Wednesday, August 02, 2006

For White Folks: How To Become An Ally (Part 1)

During the past month, while Israel has been busy pounding Lebanon and the U.S. has continued to occupy both Iraq and Afghanistan, I've been watching the castigation of several bloggers of color by "White" folks who purport to be seeking information, but often use a bludgeon of words to ask for it. Now, on the surface, these things would not appear immediately to be connected, but I would argue that, in fact, they are. And in any case, I have experienced them as being current manifestations of the paradigm in which we still find ourselves enmeshed, a paradigm predicated on the idea that "White" is "right." Period. No matter what. A paradigm that, in the end, serves no one well (not even White folks) since it weakens any possible future social stability that might develop otherwise.

While all the ugliness was unfolding against Nubian, among others, there have been some excellent responses. Despite her own struggles, for example, Granny has unleashed several remarkable volleys here and here and here. And Shannon had already drafted a walloping list of frequently asked questions about racism here. So there couldn't possibly be anything left to say, could there? Well, let's see what I can add to the process.

First of all, I'd like to begin by saying that there is no twelve-step program for White folks. More's the pity, really. But there isn't. This means that a European-American can't just read a few pointers or one article or one book or even take one workshop or a whole class and have the matter of "race" down pat. It doesn't work like that. Which is one reason why so many of us wind up with our feet (both of them, shoes and all) half-way down our throats on a regular basis, typically without a clue and without realizing it. I mean, it would seem obvious, wouldn't it, that a person would come to recognize the taste of shoe leather? But apparently this is not the case for many who really, really, really don't want to face reality. And, as I love to say, you can't wake up a person pretending to be asleep.

So if you find yourself arguing with Nubian, Granny, Shannon or me, or any of the other folks who sound like us or any person of color, in general, as a matter or fact, who happens to be making you uncomfortable, I would suggest that you spit out your feet and just shut up until you no longer feel like arguing. It may be a long, slow process, but there will be progress. And believe me, we're not making this up as we go along. If you're scared, say you're scared. But reality is never going to become something different than it is just so you can feel more comfortable--even if you're "White."

Now, this brings us to a second point. I believe that there is a distinct difference between being European-American (an ethnicity) and being "White" (a "racial" category). Most European-Americans don't realize that "race" is a socially-constructed, political notion. It was created as a concept out of thin air by Europeans a few hundred years ago for the express purpose of rationalizing and legitimating the rampant exploitation and even genocide of people of color around the world to make Europe and Europeans rich. And it didn't work because Europeans were the superior group or because God had mandated that Europeans should be in the catbird seat. It worked because enough Europeans were willing to be viciously brutal themselves or to condone the vicious brutality of others who looked like them to make it work. Obviously, this is nothing to be proud of.

Some European-Americans counter their own history by claiming that their ancestors didn't own any slaves, captain any slave ships, or whatever. But the wealth that bankrolled the Industrial Revolution and the establishment of the United States as the richest nation in the world came directly out of the ruinous rampage Europeans visited on people of color for several hundred years. We would not be the nation we are if this had not occurred. Moreover, every social institution in the U.S. was built to benefit European-Americans and has since the beginning to the present continued to be controlled by the group that they were built to benefit. You don't have to know it's there for you. It's not personal. It's a system. And it's working just like it's supposed to.

What I'm attempting to help you see here is that Europeans created the concept of "race," created "Black" people (who were actually Africans or African-Americans) and "White" people (who were actually Europeans or European-Americans) and then an entire system of social "rules" to determine how "Black" people and "White" people should or would be allowed to live their lives. For this reason, I don't call myself "White." I don't choose to identify myself with the socially-constructed, political notion of "Whiteness." I'm not ashamed of my ethnic heritage, per se, or of being myself as a European-American. But, since the category of "White" was created only for the purpose of oppressing people who are not "White," I don't identify myself with it. You could make the same decision, if you wanted to. Not to deny "Whiteness" as a system of privilege and power that is destroying our nation, but simply to disavow your desire to participate in the maintenance of that system while knowing that you are doing so. Which would be a beginning, a move in the direction of becoming an ally.

Having already said that no single presentation is going to be a down-and-dirty moment of truth for anybody, I'm not expecting any European-American reader to slap his or her forehead at this point and exclaim, "I get it!" So, if you just did that, or you find yourself wanting to do that sometime as a result of a single conversation, book, etc., try--hard--to refrain from slapping your head because you'll be fooling yourself. It's not possible to suddenly understand. Baby steps. Baby steps. If you try to prove you're ready to climb the mountain before you can walk, you're gonna fall and nobody is expecting you to climb yet anyway. There is no easier, softer way. Take your time, but remember, mouth shut until you know a little something and that won't be for a long, long time. Capisce?

Am I trying to be rude here or hurt your feelings or something? After all, you're reading this because you want to be an ally for people of color, right? Shouldn't I be a little kinder, a little more thoughtful, perhaps, of your good intentions? The answer is: no. You don't deserve special kindness for making some tiny effort to face reality. It may not be your personal fault that institutionalized oppression in the name of racism against people of color has made sure that people who look like you and I have the most of the best and the least of the worst. But since you have benefitted from birth because of it--whether you realized it or not--you've already gotten all the special treatment you should expect. And given the fact that this system is not going to disappear any time soon, you're going to continue to get benefits anyway, even if you don't want them. (And let's be real about that, shall we? Are you sure you're ready to give up all that privilege when you've never experienced life any other way so far? Hmmm...?)

The fact is that it's almost impossible to make a dent in most "White" people's social armor. We've lived in the ritualized norms of our lives for several hundred years. It was already in place when we were born, so we think and tell ourselves and teach our children and make damn sure people of color know that this system we've got is just, well, natural. It's the way things are. And after all, it's worked pretty well so far, right? And things have changed, haven't they? I mean, we've got a "Black" secretary of state and a "Black" supreme court justice and a few thousand "Black" athletes making serious money. Doesn't that count for something?

Yeah. It counts for a relatively small percentage of African-Americans doing very well and a somewhat larger percentage of African-Americans who have fought their way up-hill to make a decent life for themselves--as long as they play by the rules--while one out of every two African-American children are living in abject poverty. I know, I know, it's not your fault. You sent ten bucks to the United Negro College Fund. And even got passed over for a promotion one time that was ultimately given to an African-American--and you didn't even protest (though you were absolutely certain that you were better qualified)...

So, what am I trying to say here? If the whole mindset of "Whiteness" is so hard to buck, then why try? Right? I mean, African-Americans are already so angry they don't even want to let you ask your questions or touch their hair or anything, right? How are you to change if they won't "help" you? All right. You asked. Just remember that. And here's a little list to help you get started.

(1) Read! Read The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison, Notes of a Native Son by James Baldwin, Coming of Age in Mississippi by Anne Moody, Racist America by Joe Feagin, and White Like Me: Reflections on Race by a Privileged Son by Tim Wise. And after you read all those, start checking out the sites on my blog roll. Then, you read blogs. Not to comment. Not to question. Just to read and learn. And then read the comments and find more blogs to read. All while just in a receiving mode. Believe me, if you really want to learn and you read long enough, you will begin to get a glimmer of understanding. Trying to "state your case" will set you back light years. Trying to "clarify (defend) your perspective" is a giant flag screaming "Whiteness forever!" Don't go to these blogs and tell them I sent you and then act the fool. They know me better than that.

