¡Viva la opresión!

Recently I have been struck by the profoundly embedded nature of certain –isms.

Most people would agree that, in the professional world – the glass ceiling, wage differentials and the occasional sexual harassment lawsuit not withstanding – sexism is a phenomenon that rarely rears its ugly head. ;-)

Seriously, most women would probably agree that their male colleagues don’t apparently treat them any differently because they are women. Their professional opinion and expertise are respected. Their voice is heard and considered. They are not (obviously) leered at. Most men would spontaneously agree that they see no difference in ability and potential contribution between their male and female colleagues.

Similarly, most people would agree that differently abled people are not sufficiently catered for by society. When our privilege is pointed out to us, we feel ashamed and we agree that more should be done. We even vow to try and be more inclusive ourselves, to think about the difficulties that the blind person, the deaf person or the wheelchair-user confront daily.

Yet, those are conscious thoughts. Reasoned reflections. They are not knee-jerk reactions conditioned into us. The reality is very different. Continue reading

‘What Happens When White People Change’

bell hooks:

Love of justice cannot be sustained if it is only a manipulation to be with the in-crowd, whoever they may be.  Many white folks worked for civil rights, then passively dropped the struggle when critiqued by people of color or told by them they were not wanted.  Anti-racist white folks recognize that their ongoing resistance to white supremacism is genuine when it is not determined in any way by the approval or disapproval of people of color.  This does not mean that they do not listen and learn from critique, but rather they understand fully that their choice to be anti-racist must be constant and sustained to give truth to the reality that racism can end.

From Teaching Community.

Speaking out and up

So you’re at a party and someone in the group you’re mingling with mentions that they went for a job interview. The job paid really badly, and the person says, “of course, they’re Jewish”.

Another day, you’re in Chinatown and you walk past a tourist pulling the corners of their eyes while having their photo taken in front of a pagoda-like building.

Then you’re driving along in a car with a friend who’s talking about visiting an apartment. Your friend says that the apartment was quite nice but that the family next door are Indian and they wouldn’t want to live there because the place would be bound to stink of curry all the time.

What do you do? Be honest.

“The limits of my language mean the limits of my world” – Ludwig Wittgenstein, philosopher

Over on antiracistparent.com, there was a post about the importance to anti-racist parenting of learning other languages.

The responses indicate that learning other languages

  • encourages respect of other cultures and races
  • shows children that it is important to embrace cultures that are different
  • shows children that we, as parents, value other cultures
  • shows people of other cultures that we appreciate who they are and what they have to say

Only one brave person ventured that learning another language brings a deep understanding of that culture, and can lead to global understanding.
Continue reading

There is no hierarchy of oppressions

Audre Lorde:

I was born Black, and a woman. I am trying to become the strongest person I can become to live the life I have been given and to help effect change toward a liveable future for this earth and for my children. As a Black, lesbian, feminist, socialist, poet, mother of two including one boy and a member of an interracial couple, I usually find myself part of some group in which the majority defines me as deviant, difficult, inferior or just plain “wrong.”

From my membership in all of these groups I have learned that oppression and the intolerance of difference come in all shapes and sexes and colors and sexualities; and that among those of us who share the goals of liberation and a workable future for our children, there can be no hierarchies of oppression. I have learned that sexism (a belief in the inherent superiority of one sex over all others and thereby its right to dominance) and heterosexism (a belief in the inherent superiority of one pattern of loving over all others and thereby its right to dominance) both arise from the same source as racism-a belief in the inherent superiority of one race over all others and thereby its right to dominance.

“Oh,” says a voice from the Black community, “but being Black is NORMAL!” Well, I and many Black people of my age can remember grimly the days when it didn’t used to be!

I simply do not believe that one aspect of myself can possibly profit from the oppression of any other part of my identity. I know that my people cannot possibly profit from the oppression of any other group which seeks the right to peaceful existence. Rather, we diminish ourselves by denying to others what we have shed blood to obtain for our children. And those children need to learn that they do not have to become like each other in order to work together for a future they will all share.

What white educators can do

“White on White: Exploring White Racial Identity, Privilege, and Racism,” Elizabeth Denevi, Independent School 63 no4 78-82, 84-7 Summer 2004.

