Saturday, November 07, 2020
The two days after Election Day had had me struggling. What this election process revealed, in a big way, is that nearly 50% of our country is willing to buy into conspiracy theories, believe lies, and support a person who mocks and denigrates people over human decency for the sake of...well, I'm not even sure I know or understand that part. In a regular election, I could write it off as only a small percentage of Americans, but the 50% I’m referring to represented more people than have ever voted before, so it was more of an exact representation and reflection of our country than we’ve ever had.
As the election results were coming out, I watched my BIPOC friends post comments on the day after the election saying they were disappointed, but not surprised, that so many voted for this kind of behavior. Honestly, I guess I was. Despite what I see and hear from friends and family, I wanted to believe...I chose to believe...that we, as a White people, are better than we truly are. People of color know better; they always have. We’ve shown them who we are over and over and over. However, for me, seeing it, blatantly, on the TV screen was hard for me to swallow. I completely lost hope in the process. I wanted to curl up into a fetal position and make it all go away. I couldn’t understand how people from the civil rights era...people like John Lewis...fought so hard for justice and equality and never gave up in the face of such opposition. And not only that, he always spoke of love for his fellow humans, even in spite of them doing everything in their power to make him feel less human!
By Thursday, my thinking had shifted. I had given up, but Stacey Abrams had not. Two years ago, she lost the election for Governor of Georgia in an election that seemed extremely unfair. Instead of feeling resignation, like I did, Stacey Abrams pulled herself together and got to work...as, I have learned, Black people and people of color do.
I wish I had learned more about our Black and Brown heroes in our textbooks in school, because it is truly the Black and Brown people of our country who give me hope and whose shoulders we stand on. It is the Stacey Abrams’, the Colin Kaepernick’s, the John Lewis’s. But there are also so many others who aren’t in our textbooks and even more who are in our cities fighting for justice for everyone, in spite of the odds...in spite of the setbacks...in spite of the threat to their own economic and physical survival.
In my world, it is Billy Lane, Byron Sanders, David Lozano, Vicki Meek, Vickie Washington, Sara Mokuria, Amber Sims, Jamila Thomas, Rebekah Thomas, Deborah Douglas and the list could go on. My White privilege causes me to look at these efforts and think our world changes because we are getting better as a country. However, what I had to acknowledge this election is that we are not. The reason we are getting better is because of the people of color whose shoulders we stand on. But what I know is that to simply give them a hand clap is shallow. They don't ask for (or need) my praise or anyone else's; they never have.
For those of us with White privilege, it can be easy to get discouraged and want to give up on the justice and equity that needs to happen. It feels like an uphill battle and it feels endless. But, ultimately, we still maintain our privileges in the world, even if we give up.
I will never understand or be able to fathom the vast injustices people of color receive on a daily basis. But what I can do is listen to them, be led by them, and take direction from them. Kudos, my friends, YOU are making us a better country and a better place to live. Thank you for your unending patience and perseverance. May we all follow your lead and your direction.
White privilege is being in charge of the narrative.
Saturday, September 12, 2020
In 2005, I attended a conference in Atlanta, Georgia. Knowing that Atlanta was home to the beginnings of Martin Luther King, Jr. and knowing that Atlanta is the mecca of some very important HBCUs (Historically Black College and Universities), I was eager to attend the conference and use any extra time exploring the historical aspects of the city.
I arrived at the hotel early and immediately began flipping through the nicely bound hardback book set purposefully on the table so tourists like me could search for things to do while visiting the city. Intently thumbing through the book looking for anything related to Martin Luther King, Jr., the Civil Rights movement, or the colleges, I came up empty handed. Somewhat annoyed and sure I’d missed something, I flipped through a second time...with the same results.
Not to be deterred, I moved on to look at the map of the city placed in the conference bag provided at registration. Because the conference I was attending was for multicultural educators, I figured the reference maps would surely direct us to these very significant sites and perhaps introduce me to others of which I was unaware. I excitedly reviewed the sightseeing options that were neatly outlined as suggestions for days one through four.