(2) Face the fact that the system and other "White" folks are going to try to keep you operating out of your "Whiteness" and this is going to make it harder for you to become an ally for people of color. European-Americans can be allies. "White" folks are just "White." They can't help it. That's the way it is. If you really want to be an ally, then you're going to have to learn how "White" you already are. You're going to have to allow yourself to begin seeing "Whiteness" for what it is--an ugly, mean-spirited, frightened, greedy, social-construction that borders on some form of insanity. And you're going to have to be vigilent all the time to resist its subtle and not so subtle manifestations. If you're serious about being an ally, though, you'll get the help you need to learn how.

And finally, (3) look African-Americans in the eye without challenge. Even if they don't dress like you or look like they're in the same socio-economic class as you (whether better or worse) or speak exactly the same way you do and even if you get the distinct impression that they don't like you. See them. Recognize them as humans just like you--no better, no worse--with issues and disappointments and intelligence and capabilities and rights, for God's sake! Accept them straight out as people--just like you. And then show some respect. Respect gets respect, you know. And if you're not getting it, you're not giving it, even if you think you are.

Now, if you think this just puts too much of the onus on you--the "White" person--keep in mind that the issue at hand is becoming an ally for people of color. African-Americans don't expect European-Americans to be anything but "White." They've been surviving and even rising above with little outside support for hundreds of years. But that doesn't make it reasonable or just or decent or healthy for European-Americans to leave it like that. Being an ally for people of color is what we need to do for us. And for our nation. And for our world. And for any hope of a future for ourselves or our children. Truly, isn't that worth the effort?


enigma4ever said...

I am going to add you to my blogroll - what a great post- and important issue- and that you raised some really amazing points that most people are reluctant to even discuss...And the books you reccomended are excellent- all good....
I live in Urban- downtown- Heart of Cleveland ( and yes, it is a very black area...and it has really suffered under This Regime...and I do think that the Bush Regime is about as rascist as it is going to get...they may as well hand out white pillowcases to George and Dick...)I have heard horror stories that I never expected to hear...and what it means to be black in America today...We all need to look at people around us and ask some really HARD questions about WHAT has happened to OUR America....

Professor Zero said...

Hey, I owe you e-mail, Free Slave is in principle in the blogging conference idea, and I posted to the G Bitch re this.

Anyway, great post. I have a lot to say on this of course and should probably create a post of my own or I'll go on too long. Euro-American vs. white is v. important. I seem to be related to both Harriet Beecher Stowe and to some of her main antagonists, which in the end also may make me a distant cousin of Frederick Douglass, but not for the right reason. What can you do now, except be a better kind of American?

Kevin Andre Elliott said...

Wow. All I can say is Wow. This is an amazing post. I'm floored. And I'm assuming there's going to be a part 2! I'm not sure the world is ready for that, but hell, keeping bringing the noise!

changeseeker said...

Well, this one was gestating for a while, as you know. And you folks hit it before I changed the title to "How To Become An Ally." (I woke up thinking it's pretty audacious to imagine "being" an ally to people of color, but I might be able to aspire to being one.)

Enigma, I'd be honored to be on your blog roll. And I agree with you on every point. Kanye West wasn't wrong. That's why what he said was so shocking. He was like the kid declaring that the emperor was nude and those who were pretending otherwise were embarrassed more for themselves than for Shrubbie.

Hey, Professor! I'd knew you'd get back to me and, as you can see, I've been busy anyway. I have African-American relatives, too, of course, as SO many of us do, though not as illustrious as Douglas (one of my faves).

Kevin, your words are too kind, but coming from you in particular, I'm gratified for sure. Yes, Part 1 went on so long, I decided that I'd have wait to move on from preparation to action in Part 2.

To be honest, I was a little concerned that maybe I had missed something obvious or misrepresented something and I was really anxious to see what the response would be. I'm too delighted, really, that you all feel I'm on track.

iaintlying said...

Very articulate leaving no stone unturned. If there were more "aspiring" allies such as yourself, there's no telling what gaps would be bridged or what wounds would be healed, I just know it would be a lot and for the good of all. Keep rocking the mic, you are coming through loud and clear. One thing about truth, once you've heard it, you can't deny it. You might not act on it, but you most definitely can't deny it.

Anonymous said...

Fascinating article. It's posts like this that make me think I won't ever end up as an "ally" and will simply have to proceed in my own way, doing what I think works to solve the problem. The bar you set, and the bar set by many POC who discuss "allies" is simply too high.

Don't be too quick to dismiss non-allies, though: there's a lot of folks out there who are trying to fight racism within their own space, with their own methods, as best as they can. We've got numbers on our side at least, and just because we're not willing to go through the required initiation to the "ally club" doesn't make us enemies.

changeseeker said...

I do hear you, Anonymous, and I know you mean well and are probably dancing as fast as you can. But numbers has nothing to do with it, if the results remain as they are in the society overall. Jane Elliott (a European-American ally for people of color) reminds us that "It's not the intent; it's the impact."

The bottom line is that, while we're all just works-in-progress, at the same time being a little bit racist is like being a little bit pregnant or a little bit dead. And fixing it ourselves at home is about as effective as diagnosing our own illness with the intention of performing surgery on ourselves. The healing can't begin while we're still trying to protect the disease.

Anonymous said...

Me again.

I disagree with that response on multiple levels. There's a big difference between a little racist and a lot racist.

There's a big difference between teaching your children that all people are inherently equal under their skin (which you would call racist or at least "non-ally";) and teaching them that POC are inferior.

There's a big difference between supporting AA laws to benefit minorites, and supporting targeted class- and location-based programs which selectively benefit minorites... and fighting them, or actively promoting white organizations.

There's a big difference between voting for a black because he is the best candidate in your area, and not voting for him because you fear he'll advance the "black agenda."

But to you they're all the same. Isn't that what you just said? We're dead to you, or we're not. If we're a little bit racist then (in your theory) we're a lot racist. We're incapable of changing this--or anything--unless we go through an entire transformation of identity.

This is why I won't be an ally. If what I do is valueless (or negative) until it reaches some "magic point" then seeing as I don't think I'll reach that point, why share the fact that I'm doing it with you, or with a POC? Hell, why DO it? Why give $10, or $100, or ANYTHING to the UNC, if it's not going to do a damn thing? Why are they even asking me if my help is meaningless or unwanted?

A big part of the reason folks like me say "fuck it all, I'm going off to do my own thing as best as I can" is that we get statements like yours. I don't know if you were trying to be polarizing (maybe you were) but it sure works that way.

I know many people--rich, white, folks who you would never count as "allies"--who work towards your cause. They give money (a lot of it) to organizations which work for equality and/or POC advancement. They give time. They talk to their peers in power, who (let me tell you in case you're so oblivious as not to know this) are not receptive to the "shut the fuck up and listen" line.

But hell, you want to alienate us if we don't do a good enough job of apologizing for our privilege. You want to brand us racists. You want to--as I have seen on various sites--mock our attempts to do what is right; sneer at our discussions which consider empathy; reject our offers of assistance until we've done our own 'firewalk trial'...

