Saturday, December 20, 2014

Guest Post: Coming to Terms with Anger

The following is a guest post from my friend, Marcus Woods. Marc is a PhD Candidate at Rutgers University. He shares his perspective on recent events as an African American male who is active in his church and community.

I’m angry.  I am so angry. I’m angry at our legal system. I’m angry at these grand juries.  But mostly, I’m angry at the church.  I’m furious at my brothers and sisters.   We’re supposed to be one body.  We’re supposed to be working together.  The strong are supposed to help the weak with their burdens.  And yet I sit here heavy and burdened, and I feel like the church has abandoned me.  There’s a deafening silence in the Christian community after the acquittals of officers in Ferguson and New York City.  I’m boiling over and seething with anger and pain and I want you to stop denying it.  I want you to stop telling me  not to be angry. 

In the past week I’ve tried to reflect on my own habit of placing my identity as a black man in front of my identity as a Christian.  I know that ideally, I shouldn’t do this.  I know that this body is just temporary and temporal.  When we leave these bodies and get to glory, ethnicities, colors, phenology, race, etc., surely won’t matter.  This is only flesh and I’ve been taught that the flesh is what separates and distances us from God.  In respect to things that are eternal and really matter, I know that this flesh ranks pretty low.  You know as well as I do, though, that this flesh can be a powerful thing.  While I know that God looks beyond my color and race, people don’t.  Everyday I’m confronted with stereotypes, inequalities, and injustices because I’m a black man.  Before people get the chance to see that I’m a Christian, my race has broadcasted who they think that I am.  So while it’s temporary and earthly, my race has very real implications for how I live my life.

At the same time, I also know that historically, the church has been silent or on the wrong side of many issues of inequality.  From slavery, to segregation, to Jim Crow, many from the church in America have been strangely silent.  This especially confuses me because when I read about Christ, I don’t see him as someone who supported the status quo.  He was an activist and a righter of wrongs.  Even when it was unpopular, he spoke truth in the face of lies and transformed those filled with hatred through the power of his love. In the past several days I’ve used that old middle school mantra of WWJD.  That’s been the most helpful exercise for me.  I know that He wouldn’t be in the streets looting, setting cities ablaze, and letting his uncontrolled rage damage a community.  At the same time, I don’t think that He would sit idly by and ignore the posts, comments, blogs, feelings, etc. of those who felt genuinely affected by racism that they encountered. Surely he would be somewhere in the middle, able to balance correcting inequalities and loving people.  He would be about connections and love.

There’s a way to fight equality and do it in a productive, Christ-like manner.  I aspire to be like Christ, like many of us probably do.  So yes, I should love my neighbors, even when they think I’m aggressive and a threat because I’m a big black guy.  At the same time, I have to stand up and protect those who are being crushed and oppressed.  See, Christ didn’t sit idly by and watch people suffer.  He took those that the world didn’t care about.  He took the widows, the diseased, the prostitutes, everyone who was broken and discarded and He embraced and love them.  Brothers and sisters, there is oppression in this land.  There are structural inequalities.  There are people whose rights are being stripped away and I challenge you to search your heart and see how silence and ignorance allows us to progress.  We’re supposed to be the light of this world and flavor it with our righteousness. We’re supposed to make a difference!

It boggles my mind that so many can stay silent in the face of discrimination and inequality.  I know that many have a hard time believing that the Mike Brown murder was about anything more than a thug who tried to attack a police officer.  They claim that race isn’t central to this incident, not respecting authority is. Let’s take a step back from this example and see that it’s just one example in the list of many.  Even if you can’t bring yourself to believe that Mike Brown’s death is about race, understand that there are many people in this country who feel that Ferguson and Eric Garner are proof that America values the lives of black men as less than others.  This isn’t an indictment against white people. Nor is it an excuse to hate, ignore, or blame them.  I try my hardest to approach friends of all colors and ethnicities to explain my disappointment and anger at the legal system in America.  Yet, my life is proof that black men are viewed as a problem. I feel like my life is expendable.  It’s as if the system doesn’t care if I die or not.  This pain is palpable!  It chokes me up to think that the system designed to protect and serve could see me as a threat for no reason. I could be one of those black men wrongfully executed and my character assassinated so that people could feel better about what happened. I’m angry and my anger isn’t a sin.  Even Christ got angry.   I choose to use that anger.  I’m going to use that anger to stir myself to make some tangible action of change.  Hopefully, I can stir you enough to do the same.

