America works overtime to create a colorblind society, but does this colorblindness perpetuate, rather than resolve, racism?
Friends of mine, a couple at my church, have shown, just in the relatively few years I’ve known them, how amazingly aware they are of cultural biases. It was they who led the adult education discussion at church about Waking Up White: And Finding Myself in the Story of Race and other discussions about white privilege.
There are few discussions more dreadful than black people discussing white privilege. No matter how sensitively presented, hackles are almost always raised. But when white people talk about white privilege, it can be a very different conversation.
Did I mention this couple was white? They moved from a very nice suburban home to a lot in the “inner city” of Albany, where they built a very nice house. When asked about that, they waved it away saying it was no big deal. They’re wrong, but they’re so right about other things, I let it pass.
They had been attending some workshop recently and emailed these three TEDx videos. The first two were cued to a specific point in the presentations, but you should listen to all of them in toto as your time permits.
America works overtime to create a colorblind society, but does this colorblindness perpetuate, rather than resolve, racism? Despite a growing racial divide, attorney, activist and author Traci Ellis says the time is now to have the courageous conversation about the damage done in the name of colorblindness.
When her 3-year-old son told her that a classmate told him that his skin was brown because he drank chocolate milk, Dr. Tatum, former president of Spelman College and a visiting scholar at Stanford’s Haas Center for Public Service, was surprised. As a clinical psychologist, she knew that preschool children often have questions about racial difference, but she had not anticipated such a question.
Our biases can be dangerous, even deadly — as we’ve seen in the cases of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and Eric Garner, in Staten Island, New York. Diversity advocate Verna Myers looks closely at some of the subconscious attitudes we hold toward out-groups. She makes a plea to all people: Acknowledge your biases. Then move toward, not away from, the groups that make you uncomfortable.
“:Unfortunately, though unsurprisingly to me, that ‘post-racial America’ failed to materialize.”
Last year, in the summer of all that is orange, a friend who is a minority woman, but not black, wrote, “I actually don’t enjoy talking about being a racial minority…” for all sorts of good and understandable reasons.”
I related. I wrote, “I LOATHE talking about being a minority. And do so at least once a year – you know the venue – because I think it’s important.”
“And I rail at not being considered ‘black’ by white people or ‘black enough’ by black people because of the way I speak or write.” Interesting that in one of those several exit interviews Barack Obama had last month, Lester Holt of NBC News asked the outgoing President PRECISELY that question. Most of you have NO idea what a PITA that is, not the question, but the experience.
I got that vibe a LOT when I first got the job I now have. For the first six years, our library provided reference service for the whole country, not just New York State. Most of our work was on the phone, and mail.
When people got to meet me at the annual conference, I often got two different responses. From the white people, it was a surprised look, trying NOT to say with their eyes, “I didn’t know you were black.” From the black people, it was more an overt “Hey, brother! I didn’t know you were black!”
In this month’s church newsletter about Black History Month 2017, I wrote:
“Back in 2009, during Black History Month at FPC, I remember quite distinctly a conversation during adult education about how much longer we would be doing the event. After all, the United States had just elected a President who identified as black. Surely, the solutions to the problems of racism were just around the corner.
“Unfortunately, though unsurprisingly to me, that ‘post-racial America’ failed to materialize. The divide between races seems as sharp as ever. Happily, FPC has continued to attempt to address issues of race, class, and other attributes that keep us apart.”
I replied: “I am a Christian, and I have ZERO fear of being labeled liberal, though I prefer progressive.” Yes, we need SOME designation to counter the narrative. You KNOW I’ve spent a lot of space in this blog both claiming my faith and saying, essentially, I’m not “like them,” so I’d rather make a positive assertion, rather than be anti a negative one.
Given how awful Christians—conservatives in particular, but even mainline Protestant churches—have treated LGBT people in the past (and fundamentalists still do), how do you think reconciliation could be achieved? Could that be a model for reconciling other segments of society that are divided because of past antipathy?
The churches that are accepting just DO it, not without a great deal of deliberation, mind you because that’s the Presby way. The Presbyterian Church USA has a More Light designation, which I happen to think is a terrible name, because almost no one outside the denomination gets the reference. But it involves providing an opportunity for full participation, from having LGBTQ pastors and lay leaders to same-gender marriage, conversation in adult education, and yes, participation in the gay rights parade, which, as I’ve noted in the past, is much more important now than ever, given the backlash. People will make mistakes in the process, but they need a safe space to do that.
The Daughter is not confused by her church friend who has two moms, e.g. A lot of the membership in my congregation is LGBTQ and the leadership of elders and deacons reflects that.
The United Methodist Church, of which I am a former member, has ducked the issue, for now, the last major Protestant denomination to do so, I think, fearing a schism. But the schism will happen whether they vote yea or nay in 2020.
How do we have to deal with racists? Whenever I want to tell about people who are discriminated against, there is always someone who denies it.
Oy, that IS a tough nut to crack. Lots of people seem to think that racism is over when I see no evidence of that being true, in the United States at least. I know I was more hopeful eight years ago than now. In the US, even the systems that had protected voting rights based on race – Congress and the courts – have let us down.
One of the great things I’ve seen, though, since Ferguson and the Black Lives Matter movement, is the sheer number of WHITE people who seem to “get” it, that mass incarceration hurts not just the black community but all of us. It has always been thus, the need for white allies (or straight allies or male allies).
There were people who believed that once the bigots die off, a more tolerant, more enlightened next generation would take over. That may still be the case, but it’s going to take longer than I would like. Race, and specifically black/white in America, has a long historic framework. Just as you think you’ve torn it down here (Confederate flag moved from the SC capitol), it rises up there (the racist, often pro-Agent Orange tirades, post-election.)
I’ll say this: it’s heartening when white people talk about white privilege because it says that the problem of racism is NOT a black problem, it’s everyone’s problem. After the nine people were killed in a Charleston, SC church, the congregations of a couple of churches in that city, one black, one white, but with a common history, started meeting together, and it created greater understanding. THAT’S reconciliation, and we need more of that.
I know it’s not much, but we have to keep on keeping on, embracing the “other,” as often as we can. I’m impressed how, in New Zealand, people of every ethnicity have adopted some Maori terms. I can’t imagine a lot of American people using some native American culture – “talk American!” – other than to denigrate it, but maybe I’m too cynical.
The only movies I’ve seen with Gene Wilder are The Producers, Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex * But Were Afraid to Ask, Silver Streak, Stir Crazy, and one of my favorite movies ever, Young Frankenstein, which he co-wrote. They were all released between 1967 and 1980. But he was always excellent then and in a couple of episodes of Will and Grace early this century. Gene Wilder on The Truth | Blank on Blank | PBS Digital Studios, plus Evanier and Tom Straw remember.