I don't think you're crazy. But if you feel so strongly you're right; if you feel so strongly that we're essentially worthless if we don't "do it all;" if we're no different in your eyes than the KKK skinheads, well....

Announce it. Tell is we're unwanted if we're not in the club. We'll send our checks, write our letters to the editor, take our votes, take our business, take our caring, and aim them somewhere else.

Otherwise, stop being such a hypocrite. Accept us straight out as people--just like you. Accept us as not "lying" when we say we're trying. And then show some respect for what we ARE trying to do. Respect gets respect, you know.

Professor Zero said...

Hey anonymous, you sound slightly threatened. Be calm. There is big difference between rampantly lying, and being dishonest with yourself and others. You aren't lying, and you are trying, and it is not a club.

The club is the white bubble you seem to live in. I'm not saying it's bad. Most white people I know are in it too,
and they are perfectly civilized, voted for Jesse Jackson for President and so on (and that does mean something, yes).

There is, however, a big difference between reaching out from the white bubble-club, and letting the bubble dissolve so you can join the rest of the people. And a lot of people who stay inside the white bubble-club, and tell themselves they are 'reaching out', still have some racist practices of which they are not aware.

Something which helps a lot is hanging out, over time, with nonwhite people.
Slowly you start to see things, and your bubble dissolves.

I remember the beginning of my first real friendship with a Black person. It was a girl I met in school. I would never have made friends with her in the first place, of course, had I been really, really racist, or if my parents had not been cool with her coming to play at our house, and my going to play at hers. So, racism problem solved, right? We are getting along.

Actually not. I could tell a lot of stories. For one, the whole family laughed at me as I asked questions like, what? you are putting on sunblock? i thought you wouldn't burn? and, what? you are going to do all that work on your hair to create just the right 'fro, i thought your hair was natural? On a more serious note, I started to see the adjustments everyone
in the family made, on a daily basis, to deal with racism. And more importantly, when we went together to white public spaces, and even though it was clear we were two little middle class girlfriends, people ignored her even though it was clear she was with me ... whereas in Black spaces, I was welcomed because I was with her.

Peacechick Mary said...

Changeseeker, I beleive you have uncovered the peg that holds all injustice and cruelty together in this world. Agreed, it is scary to confront this, the greatest error of mankind and it looks like a huge tide against those of us who do, but swim, swim like hell, we must. Thank you for your post. Link coming soon.

midwesterntransport said...

Changeseeker, what a rockin' post (I came here via slanttruth). Really great food for thought.

And anonymous, it doesn't sound to me like Changeseeker is asking you to join any club. It rather sounds like you're getting awfully defensive. Part of what she's saying is that POC don't need to pat white folks on the back for not being offensive. Or for being a little less offensive than usual.

Do you want a prize for working to understand racism?

Clampett said...


Marvelous post.

You did a superb job of separating the ideas from the minds they were thought on, so I didn't feel threatened.

Rather, I felt my concepts of 'whiteness' being threatened, and rightly so.

". See them. Recognize them as humans just like you--no better, no worse--with issues and disappointments and intelligence and capabilities and rights, for God's sake! "

That's self-evident, to me at least.

Anyone who thinks otherwise is a bigot, case closed.

But, er, I couldn't help but notice that you were linked to 'the code'

Now, I bitterly oppose racial essentialism and racial supremacy.

I think that you might confuse my opposition to those like Neely Fuller as some type of 'secret racism'.

(Braces in anticipation of tomatoes, rocks and well aimed 9mm bullets)

Would you?


Good points, but I think anon had some points, too.

1) the dose makes the poison

2) powerful people don't enjoy being bossed around

But, yes, anon was very defensive.

changeseeker said...

Oh, boy. Well, here goes.

iaintlying, thanks for your support. Looks as if I'm going to need it. :^)

Joshua, your attitude sabotages your ability to learn...still. (For example, not all White people are "out to get" Black people. It's the institutionalized system, J. It doesn't have to be personal. I was real clear about that.) You're not crazy. You're just White. And this is about the process of becoming an ally, something you're not yet doing.

Anonymous (again), you can disagree and not be an ally all you want. It's okay. Nobody's asking you to do anything. Your "f-it" attitude is just using my post for an excuse not to "get it". Again I say: it's okay. I can't figure out how to link directly to a post by Coffeeandink that describes exactly what you're doing to stay stuck by suppressing discussion of racism, but you can go here and follow the link in the Professor's post. Until you're ready to stop freaking out, you won't hear anything I say that doesn't make you feel just fine right where you are. I don't take your "disagreement" personally. I just don't get up into it either.

Professor, you're a dear...and smart, too.

Mary, if all you did was show up and leave your icon on my comments from time to time, I would love you for that alone. You hear me and I hear you. *deep satisfying sigh*


"I felt my concepts of 'whiteness' being threatened, and rightly so..."

Precisely! Good for you! (And good for me, too. I must be communicating what I intend.)

But what do you mean by 'the code'? If I understand what you're getting at, I'd see "racial essentialism" and "racial supremacy" (the way I think you're using it) as backlashes to centuries of "racial essentialism" and "racial supremacy" as lathered thickly over our entire culture by the White power structure right up to and including this moment. What is so uncomfortable about it for us is that it is people of color deciding for themselves what is best for them (called self-determination) whether White folks like it or not. Yes?

Anonymous said...

Anon back again.

changeseeker, i'm happy not to post here if you want. And I won't bitch if you delete this. And please forgive my anonymity. I am trying not to abuse it, and I'm trying extraordinarily hard not to be offensive. It's just that this is such a powerfully divisive topic where it's easy to get nasty. Ordinarily I'd not talk about this subject at all but can learn a lot having an anon discussion.

...Your "f-it" attitude is just using my post for an excuse not to "get it".
...Until you're ready to stop freaking out, you won't hear anything I say that doesn't make you feel just fine right where you are.

This sort of reminds me of my discussions with my christian friend. If I question his Bible, or don't understand it, it's always because I'm deficient in trying, or piousness, or understanding of the Lord; it's never because there's a contradiction in the Bible. Never. Yes, I suppose if I already knew everything you said then I would understand it already.

And I'm not trying to "derail." As far as I could see, this was a discussion about allying and that is why I"m posting. I'd never ever have posted this anywhere else. And yes, I've read that list.

The truth is that if I wanted an excuse not to "get it" I wouldn't be reading this blog, or ANY race relations blog; I wouldn't be spending all this time thinking; and I wouldn't be posting here. Lack of knowledge is a great excuse. Sure, you can claim I'm lying, and that my real motivation is to piss you off. Nothing I can do about that, it seems, and I get a feeilng you'll think I'm a troll no matter what I say. Oh well--as I said, I won't bitch or repost if you delete this.