I haven’t forgotten that the actual church of God is bigger than race or ethnicity.  But as it is with a lot of things in scripture, it’s easier to recite God’s words than live it out.  On one hand, I know that I should “Bless those that despitefully use you” and that “Blessed are ye when men shall revile you and persecute you and say all manner of evil against you falsely.” At the same time, it hurts so much.  I’ve been stopped plenty of times in Philadelphia while not committing any crimes.  It’s terrifying to know that being a law-abiding citizen may not be enough to keep me alive. The situation in Ferguson is simply one example of a fractured system founded in a racist America.  We built this country on the backs of black people.  When slavery was abolished there was still another hundred years of Jim Crow and government assisted and supported racism.  In the last two generations, we’ve made amazing progress, but to assume that the past 60 years was enough to equalize the entrenched power imbalance and racism in America is absurd. It bothers me so much that so many Christians are willing to ignore a legacy of systematic and government supported racism that existed in our country for years.

I’ve engaged in peaceful demonstrations the past week.  While I haven’t been moved to anger or destruction, I can emphasize with those who are, especially those who aren’t bound by a religious or moral code that says violence is wrong.  People are angry and rightfully so.  They believe that the system of justice is skewed against them. What do we expect them to do? When going through formal systems can’t work, because the system is slanted and biased, then one has to go outside the system.  I understand their rage and discontent.  It burns slowly and intensely inside of myself.  I don’t judge them though.  While I may not think destruction is the most productive use of anger, judging is the last thing I feel like doing.  Because below that anger is a pain, desperation, and hopelessness.  That’s what we should be concerned with as Christians.  What about the pain and hurt that an entire group of people feel? Isn’t that what our Savior would have been concerned with?  I’m discouraged by the silence of the church.  One can show compassion and the love of Christ without picking a side.  While I can’t understand how anyone in America still thinks that racism on an individual and systematic level isn’t a problem, I’m not asking anyone to believe exactly like I do about race and justice.  What I’m suggesting is that regardless of your beliefs about race, the suffering and perceived injustice that black Americans are going through should stir something inside of us.  It should cause us to me empathic and sympathetic. 

I’m not calling on revolution or war, but I do not think that there is a problem with demonstrations against a system that doesn’t seem fair.  The recent protests in NYC are an example of how people of different stations in life are coming together in solidarity for the oppressed.  I was at the Millions March and was almost brought to tears by the diversity of ages, races, and ethnicities. On the way up, I sat behind a group of priests from The Princeton Theological Seminary. We got into a conversation and I was so inspired by their activism. They were all different ages, races, and genders. They all felt a need to change the world and help move America towards a more equal system. There was a sense of empathy and support for a generation of frustrated young men.  Sounds pretty Christ like to me.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

The Zero-Sum Game

Sometimes whites think about race relations as if it's a zero-sum game. In a zero-sum game there are a certain number of points to be had and every point my opponent scores takes a point away from me. For example, in Scrabble, if I get the Q or the X or the Z and use them well, or if I use a triple word space, not only do I gain points, but those points are lost to the other players. Or in Monopoly, if I buy Boardwalk and Park Place they add to my game and take away from my opponents' chances to win not only because they will land on my hotel and owe me lots of money, but because they've lost the opportunity of ownership that will help them win.

Here's how this thinking works with race: if a person of color gets a scholarship, that's less money available for me as a white person.  If a person of color gets a job or some other opportunity, there's one less job or opportunity available to me as a white person. On the surface this seems to make sense, and zero-sum game thinking fuels arguments against affirmative action and in favor of a "colorblind" approach to race.

