The first step to change is awareness of the problem

“ … humanity comes out in a variety of strange forms now-a-days, and there is no end to the odd things that humane people will say and do” (Stowe, 1852/2003, p. 8).

This narrative is a quote from abolitionist Harriet Beecher Stowe’s (1852/2003), Uncle Tom’s Cabin. The book, at one time, was second only to the Bible in terms of sales. The context of the quote is the purchase of a slave and the seller’s silent objection to the buyer’s sentiment that the slave is property before person. I hope that most white people today are abhorrent to the idea of slavery, but based on our current treatment of immigrants, I’m not so certain. Politics is an institution that doesn’t surrender its power easily … especially politics rooted in white supremacy.

Saskatoon Fight Against Racism Campaign
Saskatoon Fight Against Racism Campaign (Megginson, 2017).

How can I, as one white man, fight the system? Herein lies the argument that allows white fragility to keep us entrenched in white privilege and racial injustice. Our silence and perceived powerlessness is our “odd thing”. Let me rephrase that, and instead of speaking of the societal us, let me say it is my “odd thing” that goes against my value system. One that I have failed to strive to change, because I have been color blind, taught to treat people equally, and am a Christian … all of which I addressed in my previous three posts and illustrated how they have served to perpetuate racism versus eradicating it. I can no longer claim these three truths but can only use these statements as an impetus for change. It is time to move from problem to solution. But how to you address an invisible and systemic problem.

As a researcher, I discovered there is hope that change is possible when it comes to racial injustice, perceived or factual. Stewart et al. (2010) conducted a study allowing white undergraduate students to work on a math project or a social justice project on racial inequity at their university. Over 90% chose the social justice project. The project involved reading a statement on the lack of African American role models, followed be a fictional statement of inequity in the number of positions of black versus white faculty at the university not due to qualifications. They then read a section about white privilege immediately afterwards and were required to write an anonymous letter to the university calling administrators to address this inequity. Findings suggested acting to resolve this social justice increased feelings of self-efficacy when working towards a positive common goal to remedy the situation. Important here is the desire to change expressed by the white undergraduates and the desire to work together to address social issues.

Back to my original question of how may I, as a Christian white man, talk with other white men and women of faith, on the topic of white fragility to be a change agent to fight against racism? Megginson (2017)While I am just one person, I am one person writing a blog to educate my white friends on becoming aware of the biases that we hold unknowingly. The blog is public and available for comments. I have also invited several black friends and colleges to co-facilitate. I am posting my links to my entries on Facebook and asking members of my church to join me in the conversation. DiAngelo (2018) acknowledge that while we can’t change the world, we can facilitate change through awareness of our own biases.

References

Diangelo, R. (2018). White fragility: Why it’s so hard for white people to talk about racism. Beacon Press.

Megginson, T. (2017, July 5). Saskatchewan, Canada billboard [Photograph]. https://osocio.org/message/canadian-city-tackles-white-privilege-in-anti-racism-campaign/

Stewart, T., Latu, I., Branscombe, N., & Denney, H. (2010). Yes we can! Prejudice reduction through seeing (inequality) and believing (in social change). Psychological Science, 21(11), 1557-1562.

Stowe, H. B. (2003). Uncle Tom’s cabin: Barnes & Noble Books. (Original work published 1852)

What color is your Jesus?

Cristo Negro de Esquipulas
Cristo Negro de Esquipulas (2019).

In my research question, I pose the question on how, I, as a Christian, can help in shattering the frozen face of white fragility and talk openly about race. I find it curious that the majority of representations of Christ I see, picture a white Christ. Geographically, I don’t see how Christ could have been white. Christ was middle eastern, so he had to at least be brown, and as far as I am concerned, a black Jesus would make geographical sense. So why do we (white Christians) usually portray Christ as white? Of those pictures that show a black Jesus, most are associated with the crucified Christ versus the everyday living, breathing, eating, and miracle working Jesus (Marsh, 2004). Marsh (2004) posits when  we (white Christians) see pictures of everyday black Jesus, we cannot relate and cannot see ourselves in a crowd of black and brown people following a black Jesus. DiAngelo (2018) would argue that this is a result of our racism being so deeply embedded within our society we are blinded by our own white colored glasses.

Black Jesus
Black Jesus (Marsh, 2013).

When I went back to college at the age of 43 to finish my bachelors and pursue my masters, I did so at a primarily white, fundamental Christian university. As a gay man at a fundamentalist Christian university, it was a challenge to live as an out gay man, but somehow I managed. During my Christian ethics class on the immorality of homosexuality, I found myself asking my professor if I could tell my story, because, quite frankly, I wanted to put a face to the discussion. He agreed only if I would allow questions. I agreed and invariable the nature or nurture question was asked, to which I responded, nature, followed by my normal response. “If you think I chose to be gay, to experience discrimination, to be spit on, to be called faggot, to be thought of less than, then you go out and live one day as an openly gay man then come back and tell me you chose it”.

How is this relevant to the discussion? In a TedTalk on bioethics (Wolpe, 2010) show advances in bioengineering allowing us to change the color of puppies, kittens, monkeys, and pigs. He theorizes that we will eventually be able to change our skin color.

My statement to you is this … if you wouldn’t chose Black, then you might be more racist then you are willing to admit.

References

Black Christ of Esquipulas. (2019, July 8). In Wikipedia [Photograph]. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_Christ_of_Esquipulas

DiAngelo, R. (2018). White fragility: Why it’s so hard for white people to talk about racism. Beacon Press.