Still you all are right. after a while I have really started to be defensive. Sometimes it seems that what people mean by "allying" is "agreeing," and if I don't agree right away I'm in trouble. Sometimes the whole "ally" process seems more like "yes, welcome, come in, sit down, thanks for trying to learn about this, here, have a seat over there, would you like some tea? No? Well, then, where was I... oh yes, I was saying that you are a WHITE PESTILENCE ON THE FACE OF THE EARTH WHO SHOULD BE FUCKING ASHAMED OF YOURSELF AND HOW DARE YOU QUESTION ME ON MY VIEWS? SHUT THE FUCK UP AND LISTEN. I SAID SIT DOWN, I'M ANGRY. NO, I DON'T GIVE A SHIT WHAT YOU THINK. WHERE THE FUCK DO YOU THINK YOU'RE GOING?"

The thing is that I can actually sort of understand how people feel that way. I know empathy is another no-no but for a moment grant me the courtesy of believing that in general I can imagine how it is to have something like that bottled up. I can't empathize with the extent of POC's feelings on race, but I can empathize with the type of feeling itself. Or at least I think I can, I suppose I'll never know. Not that my justification is worth a damn, but, I'd probably act that way too if people were nasty to me for my whole life.

The problem is that even though I know that their reaction is probably justified, in my life, anyone who talked like that would ordinarily be filed in my 'obnoxious asshole' list. So it is hard, really hard, for me to learn from that experience. Worse yet, it takes a lot of mental effort not to form new BAD impressions from that experience, though I manage not to do so.

I can't help but think that the word "respect" doesn't usually go along with the phrase "shut the fuck up" though in those conversations it really does. And I can't sometimes help thinking that the people involved are exhibiting the normal, human, and unfortunate tendency to take whatever power they have and use it ("He's asking me for help? I'll show him what it's like to get fucked over when you ask for help. Let's see how HE likes it!") and cloaking it under the guise of something else.

So defensive... yeah, I am. I'm deep enough into this kind of self analysis that I can certainly recognize my defensiveness. I'm not yet enough of a convert that I instantly consider it to be my fault, though I'm somewhat closer to that than I was.

Maybe in the end it's all about this:

midwesterntransport said...
Part of what she's saying is that POC don't need to pat white folks on the back for not being offensive. Or for being a little less offensive than usual.

I don't think I'm trying to be "less offensive." Mostly because that implies I'm "naturally offensive" and sorry, I'm not buying into the philosophy that my mere existence is offensive because of my skin color or social status (didn't we go there already in the last few centuries?)

I think I'm trying to be... nice. Or... friendly. Which is a general way of thinking about other people that involves talking to them, liking them, and as a result changing your behavior to make them happier.

And I think EVERYONE deserves a pat on the back for trying to be nice, actually.

Do you want a prize for working to understand racism?

Um, yeah, I guess I sort of do. Maybe I'm wrong to feel that way and I often wonder about this. Is it better to admit I want it and be honest, or lie and pretend I don't want anything? I don't know amny people at all (of any color) who don't at least sort of expect to get something when they do something else.

I mean, lets face it: I'm white, I'm privileged, I'm male. So pretty much any anti-racist change that affects me is going to have a NEGATIVE effect. I'm personally not going to benefit much, and I may lose something. And hey, I'm OK with that, that's why I'm here. That's why I'm thinking about this. That's why I am wondering whether my whole basic feelings are incorrect.

So in a way I think it IS also "about me" which is, I know, a very bad thing. But I think it's about old, dead, POC, who got fucked over by my old, dead, direct and indirect ancestors; and it's about POC my age, who are living in a world based on years of that history; and it's about other whites, who are living in the same world; and it's about me, too, because shit--if I'm totally irrelevant and meaningless in the whole thing then WTF am I bothering?

So anyway, what prize(s) do I want? I think it's probably the same prizes a lot of folks want if we're trying to work against our own immediate self-interest, and trying to work for a better society. I want the prize of politeness, if I'm polite. I want the prize of compliments if I deserve them, and condemnations if I deserve them, given out with some reasonable accuracy. I want to be able to ask a question. I want the prize of not getting the nasty and fractitious label of "racist" merely because I'm white, like some church giving out original sin pronouncements. I want to be able to help out as best as I can manage in my life and in my mind--even if all I can manage right now is not "enough" compared to some, and not "enough" to eliminate all my original sin. I want to be able to participate without also giving up my autonomy to have my own opinions.

Will I get all (or any) of those things? Hell, no, that much is obvious. Which is why I'm probably not going to be an ally in the end. Unless I can manage to change my mental view enough to lose all that--which I am continually trying to do.

And I'm going to keep thinking about race. I do, a lot. Perhaps, some day, I'll really be a convert. I'll really recognize my white privilege, instead of just thinking I recognize it. And I'll really see how to reconcile "espousing equality is offensive" and "racial essentialism" with "separate can never be equal" and "people should judged by the content of their character." I'm not sure I'll ever get there, to be honest. But I'm trying.

Meanwhile, I'll continue doing what I think helps. I'll read/lurk and occasionally post. I'll try to learn. I'll try to recognize my own inappropriate actions and change them. I'll give money/time/etc where it can do good. I'll try to proactively improve things. And hopefully that'll be better than doing nothing, even if I'm a privileged white racist idiot in the minds of some folks.

changeseeker said...

As hard as it is for you to imagine, Anonymous, this post, this topic, and these ideas are not all about you. Or even necessarily for you. I suggest you create your own blog (it's free) since you appear to have a very great deal to say. But I doubt that it would be as satisfying somehow for you as it is to read mine (or someone else's), get all worked up, and react all over the place, trying to engage people in an attempt to satisfy your need for attention and resolution. I have no emotional response to you whatsoever, Anonymous. You're all worked up alone. And a crystal example of everything I described in this post. There'll always be one that proves the pudding, I guess. Thank you for that.

spotted elephant said...

Changeseeker, time for a positive comment. This is an amazing post! I found you from Kevin's link, and I'm blogrolling you.

When I was teaching, and covered white privilege, it was the most frustrating experience of my life. I really appreciate how calm and reasoned this post is, and I appreciate that you're trying to reach people. Maybe I will be able to learn from you so I can discuss white privilege calmly and effectively.

changeseeker said...

Thank you, SE. You humble me. And I look forward to all we can teach each other.

David Schraub said...

I'm confused about the implied link between the post topic and the current Israel-Lebanon conflict. It's never made explicit, but it seems (via the "White is right" rhetoric) that the argument is America's strong support for Israel is due to its status as a "White" nation, compared to Lebanon, which is primarily inhabited by persons of color. I could be wrong (please feel free to correct me if that's the case), but I see very little other way to interpret it.

The problem is that Israel's population is not majority White. It's Jewish majority is also not majority White. Most Jews living in Israel are of Sephardic (North African, Mediterreanean, and Middle Eastern) descent, as opposed to Ashkenazi Jews, who hail from Northern, Central, and Western Europe. Sephardic Jews are most certainly of color, and aside from the problematic (not necessarily wrong, but problematic) notion of grouping Jews into "White" generally (see Eric Goldstein's "The Price of Whiteness"), it is quite hard to justify placing Sephardic Jews (who again, constitute the majority of Israel's Jewish population) into the category of White. They don't have the ethnic background, global institutions weren't (and aren't) acting to their benefit or privilege, and I don't really think they've been coded as White (except, perhaps, as honorary Whites that can be kicked around to show that the world can be as tough on "Whites" as anyone else). In other words, racial discourse about Jews tends not primarily to serve as an indicator of their status, but rather as a major supportive structure of anti-Semitic notions that serve to marginalize Jewish persons and rationalize a continued global climate that justifies them being targeted for hatred, death, and destruction.