In a way, people who respond to "Black Lives Matter" by saying "All Lives Matter" are playing the zero-sum game. They respond as if saying that black lives matter means that white lives don't matter quite as much any more.

Recently, I heard another interesting example of zero-sum game thinking.  A friend was at a meeting with people involved in a specific, white dominated Christian organization. Someone at the meeting pointed out the lack of racial diversity within their ranks and suggested they think of ways to be more racially inclusive in the future. Since some of the fastest growing Evangelical churches in the U.S. are multiethnic/multiracial, this would seem to make sense. However, an older white guy who has been part of this organization for a long time expressed his dissatisfaction. Does that mean, he said (and I'm paraphrasing but this is pretty close, I think), that white people like me should take their gifts and callings and go elsewhere?

Hmm.  I wasn't there. I didn't hear the tone, I didn't see the body language. But I couldn't help but notice the immediately defensive and indignant posture of this person's response. No one at the meeting suggested he step down from his position.  On the contrary, I believe that this person is well respected within the ranks of the organization. No one suggested that white applicants be turned away or discouraged from participation in this particular ministry; they simply suggested that more people of color be recruited, as well. Yet in this white person's eyes, someone else's gain could only be viewed as his loss. Apparently there's only so much room in ministry and he needed to protect his spot. Of course, this is the opposite of the Christian doctrine I'm sure this person teaches, wherein there is "room at the cross" for everyone.  I wonder if he thinks that heaven will be populated based on the zero-sum game.

Sunday, December 7, 2014


The following is a guest post from my good friend, Dr. Debra Brown. Debra is an African American evangelical leader who lived near Ferguson, MO for many years.


As I gaze upon the starkness of winter, it reflects my heart over recent events pertaining to race, reconciliation, and truth. I feel bewildered. Is it conceivable that you don't get it? Please understand…

If you do not know what to say, it is preferable for you to state that truth.

I cannot see your eyes, your non-verbal communication. I see words that without context can be misinterpreted. defines cyberbullying and its effects. Christian cyberbullying is using religion as a justification.

When the Ferguson incident first happened, I searched out a colleague who is a white male evangelical former police officer to obtain his perspective. This enlightened my understanding. Have you judged without examining all the different perspectives?
Take the Berea challenge -- Acts 17:11: "These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whither those things were so."

I am a wife, a mother, a sister, daughter, and an aunt to African American males who are law abiding citizens yet are subject to racial epitaphs, stopped by the police without provocation, and stereotyped simply because of the color of their skin. I hear their anger and frustration. I cry tears they will not shed for themselves. In moments of suffering, Jesus understands my pain!
Hebrews 12:1-3: "Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider him that endured such contradiction of sinners against himself, lest ye be wearied and faint in your minds."

I do not adhere to the position that God is colorblind. I do adhere to the position that spiritual identity supersedes racial identity. Racial reconciliation is spiritual warfare. Reconciliation requires that you love me in word and deed. As stated earlier, I am hurting. When you, as a white evangelical person, hug me and express your love to me, Satan is defeated.
1 Corinthians 12:25-27: "That there should be no schism in the body; but that the members should have the same care one for another. And whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it; or one member be honored, all the members rejoice with it. Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular."

It is not my intent for you to feel guilty or responsible for the social injustices of this world because of your race. Nor do I expect you to agree with my perspective on recent events. I would appreciate awareness and conversation. These are the beginning steps to racial reconciliation.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Ferguson: Ignoring the Pain

This morning I sat across the table from a good friend in pain. My friend is African American and the cause of her pain is Ferguson. She, like many of my black friends, was devastated by the grand jury's decision not to indict police officer Darren Wilson for the shooting of Michael Brown last August. She, again like many others, sees this as just one more sanctioning of excessive police force toward unarmed African American males. Trayvon Martin (no actual police involved in this shooting), Eric Garner, and most recently, 12 year old Tamir Rice -- all black, all unarmed, all dead.