Day one: Coca-Cola museum, CNN studios, Atlanta Children’s Museum, Braves museum, and Six Flags over Georgia.
Figuring those must be the most frequented sites in the city, I moved on.
Day two: Stone Mountain Park, Hard Rock Café, the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library and Museum, the High Museum, and Underground Atlanta.
By then, I wasn’t expecting much for days three and four, but it still seemed a slap in the face that a paper making museum and a patio in an historic district were held in higher regard than anything related to Black culture or our Civil Rights history. Not a single thing was mentioned in those two categories.
Maybe I shouldn’t have been surprised. I’m guessing whoever wrote those visitor books and created those maps were educated under the same system I was: a system that didn’t expose us to all of our history. It was only through my own reading and research that I knew about Atlanta’s prominence in the civil rights era, Ebenezer Baptist Church, and the four deeply revered and historical HBCUs that make up the Atlanta University Center: Clark Atlanta (1865), Morehouse (1867), Spelman (1881), and Morehouse School of Medicine (1975). After finding my own way through Atlanta that trip, I also learned that The Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change has been in existence since 1968, a memorial tomb for Dr. King and eternal flame was dedicated in 1977, and a visitor center was built in 1996. It seems that a company creating books and maps of and for the city of Atlanta should be expected to know and include those prominent places.
In 2014, Atlanta opened a National Center for Civil and Human Rights. Today, if you dig into the AtlantaDowntown website, you can now find a Black History and Civil Rights Tour and Atlanta’s Journey for Civil Rights Bike Tour. Even more interesting to me is the link to a different “Civil Bikes” website that offers tours and acknowledges, “This is the history we were never taught in school. Learn about the heroes we didn’t grow up with, but should have.”
Despite these seeming advances, I still find it troubling that in the Atlanta Preservation Center Walking tours, they have a walking tour that spotlights “Confederate fortifications” but not the historic HBCUs. I find it unsettling that the “Sweet Auburn” tour is the only one featuring “African-American commerce and culture in Atlanta,” yet it is also the only one of the fourteen tours that gives no prices or availability and, instead, says, “This tour is available for parties of ten or more by prior arrangement,” and has a form to fill out if you would like to request a tour (None of the others require “ten or more” or a “prior arrangement” tour). It also seems curious to me that, in the other thirteen tours advertised, the only two items related to culture--Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie’s throne and Japanese Zero war planes--are called midtown “oddities.”
Why should it take so much effort to learn about deeply-rooted history, especially when it’s connected to someone like Dr. King, who we love to tout as our historical peacemaker? What do we gain (other than privilege and power) by erasing parts of our past, wiping out any reference to achievements by people of color, and calling the ones that we do acknowledge “oddities”?
White privilege creates the maps, and the language around them, that determines who and what is important. By creating the maps, we were and are able to influence how White people see the world, as well as tell people of color how they should see the world. White privilege also controls the system that chooses the contracts of the businesses who will put the books on the table and the maps in the hands of visitors. The process often favors those who are already connected with the city...and those are often largely White. The process has typically been too arduous for minority-owned, small businesses to have the time and resources to take on.
In 2013, the city of Dallas created a Business Inclusion and Development Plan that specifically states that they will work harder to “increase participation of locally owned Minority/Women-Owned Business Enterprises.” Plans like those are created out of necessity...because Minority- and Women-owned businesses are continuously being overlooked. My guess is that Dallas is not the only city that has had to do that.
Leaving people and places off of a map and out of the process communicates a message....but people of color have been pointing this out to us forever. Why does it take me doing this research and having to discover it for myself before I believe what they have always said?? What we, as White people, need to realize is the research has already been done. Our job is to hear what they’re telling us and join in the fight with them to correct these messages and change the literal and figurative maps.
Saturday, September 05, 2020
In case we’ve forgotten (or didn’t know), Rosa Parks did not sit down on the bus because she was tired. She was tired of her people being oppressed. She intentionally stayed seated, despite angry people all around her.
