It has occurred to me that if I were to blog more often, I would probably spend so much less time staring at a blank page, wondering where to begin. I’d spend less time on background info and more time making my point. So, I mentioned attending a Language Exchange with members of the Worker Rights Center, and their Wage Theft Campaign. The part I kept saying I would mention later, was that I had offered to nominate the Center for my congregation’s Share the Plate program, as they’ve recently lost some funding. The feedback I got was that financial contributions were certainly welcome, but what they really wanted was opportunities for workers to share their personal stories with various faith groups as part of their Wage Theft Campaign. So I said, I’ll look into what kind of options there are to be a guest speaker for one of our lay led services, and since I figured UUCP’s sermons were probably scheduled pretty far out, I’ll ask if there’s any interest from our sister congregation. One thing led to another, and if things work as I’m hoping, the WRC will be sharing their stories as part of a “Labor Sunday” service at one of our sister congregations here in the Valley.
This isn’t a campaign I ever saw myself involved in, but I was really touched by the time I spent with WRC workers. It seemed like I could make a meaningful contribution, even if it was just knocking on doors until someone said yes. I’ve found myself volunteering to become more involved in the campaign and some other potential projects.
I’ve been thinking a great deal about my role as an ally. I’ve had to check myself a few times, ready to run full steam ahead with some fabulous idea (some of y’all know these as “Cyndi’s delusions of grandeur”), because this isn’t my party. I was invited to the party, then I volunteered to be a party planner, but the theme and the vision of the party are not mine. If I don’t keep that in mind, I am no longer an ally. So I stop and turn around, and ask for feedback and direction.
I was reading an article I came across at No More Deaths called Becoming An Ally. It’s a really good article overall, but I particularly like the How to section. I’ve crossed the borders of faith, culture, race, and language many times in one one one situations. I’ve crossed them as part of a multifaceted group in a supporting role, but never as an organizer. I’ve tried to keep these things in mind as I navigate my first effort at organizing an interfaith effort with racial, class, cultural, and language barriers.
Maybe it’s because this is so present in my mind right now, that I feel stung by comments from some of my fellow activists and members of my church family about the UniteAZ White Ribbon Campaign. These criticisms don’t seem to recognize the diverse theological and political views of our allied groups or their individual members.
I have friends who have worked tirelessly on the UniteAZ campaign and I have friends who feel it’s the wrong approach. I don’t see them often, but these are people who awe and inspire me with their passion and dedication. People who light up my heart every time I see them with the sheer force of their spirit, people that I can’t help but embrace when I see them. People I have prayed for, cried for, who have graced me with their support in my personal growth as an activist, their presence in my home, their gifts of serving as mentors and role models for my children and probably in many other ways I haven’t even begun to realize.
While the UUA at large and the Arizona congregations in particular have a special relationship with Puente, one in which we need to be accountable, we are also accountable to Somos America, Arizona Dream Act Coalition, National Council of La Raza… all of which have endorsed this campaign.
So when there is division among members of targeted communities, what is our role as allies?
The work that Puente does is critical, and I am a passionate supporter of their efforts. When push comes to shove, you will find me wherever the drums are nine times out of ten. That’s just me… in your face, ready to burn your eyelashes with the candle or slap you with a light bulb if that’s what it takes (but very gently, and with much love though… I promise).
But not everybody is comfortable in that role, and more importantly, there are people who will never be reached that way. I’ve seen people slow down and read the protest signs, seen looks of contemplation cross their faces, and I’ve prayed that they will seek out more information that will lead them, ultimately, to seek justice. But I’ve seen just as many people go out of their way to avoid coming close enough for direct eye contact. Those people might shove a flyer in their pocket, and look at it later…. and may also feel the call to justice.
I may not always agree with certain viewpoints or actions from individuals or groups, but I will always honor their path in this struggle. Who are we to say the effort of one targeted group is better than that of another in their fight for justice? We are still tripping over our own insecurities and inadequacies. It is not for us, as allies, to choose sides among our friends or tell our allies what kind of party to throw when half the time we can’t even figure out what we’re supposed to bring to the potluck.
