Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Confronting White Privilege


Monday, October 8, 2012


By Valerie Russell

There is a battle now raging about whether or not sexism and racism have any real elements in common, and whether or not the collective struggle of one has any real implications for the other. It is my position that the struggle for liberation is a struggle toward a new humanness, and that one dare not happen apart from any other struggle. The seeds which spawn the racist mentality also spawn the sexist mentality, though the results differ in both their historical manifestations and degree of oppression. It is critical to any group of women, working through a Christian perspective toward liberation, that we take a careful look at sexism and racism in order to build an understanding of their similarities and differences. If we are to effect institutional change we need to capitalize upon the similarities but to realistically acknowledge and be sensitive to the differences. This will enable us to build a community of trust with each other and also affirm the nature of pluralism within a context of unity.

WHAT IS RACISM? Any attitude, action or institutional structure which systematically subordinated a person or group because of their color.

WHAT IS SEXISM? Any attitude, action or institutional structure which systematically subordinated a person or group because of their sex.

As we work through these definitions let us begin to look at some of the fundamental similarities in the two problems. One way of doing this is to reflect upon the general nature of oppression and the context which it sets for human liberation.

Jurgen Moltmann has pointed out that a succession of freedom movements have expressed the human striving for liberation in Western society. Each new movement has continued the gains of previous ones. "Each one has opened a new front in the struggle for freedom" A staff colleague of mine, Dr. Lefty Russell, states in a paper entitled, "Human Liberation in a Feminine Perspective," that "Women belong to one of the groups who find that liberties gained in past revolutions of freedom have not been adequate. As an oppressed majority they point to a basic and persistent form of domination which is expressed in the various social customs regarding the man-woman relationship. As they strive to break the peculiar chains of sexism, they become aware of their solidarity with all those who aspire for full human liberation. Learning from others--they also contribute their own perspective to what is happening in the rapidly changing institutions of society...

"Secondly, HUMAN LIBERATION MEANS NEW CONSCIOUSNESS OF OPPRESSION AND RISING EXPECTATIONS CONCERNING THE FUTURE. Oppressed people begin the process of liberation by negating the negative of the present situation. And it is this discovery that frees them to discover their humanity...

"This is a phenomenon which points to the growing awareness that humanization involves freedom to participate in shaping one's own destiny. "

It is precisely at this critical juncture of what Paulo Freire calls "conscientization" that the broad perspective of sexism and racism must converge. It is critical that the perception of the nature of oppression, and the vision of the new freedom not be one-sided. For when analyzing the nature of past oppression we quickly realize that part of the disease has been the inherent one-sidedness of the definitions of social reality. Namely, the norms of America, and indeed in most Western thought and historical Christianity, have been set by white, Western, male thinking. The historical struggle which both women and racial minorities have suffered in America is predominately the history of those hang-ups. We have been living out a reality not authentically our own. Yet, through inheritance, assimilation, socialization, seduction, whatever name you call it, the majority of Americans--particularly females--have bought those hang-ups as their own, "lock, stock and barrel." This was particularly true of white women since their physical, social, cultural and economic characteristics most closely resembled the oppressor. Racial groups have always been aware that they have never been a part of "the American dream. " To Black, Chicana, Asian American, Indian and Puerto Rican women, there is little reason now to believe that suddenly white women, newly aware of their oppression will rise up with a new vision of the future which somehow encompasses more than their historical experience. I am not saying that white women do not have a new vision which is nonoppressive, but it must be defined and demonstrated to be believed. Trust must be earned. How such trust is earned should be a major focus for any women's group seeking to deal with questions of liberation. Minority sisters have too bitter a taste in their mouths from the years spent doing white women's housework and child-raising from being constantly demeaned because of white standards of beauty and "gracefulness." Sojourner Truth's now famous poem, "And Ain't I a Woman?" stands as a cry of minority women from the depths of their struggle for acceptance. In their historical eye, the white woman has been their enemy. It is now necessary for white women to prove that just as they will no longer play the pampered soft sex-object role, they will no longer play the role of being the enemy of their minority sisters. The demonstration of this fact, however, will take a determined and intentional effort on the part of all sisters. It is not something which will just "happen." White sisters have to understand this and accept it as reality. One of the reasons that black sisters have been so hostile toward whites in women's liberation is that they have perceived great hostility from white sisters because they have looked upon the good intentions of these sisters with doubt.

