Race and White Fragility
This morning I’d like to start a discussion on race. Not just Black or African American or Latino, or any other race or culture of color, but also how the white culture factors into the discrimination against these races and cultures. There are two sides to this dilemma, and we will look at both these next few weeks.
We’re starting a series on this topic using two books: “How to be an Antiracist” by Ibram X. Kendi and “White Fragility – Why is it so Hard for White People to Talk About Racism” by Robin Diangelo.
The timing is appropriate. There has been and continues to be so much going on across our country and even in some other countries, about the actions and reactions of people, of both white and black races, as they respond to police shooting and sometimes, strangling, Black men and women, often unarmed.
We see all to often, another shooting of unarmed Blacks, especially, that it is just too commonplace.
But this discussion goes beyond the shooting of people of color. There is more to it.
So, let’s take a look at some history, some facts and set the stage for some discussion…yes, it is my hope that these Messages, just like those we presented in July with Leroy, Carolyn, Diane and Angela, will foster discussion around the dinner table and the conversation circles in homes across our area.
The most recently available Census statistics show that income inequality in America, as of 2018, is at its most extreme point in half a century. Access to a quality education remains heavily shaped by ZIP code, while access to a safe place to live remains heavily determined by wealth. Change is still undermined by the difficulty of voting. Even the water that comes out of America’s taps is unequal.
The pandemic has simply brought the disparities between whites and people of color to the surface even more.
“For every tortuous inch gained,” TIME declared when Martin Luther King Jr. was named Person of the Year for 1963, “there are miles of progress left to be covered.”
That statement is no less true today, unfortunately.
So, let’s start by defining what racism is: in “White Fragility,” it is defined as intentional acts of racial discrimination committed by immoral individuals, or a racist is someone who holds conscious dislike of people because of race.
Think on that before we go on.
This is not prejudice. According to Diangelo, “Prejudice is pre-judgement about another based upon the social groups that person belongs. It consists of thoughts and feelings, including stereotypes, attitudes, and generalizations that are based on little or no experience and then are projected onto everyone from that group.”
As a gay woman, I can relate somewhat to this. I, and many of my friends and acquaintances have been the subject of prejudice. And we learned from the Black community how to fight for equality through peaceful protests…and still are fighting.
We all have prejudice; it can’t be avoided. And its not a bad thing. It’s when we put action to those thoughts and feelings that discrimination happens.
If we deny that we have prejudice, Diangelo suggests we are ‘demonstrating a profound lack of self-awareness.’
Of course, we would have to admit to that, be aware of it, to be able to move on is self-awareness. We all know that self-awareness is needed to connect to our inner Christ.
The opposite of racist is ‘antiracist,’ one who endorses racial equality.’ They see the root of problems in power and policies.
Kendi states a racist is, “one who endorses the idea of a racial hierarchy; they believe problems are rooted in groups of people.”
Kendi continues, a racist is one who is supporting a racist policy through their actions or inactions or expressing a racist idea.
And antiracist is one who is supporting an antiracist policy through their actions or expressing an antiracist idea.
And what is a racist policy? It is any measure that produces or sustains racial inequity between racial groups.
An antiracist policy, then, would be any measure that produces or sustains racial equity between racial groups.
Policy is defined as written or unwritten laws, rules, procedures, processes, regulations or guidelines that govern people.
That’s a lot of information, but it gives us some groundwork to base our discussion upon. And we will use that foundation for our continued discussion through the following Sundays.
The Declaration of Independence tells us: all men are created equal.
And if we believe in that document, then where did we go awry?
THAT… goes way back.
I recall a Bible history I was studying when I was still in Unity Licensing classes. The history of the Near East, according to this is very interesting.
This is before the time of Abraham and Isaac, when the communities you would come across were matriarchal, the women were the leaders, taking care of the homes and crops and the spiritual welfare of the village, while the males hunted.
These were people who worshiped their Gods through nature Their main God was a Goddess.. The Head Woman was the representative of the Goddess
All was good.
Then they were invaded by an aggressive culture from the north, that believed in force and violence to conquer other cultures.
They tried to force their God onto the Goddess believers and but they met much resistance. The only way was to marry the Goddess representative and melt the cultures as best they could.
Of course, that meant that the males dominated the females. And as they came in contact with other races, the ‘whiter’ races determined in their minds that they were better, smarter, stronger…and therefore the leaders.
And so, begins, briefly, the history of how white became the skin color of choice. Arians coming from the north made a determination that their race was best. Sound familiar?
Hitler had the same idea.
That story or something similar, depending on who is telling it, was brought forward century after century. Time and again, the oppressed fought against their oppressors and time and again, the oppressed were held down.
It’s hard to get back up if you are continually pushed back.
The Declaration of Independence sounded simple enough: all men are created equal. For nearly 250 years, the U.S. has leaned on that founding principle. In theory, its meaning is clear. In practice, battles have raged—often times literally—over what it means, not just for American government but for American life in general.
So how would you define equal?
The dictionary defines it as: being the same in quantity, size, degree, or value; a person or thing considered to be the same as another in status or quality.
If this is what we base our constitution upon, what’s the problem? How could we get so off course, if ALL persons are created equal?
Of course, in the eyes of God, and supposedly, all God loving people, we ARE all equal.
But that is and has not been put into practice by all, for all.
The utopians might respond that prioritizing this supposed equality results in the very inequalities that they question: racial privilege, elite colleges, losers, sexism. They would argue that true equality requires taking from some and giving to others, to even out the differences. And so, equality seems absurd. Either it doesn’t exist or, if we claim it exists, it seems to defy reality. But Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln were not fools. They were neither cynics nor utopians.
For clarification, we should return to Abraham Lincoln’s subtle and profound teaching about equality, at a moment when that foundation was threatened by a form of inequality everyone today condemns, slavery. He once gave an instructive exercise in trying to prevent civil war.
In opposing the recently announced Dred Scott decision, in which the Supreme Court deprived African Americans of not only citizenship but of human dignity, Illinois Senate candidate Lincoln parried the vicious racial demagoguery on the part of incumbent Senator Stephen Douglas.
When Douglas accused him of being in favor of inter-racial marriage, Lincoln acknowledged that most of his white listeners opposed “amalgamation” with black people. Keep in mind, Illinois prohibited slavery but also discriminated against black people in innumerable ways.
Lincoln’s explanation defends liberty for all and justifies equality as an ideal. Just because he did not want to enslave a woman, he said, did not mean he personally wanted to marry her. “In some respects she certainly is not my equal; but in her natural right to eat the bread she earns with her own hands without asking leave of anyone else,” he went on, “she is my equal, and the equal of all others.”
It is important, as white people of America, that we fight racism by learning what it really means to be white and how that identity operates in the world.
We will look at both what it means to be a person of color and a white person. I hope you will follow our series and use it to delve into your own beliefs on race and maybe, if you find some racist beliefs within your heart, to let them go.