Only by coming to realize how thoroughly racialized our white lives are can we begin to see the problem as ours, and begin to take action to help solve it. By remaining oblivious to our racialization we remain oblivious to the injustice that stems from it, and we remain paralyzed when it comes to responding to it in a constructive manner. –Tim Wise from “White Like Me: Reflections on Race from a Privileged Son”
Today is the day I out myself. The day I begin to acknowledge and take responsibility for all the ways in which I’ve benefited from an infrastructure based on white supremacy. This isn’t about guilt. It’s about owning the fact that I’ve been able to remain largely oblivious to the concrete realities of what occurs when people spend 350 years contributing to and blindly accepting a system of brutal oppression that elevates one group over the other based on the circumstance of their birth.
I’ve been ignorant because I could afford to be. I haven’t HAD to pay attention because I’ve been handed the Privilege of Obliviousness, which for me is one of the more distasteful perks to being a member of the dominant group: I get to be callous. My life has been spent in the company of white family and friends, entertained by white celebrities and story characters, educated in white schools, housed near white neighbors, employed by and working with white peers.
How could I truly see race when the only race I saw was my own?
Although we white Americans often think we’ve had few first-hand experiences with race, because most of us are so isolated from people of color in our day-to-day lives, the reality is that this isolation is our experience with race. –Tim Wise
Recent events in Ferguson, Missouri served as the catalyst that’s finally begun pulling down my lenses and blinders. I do feel ashamed that I didn’t wake up before now, that the literally hundreds of injustices I’ve read about over my lifetime didn’t suffice, weren’t horrific enough to goad me into action, or at least into looking. But I’m also slowly getting that this line of thinking is exactly what’s expected of me as a racialized person: I’m supposed to think it’s my fault. That it’s some personal failing of me the individual that keeps me from standing up in solidarity with my fellow humans of color and using my privilege to enact change.
Being a racist in America isn’t a character flaw. It’s the inescapable consequence of having been born into a racialized society. And yet we throw the term racist at people as an insult, as something that others them from us, distances them, casts them out; when, in reality, most of us are racists to some extent. I was bred to be a racist just like you were, and it’s time to really let that sink in. All the way down to our marrow.
In the context of Holistic Peer Counseling, this is my chance to name my Racist Pattern and call it forth from the shadows. My chance to take a long, hard critical look at my thoughts and behaviors, and see them for what they are; to stop identifying with them. To stop listening to the “truths” my family and upbringing planted in my mind about who men of color are and what they want. To stop blaming people of color for their economic circumstances when the reality of how they got there has more to do with blatantly unfair advantages handed out to my ancestors.
Those who reap the benefits of past actions—and the privileges that have come from whiteness are certainly among those—have an obligation to take responsibility for our use of those benefits. –Tim Wise
Honestly, I’m damn tired of living in this filth; this inherited cesspool of inequity and blind entitlement that I had no hand in creating. This country where white supremacy mixes with a brutal class system, patriarchy, and Christian hegemony to create a reality where the people who should be allies fighting the real criminals are instead stuck waging war against one another.
This is just the beginning of the conversation for me and I’m only 1/4 of the way through the book from which I’ve collected the powerful quotes you see here. It’s my intent to flesh out and describe the particulars of my upbringing and how they informed my racism as it exists today, and I’ll be sharing that with you here as those stories develop.
I’m a fledgling anti-racist; my feathers not yet dry, my legs wobbly. But I have to draw a line in the sand and that begins here. I will no longer be silent or hide my anger at the injustices I see. I encourage you to join me. Because we may not have built this glass house we’re living in, but I believe it is our duty to start throwing some big goddamn rocks.
It’s about responsibility; not because we are guilty, but because we are here. Guilt is how you feel because of what you’ve done; responsibility is what you take because of who you are. –paraphrased from Pathology of White Privilege
As I gain momentum, I anticipate reading more books and perspectives on this topic, and I fully intend for those to include stories from people of color. Because I totally get the irony of beginning my anti-racist education by reading and quoting a white male exclusively. I’ll be amending this post to include more resources as I discover them. For now, I am personally recommending the work of Tim Wise.
- White Like Me: Reflections on Race from a Privileged Son (link to Tim’s site with click-through to Amazon)
- Pathology of White Privilege (link to YouTube video)
- Between Barack and a Hard Place: Challenging Racism, Privilege, and Denial in the Age of Obama (link to YouTube video)
I’ve been reading more on this topic and can now recommend the following:
- Michelle Alexander. The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness
- Adrienne Keene. Native Appropriations
- bell hooks. We Real Cool: Black Men and Masculinity and The Will to Change: Men, Masculinity, and Love