I do believe that as white sisters get past the period of exorcism (or expression of rage) to a time when they clearly define their goals, methodologies and value framework, the relationship will, hopefully, become more possible. When people are broken open, something new emerges. But what that new will look like is up for grabs in the women's movement. All the input possible must be sought by those from other groupings. None of us can move forward alone. We must seek out new ways of communication and communion so that we can provide some mutual support in the struggle for change.

Finally, white women must realize that minority women are intrinsically bound to the total struggle of a race. The enemy as stated earlier, is "the white establishment"--not her man. The minority male in America has suffered equally from oppression. In a society which equates manhood with "success" the minority man suffered grave historical injustice. The struggle of minority people is to free themselves mentally and morally from the "oughtness" and oppressive value systems of the mainstream of American life. For many minorities, indeed, the struggle is for actual physical and spiritual survival. These battles cannot be waged by women alone but are intrinsically bound together. Many white sisters have not understood this phenomenon and perceive that minority women are merely perpetuating chauvinism because they have not been so quick to denounce their interdependence with their men. Minority men and women do need to work out new supportive and freeing roles with each other, but that will have to happen within the context of the struggle for justice in America. White women must learn to trust their minority sisters that this is happening and will continue. The process, however, will not often take on the rhetoric, form or methodology of the predominately white "women�s lib" movement.

All of us as sisters must become more politically involved in shaping America's new priorities and in reshaping its vision. We must somehow look at our own histories in the collective as well as personal stories which have shaped our consciousness toward liberation. We must believe in the right and necessity for those collective and personal stories to differ. We must believe that the goals will bring us together out of our diversity. We must believe in the power of healing--that the gaps will be diminished and that our liberation will result in the freeing of the whole human society, because our new consciousness and action toward liberation will empower and bestow dignity, not oppress and deny it. We are not asking for a bigger piece of the American pie, rather we are seeking to formulate a new world.

Written for the United Church of Christ Task Force on Women in Church and Society.

Printed with permission: KNOW, Inc., P.O. Box 86031, Pittsburgh, PA 15221.

Feds to Monitor How Oakland Treats Black Kids

Feds to Monitor How Oakland Treats Black Kids

Feds to Monitor How Oakland Treats Black Kids
There's no question that the disproportionately high rate of suspensions of black students in Oakland, Calif., is alarming. (Data released by the Department of Education in March showed that black students are three-and-a-half times as likely to be suspended or expelled as their white classmates.) But now it seems that serious steps are being taken to go beyond fretting and speculating about it to actually address what's going on with race and discipline in the classroom.
The Oakland School Board has voted to allow for at least five years of federal monitoring to help identify the problem and reduce the troubling disparities. From the Huffington Post:
The resolution, of which the Oakland school board voted 6-0 in favor, concludes an investigation by the Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights into whether discipline of black students was harsher and more frequent and harshly than for their white peers.
Under last week's agreement, federal officials will keep watch on 38 Oakland schools and oversee the district’s five-year plan to address students’ needs by offering mentoring services to at-risk students, providing training for teachers and staff and combatting disciplinary issues without resorting to suspensions.
According to the San Francisco Chronicle, almost 20 percent of Oakland’s black males were suspended at least once last year -- six times the rate of white students. In middle school, one out of every three black students was suspended at least once. Furthermore, research conducted during the 2010-11 school year found that more than half of African American male students in the Oakland Unified School District are at risk of dropping out.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Healing Histories, Central City: Because every community has a story

W.K. Kellogg Foundation Launches Healing Histories Project to Promote Racial Healing Dialogue
Central City
During 2012, the W.K. Kellogg Foundation undertook a new project called Healing Histories that is an online, interactive documentary series showcasing authentic stories of communities and individuals and their journey through of racial healing.

The first Healing History in this series captures stories from Central City, New Orleans – a community with a unique and storied history when it comes to race and equity in America. Through a combination of videos, photographs and interviews, the Central City story weaves together different residents’ perspectives about the legacy of racism and segregation in their community, as well as the collaborative steps neighbors are putting into place to resolve inequities to improve health, education and economic outcomes for their children.

“Healing Histories” takes an innovative approach to storytelling. Unlike most documentaries, it’s interactive. Visitors to the site choose which videos to watch, which interviews to hear and which photographs to view, as if touring a museum and deciding to go down one corridor rather than another.

