Thursday, July 9, 2009

Outrage at Racism

I have heard it once said that the only ones surprised by racism or deny its existence are the racists themselves. It's a shocking statement but one that presses in on our white privilege thinking because if you have managed to get this far in life thinking racism and prejudice are figments of the collective imagination, you are, simply, white and privileged. Even if you are AWARE of racism, hate it with a passion and fight against it when you see it, if you are of the majority, you are still privileged.

You don't think there are any privileges to being part of the majority? Read this old but golden list from Peggy McIntosh and check to see what applies to you.

Now go back and re-read number fourteen and think of my sons while you do it.
14. I can arrange to protect my children most of the time from people who might
not like them.

On July 3rd while my family and I were relaxing in the relative racial utopia that is the Harambee Summer Festival, Jay Phillips was attacked in a parking lot of a McDonald's on Vancouver Island. Stop. Go watch it here. He is someone's son. He is someone's father.

On that same day, in response to the presence of 60 families from my precious, amazing and much loved camp a coward under the cover of darkness wrote horrible, awful, disgusting and without question racist messages across the picnic tables of the beach where we spent each day.

"Run N----- Run"
"White Pride"
"Ashamed to be Human With You"

Discovered (and destroyed) the next morning by parents before our children saw for themselves, we seethed.

And you, I am sure are shocked. Shocked at the attack on Jay and shocked at the attack on our precious children.

I am still at a loss for words as to how to express this and so I give you Kelly Diels' words. A blogger I recently discovered, she says it far better than I could. Please, go read the whole article. Here are some excerpts I find most important.

... I feel great tenderness for white people who are shocked by this
attack. They've got good hearts. They truly, madly, deeply believe
in equality - and the very fact of their whiteness insulates them from the
everyday knowledge that racism exists. That's why this assault is such
a shock. When you're white, you don't notice racism, because you feel
racially neutral and you think that this racially neutral experience is the norm.

It is not.

Some dearly loved people in my life are
uncomfortable with the fact that I identify my children as black. They're
biracial, after all. Calling them black erases their white mother, their
white family members, and the acceptability and the privilege that comes from
not being black. As one of my friends told me recently "It's okay to be
black as long as you don't act black" (he's black). That's usually the case -
except every once in a while, the very fact of your blackness, your otherness,
your not-whiteness, will make you a target of physical violence. And
nearly every single day, your blackness will be noted but it may be ignored so
long as your behaviour and demeanour doesn't coincide with stereotypes and
assumptions about black people. In other words, in the words of my friend, so
long as you act white.
This is why I identify my children as black. I'm
choosing to identify with reality. I am preparing to be an ally for my
black children as they make their way in this still very, very white world, our
true north strong and free, our grand multicultural mosaic. I don't want
to be shocked when they come home from school, work, baseball, dancing, life and
report the outrageous, covert or coded slings, arrows and slurs that have
been hurled their way. I want to prepare them. I want to be
prepared. I want to prepare the world. And yet I know that there is
no way to truly prepare. I'm scared. The attack on Jay Phillips
means that I am right to be scared. We all should be....
And I hope that all the good-hearted, mosaic-referencing, tolerant Canadian
white folk are willing to push beyond their own shock and outrage at this and
examine the ways that racism is present in our daily lives - to acknowledge
and challenge it.
Because when you're blind to the small stuff it takes the
big stuff to shock you. And in your well-meaning ignorance lies tacit
assent to all the small stuff and thus your permission for the big stuff.
These three young men did not just wake up racist one day: it took 19-25 years of their small acts of racism being tolerated by other oblivious white people for them to feel entitled to physically attack a black man.
Thank the gods and goddesses or the deity of your choice that Jay
Phillips is big and strong and physically powerful and no stranger to the
gym and could physically defend himself although he should not ever have had
to. Imagine if he had been a frail, elderly man. Or a less
physically-strong woman. Or my two beautiful little girls.
Imagine that.

And now, white people, think back to every single time another white person said something 'off' that you didn't challenge or educate with humour or love or just SOMETHING. Or a resume came across your desk with an 'ethnic' name and you didn't call that person back. Or when you chose to rent your basement suite to a white family instead of a South Asian one because you thought the house would smell like curry. Or when you sigh over traffic in Richmond when you really mean Asian drivers. Start seeing those things; and see the connection, the continuum, the path from those things to three racist men in a McDonald's parking lot threatening to lynch a black man. Start seeing that if being black, or Chinese, or South Asian can be a disadvantage, that by the same token, being white translates into advantage.

Someone I know once said to me that he didn't want to live in X neighbourhood, because then his (white) daughter would go to X school; and the reason he worried about this was because he didn't want her to be a minority.There is truth in that unexaminedly racist statement. He didn't want his daughter to be a minority, because to be an ethnic minority is to be disadvantaged. He didn't want her to have to rescind her white privilege, her advantage.

Being privileged because you are white does not mean you are evil; it does not mean you are racist; it is just the fact of the matter and it means that you can choose whether or not you see racism. And if you choose to see it, and really, really want to confront and eradicate racism, start by examining - and acknowledging - the fact
that there is an advantage to being white.

Start seeing the privilege.

Start articulating it.

Stop being shocked.

Continue being outraged.

Continue Being Outraged. Please.


Alex said...

Actually I find those excerpts pretty insulting, as a white person. I don't like people to assume just because I am white I feel a priveledge or entitled. And I found that very patronizing. My step-sister in laws are half black and half white. I don't know how you'd refer to them, since I only refer to them as my SIL's and don't reference them by colour. My nephews are portuguese/black/white. My other SIL is Filipino and my niece is filipino/white. And I am adopted, and assume I am white, but I suppose I will never know!! Technically while one sister in law looks something other than caucasion, she could pass closer for native than black. And her sister looks as white/irish as can be. And she hates that people can't tell she's black. I don't for one minute feel more priveledged that them because of race. I feel extrememly priveledged with my life and how its turned out. But that is because of my kids, my husband and my extended family and friends.