Seriously...imagine that bus. The bus is full and a White man is standing. Rosa Parks is told to get up so the White man can sit, because that is the law and that is what is expected. And Rosa Parks says, “I’m not in the White section.” Imagine the looks she must have gotten. Imagine the outrage and incredulity from the passengers when a young Black woman had the audacity to speak that way to the driver! Imagine the driver asserting his power, threatening to call the police to have her removed, threatening to arrest her himself, and she replied, “Do what you have to do,” and continued to stay seated until the Montgomery police arrived to forcibly remove her from her seat.
From a safe distance, we can now reflect and romanticize her peaceful protest (which it was), but the truth of the matter is they did not see it as peaceful then. Instead of seeing it as an equal rights issue, they saw her protest as a slight against them and, if listened to, felt it would take something away from them. So they enforced “law and order”...like they are doing today.
Her resistance helped start a bus boycott that lasted for 381 days and disrupted an entire economic system, which made people even more angry. (People really don’t like their pocketbooks being messed with.)
Just because she was doing what we now think of as a very right thing didn’t mean that everyone all of a sudden got on board. Rosa Parks lost her job after her peaceful protest and her husband was fired from his job as well. It got so rough that they eventually had to leave Montgomery and move north in order to start over.
Let me pause here to remind us all of Colin Kaepernick. Four years ago, he quietly knelt during a football game because he, too, was tired; tired of police brutality toward Black men. His resistance wasn’t even breaking a law, but people made it seem like it was.
Like Parks, he endured the looks, the anger, and the outrage while he continued to kneel and he, too, lost his job because of his audacious action. Also like Parks, Kaepernick’s action called attention to an issue, but his one action did not result in the desired change. Since it did not, we have had four years of intensifying protests that are causing some people to be extremely uncomfortable.
I’ve seen people on my Facebook feed longing for the peacefulness of Dr. King, but it seems we also need to be reminded of his stance on things as well. In his Mountaintop speech in 1968, the night before he was murdered, Dr. King talked about how the protests back then brought with them “a little violence” and he lamented the fact that the press highlighted the violence more than the many injustices people were facing.
In this same speech, he was preparing people to march and protest for equal pay and more protections for sanitation workers who were literally being eaten alive by malfunctioning trash trucks. Martin Luther King, Jr. didn’t bother listening to the detractors who tried to convince him that equality is what it is. Instead, to all of us he asked, “The question is not, ‘If I stop to help this man in need, what will happen to me?’ ‘If I do not stop to help the sanitation workers, what will happen to them?’ That’s the question.”
I see many more people kneeling these days. I find it almost humorous, considering that four years ago kneeling was considered the ultimate form of treason. However, though the action of kneeling has become much more acceptable, what Colin Kaepernick took a knee for has still not changed. Nearly every day, we are introduced to a new video of yet another Black man who was shot or asphyxiated by a police officer. Today, I can sit in my comfortable White privilege or I can revisit a paraphrased form of Dr. King’s question: “The question is not, ‘If I ally with Black people to stop police brutality, what will happen to me?’ but instead, ‘If I do not ally with Black people to stop police brutality, what will happen to them?’ That’s the question.’
“We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed. … One has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws.” ~Martin Luther King, Jr. Letter from a Birmingham Jail, April 16, 1963
Saturday, August 29, 2020
When I was in high school, I wasn’t taught about the Civil Rights Movement...or at least not much. But in college, a wonderful professor opened up a whole new world to me. He showed clips of Eyes on the Prize in our Social Work Policy class. Real footage...all black and white...of what happened in the 60s. I was shocked...dumbfounded, actually. I knew about Martin Luther King. I knew he had a dream and I knew (or thought I knew) that his dream was fulfilled.
After being introduced to the clips, I begged my professor to borrow his VHS tapes. I needed to know more of the story. He was hesitant. After much begging, however, he conceded.
