannot be truly empathetic if I don’t recognize the systematic and institutionalized barriers that have been set up to oppress different groups.  Joining with an oppressed group in solidarity had a shallow meaning for me; I assumed I was mostly commiserating with “those people” and helping them to better their situation.  In reality, solidarity means that I recognize our common humanity and abandon the idea of “us and them.”  I must recognize the struggle of oppressed people against a system, acknowledge my role in that system, and as much as I am able, attempt to disassociate myself from this system, which has ultimately damaged white folks, as well.  Then, as I fight against the system alongside the oppressed, I must realize that they have been fighting long before I came on the scene, and that ultimately the struggle will cost the oppressed more.  

References

Bonilla-Silva, E. (2003). Racism without racists: Color-blind racism and the persistence of racial inequality in the United States. Lanham, Md: Rowman & Littlefield.

Feagin, J. R. (2006). Systemic racism: A theory of oppression. New York: Routledge.

Frankenberg, R. (1993). White women, race matters: The social construction of whiteness. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.