Yes traditionally white people have many advantages. All we can do is try and make people aware that that isn't fair and work to change that. I live in a very nice neighbour, that you have to make a decent amount of money to live in. And our neighbourhood is made up of many differnt cultures. Nigerian, Portuguese, Asian, Caucasion, Middle Eastern, and probably a 100 more that I haven't met yet or don't realize what their culture is. Because they are my community and my neighbours and friends. Did many of them have to work hard to get bet they did. But so did we. Did we have it a little easier(perhaps a lot easier), you bet. But many also come from money and have nannies and many expensive cars and trips every month. Family money from their "home" countries where they earned it as equals with hard work. Money they deserve. But they don't deserve it any more than anyone Its not a WE vs THEM because thats stupid. We are ALL "WE"s in my mind. And the minds of anyone I associate with on a personal nature. In fact I won't associate with one of my other SIL's fathers because he is racist and his comments aren't welcome. And my SIL knows if we get together I will comment to him about it. I have NO PROBLEM telling people when they are being offensive and inappropriate, because I FEEL offended. No I am not a minority race, but I am a person and I feel when other people are hurting. Its not because I am white and great and super diverse. Its because I care. And I don't like when people assume things about me because of the colour of my skin. People don't know my background. People don't know my white neighbours background...maybe he was abused and trashed and picked on because of his looks, family, situation. Maybe my black neighbour never knew a harsh comment, mean look, or day of hard work in their life. We don't KNOW and can't just anyone based on the colour of their skin.

Thats why I think equal opportunity employment initiatives are a bad idea. I believe in hiring BEST person for the job, and not just the next person thats a minority, or a woman or disabled. I think that when someone gets a job based on affirmative action, even if they truely ARE the best candidate, it devalues the position. Did they get it because they were the best that happened to be female/ethnic/handicap or did they get it because they were the top 20 but the first female/ethnic/handicap on the list.

In your post and your excerpts I felt judged. In a effort to, what I assume was, make people realize that we have to be open and aware, I think you did more damage than good(in my opinion) because when you TELL people what they SURELY MUST be thinking and going through, you loose your audience.

Alyssa said...

I'm really saddened that you had to experience something like that, especially at a place that you expect to feel comfortable in.

On the other hand, it hurts me that racism is generally seen as white people feeling and acting superior to black people. I grew up in an area of Boston that was 99% latino. My family was the only white family in the neighborhood, and I was 1 of 6 white people that went to my small elementary school. I grew up subjected to nicknames and even playground discrimination from other children because I was white. I would hear whispers from children at my school saying not to talk to me because I wasn't Spanish. Heck, even mass at church was conducted in Spanish.

My childhood has definitely influenced the way that I look at discrimination. For 1, I've learned the pain that it can cause and 2, I've become well aware that "minority" is a very relative term.

White people are often looked at as the bad guy, and discrimination actually becomes a stereotype of whites. In reality, discrimination is blind and any race, gender, or age can be on either side of the glass depending on the circumstances.

Proudmama said...

Hi there, I think that your first two commenters didn't really get the point about white privlige. There are many white people who do not want to be given any privilege just because their skin is white but that is what our society does. If we don't recognize that, we can't change it.

Here's an example of where white privilege comes in (in my opinion anyways). When we were naming our son, we struggled with what to name him as one day our sweet baby boy is going to grow up into an intelligent and strong black man. But how will things be different for him when he goes searching for a job? Will it matter if his resume has the name Jamal or Mohammed at the top as opposed to a name like Jack or John? There are many employers who wouldn't even think twice about a name that would generally indicate a minority applicant but there are probably just as many employers that would and would simply disregard his application on his name alone. This is reality people! There are assumptions made about people just because of the colour of their skin.

I had no idea what was written in Naramata and there aren't words for how disgusted and angry I am.
I am ashamed that whatever sh*thead wrote that is likely part of the same ethnic group as I.


OAM3 said...

Alex, I believe that you don't have to "feel" privileged or entitled for it to be so. I think that the world does indeed often judge based solely on skin color and in the USA, a white skin buys you things that a black or brown one doesn't - whether that white person wants it or not.

Yes, I know many white people have non-white relatives, friends, or children. I don't think that matters at all when a white person heads into a store solo, the security guard sees that person as white. He may make further judgements based on tattoos or piercings or attire, but the skin is a primary factor.

I'm thrilled you are offended by racist remarks or actions... and I have no doubt you do a great job of letting that offense be known. That's a start. Tim Wise offers other options for rejecting white privilege and calling the "system" on its prejudice and bias. Read White Like Me for some other ideas and a great description of the depth to which white privilege exists and ENCOURAGES white people to deny its existence... Tim Wise would argue that you live where you do and you earn what you do in a LARGE part because you are white. It's a wonderful sign that you are living in a diverse neighborhood, but sadly it is not reflective of the average norm in America today. If you are Canadian, I don't have that data.

heyLyss09, yes anyone of any race can choose to discriminate based on race... BUT in the USA, we have systemic racism built into institutions that span the country. I would have hoped your personal experience would have made you MORE empathetic to the plight of minorities in America and not less. Again, look at the stats for employment, salaries, housing, education, criminal justice records, etc. and you will see a disparity between whites and all others that clearly shows systemic racism exists in our country.

Jensboys - thanks for your post and for reminding those of us privileged enough to have a full backpack that we have a duty to ourselves and to our world, to try to ensure ALL people can fill their backpacks with ease.