Increasing segregation

Charles Blow lays out some statistics in his opinion piece in the NYTimes today. He focuses on the increasing segregation by class and race that US neighborhoods are experiencing, like “about 40 percent of white Americans and about 25 percent of nonwhite Americans are surrounded exclusively by friends of their own race.”

The associated infographic isn’t precisely about neighborhood segregation, but is also instructive, revealing differing perceptions of unfair treatment of African Americans.

Hunger Strike at Immigration Prison

ROJ Trainer Brenda Zook Friesen has a connection to an inmate at this immigration prison, run by for-profit company GEO Group. Prisoners, detained for not having immigrations papers, are protesting deportation policies as well as inhumane conditions at the prison. A hunger strike started a couple weeks ago, peaked at 750 prisoners, with two remaining strikers. The strike has also spread to a Texas immigration prison, run by the GEO Group.

Not One More Deportation is running a campaign in support of the prisoners.

“I would have said that even if he was white.”

 

You’ve probably heard it before: “I would have said that even if [fill in the person’s name] was white.” It’s a tried and true method of distancing oneself from actions that are based on white superiority. I know this, because I’ve used it, and hear others use it. Typically, it is white people who employ this technique, and I’d like to apply some analysis to the dynamic. (I won’t claim that people of color never use this distancing method, though if they do, there is a different dynamic going on and it’s not appropriate for me, as a white person, to analyze that dynamic.)

ImageHere’s how I’ve seen it play out. A person of color, let’s call him Fred, says something that a white person, William, strongly disagrees with. William confronts Fred and says with great force of tone, “You are wrong. You need to change what you said, and I won’t be content until you do.” Most often, the confrontation interrupts the normal flow of whatever is happening.

Fred, taken aback that William would confront him in this particular manner, responds, “How can you confront me like this? I’ve said nothing wrong.”

There may be some back-and-forth about who is right, but at some point Fred or a third party witnessing the exchange, says, “William, do you see how you confronted Fred in a totally racist way?”

“No. It has nothing to do with race. I would have said the same thing if Fred was white.”

The implication is that the dynamics of race have everything to do with the race of the Other. So, if William would have said the same thing, regardless of the Fred’s racial identity, then race is not a factor.

The problem is, that’s not how racial dynamics work. Fred is not the only person with a race in this exchange. Would William have said the same thing if he himself had NOT been white? I expect he would answer, “Of course! Because I am right, and truth is important and beyond race. Stop playing the race card!!”

Theoretical William’s assertion notwithstanding, it’s still an important question to ponder: How does his whiteness, his socialization into a racially “superior” group, affect his approach to disagreement? I’m not interested for now in the racial identity of the Other, but in William’s own racial self-understanding. After all, you can’t really argue with William’s hypothetical, “If everything about this situation were exactly the same except that Fred was white, I would have responded exactly the same way,” except to say, “No you wouldn’t have.” “Yes I would.” “Nuh-uh.” It get’s nowhere, and it distracts from William’s own racial identity.

White people have been socialized to believe that we are superior. Of course, it’s more complicated than just that, often with a mix of guilt, shame and self-loathing, but I have yet to meet a person who receives systemic white racial privilege who has not internalized that privilege into a form of superiority. And I’ve met a lot of white people. That doesn’t make white people bad or evil or blameworthy. But it means that we have a lot of work to do to uncover how these internalized messages play out in our lives.

For William, myself, and other white people, we are socialized to believe that

  • We are usually right on matters of consequence.
  • We have access to Truth, and Truth is really, really important.
  • We already know what the Other’s perspective is.
  • So we don’t need to listen.
  • And they’re wrong.
  • We have a duty to point out to others why they are wrong. (White man’s burden?)
  • We expect that people will listen and take us seriously.
  • There are unlikely to be substantial repercussions if we confront people.
  • We will bear no social costs if we interrupt the normal flow of events.

All of these, and more, manifestations of white supremacy are at play in every interaction a white person has with anyone else, regardless of the other person’s racial identity. This is how we have learned to interact with other people because this is what we believe about ourselves. We don’t have to keep believing these messages, or acting them out, but if we ignore the reality of our socialization it is at our peril.

