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.
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.