Marsh, C. (2004). Black Christs in white Christian perspective: Some critical reflections. Black Theology, 2(1), 45-56

Marsh, K. (2013, March 12). Was Jesus Christ black? [Photograph].  A Do-Good Movement. https://adogoodmovement.wordpress.com/2013/03/12/was-jesus-christ-black/

Wolpe, P. R. (2010, November).  It’s time to question bio-engineering [Video]. TED Conferences. https://www.ted.com/talks/paul_root_wolpe_it_s_time_to_question_bio_engineering

Family Values

Wisdom Personified
Wisdom Personified (Cook-Snell, 2019).

To the left is a picture from my Facebook feed (Cook-Snell, 2018). My mother is standing next to a member from my local church. Both women are in their 80s and have experienced a rich and full life. The caption I gave the picture in my post is “wisdom personified”. I can only imagine the experiences both women have had, to include gender discrimination, separate but equal segregation, and the civil rights movement. But clearly and instinctively we know that each experienced separate but equal in vastly different contexts.

How does this become important in the discussion on white fragility? I grew up in a family that taught me not to judge based on what I now call the colorblind fallacy. As DiAngelo (2018) observes, “A racism-free upbringing is not possible, because racism is a social system embedded in the culture of and its institutions”. Research supports this observation (Smith & Ross, 2006). Smith and Ross (2006) examined to what extent the beliefs of parents shaped the beliefs of their children. The participants in the study were undergraduate students, who we could now assume, had come to adopt some of their own beliefs that may or may not be the same as their family. The researchers found there to be a slight correlation between the belief of the mother and that of the child.

https://pics.me.me/my-grandpa-racist-jokes-tsof-my-theres-family-during-thanksgiving-dinner-37696436.png
While my mother grew up in Alabama in a lower-class family, she still grew up white. She grew up in an error when black people were still referred to as colored people. When we would visit, as a child I still heard the label colored from my aunts, uncles, and grandparents. My uncles also made frequent use of the “n” word. I cringed then and I still cringe now because instinct told me they were really saying colored people were good, but not equal, and “n” people were bad, and not to be trusted. It was ok to associated with “the colored” but “the n”. Today, fewer of these relatives are living but of those that are, the only thing change is colored to black. The rest remains the same.

Racism in the Family
Racism in the Family (Onsizzle.com, n.d.).

After reading DiAngelo (2018), now I have a moral dilemma, what do I say to the seniors in my family when the talk starts again, and it invariable will, so aptly illustrated in the picture to the right (Onsizzle.com, n.d.)?

References

Cook-Snell, B. (2019, October 28). Wisdom personified [Image attached] [Status update] Facebook. https://www.facebook.com/brett.cook.104

Diangelo, R. (2018). White fragility: Why it’s so hard for white people to talk about racism. Beacon Press.

Onsizzle.com. (n.d.) [Photograph]. https://pics.me.me/my-grandpa-racist-jokes-tsof-my-theres-family-during-thanksgiving-dinner-37696436.png

Smith, S., & Ross, L. (2006). Environmental and family associations With racism 1. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 36(11), 2750-2765. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.0021-9029.2006.00126.x

Color-blindness is a medical condition not a social excuse

Chessboard with Opening Move
Chessboard with Opening Move (Chessbazaar.com, 2019).

Look at the chessboard in the picture from Chessbazaar.com (2019). What colors do you see? If you said black and white, then you cannot claim color-blindness. Color-blindness is a medical condition not a social excuse.

Recently I had a conversation with a colleague in which they stated they were color-blind when it came to race. They asserted that when they look at people and speak with people, the color of the person does not come into play, but they look at that person as an individual and judge them based upon their merit, not their color. In theory, I would have liked to agreed with the individual, and probably would have had I not just finished reading White fragility: Why it’s so hard for white people to talk about racism (DiAngelo, 2019), as part of a college wide read at the university I work.

As DiAngelo (2019) so aptly illustrates in describing a similar conversation between her black male co-facilitator during a workshop and a white woman who made the same assertion as my colleague, the black male facilitator responded, “Then how will you see racism?” (p. 42). Not seeing his color served only to affirm the white woman’s experience while denying his. Claiming not to see color, argues DiAngelo, continues the status quo of white privilege; albeit subtlety. It excuses the individual by fooling them into complacency because of their already achieved state of enlightenment. When, in reality, it only services to perpetuate racism.

White Fragility
White Fragility (DiAngelo, 2018).

If I don’t see it, then I can claim I am not a racist. Racial hate crimes are only committed by fanatical, radical contingents, of which I am not a member.  But if I do see, I acknowledge racism, and therefore must be racist. I must examine my own internal racist biases that I would rather not look at, yet even talk about. And talking about it is taboo in a to a white-centric society (Sue, 2013).

Returning to my story, as I sat listening to my colleague, I found myself more concerned with what they would think about me and fear I was judging them if I talked about how color-blindness is a white fallacy. Sadly, all I could do was mumble something about the college wide read of DiAngelo (2018) and leave it at that. I placed the burden of proof on a book, not on a relationship. But at least it was a start, however feeble.

Now look at the picture again and tell me the colors you see … it’s your move (and mine)!

References

Chessbazar.com. (2019). Combo of 2016 bridle series luxury chess set with wooden board in ebony wood / box wood – 4.2″ king [Photograph]. https://www.chessbazaar.com/combo-of-2016-bridle-series-luxury-chess-set-with-wooden-board-in-ebony-wood-box-wood-4-2-king.html

Diangelo, R. (2018). White fragility: Why it’s so hard for white people to talk about racism. Beacon Press.

Sue, D. W. (2013). Race talk: The psychology of racial dialogues. American Psychologist, 68(8), 663-672. doi:10.1037/a0033681