This doesn’t mean that every time William disagrees with a person of color or another white person, that he shouldn’t say anything. White people are right sometimes — even about very important things. But we must develop patterns of reflection that allow us to expose the internalized superiority that props up our assertions and assertiveness in all of our interactions. This will make us healthier people and allow us to enter into more authentic relationship with people of all racial identities.

Race, Perceptions and Stereotypes

Some interesting social science research on race, perceptions and stereotypes and how they play into white supremacy and internalized oppression/inferiority. Highlights from an NPR story (listen to the story or read the transcript at the link):

SAPERSTEIN: If someone went from being employed to being unemployed, or being out of prison to being in prison, or being off welfare to being on welfare, the interviewer was more likely to see the person as black – after they experienced that sort of downward mobility – than before.

And,

And she [Saperstein]  found that when people went to prison, they became more likely to think of themselves as black. And that’s because their minds were also subject to this very same stereotypes.

 

Report on Advancing Equity in Organizations

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The D5 Coalition has a report (released a few months ago) that examines “Policies, Practices, and Programs for Advancing Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion.” It’s based on interviews, reports, and assessments of various philanthropic foundations, and has a lot of helpful ideas to consider. I appreciate the importance that it places on changing policies, practices and procedures of an organization, and in establishing methods of accountability.

When discussing accountability, however, the report (helpfully) talks about collecting data and impact statements, but it doesn’t emphasize that accountability for equity must ultimately reside with marginalized communities. Who collects and evaluates the data and impact statements? A key question that has to be answered by any institution serious about equity/anti-oppression.

If you watch the superbowl…

If you are watching the Superbowl today, during one of the commercial breaks, watch this 2 minute spot instead. The creators didn’t have the funds to actually air it during the game. I’ll add that I’m a bit uncomfortable with some of the images (a brief scene from Dances With Wolves to illustrate “Sioux” – not even using the name “Lakota”; The controversial Crazy Horse monument to illustrate Crazy Horse), but I’m all about bringing greater attention to the need to do away with racial slurs as team mascots.

New Report: Moving the Race Conversation Forward

RaceForward (formerly the Applied Research Center and publisher of Colorlines) has released a report which

  1. analyzes conversations about race in the “mainstream” media (Surprise! The mainstream doesn’t talk much about systems!),
  2. describes seven harmful racial discourse practices, and
  3. features case studies of attempts to change this harmful discourse.

They invited Jay Smooth to do a quick rundown, though he doesn’t so much give an overview as describe the difference between individual and systemic racism. Take a 5-minute break to look at it.

The Indigenous Nelson Mandela

ImageI just came across this fine post (on Racism Review), a month of so belatedly, about how Nelson Mandela’s indigenous culture is whitewashed in Western media. Here’s a quote:

Madiba’s indigenous identity and ideas have, as is always the case, been whitewashed to invisibility. His constant references to the beauty, importance and identity marker of the land in his famous speeches and quotes are not viewed as the universal perspective of indigenous peoples everywhere. They are seen as inspiring quotes of a singular nature from a unique iconic figure. Chief Seattle and many other indigenous leaders have talked of the land and the people in this way for centuries.

The other week while gathered in Dallas to work on the new Roots of Justice Intersectional Analysis training, the ROJ trainers took an evening to watch Mandela, a film about his activism. I’ll have to watch it again with an eye to how it brings out or ignores his indigenous roots.

This Is What I Mean When I Say “White Feminism”

This Is What I Mean When I Say “White Feminism”

Parsing out the term “white feminism,” beginning with this:

Every single time women of colour talk about “white feminism” or “white feminists” within the context of discussions about the way that the mainstream feminist movement privileges whiteness, we deal with an onslaught of defensive white women insisting that they personallyare not like that, and would you please say “some white women” and not make generalizations?

 

What those women fail to realize is that by making that request, they are exemplifying Mikki Kendall’s #solidarityisforwhitewomen battle cry; by once again insisting that a conversation created to facilitate discussion about the issues of WoC, be centered around the feelings of white women.