Reviving Racial Unity- Hear from Two of Dougherty County's Racial Healing Advisory Committee Members

ALBANY, Ga. -- Two of Albany's oldest churches -- one predominately black, the other mostly white -- will come together for a revival this week that spiritual leaders say they hope will serve as a catalyst for removing the racial divisions that still haunt Albany 50 years after the start of the civil rights movement.

The congregation of Bethel African Methodist Episcopalian church on Washington Street has invited the Rev. Garrett Andrew, the pastor of First Presbyterian on Jefferson, to preach at Bethel's three-night revival this week.  The Rev. Ernest Davis, the pastor and spiritual leader at Bethel, said the idea came to him following the city's annual joint Holy Week services earlier this year.
"I thought it was a good thing that the different churches in this community were coming together during the Holy Week services, and we'd always talk about doing other things, but once the week was over, we'd all go back to our churches and that was that," Davis said. "So I went to Garrett and asked him if he had the time to do it, and if he was interested. He was."
Davis said he took the idea to his congregation at Bethel, where it was well-received by his parishioners.
Traditionally, churches ask pastors from other churches to head up services during a revival, but typically those pastors are from the same denomination and from out of town.
Davis said he wanted Andrew and First Presbyterian specifically because he believed it could reinvigorate efforts by churches and other social organizations to tear down the racial barriers that he believes are hindering the city.
"Additionally, because I serve on the racial healing advisory committee for the Southwest Georgia Community Education project, which is looking at ways communities can heal themselves along racial lines ... I think this revival serves as one the best demonstration projects you can have, because, again, it's two churches coming together. We're crossing color lines, we're crossing economic lines, we're going the whole gambit," Davis said.
For Andrew, the 32-year-old white pastor of the 163-year-old church who cut his pastoral teeth preaching at black churches in California, the opportunity to preach at Bethel and take another step toward racial reconciliation is important.
"It's important for me because it shows a desire in the community to have some of these walls of division, these walls of race, come breaking down," Andrew said. "I think it's important for the community, as a community that has suffered tremendously from division, to recognize that there's actually movement within the community to bring these down so that we can come together for the greater good, to worship God realizing that because we can come together in Christ Jesus, we can worship God together.
"So, for the community, then it becomes an event, hopefully, whereby we can realize that all of those divisions that separated us previously for such a long time can be overcome."
Old churches like Bethel and First Presbyterian -- both of which bookend the civil war period in the United States -- have come to be more than just religious havens. They're shelters for those seeking protection from social ills. The very foundation of the AME denomination is rooted in a desire for racial equality. Disgruntled with the way blacks were treated in a mainline denomination, the denomination split from the church, forming the AME church where black culture could be woven into worship services.
By contrast, First Presbyterian Church has historically hosted mostly white congregants. While still mostly white, the modern church is home to a mix of races and genders who have developed a renewed dedication to community service and activism.
Andrew said he believes the spirit of revival and healing can take hold throughout the community, especially in local churches.
"I guess I'm hoping for something new," he said. "We have a God who says, 'Behold I make all things new.' We have a community that feels like the same old, same old is going on. We have a lot of people with a sense of hopelessness and despair, and it's time in the midst of that to look toward our hope and joy.
"I know in our church we're praying to become God's hope and joy, and from this we believe that, indeed, hope and joy will be born into a community that is groaning for need and it'll be something whereby people can actually experience the grace of God."
Davis share's Andrew's belief in a brighter tomorrow.
"I'm hoping this will serve as a catalyst and open doors for bigger and better things," Davis said. "We're not looking at this as a one-time event. We're hoping it'll serve as a springboard, as a mechanism to allow this city to come together as a community of faith. Because there are things we can do to bring us together as a community, and maybe someone will look at what we're doing and say 'hey, it's working for them, maybe we should try it,' and it will spread."
The revival is not the first time black churches and white churches have co-mingled in Albany.
Recently, Mt. Zion Baptist, the city's largest predominately black church, and Sherwood Baptist, one of the city's largest majority white churches, formed a partnership to swap pastors and do other cross-church activities. But Davis said he believes this revival is a little different than a pulpit swap, and he prays that it will be something that takes hold in the community.
Can this community overcome its racial issues?
"That's my firm belief," Davis said. "At some point, we'll need to realize that we're all here together on this Earth and that our survival, our well-being, is intermingled. We can separate ourselves; we can divide ourselves, thinking we can survive independently, but in actuality, you can't.
"We need to understand that there is more that unites us than divides us, especially if we're part of the faith-based community, the body of Christ, because we're united in our faith. Christ didn't discriminate. He treated all people fairly, and so should we."