Certainly these deaths weigh heavily on the heart of my friend and on the hearts of many people in our country and around the world. But the deaths are not the only reason for the hurt I saw on my friend's face this morning. She's been around for awhile and she understands the systems in place that create the environment for shootings like these to occur. What she is having trouble understanding is the silence of the white community of faith around her. No one reached out to her, no one said a word about the grand jury decision. She doesn't understand how people within her own community can be so uncaring.

Here's the thing - my friend's silent white friends are not uncaring. In fact, some of them are the kindest, most caring people I know. They just don't get it. They don't understand the depth of emotion that surrounds the Brown case and others like it for African Americans. For many whites, the response to the shooting is to analyze the facts - what did eye witnesses say? Why didn't their testimonies agree? What does the forensic evidence show? What kind of person was Michael Brown? What kind of person and police officer is Darren Wilson? Is his story credible? Etc., etc., etc.

Now, let me go on record. I don't find Wilson's story credible. Of course, I can't know for sure what happened, but I find his demonizing of Michael Brown suspicious. Yes, there was an altercation before the shooting. But the one response that I can't get out of my head is that of the construction workers who witnessed the shooting. Perhaps you saw the video - here it is again: The way these guys responded, along with the man who walks through the scene with his hands up, unaware he's being videoed, seems too spontaneous and authentic to ignore.

But in a way, that's besides the point. It's more important for me to understand and empathize with the feelings of my African American friends than it is for me to play CSI and analyze the crime scene. I need to accept that my experiences inform my beliefs, and, experientially, I know nothing. I need to listen to those "in the know" if I am to learn.

So, in the spirit of listening, I hope to share some guest posts on this topic from African American friends. It's time to stop analyzing and listen.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

R is for Resentment?

I'm reading a book called "Americanah," by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. LOVE it. Adichie is a Nigerian author who explores U.S. race relations through the eyes of her fictional character, Ifemelu. As an outsider looking in, Ifemelu notices the hierarchies and sub-hiearchies of race. Like me, she is a blogger, but unlike me, her posts are witty, poignant, lucrative, and frequent. She blogs about how people respond to her as a dark skinned woman, and explores topics like racial profiling and the privileging of lighter skin and straighter hair among whites and people of color.

My favorite blog post by Ifemelu is titled, "Understanding America for the Non-American Black: Thoughts on the Special White Friend." She describes the sense of appreciation and relief she feels when she comes across "The White Friend Who Gets It." The White Friend Who Gets It understands how centuries of racism have created systems of oppression that perpetuate poverty and lack of opportunity for some and advantage for others. He or she understands that race really does still matter in this country. Let The White Friend Who Gets It speak for you, Ifemelu suggests, because whiteness allows your friend to say stuff to other whites that black people can't. (I've seen this many times in my classes - when a white person writes about racism, it's ok, but when a black person writes the very same things white students dismiss the work as "biased.")

Why don't more of us white people "get it"? Why is there such division and polarization in the way that many whites (at least many of the whites I know) and many African Americans, especially, view race? As Adichie points out through Ifemelu, polls show that most whites think racism is over and most blacks think it isn't. What quality is required what quality stands in the way of getting it for so many of us?

Taking the all I ever needed to know I learned in kindergarten approach, I think it's pretty simple. It's about empathy and the willingness to grow past egocentricity. I need to understand that my experience may not be the experience of people around me. For me, racism is not an issue because I'm white. I'm part of the dominant culture. For someone else, racism is an issue. Even if I don't understand it, can't I accept that racism exists because people who have experienced racism tell me it exists? Do I have to experience something personally in order for it to be true?

Of course not. But resentment stands in the way of empathy and fuels egocentricity. If we, as whites, spend all of our psychic energy feeling blamed and defensive over the topic of racism, we will resent, rather than understand, people of color who share their experiences with racism. That wall of resentment will cause us to say things like, "Black people can be racist, too," and "My uncle didn't get a job because a black person got it," and "I'm not racist, but black people should stop acting like victims and get over it," etc., etc., etc.

