The Inevitable Oops: What Can We (White Folks) Do When We Mess Up?

Mistake-making and my relationship with it have increasingly occupied my thoughts since my last blog post. In fact, I have been working on writing the following for quite some time, delayed because of both life circumstances and finding more and more to say.  So expect additional posts on this subject soon. 

Many years ago, one of my African American graduate school classmates spoke of how much harder racism was for him in western Massachusetts than in southern Florida where he grew up, attended segregated public schools, and experienced school integration.  I remember him explaining how the overt, blatantly hateful racism he encountered in Florida was expected.  It was predictable. He could sometimes intentionally avoid it.  But the racism among liberal white people in liberal western Massachusetts was more insidious.  It lurked around corners, hid in shadows, and rarely gave any warning before it showed its face…

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I Drank the White Supremacy Kool-Aid, Too (and How You Can Help Charlottesville)

Let’s get real about the recent horrifying events in Charlottesville: the venomous hatred on display was just as much about Christian hegemony, patriarchy, and other forms of oppression as it was about racism.  Because in the paradigm of neo-Nazis, the KKK, and white nationalists, slap a yellow star on my shirt and my race is “Jew.”  (If the concept of Christian hegemony is new to you, please read Lewis Schlosser’s powerful article, “Christian Privilege: Breaking a Sacred Taboo.”)  Over the last year, I have experienced a deep fear for my safety and for the safety of my Jewish friends and family: a fear from which my skin color, European heritage, and geography have largely protected me during my life. 

And let’s also get real about the media coverage and national discourse since the events in Charlottesville: if the verbal and physical violence were carried out by Muslim extremists or black or brown people, the narrative would be different.  This week, the terrorists in Charlottesville have been described as members of fringe groups.  The media has covered myriad white, Christian community leaders and public officials who condemned the white supremacists’ rhetoric and actions.  Despite the fact that neo-Nazi, KKK, and white nationalist groups are responsible for the majority of terrorist attacks and resulting deaths in the U.S., Christianity is not on trial...

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Breaking Down the "Good White People" Paradigm

Confession time: I want people of color to see me as a “good white person.”  My brain knows that the dichotomy of good white people and bad white people is not useful or accurate, it reinforces the social divisions that feed racism, and it prevents white people from being honest about their own unintentionally internalized belief in white superiority.  My brain tells me that being seen as a good white person is not the point of the work. 

And yet, at the White Privilege Conference in April where I was both a workshop presenter and a white affinity group facilitator, there was a moment in which I was acutely aware of wanting to be a good white person.  I was attending a workshop about unlearning internalized white dominance.  The presenters were white, there was only one participant of color, and the room was packed.  When the presenters put up a slide asserting that white people believe in white superiority, a white man spoke up: “Isn’t that a stereotype about white people?”  Immediately, there was a buzz of incredulity around the room.  A white woman near me said, quite audibly, “Seriously?! You believe that?” ...

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How Racism Harms White People

It was the beginning of the school year, and I was in first grade.  I lived in an almost entirely white rural town in Connecticut, and it was three months before I would move close to a city.  Even though I was in a large classroom, my only memory is of the bubble of space around my desk.  “Don’t talk to her.  She’s dirty,” a white boy said to me.  I turned to my right and saw a girl sitting at the desk adjacent to mine.  She was looking straight ahead at the front of the room, and her skin was slightly darker than mine.  Was she dirty? I wondered.  Was he right?  Should I heed his warning and stay away from her?  I was confused and afraid.

This is my only memory of that classroom.  As I think back on this brief interaction, I am incensed.  My insides wrench, and I feel hot tears in my eyes.  My heart breaks for that girl as I imagine the ways in which her sense of self-worth, confidence, and belonging were undoubtedly and unrelentingly assaulted at that school.  Yet my heart also breaks for my child self.  I remember that scene the way one often remembers trauma: in vivid detail...

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Unpacking "Mommy, I'm Glad I'm White"

A full month after my kids’ school year ended, they are still excitedly filling out their summer reading logs from our local public library.  Their devouring of books has made me think anew about the responsibility parenting adults and educators have to expose all children to diverse characters with a wide array of lived experiences, family structures, and identities.

However, for those of us who are white and have white children, we don’t have to look far to find books that have a variety of characters who look like us.  In fact, we don’t really have to look at all.  In contrast, children of color’s parents must spend extra time digging, researching, and sifting through bookshelves to find quality literature that has visual representations of their children.  While I and many other white parents also spend this extra time, our children’s sense of belonging and self-worth are not at stake...

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