- Where is the justice? (curlykidz.wordpress.com)
- Recall Election Set For Arizona “Papers Please” Law Sponsor (lezgetreal.com)
- What it Means to be an Ally for Racial Equity – Rev. Sam Trumbore (timesunion.com)
- Is Arizona Finally Fed Up with Right-Wing Politics? (time.com)
Last Sunday I was stopped by a member of my congregation… someone from what I call my church family. She mentioned THIS is why I cannot, will not, comply, written after I explained to my son that I would probably (or not) be arrested on the National Day of Non-Compliance.
After confiding that she’d been thinking about that blog entry ever since, she started to talk about all the different classifications of Americans… Mexican, African, Native, Chinese etc.
I have to confess that I got a little nervous. Because the only thing harder than talking about race with people who are not white, in my experience, is talking about race with people who are. And I felt my shield go up, because I’ve heard one or two profoundly stupid things said in my church home, and I wasn’t sure what was coming. I was afraid it would be some argument about how all those prefixes should be dropped, and my mind was racing because I hadn’t been mentally prepared for a “that thing you said” conversation. But then she asked, “But what am I? Am I Caucasian or European American?” And I responded cautiously, still not sure where we were headed, “Well, there would be Italian, German, and Irish American…”
And then she asked the million dollar question. What can she do, in her day-to-day interactions, to challenge the assumption that Americans are of European descent by default, and everything else is “other.”
I wish I’d had a better answer. I’m a unusal case (in more ways than one, I know…) in that outside of work and church on Sunday, very few people who I see on a daily or weekly basis are white. I shared with her that I make it a point (with people who tend to use race or ethnicity to describe others when it is not relevant to the conversation), to mention EVERYONE’S race (aka, my “this white lady at walgreens” story), I don’t have those kinds of conversations often.
Tonight I was at a volunteer meeting for the Community Posada and someone (not white) mentioned Euro-Americans in a conversation, which was the motivation I needed to write this post and not table it until after I get all the other drafts in my head published. Most of the discussion on what I write happens in the link comments on my Facebook wall, but for the sake of centralizing feedback and hopefully providing some ideas and resources for others, I’d like to ask people to comment here and not on FB. You don’t need to sign up for an account to comment.
I want to hear from my Anglo/Euro/Caucasian American readers. Do you consciously use language to counteract the assumption that Americans are white by default? What does that sound like? How and when do you use it? What kind of reactions do you get? If you don’t, what kind of ideas do you have?
Thanks to all of you in advance, and a very special thanks to my sister. You renewed my faith last Sunday, as well as my commitment to continue witnessing, LOUDLY, about the costs of racism to white people. As proud as we may be to fight for justice, we need to acknowledge that we are also fighting for our own humanity.
A PS… This was written as a call for reflection & discussion to white/euro/anglo/gring@ people because I feel strongly we need to take more responsibility in creating equality and justice for all. People of privilege shouldn’t be looking to the people who are being oppressed to show us the light when we’re holding the matches and candles. That said, if you don’t fall into the targeted demographic and you have a suggestion about how we can do better or want to point out something we may do with the best of intentions that we really shouldn’t, jump right in.
- Own Your Beauty: On Being Multi-Racial in the Racist, Rural South (blogher.com)
- Why Racial Profiling Persists in Medical Research (time.com)
- All Are Alike Unto God: A Reaction to Margaret Blair Young and Darius Aidan Gray’s _Standing On the Promises_ Series (motleyvision.org)
There is an attitude among many parent-peers of mine in the DC metro area that frequently astounds me – parents I meet feel that by being “color blind” themselves, that somehow (magically?) their children will be open-minded, accepting, and capable of navigating complicated racial situations.
There really is no other way to say it…it’s a huge parenting failure. Maybe in an Utopian society we could all have the privilege of being “color blind,” but we live in the real world and only a fool thinks that color doesn’t matter on this planet.
A recent study by the Children’s Research Lab at the University of Texas backs up my POV on the subject. Austin area families participated in a study in which the goal was to determine “if typical children’s videos with multicultural story lines have a beneficial effect on children’s racial attitudes” (Newsweek).
There were three groups of families involved in the study. The first was group was sent home with just videos, the second group with videos and talking points, and the third group of families were given only the talking points. The last two groups were told to have conversations about race with their children every night for five nights.
At this point, something interesting happened. Five families in the last group abruptly quit the study. Two directly told Vittrup, “We don’t want to have these conversations with our child. We don’t want to point out skin color.”