This is a shame, because its prominent placement in the first paragraph detracts from a truly interesting post. But laudable anti-racism sentiments cannot be used as a shield for anti-semitic sentiments (the anti-semitism here not being criticism of Israel, but the uncritical grouping of Jews into the dominant class, which plays into mythologies of Jewish hyper-power is a key pillar in the global structures of anti-semitism). But in a way, this is good. Whites need to learn from members of other races about the reality of the oppression they face. And Jews, too, have much to teach about the reality of oppression they face. Finding parallels is important for all parties and creating a more positive climate for all concerned. "Empathic approximating experiences", I believe its called.

Each-1-Teach-1 said...

Great job Prof, you keep on doing what you do, please do. I see you struck a nerve somewhere in anonymous land. Thank you, keep reaching, keep teaching, we got you.

sumo said...

Came here via Peachchick Mary and I'm glad I did. Very impressive...shall blogroll you and look forward to the part 2. You are guilty of intelligent discourse changeseeker...there will be those that are jealous of on.

Clampett said...


There is WAY too much negative energy here, so I must fix that, a bit:

I admire your wisdom, your fortitude, your determination, your grace, and most of all I admire your adherence to what your heart knows: the truth.

The Anons and JJD’s of the world know this and attack because you are a good target.

If you were FOS, as they claim, they wouldn’t try to discredit you.

(just some thoughts for the mind)

Ok, back the topic at hand.

I have the bad habit of answering rhetorical questions, so if that’s what was a rhetorical ('yes?') , sorry for being such a mind-boring literalist.

Changeseeker wrote, "What is so uncomfortable about it for us is that it is people of color deciding for themselves what is best for them (called self-determination) whether White folks like it or not. Yes?

Well, again, I don't feel uncomfortable because I never felt entitled to tell others how to lead their lives.

But, if I did, that would threaten my false sense of superiority, I see that point.

But self-determination is FREEDOM!

I love freedom so I would rather see panthers than uncle Cosbys.

That’s my position and I’m sticking to it.

changeseeker said...

Good morning, all. A few responses:

David, I do understand where you're coming from, but your comments are mis-directed. I am not, I assure you, anti-Semitic. I am fully aware of Jewish history and the history of the middle east. However, I am against any action that commits wholesale murder (whether that involves lynching, the Holocaust, or the killing of hundreds of Lebanese children which the U.N. is calling a war crime).

I wrote the first paragraph of this post as a segue from my other most recent posts not to call Jews "White" folks, but to establish the need for allies as a result of the actions of those supported by the White power structure worldwide and those who are being crushed by it. The United States has marked itself as a nation where people of color must struggle to survive on every level. The U.S. government has an international reputation for serving the interests of whatever war-mongering best suits the desires of those with the power to define. Since the U.S. government is sending weapons and aid to Israel to viciously attack a weaker nation while the rest of the world looks on aghast, my paragraph is not about Jews, but about power.

each-1-teach-1: Always a pleasure, of course. Will you be teaching this year?


"You are guilty of intelligent discourse, Changeseeker..."

Oh, dear. And I was trying so hard to keep it a secret. Oh, well. The cat's out of the bag now, I guess. (Thanks.) ;^)


"I would rather see panthers than Uncle Cosbys..."

Me, too. Me, too. Although it can make someone who looks like me edgy, you know. :^\

Clampett said...

Changeseeker!!! (you just provoked a rant, sorry)

Look at what Angela Davis says about the 'prison industrial complex' (I’m sure you know about this a lot more than I)

Americans being attacked by their own government (for no reason, or a pretextual reason) is SO MUCH scarier than men with guns who wear leather jackets as to FIGHT the attacks hailing from their own government.

(Seems analogous to why a few colonists didn’t like the king George…..a long time ago)

Ill say it:

Today POC face the institution of slavery.

Ame13: Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction

Now, considering the amount of drug convictions.

Considering the amount of people in prison.

Considering that most dealers and users are white…. but the people who get arrested for drugs are not

(curses southern strategy)

Why would you be upset or made uncomfortable by the men and women who vocally and militantly stand their ground against such a bigoted and powerful assault on their community?

Clampett said...

BTW, I'm a european-American

changeseeker said...

One never needs to apologize for a righteous rant, kafir. :^)

No question. I agree with everything you say and apply it to all resistance against all oppressors over all time (how's that for a blanket statement?)

I only meant by my "edginess" comment that sometimes I feel as if I've painted myself into a social corner, as it were (with full consciousness, I might add), leaving myself under certain circumstances with no safe place to be. On the other hand, I have never felt comfortable with any other stance. None of us now living started this mess, but we all gotta deal with it. Those of us who are people of color are quite literally under the gun. Those of us who look like me oughta feel edgy from time to time. Not to would suggest that we ridiculously underestimate the gravity of the seems to me.

Clampett said...

aha, I misinterpreted your use of 'edgy'.

it's understood.

I must say your blanket statement is true.

on Israel,

I think you would really enjoy this quote from Bannerman, former PM of England, I believe he said it in 1908:

"There are people who control spacious territories teeming with manifest and hidden resources. They dominate the intersections of world routes. Their lands were the cradle of human civilizations and religions.

These people have one faith, one language, one history and the same aspirations.

No natural barriers can isolate these people from one another... if per chance, this nation were to be unified into one state, it would then take the fate of the world into its hands and would separate Europe from the rest of the world.

Taking these considerations seriously, a foreign body should be planted in the heart of this nation to prevent the convergence of its wings in such a way that it could exhaust its powers in never-ending wars. It could also serve as a springboard for the West to gain its coveted objects.”

David Schraub said...

CS: I appreciate your response, but I think it's ducking out of the analysis I give. When some "assures" me that they are not an anti-Semite, I have roughly the same reaction as to similar assurances of "I am not a racist." I'm quite confident that you do not harbor overt malice of the "Jews must die" variety, but that hardly means that you aren't part of a power structure that systematically degrades and marginalizes Jews, nor does it mean that you haven't absorbed the aura of anti-Semitic myths, stories, and mythologies that inhabit the discursive sphere and work to our disadvantage and detriment. The important thing to note here is that you'd never accept either the defense ("I am not an anti-semite") nor the definition (anti-semitism divorced from its structural and cultural supports) were the topic racism. I only ask that we be treated on equal terms.

Believe me, I'd be happy to go toe-to-toe on the particular merits and complaints of Israel's operation in Lebanon in another thread (though here I'll just say that comparing the situation to the planned, deliberate, systematic genocide of the Holocaust is nothing short of appalling, and really blows a hole in the "I am not an anti-semite" protestation). But in reality, my post has very little to do with whether Israel is acting justifiably or not. It is, as you say, about POWER. My argument is that claims of Jewish hyperpower are a key operative in the global anti-semitic schema. Presumably of course, Israel could be a relatively disempowered nation and still be acting wrongfully, so this is a question divorced from whether Israel is right or wrong at the moment. Rather, the question is how and why Israel is seen to be in an empowered state at the current moment. This, I feel, is a misreading of the situation provoked by the cultural mythology of Jewish empowerment, and is anti-Semitic on that ground.