Anyway, you should read the book. Ifemelu says it much better than I ever could. And then maybe more of us could try a little bit harder to be a white friend who gets it.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Why So Silent? A post for my white, evangelical friends:

To My White Evangelical Friends:

While some of you are part of my face-to-face, real-time life, many others are cyber friends that I keep up with through the magic of Facebook.  I’m always amazed at the variety of topics you post about – everything from what you ate for dinner (including pictures), to how you spent your summer vacation, to what you think about the crisis in the Middle East. Some of you do the political thing, and some of you don’t. Some quote scriptures, post sermon notes, or flood the internet with pictures of your kids.  And of course, there are those ubiquitous cat videos that I admit I’m especially fond of. 

The one topic on which you’ve been wholly silent, though, is the shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed black youth, by a white police officer, and the subsequent unrest in Ferguson, MO. Generally speaking, you’re not a quiet group, so I’ve been wondering what reasons might exist for your silence about these troubling events. 

I admit I’ve also been quiet about the shooting until now, even on this blog, for a few reasons.  First, I’ve been waiting to get the facts – what actually happened to Michael Brown? Why was he shot, and what was he doing when he was shot? Even though several eye witnesses have stated that he was standing still with his hands up, I guess I’ve been waiting for forensic information to back up that testimony.  Also, I intend my posts to add to the conversation in some unique, significant way and I don’t post until I feel that I’m able to do that.

But here’s the thing – even if we don’t know all the facts, shouldn’t our faith compel us to at least show compassion toward the grieving family? A young man died. Can we express to Michael Brown’s family how very, very sorry we are? Regardless of how events transpired that awful night, I think we can agree that we are sorry a young man died, a family is suffering, and a community is in upheaval. We are sorry for the part we have played in failing at the daunting task of racial reconciliation in this country.

Can we understand the anger of many in the African American community at the idea that their young people are the targets of racial profiling that can lead to violence and death? As a white mom of three boys who have not always behaved perfectly in or outside of our home, I’ve never had to worry that the people who are charged with their protection might be the very ones to hurt my sons.  I’ve never had to explain “the rules” to them of how to avoid police violence.  Even though I’ve never experienced these things, I can listen to those who have and feel compassion for them.

A few years ago many of you, my white, evangelical friends, stood in unity with a fast food chicken chain’s stance on a social issue. The “likes” were flying all over Facebook (no pun intended, since chickens don’t actually fly).  You lined up for hours to buy that chicken and show solidarity with their view.  I don’t fault you for that – it was your right to do so.  I’m just wondering, though, if we could muster up even a little of that same drive and passion in this situation. Can we offer our sympathy, show our compassion, and pray that truth and justice would prevail for all of us, but especially for our brothers and sisters of color whose experience so differs from our own?

Friday, July 25, 2014

There I go again, acting white.

Don't get me wrong, I have nothing against white people. This is not a self-loathing post. It's just that every once in a while I find myself behaving in very white ways. I'm not talking music, food, or other things you might find on one of those "stuff white people like" lists. I'm talking power. I'm talking who gets heard, and why.

So first, I should explain that I'm writing a book about race. My research on race relations in a suburban high school will be published by Rutgers University Press sometime in 2016. In the book I talk a lot about critical race theory (CRT), the theoretical framework that helped me understand what I was seeing among the students (don't glaze over - I'm getting to the point).

Here's an actual sentence from my book, regarding CRT: "Infused with the goal of social justice, this area of study privileges the voices of traditionally oppressed groups…" You got that? Privileging the voices of traditionally oppressed groups means listening to what people of color have to say about race, respecting their opinions above those of white folks because, let's face it, they've lived it and we haven't (this is not an invitation for so-called "reverse racism" arguments. We'll save that for a different post). Their experience matters. I wrote those words.