* Explore your own whiteness; become firmly rooted and aware of your own ethnic identity; think about what it means to be white in your school.
* See yourself as diverse; make sure that “multicultural” is not synonymous with “other than white.”
* Distinguish between individual and group identity.
* Understand the social, political, and historical role of teaching:
* We will teach the way we were taught unless we learn another way.
* Teachers are not neutral; teaching strategies and methods are not objective.
* We all speak from a particular standpoint based on our experiences.
* There is no essential, observable single truth; rather, there are multiple truths.
* Everything is not relative, but rather we recognize that cognition, the way we think and learn, is dependent upon experience and context.
* Understand and implement multicultural teaching strategies; design a curriculum that is explicitly anti-racist; be committed to raising issues of identity development in my classroom.
* Learn the distinction between speaking for someone and speaking with someone; be committed to dialogue, as opposed to discussion, when appropriate.
* Recognize the difference between intentions and outcomes. As Ellis Cose writes in The Rage of the Privileged Class (1993), schools are full of people “who, without intending to, create racial hurdles or hostility, manage to create a fair amount of both. That they cannot see what they have done is due partly to the fact that they meant no harm and partly to a disinclination to examine whether the assumptions they hold dear are in accord with reality.”
* Practice “distinguishing” behavior: interrupting prejudice and/or racism, advocating for social justice, being an ally, using your privilege to dismantle systems of oppression.

The model of the white ally

TEACHING WHITE STUDENTS ABOUT RACISM: THE SEARCH FOR WHITE ALLIES AND THE RESTORATION OF HOPE, By: Tatum, Beverly Daniel, Teachers College Record, 0161-4681, June 1, 1994, Vol. 95, Issue 4

In fact, another model does exist. There is a history of white protest against racism, a history of whites who have resisted the role of oppressor and who have been allies to people of color. Unfortunately these whites are often invisible to students; their names are unknown.

Think back to the beginning of this article. How many names of white antiracists were on the tip of your tongue? If students have studied the civil rights era (many of my students are poorly informed about this period of history), they may know about Viola Liuzzo and Michael Schwerner and other whites killed for their antiracist efforts. But who wants to be a martyr? Do they know about white allies who spoke up, who worked for social change, who resisted racism and lived to tell about it? How did these white allies break free from the confines of the racist socialization they surely experienced to redefine themselves in this way? These are the voices that many white students are hungry to hear. Continue reading

Intent and the law

Charles R. Lawrence III, The Id, the Ego, and Equal Protection: Reckoning with Unconscious Racism, Stanford Law Review, January 1987.

Scholarly and judicial efforts to explain the constitutional significance of disproportionate impact and governmental motive in cases alleging racial discrimination treat these two categories as mutually exclusive. That is, while disproportionate impact may be evidence of racially discriminatory motive, whether impact or motive is the appropriate focus is normally posed in the alternative: Should racially disproportionate impact, standing alone, trigger a heightened level of judicial scrutiny? Or, should the judiciary apply a deferential standard to legislative and administrative decisions absent proof that the decisionmakers intended a racial consequence? Put another way, the Court thinks of facially neutral actions as either intentionally and unconstitutionally or unintentionally and constitutionally discriminatory. Continue reading

The other side

bell hooks, Rock My Soul: Black People and Self-Esteem

Living in a White-supremacist culture, Black people receive the message daily, through both mass media and our interactions with an unenlightened White world, that to be Black is to be inferior and subordinate. Our Blackness is seen as a threat to be subdued or eliminated. Such a cultural context hardly prepares us to embrace healthy self-esteem.

In fact, Black people who do possess healthy self-esteem often find that we are more likely to face racist attacks, precisely because we do not fit the negative stereotypes of Black identity that many White people feel comfortable with. Black people with self-esteem are often told by unenlightened Whites–even some individuals who are liberal and friendly–that we are not “really Black.” In telling us this, these Whites do not see themselves as expressing racism; they feel they are offering us a special place. Yet there is, in these words, an attempt to seduce us away from loving Blackness, to undermine the very self-esteem that, by its existence, eliminates White supremacist domination.

Let’s face it: If all Black people were able to cultivate healthy self-esteem, institutionalized racism might continue to exist, but White supremacist domination would no longer have a place in our psyches or in our intimate lives. As Lerone Bennet, Jr., was fond of saying: “The last bastion of White supremacy is in the Black man’s mind.”

Internalized racism has been a feature of Black life in the United States from the very first moment Black people found that White people would reward them, be kinder to them, and like them better if they showed a higher regard for Whiteness than Blackness. There were no doubt many such moments during slavery, moments that became more pronounced as the rape of Black females by White males produced Black people who were fair-skinned and automatically deemed better in racist iconography.

When civil-rights advocates fought for racial desegregation, they did not produce documents addressing how the self-esteem of Black folks might be damaged by interactions with White folks who had not unlearned White supremacist thinking and action. In the late sixties and early seventies, it was often just assumed that White people who chose to hang out with Black people liked them, and that their friendly association with Blacks assured that these Whites were free of racist attitudes and behavior. It was a gesture of low self-esteem that some Black folks felt better about themselves when liked by a White person.