I watched the entire series that summer and cried my way through. It had never occurred to me that people...White people...could be so cruel...so mean...so evil. I was horrified...and then angry. Why had no one ever told me about what happened during this time period before?? It was a turning point for me.
This new knowledge caused me to start questioning the history I had learned...and led me to discover quite a few disturbing pieces of history that seemed extremely important, but that were left out of my history books. Because the authors of these texts didn’t feel the need to tell me *all* of my history, I wondered what else might have been left out. Here are a few things I’ve found:
Homestead Acts of 1862--Gave land grants to White Americans for colleges and farmers needing land. However, grants were not provided for enslaved people...and slaves were not freed until 1865...so African-Americans were not able to establish the same wealth as White people.
Forty Acres and a Mule (1865)--Set up to compensate for the land not given to African-Americans during the Homestead Act. Forty thousand Black people (which wasn’t all of the freed slaves, but it was a start) were given 400,000 acres of land in Georgia and South Carolina...only to be taken back when it was found that confederate planters had previously owned it. President Andrew Johnson reversed Special Field Order No. 15, forced African-Americans off of the land, and returned it to the White men.
GI Bill of 1944--Gave out free college and low-interest mortgages...but this didn’t include African Americans, who were prevented from qualifying for home loans, which also prevented them from establishing wealth in the same way White families did.
It’s not that I wasn’t told about my history. It was that I wasn’t told *all* of my history. The parts where BIPOC (Black, Indiginous and People of Color) were denied those same opportunities were conveniently left out of the explanation or downplayed significantly.
I grew up in what I would consider an upper-middle class family. I grew up on a huge farm. I’ve always admired and respected the way my dad has been smart about his investments. Not long ago, I was asking him about how it all started. I knew our family...my ancestors...had established the area of the Ozarks where I grew up, but I wanted to understand how. That’s when he told me about the Homestead Act.
Our family was given land that they farmed and developed...and passed down through the generations. That opportunity allowed them to have the capital to purchase more land throughout the years and that land has created my inheritance. That same land opportunity, in Missouri or elsewhere, was denied to African-Americans.
Let that sink in. My current wealth, assets, and privileges are directly related to an 1862 Homestead Act that I had nothing to do with. But I benefit. My children will benefit from it and my children’s children will benefit from it. I have always taken that for granted. It never occurred to me that I had advantage...until I realized that in 1862 Black people were not allowed that distribution and now have to work 10 times as hard to make up for over 150 years of accumulation of wealth that they were denied.
I took my history at face value. I celebrated the fact that our country gave out land grants, created education systems, and provided free college and low home loans to veterans. It just never occurred to me that during those time periods when those new opportunities were taking effect, certain individuals...certain racial groups...were excluded from and intentionally denied those opportunities. It never occurred to me that the things that made (and make) America great only made (and make) America great for *some* people.
Saturday, August 22, 2020
When I moved into my apartment complex, the Dallas Morning News wanted to write a story on me. It was basically a story about how I had done something unimaginable. The children and families in the apartment complex were all Black and Brown and I had sacrificed myself to offer them something better. (you can read more about it in the fourth installment of the White Privilege Chronicles)
At the time, I couldn’t understand why so many in my community had a problem with the article. In my mind, the newspaper simply presented the truth:
“Janet Morrison does the hard thing, the hardest thing called for by the Christian faith: She sits, she listens, she loves people--one by one--on their own terms.” … “She is a small-town Missouri girl, 24, who has chosen to live in one of the poorest neighborhoods in Dallas. It’s so poor that all of the color seems drained from the place. The parking lot is gummed with oil patches. The cars are dusty. It’s rare to see one manufactured in this decade. Concrete is pitted, the railings are rusty. Apartment doors are flimsy.”
As I look back on the article, it is painful to read. It’s all about how wonderful I am and how awful the community is.