Then I found myself in an interesting situation. An organization I'm involved with is wanting to give more attention to what it calls "diversity issues." To its credit, this organization is realizing that it hasn't been giving race relations within its ranks adequate attention, and it's trying to figure out how to change that. Of course, I assumed that, since I'm writing a book about race, people would flock to me asking for advice. They didn't. Instead, they looked to a few African American affiliates. My response? I got mad. I even ranted a little. Why aren't they asking me? I study this stuff! Why are they asking these others, just because they're…oops.

See what I mean? Part of being white is the expectation to be listened to, to dominate even conversations about racism. True, race is my area of study. But equally true, if whites want to be part of the solution we (read: me) need to be willing to let others take the lead.

Right at the time I was thinking all this through, a fellow blogger, Drew Hart, posted something similar. If you're interested, read his post about how members of the dominant culture tend to dominate conversations about racial reconciliation. Here's the link: Drew Hart's post.

The funny thing is, over the years I've heard lots of talk among youth about "acting white" and "acting black." There seems to be lots of policing of those boundaries, and I think it happens among adults, as well. But black and white people come from a variety of backgrounds and talk and act in a variety of ways. For me, acting white is not about language or dress or music. It's about the expectation to have power, to be in charge, to be listened to. I don't need to rap to stop acting white (although that would be pretty funny). I just need to listen.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

On Walter Dean Meyers

African American author Walter Dean Myers died this week. While I can’t say I’ve read everything he wrote, I can say I liked what I read. My favorite Myers novel is Monster, a book that can be viewed as a response to (or a “signifying” of) Native Son, a much earlier work by Richard Wright. Monster is the story of Steve Harmon, an African American sixteen year old who is on trial for murder. Steve is accused of being the lookout for a botched robbery during which the storeowner was killed. Steve, who was a member of the film club at his high school, narrates his story in the form of an imaginary film he is producing. In his film he describes the despair of prison life and the anxiety of facing trial. Although Steve fears that others now view him as a monster, Meyers depicts him as a complicated person who is capable of sustaining warm family relationships, and of expressing his identity with a wide range of human emotions. “I’m just not a bad person,” Steve tells himself. “I know that in my heart I am not a bad person” (93). While Myers’ ending is ambiguous (spoiler ahead) –we never do find out for sure if Steve committed the crime – in a sense, it doesn’t matter. Myers’ point is that guilty or innocent, Steve remains a person, a human being who, even if involved in this crime, is not a monster.
This is the stuff of childhood studies, an academic field that examines how people tend to conceptualize childhood. Childhood is often idealized as a time of innocence and vulnerability, but kids do bad things sometimes. If children are innocent, when they commit crimes do they stop being children? And how does race impact this view of childhood? In Monster, Meyers makes us face these and other uncomfortable questions. So, in the midst of my steady summer diet of dystopian YA fiction, it’s good to remember an author like Walter Dean Meyers, whose classy writing never included the phrase, “the smile didn’t reach his eyes,” and who understood the power of fiction to make us think.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

My Bias, and Why I Don't Blog More Often

The title of my post today doesn't make a lot of sense, and for good reason.  The two phrases I've chosen -- "My Bias," and "Why I Don't Blog More Often" aren't really connected in terms of content. They are connected in process, in a way.  I'll explain.

First, why I don't blog more often.  Race related stuff happens to me all the time. White people say things or react to things I've said in ways that show their deep fear, ignorance, anxiety, intolerance, and/or anger over the topic of racism. All the time. Maybe I'm hyper-responsible, but I usually can't figure out a way to blog about these conversations I have or situations I find myself in without the feeling that I'm somehow betraying trust. The truth is, these people are often my friends, family, or colleagues. So I don't blog because I don't feel right about publicly airing comments said to me in private. Sometimes, I ask a person for permission to blog about a situation they've described to me, but that only works when the person's beliefs are similar to my own. It would be hard to say to someone I know, "Hey, that thing you just said is racist. It betrays the fact that you have never taken the time to consider life from the perspective of anyone who is not part of the dominant culture.  Basically, you don't know what you're talking about. Oh, and is it okay if I blog about this conversation tomorrow?"