Simply invoking US support isn't enough to establish this--presumably if the US flipped its support to Lebanon tommorow, you wouldn't start condemning them as evil. Israel is it's own country, and we need to discuss in a manner that respects its agency, rather than treating it as a pawn of American imperialist aspirations.

Is Israel more powerful than Lebanon? Yes. But just like racism, it's wrong to evaluate the issue on individual-to-individual terms when there is more at play. A holistic account of the situation would look at the conflict as between Israel and all the countries who provide support and succor to Hezbollah, which directly includes Lebanon, Syria and Iran, and indirectly includes most of the Arab world which has expressed its support for the terror (and, with the exceptions of Turkey, Jordan, and Egypt, are still at war with Israel and committed to its destruction as a state). In the full context, then Israel looks rather marginal--a group of nations larger than Canada (many with significant oil wealth that gives them massive leverage in global affairs) all lined up against a single Jewish state smaller than Vancouver. America's large military aid barely provides enough even for deterrence (as Iran still feels a-okay calling to destroy the Zionist state).

Hezbollah's masterful (if morally appalling) use of asymmetric warfare has also placed it in a position of power over Israel. Not because it's an existential threat to Israel's existence (although in combination with Iran and Syria it is). Rather, it is because it has taken a tactic of specifically maximizing civilian casualties on the Lebanese side (by the use of human shields, dressing its fighters as civilians, firing from civilian locations) to erode allies of the Jewish state and to cast them as the big bad slayer of civilians. Never mind that under international law Hezbollah is directly responsible for civilian casualties in Lebanon when it uses civilian locations for military operations. Both you and the UN have taken the bait. Why? Because the "big bad Jews" narrative fits within a broader cultural meme of Jewish empowerment--like Blacks as criminal (Katrina) or Latinos as lazy (immigration). As in those cases, the manipulation and application of cultural stereotypes distorts reality and leads to unjust outcomes. It also allows for convienant categorization of a situation that otherwise would be made quite difficult: Two historically oppressed groups fighting over a small strip of land is tough to resolve. Bad European imperialists swooping in the colonize people of color is nice and easy to deal with. Here, the myth of Jewish power allows groups like the UN to come down hard on the "powerful" to prove that it can, but my argument is that this is a form of anti-Semitism because Jews are only constructed as powerful; it isn't a bona fide reflection of reality. Citing the UN's declaration of war crimes doesn't impress me, because the UN (perhaps more than any other body) has bitten into this form anti-Semitism and thus can be identified as a crucial component of the international anti-Semitic structure in its own right (if there was any doubt, look at what happened at the Durban anti-Racism conference).

So to sum up. Anti-semitism is more than overt hate or violence. It also comes in the form of cultural stereotypes and institutions. There's actually a few that come into play when the subject is Israel ("Mark of Cain", Jews-as-white-Europeans, Jews as Christians, Jews as empowered), but I only really am focusing on the empowerement myth. Building up Jewish power so it can be knocked down is a form of anti-Semitism with a long history. And the misplacement of Jews and Israel in a dominant position in the global power matrix is a manifestation of it.

changeseeker said...

kafir, can you get me the specifics of that quote (when, where, whole name)? It's very interesting, needless to say. I'll poke around a bit, too, but you may have the information somewhere already.

David: You're really on the wrong blog for this. For starters, I don't consider Jews a "race." I consider Judaism a religion and Jews an ethnicity, which changes the issues for the purpose of analysis. For me, the social construction of the concept of "race" as I discuss it in the post is, therefore, not analogous.

Secondly, my specialization and primary interest is in African-American/European-American relations specifically and, to a lesser extent, power relations in general, which can include gender relations, international "development," and so forth. Getting embroiled (or "going toe-to-toe" as you put it) on the issue of Zionism is not something I'm prepared for or interested in doing. Sorry.

David Schraub said...

You are quite right. I do not demand nor expect of you to turn this into a Zionism debate (I have enough of those over at my place). My request, as articulated in the original comment, is to not use important anti-racism discourse to serve as a shield for anti-semitic discourse, which I believe you (unwittingly) did. Nothing more.

That's not an unreasonable request. Part of being an ally of the oppressed means not going into defensive shell mode when faced by a "call-out" of discriminatory mindsets by an oppressed group member. Lack of interest notwithstanding, oppression continues to exist in all of its appalling glory, and the only way to resist it is to hear what the victims have to say. Listen, and learn, as you say.

midwesterntransport said...

Anon, I want to respond to you with the same thoughtfulness with which you responded to me (not being sarcastic, I’m being serious).

I do understand the desire to have one’s work acknowledged, particularly if one feels that the work they are doing might be against their own self-interest. (Though I would argue that racism is ultimately toxic to white folks, as well.) However, POC are often placed in the position of having to congratulate white folks every step of the way, and I imagine that that can become very frustrating.

This isn’t the same, but I am a queer, and I get a little tired of feeding someone else’s desire for recognition when they’re simply not putting their boot on my neck. Again, homophobia is not the same as racism – I bring this up because I’ve heard similar sentiments from my friends of color, and it was my jumping off point to deepen my understanding of racism.

So we can agree to disagree on this matter, that’s fine. For me, it partially comes down to expectation and responsibility. I don’t believe that it is the responsibility of POC to acknowledge me when I’ve made a few personal discoveries on race that affect my worldview, and if I expect for it to be acknowledged, I’ll only be disappointed and upset – and possibly resentful - when it doesn’t happen. But it’s not their job. It’s MY job. It’s MY responsibility to address my white privilege.

I also think that the expectation of positive feedback is, well, a reflection of white privilege. I think that some white folks (mainly middle-class white folks) are used to being acknowledged and congratulated for the work that they do, so it can seem rather glaring when it doesn’t happen. Folks who are positioned with less systemic power may not be as accustomed to widespread recognition, and so don’t expect it.

Performers are a good example of this, I think: how many black film actors have received awards for their work? Halle Berry was the first black woman to receive an academy award for best actress, but did that mean that black actresses were worse than white actresses? Absolutely not. But they aren’t acknowledged as often.

I haven’t read Changeseeker’s blog before, but I didn’t see her positioning herself as someone in any sort of club for which you have to qualify. Honestly, that seems like projection to me. From what I read, it seems like you created the dichotomy between folks who are allies and “non-allies,” I believe is how you put it. I didn’t see Changeseeker polarizing; I saw you polarizing.

This, for example:
“I know many people--rich, white, folks who you would never count as "allies"--who work towards your cause. They give money (a lot of it) to organizations which work for equality and/or POC advancement. They give time. They talk to their peers in power, who (let me tell you in case you're so oblivious as not to know this) are not receptive to the "shut the fuck up and listen" line.

But hell, you want to alienate us if we don't do a good enough job of apologizing for our privilege. You want to brand us racists. You want to--as I have seen on various sites--mock our attempts to do what is right; sneer at our discussions which consider empathy; reject our offers of assistance until we've done our own 'firewalk trial'...”