Yesterday I learned a new term that gave me a whole new understanding: Deficit-framing (thanks, Deborah Douglas!). Deficit framing defines people by their problems. Not only does it define people by their problems, it conditions the rest of us to see and focus on those problems. It allows us to be free of our own shame and guilt and place the responsibility on the people in the situation.
The above article could have said that the apartments were “...dilapidated because of years of neglect by the owner and haven’t been repainted in years. The owner doesn’t bother to clean or repair the parking lot, the railings, or the doors.” The reporter could have said that, “Minimum wage has not risen in years, which forces people to live in substandard housing and purchase cars that barely get them back and forth to work.” She could have said, “The community endures the hard choices of working all day, surviving on a minimum wage salary, and coming home to an apartment complex that the owner refuses to fix.” All of that would have been true as well.
Instead, she focused on me...my choice, my sacrifice. Though I did not know or understand deficit-framing at the time, it was quickly pointed out to me by friends and neighbors that they didn’t enjoy being painted in such a negative light.
It’s not just newspapers; nonprofits use deficit-framing all of the time. They do it because it works. As a program director, I have often been asked to pitch stories to help raise money. I remember one specific story that I thought was amazing. I had met the dad in a monthly meeting we both attended at the local elementary school. He was always very vocal and opinionated, which was right up my alley. As I got to know him and learned he had two kids, I invited them to our program. They started attending our weekly school-year program, then our 8-week summer program. As they outgrew those, they both began working and volunteering in our after-school and summer programs. My friend always pushed and encouraged his children to, “Do better than us.” He wanted his kids to understand how gruelling his work was with such little pay so that they would aspire to go to college and end up in a situation with a more comfortable job that had benefits. I had a whole story around how amazing this family was, with all of their drive and ambition. What we offered was opportunity and a connection to resources that hadn’t been available to them.
Our development department came back and asked, “But who helped them? You did, right? We need an individual to talk about so we can show what they did for them.” The success story they wanted was from the staff or volunteer side...not from the community. Deficit-framing and help *for* communities; asset-framing for and help *by* outside individuals. It’s what brings in the money.
Stories like these bring readership. They make people feel good. They get donations for the nonprofit they represent.
And they alienate and distance People of Color.
When we are constantly bombarded with images and stories of negativity about a specific ethnic group, our brain automatically generalizes this narrative. With every new image, our brain associates with the negative and bypasses the positive. Not sure this is true? Name five people or groups of color who have done something to benefit themselves or their community. Now name five people or groups of color who have done something negative. See how that works?
This is further reinforced when we create a White person or an outsider as the hero. Associative thinking automatically leads us to believe that if there is a hero, there must be a villain. White people become the heroes and Black and Brown people become the villains.
Though I would like to think that I no longer contribute to deficit-framing, I know that’s not true. I know I say and write things that still demonstrate my deficit-thinking, in spite of my intentions. Honestly, I worry about messing up. I worry that some of my friends and mentors who are people of color will notice it and call me out. But I also know that my desire to do better is more important than my fear of someone calling me out. And I know that while my ego might be bruised, the lessons I learn can only help me be more conscientious.
I like to live by the principle, “Where you focus is where you’ll end up.” My hope is if I focus on asset-framing instead of deficit-framing, my writing, my thinking, and my scope of how I see people will adjust accordingly.
Sunday, August 09, 2020
I began recognizing my White Superiority twenty-five years ago. I had started working at an “urban ministry.” As I sought out things for kids to do, people responded and started donating items--toys, books, computers. Donated books were easy to come by...and I was happy to accept.
Though I don’t remember what brought it to my attention, I started noticing that the characters in the books didn’t look like the kids who participated in our program. Donation after donation came in, all the same: White, White, and White.
Until then, it had never occurred to me how White books were. I had grown up a voracious reader and had never noticed that all of the books I read looked like me. The same went for movies and TV shows (with the exception of the Cosby Show).