You see my dilemma.  It just wouldn't work.  So, because my goal has always been to keep the conversation going, I choose not to use my blog in a way that would shut down dialog about racism.

Usually.  But something happened to me recently that I feel compelled to share, although I'll try to be vague enough to protect the innocent. That's the "My Bias" part of this post. I'll just say that an opportunity to talk about race with youth was subverted by a white person in a position of power who read The R Word (my young adult novel about race) and was offended by "my bias." Now, I don't deny that I am biased.  We're all biased in one way or another. But what, exactly, about The R Word did this person find offensive? The novel tells the story of a very sheltered white teenager who grows in her understandings of racism when she makes friends with teenagers from racial backgrounds other than her own.  In my view, it is a gentle work -- maybe too gentle, some would say. But it's true, the novel does reveal my opinions about racism, which are:

  • Racism is still an issue. People may be less individually racist than in decades past (although one does not have to look very far to find folks who are individually racist), but institutional racism remains in the areas of education, housing, and within the criminal justice system.
  • By nature of their position as members of the dominant culture, white people are privileged (although they are not equally privileged).
  • We've all suffered because of the racial tensions that are the result of our nation's racist past. The way to alleviate these tensions is to keep the dialog going.  Therefore, although it's uncomfortable, we need to keep talking about race and we need to face our feelings of discomfort on the subject.
Sadly, that dialog was squelched by someone who disagrees with these opinions. This person's ideas about race probably go something like this:
  • Racism was a terrible part of our past, but now it's over (so stop talking about it already). Move on and stop dredging up the past.
  • Due to affirmative action, if anyone is victimized by racist policies, it's whites. My _____ (uncle, cousin, brother, neighbor) didn't get a job because a black person who is less qualified got it instead.
  • If people don't do well in our society it's because they are lazy.  If you work hard enough, you can achieve anything. 
  • Etc.

Nothing new here. I'm not surprised by this way of thinking, and my goal is not to place blame. People have the right to believe what they want, even if I don't agree.  It's just sad when those beliefs are accompanied by the power to shut down the opportunity for others to benefit from honest, respectful conversations about race.

Friday, January 24, 2014

What did it cost me?

Yesterday I posted the link to my interview with Tiffany Rae Reid on Mixed Race Radio.  Here it is again just in case you missed it: Interview on Mixed Race Radio.

Toward the end of the interview, Tiffany asked me an interesting and unexpected question: what has my teaching and writing about racism cost me? She felt that it was courageous for me, a white person, to speak out about contemporary racism and white privilege.  I answered something about a loss of intimacy with white friends who don't agree with me, because that was the only thing I could think of at the time.

Did you ever have one of those, "I wish I'd said" moments?  I'm having one now, and here's what I wish I'd said in response to Tiffany's question:

It's cost me nothing. I've lost nothing. I can't see how it's taken any courage at all for me to teach, speak, and write as I have about race.  To the contrary, I've gained a dissertation topic that led to a PhD.  (I can't say I've profited financially, because -- true confessions here -- we haven't sold enough copies of The R Word to even cover the publishing costs.  This is ok with me, because that's not why I wrote the book.)

When I speak or write about racism, people think I'm courageous. They think I'm noble and unselfish. The whites I'm teaching or speaking to may not agree, but they don't doubt that my motives are good.  I lose nothing. But the truth is, when a person of color says or writes the very same things, often whites respond in a different way. They may assume the person has a "vested interest" and a "bias" in speaking out against racism, and so they distrust both the person and the stance the person is taking.  I've had this happen in classes many times, when teaching Tatum's work.*

One more example of the invisible way that my whiteness is at work for me.

*Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?"

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Mixed Race Radio Interview

Yesterday I had the privilege of being interviewed by Tiffany Rae Reid on her Mixed Race Radio talk show.  Here's the link -- give it a listen!

Interview on Mixed Race Radio