Vittrup was taken aback—these families volunteered knowing full well it was a study of children’s racial attitudes. Yet once they were aware that the study required talking openly about race, they started dropping out.
“We don’t want to point out skin color.” Does that stop anyone from noticing skin color? Does that stop children from forming opinions on their own? In the absence of a guiding influence, children will substitute their own poor judgments, or worse, the hate-filled judgments of someone else.
The study went on to say:
It was no surprise that in a liberal city like Austin, every parent was a welcoming multiculturalist, embracing diversity. But according to Vittrup’s entry surveys, hardly any of these white parents had ever talked to their children directly about race. They might have asserted vague principles—like “Everybody’s equal” or “God made all of us” or “Under the skin, we’re all the same”—but they’d almost never called attention to racial differences.
They wanted their children to grow up colorblind. But Vittrup’s first test of the kids revealed they weren’t colorblind at all. Asked how many white people are mean, these children commonly answered, “Almost none.” Asked how many blacks are mean, many answered, “Some,” or “A lot.” Even kids who attended diverse schools answered the questions this way.
More disturbing, Vittrup also asked all the kids a very blunt question: “Do your parents like black people?” Fourteen percent said outright, “No, my parents don’t like black people”; 38 percent of the kids answered, “I don’t know.” In this supposed race-free vacuum being created by parents, kids were left to improvise their own conclusions—many of which would be abhorrent to their parents.
Are these parents really surprised? If you have values to impart to your children about equality, it will take more than vague statements about everyone being “the same.” Kids are smart. They know very well that we are not all “the same.” What they need to hear is that we are all uniquely different, and they need reasons to value that uniqueness. You, parents, need to find ways to value people of color. Find ways to compliment and seek out positive statements to impart to your children. Have frequent, open conversations about race. Talk about slavery, talk about segregation, talk about miscegenation, talk about stereotypes and hurtful language…talk, talk, and then talk more! Kids need to know what is acceptable and they need to see with eyes that are wide open, not color blind.
At first glance, the study appears to be a dismal failure. Many of the families did not talk about race at all, or changed the talking points. However, there was a ray of hope:
Of all those Vittrup told to talk openly about interracial friendship, only six families managed to actually do so. And, for all six, their children dramatically improved their racial attitudes in a single week. Talking about race was clearly key. Reflecting later about the study, Vittrup said, “A lot of parents came to me afterwards and admitted they just didn’t know what to say to their kids, and they didn’t want the wrong thing coming out of the mouth of their kids.”
In ONE short week, all six of those families improved the racial attitudes of their children. By TALKING. Imagine that.
I understand that parents are hesitant to talk about race for fear of saying the wrong thing. I encourage you (beg, really) to try. Seek out some material if you need it. There are books, websites, and blogs with plenty of good advice. The simplest (and most obvious) thing to do, is to seek out some interracial friendships of your own, and then talk to your friends about how to discuss race. I guarantee they will be happy to help you have positive discussions about race with your children. Also, it’s worth saying that if you espouse a desire to have children who embrace multiculturalism, and you have no friends of color, then you should practice being what you desire your children to be. If your children never see you have a meaningful friendship with someone of another race, what does that really tell them? Just food for thought.
What I do know, is that doing nothing is the wrong answer. Clearly, not talking about race leaves children confused and unsure at best, and harboring racist thoughts at worst. It’s up to parents to guide our children through complicated racial issues. It’s time to embrace the task, rather than dread it. What could be more affirming than to teach your children how to walk in this world, not colorblind, but with an appreciation for diversity and a sense of value for all people.
originally posted at Golden Acorn Homeschool » Blog Archive » Why You Should Be Talking About Race.
- Is It OK to Point Out the Differences Among Races? (race.change.org)
- Colorblind parents could handicap their biracial kids (thegrio.com)
- Getting to Post-Post-Racial (theroot.com)
- Starting the conversation (psychologytoday.com)
- Wray Herbert: Colorblind? Or Just Blind to Justice? (huffingtonpost.com)
Sometimes people say some shit that’s so stupid, you actually catch a case of stupidity yourself. It’s like the stupidity flowing out of their mouth infects you. There you are, in a state of shock, trying to figure out what the FUCK you can say to cure them, except you’re mouth is hanging open and you can’t speak. It’s like you’ve been hit upside the head with a stupid stick.