I had never noticed that the music I listened to was mostly by White people. That the names of all of the buildings at my college were named after White people. That when I went to Washington D.C. in high school, I saw the Washington Monument, the Lincoln Memorial, and the Thomas Jefferson Memorial...all White people. My history books, with a possible mention of Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks, were dedicated to lauding White people’s accomplishments. Disney movies were all White princesses with White knights in shining armor sweeping them off of their feet. The dolls advertised on TV? All White.
Though our rural Missouri town was small (707 people to be exact), I did get some exposure to people of color. The maids and butlers in TV shows and movies were Black or Hispanic. The bad guys in children’s books and Disney movies always had dark skin. Welfare moms on the news were represented by single Black women and “deadbeat dads” were represented by Black men. We were taught to lock our doors in the “scary” parts of cities where homes were more rundown and people of color were walking the streets. In the 80s, “Rock 99,” the local radio station, proudly proclaimed, “We never play rap!!!”...which, we knew, was mainly created by Black people.
In my childhood, I fell in love with old black and white movies like White Christmas and I loved tap dancing movies with Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. I was never exposed to African-American movies like Cabin in the Sky or astounding Black tap dancers like the Nicholas brothers. I had no idea they even existed until about 20 years ago when a Black friend intentionally showed those movies and more, knowing how many knew nothing about them.
White Superiority is about a system that is in place that tells me I am important. By default, people who are not represented are given the message that they are not as important. If they were, they would be represented more. White Superiority is not about how I feel; it’s about who I am by default.
The problem lies in who chooses...and has always chosen...the representation. Until we recognize that multiple voices and multiple perspectives need to and deserve to be represented, and until we fight to make sure that becomes our reality, our White Superiority will remain intact.
Wednesday, August 05, 2020
Caden was a 7th grade Black boy in the program I run. He was a sweet kid, one-on-one. With other kids, though, Caden’s behaviors were exasperating. I was constantly pulling him aside to talk to him.
Caden’s mom was awesome and supportive...toward him and us. She let us know that she was a single parent trying hard to make sure he had male role models and good influences. I felt like we had a good relationship.
A few months into his time in our program, Caden’s behavior and attitude seemed to get worse. Several girls were complaining about inappropriate (and very graphic) comments he made to them. I spoke to his mom. She was understanding and concerned.
When the behavior continued, I addressed Caden directly. I tried to help him understand that what he was saying to girls was inappropriate and could really get him in a lot of trouble. However, my conversation with him didn’t change anything. My co-worker, who was Black, agreed to talk to him. I thought she might be able to connect with him in a way that I couldn’t. She had a very direct talk with him as well, but the behavior continued.
In my mind, his appearance had started slipping as well. He had always dressed neatly, but now he seemed to be more unkempt. He was wearing old t-shirts and jeans and his hair looked bushy and uncombed. I wondered if he might be using or selling drugs.
Not sure how to help, but really wanting to, I decided to try to appeal to his teenager side and use lingo I knew teens used. I wanted him to know I saw him and was noticing what was happening. I expressed my genuine concern and then pushed a little harder... “Your hair isn’t combed and you look like a crackhead. Is there something I should know?”
I guess I thought this would help him open up because he would feel like whatever he was dealing with wasn’t getting past me, but it didn’t happen like that. Instead, a few days later his mother confronted me. Caden had told her what I had said because he was hurt and offended. At that point, I realized I had not only damaged my relationship with him, but with her as well. I would like to say that I apologized (which I did) and everything worked out (but it didn’t). My words had added insult to injury. Caden’s behavior didn’t change and his mom became distant.
There is no doubt Caden was struggling. His behaviors were definitely cause for concern. But as I look back, I realize my own behaviors were also cause for concern:
Caden was a teenage boy. Why didn’t I find a guy to address those behaviors?
Caden’s “uncombed” hair was actually a current style that many NBA players were wearing. What if I had paid attention or educated myself more on Black hair...especially considering that I had Black kids in my program?
I had a good relationship with his mom. What made me sidestep her and figure I could solve a problem she couldn’t?