Where were any of these statements in Changeseeker’s original post? I see her as asking folks to go beyond giving ten bucks to organizations, to begin thinking deeply about how institutionalized racism functions in their daily lives and actions, rather than patting themselves on the backs for throwing money at something and then giving up all personal accountability. That’s the attitude I see her writing about. You may see something else.

I do understand that folks bring their own perspectives and experiences to the table, which is very valuable, and it may be that in your experience, you feel that you are rejected by folks who call themselves allies. I can’t really speak to your experience.

But what you talked about right here?
“Meanwhile, I'll continue doing what I think helps. I'll read/lurk and occasionally post. I'll try to learn. I'll try to recognize my own inappropriate actions and change them. I'll give money/time/etc where it can do good. I'll try to proactively improve things.”

That, to me, is learning how to become an ally.

When it’s then followed up with this, “And hopefully that'll be better than doing nothing, even if I'm a privileged white racist idiot in the minds of some folks,” it sounds resentful and bitter. Which I think hurts the good intentions of the paragraph above.

Clampett said...


I was off a year.

He said it in 1907.

my bad.

Clampett said...

btw, we have a knotty issue on our hands in terms of the middle east. .

Portions must be untangled before they can be observed.

but YES!!!

I'm off work in 1 minute, Party on.

jp 吉平 said...

Great post! I'm linking!

changeseeker said...

David, I see where my opening paragraph could have communicated an anti-Jewish tone where I was actually intending to reference an anti-Israeli government/anti-U.S. government perspective. I stand corrected and I will be more clear about that in the future. Thanks for putting it succinctly so that I could comprehend exactly what you saw as problematic.

midwesterntransport: Nicely done.

kafir: Thanks! Making my life easier. Gotta love it. Have a great week-end!

John: Thanks for the kind words and the link. I'll be over soon.

billie said...

perhaps socio economics play into anon's comments as well. there is also a divide between haves and have nots in america- with race playing into it for sure- that divides poc and poor whites from the haves. that adds a layer to an already packed lasagna. i fully realize my ignorance when it comes to race- i am currently a white female in america and as much as i would like to not identify that way- i am not sure that i can or should based on my ignorance. it doesn't occur to me to view folks as colors usually- and i had my eyes opened a few years back when i went to a job training with my 'black' co-worker. it was a training on cultural competency which was code word for a bunch of white folks sitting around an oval table talking about how they didn't realize that race was an issue because they didn't see any. i remember thinking huh- no kidding. well, i know i am rambling, my co-worker and i talked about the training on the way back to the office and i told her that i had had no idea that she went through what she had talked about. i had seen her as "mary." i have much to learn about racism but even i can see the injustices that are being carried out overtly by the current government and by citizens who are emboldened by the government. i would like to learn more.


“Sometimes I think the world is divided into those who have a comfortable relationship with power and those who have a naturally adversarial relationship with power.” A.R.

I believe a crtical part (if they aren't all critical) in becoming an ally, is recognizing the power relationships in our society for what they are... and the be vocal about it... be critical of it and point it out. once someone is made aware of something, he/she has two choices... to carry on like he/she's never noticed it, or to be relective and affected. it really is a true test of character.

changeseeker said...

betmo, you would probably be interested in the thread I link to under my post called "Required Reading For Beginner Allies." And of course, I welcome you to my blog anytime and will be visiting yours, as well (as I just did). Keep the faith, b. As nomorewilding writes, "once someone is made aware of something, he/she has two carry on like he/she's never noticed it, or to be reflective and affected. It really is a true test of character." Face reality. Do the next right thing. Where there is life there is hope. Where there is breath, there is life. No. Matter. What.

Piscean Princess said...

I am waaaaay late reading this post 'cause I needed to be in the right frame of mind to be able to digest it all. But I've finally gotten to it & I'm glad I did. As always, you have made it plain for anyone who's willing to receive the truth.

I am particularly pleased with mouth shut until you know a little something and that won't be for a long, long time. To me that's just common sense, but so many people just can't figure it out.

Delia Christina said...

changeseeker...i am completely overwhelmed by how you *succinctly* unpacked white privilege. this was totally awesome and i wish this could be put on a flyer and put in every bus, train, telephone pole in town.

and not just for white folk - for my brown folk, too. because i think when you start thinking about race/Whiteness/Blackness as a 'system' and not a personal burden to carry or to anticipate, then you become that less obligated to reenact a whole array of destructive reactions to racism.

(not that some reactions, like telling someone to frack off, can't be satisfactory. but it doesn't get us anywhere.)

excellent, excellent post and i'm SO linking to it.

changeseeker said...

Pleez forgive me for my sloooooow response to your luvlee comments!! :^) I have missed you all terribly while I was chained to my particular grindstone, nose down.

Yami, I read your post on Thursday and wrote two pages of notes in anticipation of being able to respond over there. Good, good stuff! Thanks for giving me an opportunity to think about the topic more deeply. I love that. I'll be over later tonight or in the morning.

Princess, I'm so glad to see you out and about again. Missed you, of course. And yes, I'm sure some people read the line you mention (or felt it) as unduly harsh. But I think racism is unduly harsh. Some "White" folks are so vocal, they don't have time or space to take in anything they don't already believe. Letting them continue to remain so when it causes so much pain to others doesn't seem to me to be either rational or kind (to anybody).

Ding, I'm delighted you agree that it makes it so much easier to see and deal with when we just keep focused on the system instead of on individuals. Many "White" folks get horribly stuck thinking that because they're not heinous, they can't be racist. Similarly, many "Black" folks get flattened (neutralized as it were) imagining that "it's always been this way and it's always going to be this way." Neither idea is true. And both ideas are heavily supported by our generalized socialization by (no surprise) the system itself. Realizing this gives us all the same enemy and some place to begin. Still, it doesn't mean that European-Americans can just cop out, ignoring their own participation and responsibility for the way things are, because fighting the system also means chasing the monster to its internalized lair.

changeseeker said...

And when it bursts, Dan, I suspect that you'll be one of the persons who is surprised.

Polarity Lineage said...

I love LOVE your posting here! I've found new books to read too.

I'll have to thank Rachel and the erase racism carnival. (and you for writing it! :-))

Anonymous said...

As a European-American trying to unpack my priviledge, thank you for writing this post. It has helped to organize the jumble that is my head.

Anonymous said...

"Respect gets respect, you know. And if you're not getting it, you're not giving it, even if you think you are."

SO true! i often hear white people get all huffy that they're not being respected by people of color, but refuse to examine their own behavior to see the ways in which THEY are not being respectful. that's white privilege i guess.

changeseeker said...

sea and cscarlet: How nice to get home after a long day and find strong words of support and agreement waiting for me to read. Thank you for dropping by.

lily: Yes, yes. When European-Americans ask me "What do Black people want?" I answer, "Respect." And they look disappointed. Like they expected something easier to do...

Anonymous said...

Great post. You're hittin it left and right. I think another book or two could be throwin in, esp to highlight the Mexican-American situation. These days, some true history would help, as we are in the current crosshairs. "Under the fifth sun" is a great one, I have that, and more listed here. I look forward to parts b, and 2, which I have saved, just not read yet.

Thank you for this. I could refer some people here that need to read this. Problem is, they have to want to, first.

changeseeker said...

