Monday, February 8, 2010

Minding Our Motives: Redemption

A friend read my "Minding Our Motives" post and recalled a familiar triusm: The road to hell is paved with good intentions.

So, if the road of white racism---by which I mean, well-intentioned-but-oblivious white prejudice and acquiescence to systemic racism, as opposed to intentionally hateful acts of discrimination and physical/verbal/emotional violence against non-whites---is in fact a road to hell that is paved with our (well-meaning white folks') good intentions, then what is our salvation from ourselves and from the preferential system in which we are entrenched?

1. I believe, first and foremost, in the need for whites to EDUCATE OURSELVES and one another. If we want to understand non-white experiences within the United States and around the world, then we must pick up a book (any number of them!) and read it! While the impact of hearing a friend or colleague's personal experience of racism is irreplaceable, we whites must be ever cautious about placing the burden of our own education upon others (who, by the way, cannot speak for all persons of color and ethnicity and nationality...though we implicitly ask them to do so). Want to know, for example, what it's like to grow up Black or to raise Black children in the predominantly white school district in which you live? Read "Why Are All The Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?" by Beverly Daniel Tatum. I've revisited this classic myself recently; my two children, after all, don't come running home from school to share, "Hey Mom, guess how I experienced systemic racism at school today?!"---yet I hear it when my daughter talks about the repeated slight that she experiences from her 2nd grade teacher and I see it when my son is complimented for being an exceptional young Black man (like when commentators marvel that our President is articulate and intelligent). Read White Like Me by Tim Wise; watch Traces of the Trade (a copy can be borrowed from the resource library of Penn Central Conference) or Race: The Power of an Illusion to begin to delve into the depths of the history of race and racism.

2. If our well-intentioned motives too often deceive us into believing that we (again, whites) are thinking and saying the politically correct things, then we need to join and forge interracial coalitions that will challenge our thinking and our saying and, more importantly, compel us beyond thinking and saying to acting. If intentions do not matter, as I suggested in an earlier blog, then we must stop trying so hard to mean well and actually GET ACTIVE in anti-racism work: in schools and curricula rewrites and standardized testing, in prison reform, in economic policies and international debt forgiveness, in WalMart and Gap's problematic "employment" of underpaid and underage women in Latin & South American countries for clothes-making, in our local colleges where hateful words are still scrawled in public places... Pick one, and become an agent of anti-racism. We whites tend to become overwhelmed rather quickly by the enormity of systemic racism and the abyss of our own white guilt. Getting involved with an already-existing coalition or agency helps to calm our panic and positively focus our anxious need to "do something."

We (whites) are not beyond hope, although we make the most progress toward being anti-racist when we shed our self-righteous motives and humbly lose our fear of being perceived as racist...we are racist simply by virtue of being compliantly mired in this system of white privilege. When we glimpse the tip of this iceberg-of-a-system, then we begin to understand that our well-intentioned motives, our careful use of politically correct language, and our prideful report of having one Black friend or one biracial nephew/niece, are (nearly) meaningless in resisting the iceberg's impact around us. We can be most useful---and, perhaps, redeemed---when we set aside our pride and finally risk our comfortable whiteness to join an interracial coalition in the work of anti-racism.

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