If I was concerned about him using drugs, why didn’t I bring that to her attention?
What if I had asked his mom how she would like me to handle it instead of jumping in without her knowledge?
As Caden’s behaviors worsened, what were my underlying assumptions about his mom that caused me to keep her out of the loop?
I would like to say this was early on in my career, but it wasn’t. This incident happened after about 15 years of working in Black and Brown communities, of doing a lot of reading and research, of listening to and learning from people of color and attempting to do anti-racist work. What’s even more egregious to me is that until I spent time writing this, it didn’t occur to me that my offense was not only against Caden, but actually against his mom as well...and maybe more so.
White privilege makes me believe that I act/react because of someone else’s actions and overlook my own egregious behaviors. White privilege makes me believe that I care more than someone who may be closer to the situation. White privilege makes me feel like I am absolved of all responsibility because I am simply acting out of care/concern.
What I need to realize is that my actions in this situation were a series of microaggressions. What I also need to realize is that I have been conditioned to be this way. We all are. The conditioning is nothing I can help, but the way I pay attention to it and adjust my behaviors is.
Saturday, July 25, 2020
I can’t remember if I originally heard about Nat Turner in a history class or much later when I started doing research on my own. Either way, I remember thinking he was cold-blooded. During his revolt, he led about 70 slaves to kill about 60 White people. They went to homes and murdered men, women, and children...with an ax.
Nat Turner was eventually caught and executed. White militias went to great lengths to find him. They ended up killing 120 slaves and free Blacks in the process and, ultimately, executed 56 slaves for their role in the uprising. To me, those actions seemed justified. It seemed unnerving to have someone that brazen out there killing “random” people.
Juxtapose that with slave owners.
At the same time Nat Turner went on his killing spree, the slave owners he was killing were enslaving 2 million people. Because slaves were their “property,” slave owners took liberties to skin them alive, pour hot tar on them, “quarter” them, dismember them, whip them with chains, rape the women, sell them, work them innumerable hours without pay, separate their families, lynch them in the town square, and force them to watch their friends and neighbors be lynched so they wouldn’t want to step out of line. Slave owners even took their own children to watch the “festivities” and made postcards out of the lynchings.
However, unlike Turner, no slave owner was ever convicted for their crimes. Ever. No slave owner was even sought out. In fact, we lauded (and still laud) those people as heroes for the many other things they did in their life. What we deem as their “successes” allow us to excuse their insane treatment of people. What’s strange is that I have always been troubled by Nat Turner and the potential ripple effect of his actions, but never near as troubled by the slave owners.
Don’t get me wrong...I’ve always thought slavery was wrong, but when I read the history books, slavery comes across like a thing of the past: Millions of human beings were tortured and killed...the Emancipation Proclamation was issued...slaves were freed. Thank you, next.
Why did I feel so at ease about the fact that Nat Turner was executed for his actions and just as at ease that no slave owner (then, or even now) faces any repercussions for his?
The reality is, our history books focus on the detrimental impact Nat Turner had on White people and the potential destruction he could have caused had he not been stopped. William Styron’s Pulitzer Prize winning book, The Confessions of Nat Turner (which wasn’t written or dictated by Turner at all), presents Turner as having sexual fantasies about a White woman, which helped drive his killing spree. Styron’s book, along with his bias, influences and informs what is written in our history books.
Let’s think for a minute… What if, instead, throughout our whole lives we had read about Nat Turner’s amazing courage and bravery in opposing a system that was brutally torturing and killing millions of people? What if we had read about Turner risking his own life to make slave owners take notice so that they would possibly change their treatment of people? What if we had read how insane it was for people to own and brutalize people and how crazy it is that they have never been held accountable for their actions?
White privilege is embedded in the way we read history and what we read influences our thoughts and actions. White privilege leads me to take my history at face value and never question the angle from which it is presented. White privilege tells me that “Give me liberty or give me death!” is only a phrase that can be applied to some people...because if it applied to all of us, wouldn’t Nat Turner be the poster child?