What a great book list, Senor X! And the only one I've read is The House on Mango Street by Cisneros. I have a to-read list that gets longer every day. I just picked up Days of Obligation by Richard Rodriguez recently. Is it a good one?

Anonymous said...

Thanks, changeseeker. I have not read that one. And I know what you mean. I feel I have so much more books to read than time to read them in. Illusion? hmmmmm


navigator said...

Great post. Sounds like you get it Changemaker. The reality is that much of what white people have in this life has been UNEARNED. Titles don't bring respect. Actions do, and is one big reason why POC do not respect white people.

changeseeker said...

You're absolutely right, Navigator. Positive actions earn respect. Negative actions (or inactions, which can often be their own form of negative action) do not earn respect. And instead of looking at the end result that grows out of their choices, European-Americans often get huffy about not receiving the respect they THINK they deserve. They don't want to face it, but the fact is that whatever we plant grows.

Anonymous said...

After reading this I must admit, I feel that I've for a long time been, well, ignorant. I am a European-American currently in a very committed relationship with an African-American man who was raised by a European-American family. I sometimes feel that I will unintentionally raise our future children as "white kids", and in turn hurt them. Do I not have enough understanding to properly raise my own children? I don't want to misguide them when they already will have enough odds stacked against them in this white supremest society. How does a European-American mother find out how to raise an African-American child? I admit my ignorance here, but this is an honest heartfelt inquiry.

changeseeker said...

You probably know more than you think you do, Anonymous. In fact, one of the things I've learned in life is that you can't graft new information onto a closed mind. In other words, when I think I totally understand something, I am usually almost as likely to be close to clueless as if I was too oblivious to even ask the question. So your realization that there is much you had not considered is actually a wonderful place to begin. Read all the links at the top of my blogroll and then proceed forward.

I hang out with, ask for input from, and really listen to people of color. I read. I watch films (both documentary and feature-length). I go out of my way to attend plays and performances by African-Americans. And I have been for decades. Through this process, I have developed what sociologists call Black "reference points" (hooks onto which to put information gathered; codes for organizing life) to supplement the White reference points with which I was raised.

Keep in mind that there's no way you can "become" Black or erase your own background. My bi-racial daughter had to point out to me in a blinding flash of the obvious one day (after she grew up) that despite the African and African-American friends we had and despite the wide range of books and music and art and so on in our home related to the diaspora and despite my work, she believes that she grew up with White reference points. I was, frankly, somewhat disappointed that my best efforts had seemingly been for naught.

Then, she said something that helped: the gifted classes she was in had no other children of color in them, so most of her peers typically looked like me. And most importantly, those were the peers she spent the most time around, the ones she would be most socialized by, and the ones with whom she would be most pressured to fit in.

On the other hand, she may, in fact, have equated class with race. In other words, many of the African-Americans around which she was raised were very poor and even though we were poor during her childhood, as well, our reference points were pretty middle class. And she may have perceived that difference as racial.

Still, neither she nor I can possibly know for certain how she might be different had I raised her without all the exposure to "Blackness."

As you evolve into what I call a bi-cultural personna, various members of society (both Black and White) will put you through changes over the years for being with a Black man and for having bi-racial children. As difficult as this will sometimes be, it will also help more than you can imagine to give you the perspectives you may at this point lack. It may also help you to read the book I've written and am currently posting on this blog a bit at a time (scroll down to the list of labels on the right and click on "Reduced to Equality"). The book uses my life as a construct to discuss race and so includes my experiences as the mother of a bi-racial child.

The bottom line? Plunge in, love your children when they come along, be open, and expose yourself and them to as much of the gamut of life as you can. And then trust the process. As an older woman who studies humans for a living and raised two children to adulthood -- one of which has a Black father -- I can tell you that, in my opinion, that's all any parent can do anyway.

Anonymous said...

My question: How do I balance being a naturally inquisitive person with the fear that I'm just sticking my foot in my mouth when I ask questions? I ask POC questions about their daily lives the same way I ask people of other religions, people who were raised in different geographic areas, and others of different ethnicities than myself. When I ask these questions I do so at the risk of seeming silly and uneducated, but I often glean more from a single conversation than reading 30 books. A book cannot show inflection or facial expression or even emotion the same way as a living, breathing person can. How can I ask the questions in the light that I mean them, for me to simply understand more fully their way of life.

changeseeker said...

The honest answer to your question, Anon 2:38, is that it's probably often not possible to ask those questions to which you refer without (as you say) putting your foot in it.

The fact is that people of other nationalities or other religions, etc., are very likely not to have experienced the direct, long-term, institutionalized oppression of a system calculated historically and to the present to crush their spirit, exploit them economically, and benefit personally in the process -- and represented by you. It's not your personal fault, you understand, but those White people who even want to move in the direction of learning what's really going on cannot expect this to be an easy process -- under the circumstances which are, remember, still controlled by a White Supremacist system that has infected and embedded its ideas in every person under it (whether Black or White), including yourself and me.

Read books BY (rather than ABOUT) African-Americans. That can answer lots of questions you haven't probably even thought of yet. Makes Me Wanna Holler by Nathan McCall or The Beautiful Struggle by Ta'nehisi Coates come to mind as only two of many possible examples.

Then listen, listen, listen to African-Americans (and not just the famous ones) talk whenever you get the chance. This is how you'll learn not to put your foot in it. Usually by watching other White people put their foot in it.

Reading this and other blogs can help, especially blogs written by incredibly savvy White folks like Macon D at Stuff White People Do.

And finally, understand that you're going embarrass yourself and offend folks from time to time, even if you do all of the above. We can't expect to have our hands held sympathetically during this process when people of color get NO sympathy from the system and damn little most of the time from the majority of White people in general.

I'm just sayin'.

Anonymous said...

nothing you say is wrong but your huge disdain is a turn-off. people who see the evils wrought by whiteness certainly have the right to be angry (in fact we can't help it), but when you express yourself, you want to think about your goal. if your goal is just to impress POC and prove that you're an excellent ally, mission accomplished. you have lots of applause in your comments from people who already think like you do, and i'm sure that feels good. but if your goal is genuinely to reach other white people, genuinely to change them, it's not effective because nobody can hear you when you are so disdainful and, well, arrogant. it's like you have all this great stuff to say but you decide to scream it into a pillow.

now, who am i to talk - i gave up trying to talk to white people a long time ago. so personally i'm a terrible ally. so - good for you for still trying. i'm just saying if you're going to put so much energy and passion into it, you might want to consider what will make your outreach most effective. unless all you want to do is preach to the choir, in which case, enjoy!

- Virginia C.

changeseeker said...

Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. (I'm sorry, V., I couldn't resist -- how often do you get that opportunity?) You do sound pretty burnt out and, believe me, I can understand it. Sometimes I wonder how the heck I wound up who I am -- because I honestly don't know. We play the hand we're dealt. You're right; I get lots of positive strokes. Sometimes, I feel kind of weird about it because I'm not "trying" to do anything. I'm just being who I am. But it is what it is. For good or ill. I do hear you and I try to be vigilant about not just going for the cheap point. But I am heard by some Whites and the rest probably wouldn't listen even with a spoonful of sugar.