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Where racial healing happens..

Richmond, Va., shows how real dialogue is more than just talk..
By Rob Corcoran / May 15, 2008

Shortly after Senator Obama's speech on race this March, a friend likened the racial issue to an old coffee pot that keeps percolating. Every few years something happens to bring the vexed problem bubbling to the surface.
Unplugging the percolator requires courageous conversation and frank acknowledgment of the underlying sources of distrust.

My friend, Mike McQuillan, is an educator, a veteran community organizer, and former Senate adviser. He played a key role in establishing the Crown Heights Coalition in New York after confrontations between Hasidic Jews and blacks in 1991.
"Change emanates from the bottom," he says, pointing to important progress over the past two decades. And he's right: Ordinary people are coming together to do extraordinary things. Healing conversation is already under way.

In hundreds of local efforts across the US, diverse groups of citizens are bridging the traditional boundaries of race, class, and culture. Thousands have engaged in dialogue, symbolic acts of reconciliation, and collaborative problem solving. Organizations such as Everyday Democracy and Hope in the Cities (a project of Initiatives of Change) are facilitating this.
Two critical components create space for real dialogue: Not pointing the finger of blame, but extending a hand of friendship. And insisting on bringing everyone to the table, even those with whom we most disagree.

By treating people as potential allies, rather than branding them enemies, we can focus on solving problems instead of continuing to glare at each other from self-righteous and isolated positions.
Dialogue is more than "just talk." Consider Richmond, Va., a city deeply divided by its history as the former capital of the Confederacy and site of a prominent slave market. Dialogue laid the groundwork for a Civil War center that tells the story from the perspective of Unionists, Confederates, as well as African-Americans – a first in the nation. Last year more than 5,000 people celebrated the unveiling of a reconciliation statue as a step in healing the memory of the transatlantic slave trade.

Trust, built through honest conversation, was the foundation for change. The Richmond newspaper, notorious for once supporting massive resistance to integration, now hosts regular "public square" meetings for citizens to voice their views. A corporate leader who has taken part in dialogues says he is committed to making Richmond "a place where the economic wealth is shared proportionally by the diversity of the community." Conservatives and liberals are learning to work together to build a just and inclusive community.
Conversations with changemakers confirm that this opportune moment extends across the country. A commentary in which John Graham of the Giraffe Heroes Project admitted with shame his fleeting question about the competency of a black airline pilot prompted an outpouring of e-mails and similarly honest sharing.

The key to healing is in provoking and then sustaining this honest conversation among ordinary citizens. Productive conversation demands readiness by all stakeholders to hold themselves, their communities, and institutions accountable, and to be willing to change where change is needed.
A starting place might be an acknowledgment by white Americans that history provides little reason for black communities to trust the motives of white leaders. They might say, "It is true that in many communities we resisted integration and then abandoned the system and placed our children in suburban or private schools. We constructed highways that tore the heart out of established African-American neighborhoods. We contributed to the concentration of poverty by concentrating public housing in specific inner city neighborhoods and refused them in the suburbs. We participated in the disinvestment of the city."

How might the members of the African-American community begin the conversation? They might say, "For too long we have nursed historical grievances, played the racial guilt card, and been reluctant to acknowledge progress made. We have often blamed others while neglecting to care for our own communities and abandoning our young people to drugs and violence. We have allowed some of our leaders to put political power and patronage above the health of the community."
Both black and white could say, "We have remained silent when we should have spoken out. We have been resistant to change."

America's story is complex and interwoven. It defies easy stereotyping. By honoring each other's stories and accepting shared responsibility for change, we can heal the wounds of this country and forge something of incalculable value for a world torn by conflicts rooted in historical grievance and competing identities.
Rob Corcoran is the national director of Initiatives of Change. His forthcoming book on reconciliation in Richmond is "Trustbuilders."