Saturday, July 11, 2020
I ride my bike down to White Rock Lake quite often. I almost always go early in the mornings. Almost every time I ride, there is a Hispanic lady running down the path. She’s a tiny lady, petite and fit. She jogs slow and steady and makes it look easy; my efforts and attempts at jogging tell me it’s not.
As I rode by her the other day, my mind wandered and I pondered her life...How is she able to get out of the house to run every single morning?! I wonder what her husband and kids think of her leaving so early every day. I bet her husband has to leave for work super early...landscaping or construction...and I wonder if he expects her to cook breakfast every morning. What about kids? Who’s watching them while she’s gone? I wonder if her husband approves of her running each morning? Why do should he be “approving” her running anyway?? Maybe she’s a stay-at-home mom so she has time to run.
I had just stereotyped her entire life in less than 15 seconds as I rode by her. Where did I get all of those thoughts….and how did I get that from a lady running along a path to the lake??
I thought about the other women I see jogging. What stories do I create about them in my head?
I pictured a White woman jogging and began to ponder her life. I tried to think about the way I would construct her story. I came up with a much different picture:
That’s awesome that she gets up so early every day. I wonder how she manages to get up early every morning and run. I bet she has a demanding job and this is her stress relief. I wonder if she has kids. I bet she chose to hold off on having kids so she could focus on her job. That’s probably what allows her the freedom to run every morning. I bet her husband is encouraging.
Doing that forced me to think about how my brain automatically characterizes and caricatures people so fast and so subconsciously that it impacts the way I see them and what I expect of them before I even know them.
What I want to believe is that those thoughts are harmless, but I know they aren’t.
I want to believe if both of these women applied for a job with me, I would look at their resume and treat them equally, but I know my thoughts impact my decision-making...whether those thoughts are conscious or not.
Based on my thinking, I know I would assume the Hispanic lady probably had more responsibilities at home and a husband who expects more of her. I would assume that she wouldn’t have as much time for her job, even though I couldn’t legally ask her questions like that. Conversely, those split-second thoughts would probably lead me to also assume that the White woman is more likely to be a career woman who would dedicate herself to the job and would have the time to be devoted without distractions or financial struggles.
Metacognition. It’s a concept I learned in grad school. “Thinking about your thinking.” I learned it as something we educators need to help children do. When children gain awareness of their mental state, they achieve at higher levels.
However, it works for adults as well. Being aware of our thinking and understanding how we process information impacts how and what we learn. Being aware of our thoughts helps us adjust and regulate our behaviors.
I obviously still have these thoughts. My hope is that being aware of them allows me to confront my thoughts and actively reverse them. It’s kind of like walking backward on a people mover in the airport. It’s not enough just to stand still; I have to actively and aggressively walk backward so I don’t simply get carried forward to a destiny I don’t want to reach.
Sunday, July 05, 2020
“Sunday, June 20, 1943, a fight broke out between several hundred white and colored men on Belle Isle, a park extending into the Detroit River on the east side of town. ...one of the worst riots ever seen in the United States, an outbreak that would mark a turning point in American race relations. Until the 1943 uprising in Detroit, most riots in the United States, from the 1863 Draft Riots in New York to the riots in Tulsa in 1921, to Atlanta in 1906 to Washington, D.C., to Chicago, Springfield, and East St. Louis, Illinois, and Wilmington, North Carolina, among others, had been white attacks on colored people, often resulting in the burning of entire colored sections or towns. This was the first major riot in which blacks fought back as earnestly as the whites and in which black residents, having become established in the city but still relegated to run-down ghettos, began attacking and looting perceived symbols of exploitation, the stores and laundries run by whites and other outsiders that blacks felt were cheating them. It was only after Detroit that riots became known as primarily urban phenomena, ultimately centered on inner-city blacks venting their frustrations on the ghettos that confined them.”
~The Warmth of Other Suns, by Isabel Wilkerson (p. 155)
No commentary needed.