So here I am, with a pen in my hand, dumbly signing my charge slip, thinking that I just spent an awful fucking lot of money but I don’t remember asking the proprietress if she had a racist stereotype that she wouldn’t mind bagging up with my books. I checked my receipt after I left, but it wasn’t listed so I guess it must have been a perk that comes free with my white privilege card.
What’s truly mind boggling about this is that I had actually been attempting to compliment the woman on the diversity of reading materials I’d found at the annual book fair was at. In addition to the standard book fair items you expect to see (cookbooks, you’re the best kid/parent/teacher ever, box sets of all occasion greeting cards) and the racy looking novels with black women I’d noticed the year before, there were several books for teens with African American protagonists; of the three I selected as potential gifts, two were teenage boys. I’d have to read all three first to screen for content that may be too mature or stereotypes I’d want to discuss, but considering how rarely I see books with diverse characters (protagonist or otherwise) for children over the age of eight and/or that aren’t a self esteem message on steroids, not to mention how hard it can be to find books that will interest a young man, I was thrilled to see these and three others for tween/teen readers.
So it was as I was trying to tell the woman how pleased I’d been to see books with diverse racial and religious characters, she interrupts me to warn me that some of “those” books can be a little risqué. I responded that I planned to pre-read them, and again tried to express that it’s not easy to find diverse literature for my kids so it was nice that they had a selection, limited as it was… but once again I was interrupted.
Black women like their books trashy,
she tells me, voice lowered. She doesn’t want to be overheard… but because I’m white, she assumes I’ll welcome being taken into her confidence.
I struggled for a minute. I wanted so badly to insult this woman the way she had just insulted and offended me. I wanted to scream at her,
WHO THE HELL DO YOU THINK YOU’RE TALKING TO? I’m not in your fucking club. THOSE ARE MY DAUGHTERS you’re talking about. MY BEST FRIEND. MY OTHER BEST FRIEND. MY EX FUTURE MOTHER-IN-LAW (ok, so she’s Tyler’s grandmamma but I loved her first). My son’s second grade teacher, who was also my older daughter’s first Big. Her kindergarten teacher. My baby girl’s “Nani.” Three of my kids’ best friend’s mothers. Two moms I met thru volleyball that I consider good friends and among the few people of any color that I’d trust my children with.
But alienating her wasn’t going change her thinking. I didn’t know what, if anything, that I could say in that moment that would. I still don’t know the answer to that question, so all I could do was my best to tell the truth.
“I’d have to say that’s a pretty broad stereotype. I know that several of the black women I know wouldn’t consider reading those,” as I gestured to the handful of racy novels with Jezebels on the cover.
She started to backpedal with, “Well, ours beg us to get these books… they just love them.”
Ours? Really? OURS? They BEG you to sell them books they identify with, for whatever reason? ARE YOU SHITTING ME? I was about to lose my job for slugging a vendor in the cafeteria at work.
I took a big breath, and as I gathered my purchases, I said that I didn’t know if she’d noticed, but it isn’t always easy to find books with Black characters in stores, and that I know this because I am always on the lookout for books that will appeal to my own multiracial children who don’t always want to read about little white heroes & heroines, but most of the books that we have were bought online, thru Scholastic Book orders, or out of state. I pointed out that if her Black customers were excited to see the few books she carried on the bottom shelf, it might have more to do with the overall lack of availability than the taste of the individual reader.
And I walked away. I don’t know how well received my final comments were, but at least I knew that I’d made it crystal clear that she if she wanted someone to support the BS she was spewing, she was talking to the wrong one.
Hindsight is always 20/20… and looking back, I wish I had pointed out specifically how asinine it is to assume that ALL Black women like their books trashy based on the requests of a few… even if ALL the Black women in the Phoenix Metro area loved these books, simple demographics should tell you that number is not representative of ALL Black women. I also wish I had pointed out that just because SOME Black women enjoy racy novels or that particular line of books, that doesn’t mean that is the ONLY genre that they enjoy. I still wonder if I should have told her to reverse the charge and shove the books up her… never mind.
The only thing I know is that we are so not post racial. Not even close.