Racial Healing Confronting the Fear Between Blacks and Whites

Race Matters Date: October 1, 1995, Sunday, Late Edition - Final
Byline: By J. Anthony Lukas;
RACIAL HEALING Confronting the Fear Between Blacks and Whites. By Harlon L. Dalton. 246 pp. New York: Doubleday. $22.50.
BLACK, Latino and Asian-American law professors gathered at a Wisconsin retreat center in the summer of 1989 to consider how law should address racial issues in the post-civil-rights era. Each evening they sang to one another, mostly great spirituals and rhythm-and-blues numbers. On the last night, someone suggested they do a show tune. "Who let in the geek?" the author of this book thought, joining reluctantly in the "white bread" ditty. But before long they were belting out the razzmatazz with enough gusto to delight Ethel Merman.  Harlon L. Dalton, a black professor at Yale Law School, sees this experience as evidence that once black people are confident that their culture is vibrant, they can engage with mainstream culture "without fear of being swallowed up." "Racial Healing" is filled with notions like this -- concrete, often quirky ideas that suggest with a kind of daffy optimism that it is still possible for Americans to bridge the ugly chasm of race, which seems to many of us increasingly deep and perilous.  In a year that has given us the Fuhrman tapes at the O. J. Simpson trial, growing dismay over the grotesqueries of gangsta rap and continuing acts of mayhem in our decaying inner cities, some readers may find Mr. Dalton's talk of "healing" a bit naive. But his message shouldn't be misunderstood as some sort of New Age nostrum for instant racial reconciliation. Nor should it be seen as an effort to ignore, or paper over, our racial differences. Quite the contrary. Mr. Dalton is an advocate of straight talk, even if it turns unsettling or temporarily divisive. To him, all of us -- blacks, whites and others -- too often evade the racial content of our economic and social problems, out of a misplaced belief that race ought to be irrelevant in an enlightened society.  Whites, he argues, make the mistake of assuming that because race does not seem salient in their lives they can dismiss it as a relevant category. In political terms, this often translates into the argument that affirmative action and other programs of racial preference are counterproductive in a society that professes itself to be race-blind.  "Why do most white people not see themselves as having a race?" he asks. "In part, race obliviousness is the natural consequence of being in the driver's seat. . . . The most troublesome consequence of race obliviousness is the failure of many to recognize the privilege our society confers on them because they have white skin. White skin privilege is a birthright, a set of advantages one receives simply by being born with features that society values especially highly." So, far from ignoring race in our daily dealings, Mr. Dalton says, blacks and whites should confront each other about race, with candor and respect. "Once the fig leaf has fallen, we might as well look at what it has been hiding," he says. "For it is by exploring the things we dare not say to each other that we can best get to know one another."  Given Mr. Dalton's emphasis on frankness, some readers may see a contradiction in his advice that blacks delete the term "racist" from their vocabulary. But he isn't ignoring reality, merely trying to get at reality in all its complexity. By conjuring up images of "naked bigotry," he contends, the term ignores the more complex truth: that millions of "Good White People," unwitting beneficiaries of white skin privilege, "are more responsible for preserving and entrenching the racial pecking order than are the relatively few jerks who spew venom or act out of hatred." I find myself in full agreement here.  Toward the book's end, Mr. Dalton invokes a fantasy land called "Beigia" in which all citizens would be a beige color, in which all racial distinctions would be wiped away. Would we really want to live in such a land? His answer is, unequivocally, no. The fact that people come in different colors, he argues, is not our problem. Race itself is not our problem. The real question he asks is: "How do we uncouple race and power? How do we dismantle the pecking order?"  Here he brings us back to song -- obviously a central activity in his life. Mr. Dalton belongs to an interracial choir called Salt and Pepper. Notice, he says, that "we have not run away from race or tried to make it go away. In fact, we have placed it front and center. . . . Within the choir, race is linked with life experiences, culture and modes of presentation, but it is not linked with power. A soprano is a soprano is a soprano. . . . The only thing we have given up is the right to dominate one another."  Some readers may find Mr. Dalton's homespun analogies a bit irritating; some may find the optimist in him verging on the Pollyanna at times. But Harlon Dalton manages to communicate more provocative ideas on this incendiary subject in 246 pages than many authors do in twice the space. Most important, he comes across in this work as a thoroughly decent, compassionate and thoughtful human being -- and how often in this divided land does one get to say that?