Posts Tagged With: Waking Up White

RevGals Anti-Racism Project: “Waking Up White” wrap-up

wuwcoverfinal-200x300We’re wrapping up our discussion of “Waking Up White” by Debby Irving this week. You are invited to reflect on the questions here, or at our Facebook group, or to join us for a Zoom video chat at 2 p.m. Eastern (US) today.

We commend to you the Presbyterian Church (USA)’s new resource developed to be used with the book, particularly appropriate for groups reading together, which you may find here.

Discussion Questions:

  • Irving writes, “Self-examination and the courage to admit to bias and unhelpful inherited behaviors may be our greatest tools for change. Allowing ourselves to be vulnerable enough to expose our ignorance and insecurities takes courage.” (p. 249) What bias or inherited behavior have you noted while reading the book?
  • While reading Irving’s book, have you noticed any difference in the way you read/listen to the news?
  • What impact would it have on your family’s history if benefits accorded to white people (lending practices, the G.I. Bill are two instances) had been available to everyone equally? To no one?
  • Irving’s book was published in 2014. Do you think things have gotten better or worse where race is concerned in the United States?
  • What if anything do you feel called to do differently after reading “Waking Up White?” Consider the “Tell Me What to Do” section at the end of the book.
  • Any other thoughts or questions? You are welcome to leave a comment.

  • The next two books in our discussion series will be:
    • Threading My Prayer Rug: One Woman’s Journey from Pakistani Muslim to American Muslim, by Sabeeha Rehman (Arcade Publishing, 2016, available in hardcover or for e-readers) – first discussion post on Wednesday, February 1st.
    • An Introduction to Womanist Biblical Interpretation, by Nyasha Junior (Westminster John Knox Press, 2015, available in paperback or for e-readers) – discussion beginning mid-March.
  • We welcome submissions to be published in this Wednesday slot in the coming months on the subject of anti-racism work. We will consider opinion pieces, personal narratives, and stories about effective anti-racism work being done in or by pastors and/or churches. Published pieces should be in the 600-800 word range. Please email Martha at revgalblogpals@gmail.com with your query.

Much of our conversation has taken place not here on the blog but in our Facebook group; if you are not a member, you may join by clicking here.


About the RevGals Anti-Racism Project: As a majority white organization incorporated in the United States, the leaders of RevGalBlogPals feel called to confront systemic racism in the U.S. As a global ministry, we feel called to oppose minority oppression and racial injustice in all nations. We hope this book discussion will be a step toward awareness and away from unconscious centering of whiteness.


RevGalBlogPals encourages you to share our blog posts via email or social media. We do not grant permission to cut-and-paste prayers and articles without a link back. For permission to use material in paper publications, please email revgalblogpals at gmail dot com.

Categories: RevGals Anti-Racism Project | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

RevGals Anti-Racism Project: Waking Up White, Week 8

“Do I remain a bystander and stay silent? Or do I become an ally and ask the hard questions about how this might affect the range of people in our community or organization? Do I dare ask explicitly if it will further advantage white people while simultaneously disadvantaging people of color? Do I dare suggest that because we are a group of all or mostly white people, we cannot possibly be thinking and acting on behalf of those who are not living the white experience?”  Waking Up White, p. 220

wuwcoverfinal-200x300In the section “Outer Work,” Debby Irving lays out some ways for white people to alter our external behavior in order to live as allies to people of color. She draws a comparison to bullying; we may try to dissuade bullies or empower their victims, but no real change is going to come as long as bystanders simply stand by and let it happen. Many of us may be comfortable in the role of bystander, able to convince ourselves that we are doing nothing actively racist, but also not doing anything to intervene in the systemic racism we observe. Irving gives the lie to the notion that there is such a thing as neutral, quoting Coretta Scott King, “even a lack of will power to help humanity is a sick and sinister form of violence.” (p. 220) She reminds the reader that we need to be aware of our place in things, to use our influence in white-dominated systems, while understanding that in this work, “the white role is a supporting one, not a leading one.” (p. 221)

That supporting role isn’t just playing second chair in an orchestra; it’s offering support through willingness to admit mistakes and move toward people instead of passively waiting for them to come to us. Irving offers an example from her own life. There was the embarrassing day when she called her daughter’s teammate by the name of the one other black student on the team while talking to the student’s mother. Knowing the historic pain of mistaken identity, and aware of her “own-race bias,” she called the other mom and apologized. Yes, she could just as easily have confused two white girls with ponytails, as her husband suggested, but it mattered to name it and be accountable. She also shares a story told by Vernā Myers about white lawyers avoiding an Asian colleague because they were not sure how to pronounce his name; they didn’t want to be impolite! (That sounds pretty lame to me, yet not a surprising excuse.) Myers points out that for people of color, learning white culture is something they just have to do. Click this link for a TED Talk with more from Myers.

And then there’s tolerance. Many years ago, a lesbian friend told me, “I would rather be hated than tolerated.” As a queer, married pastor living in a conservative area, I get this. Irving urges us toward a paradigm shift, “from assimilation (my way or the highway) or differentiation (let’s celebrate our differences) to integration – the more mature understanding that differences are powerful tools that can be used to strengthen the whole.” (p. 229) Some people would rather not know what a queer pastor could bring to the church’s ministry, or a black teacher to the lives of all children, or an Asian lawyer to the collective wisdom of a law firm, or a female politician to – well. Irving asks a particularly poignant question in light of recent political events in the U.S:

“The idea of cultivating and drawing on multiple competencies seems to me the very essence of humanity: discovering and using all our tools to maximize the potential of the group and its individuals. What if instead of ‘winner take all’ in a world of haves and have nots, a society of thriving people expanded the pie for everyone?” (p. 230)

In the chapter, “Listening,” Irving comes full circle when she learns that the leafy, green, and very white suburb in which she was raised has an effective Multicultural Network. She attends a town-wide forum and recognizes the good work being done through grass roots efforts quite the opposite of the top-down system familiar from her childhood. They did it by listening to each other, which draws through another thread from earlier in the book, that of discomfort with silence.

Talking seemed hard, too. How would Irving transition from the nice woman she had been taught she must be to an outspoken activist? A class on challenging racism helped her find a voice.

“Far from my old understanding — that conversations serve as a stage on which to prove one’s self-worth through witty banter, biographical data, or the recall of facts — authentic dialogues about race (or another complex idea, for that matter) make mutual learning, not winning or losing, the goal.” (p. 239)

  1. Can you look back and remember a time you were a bystander to racism? Can you imagine a way to change the script from that experience?
  2. Not too long ago in a group of several dozen clergy, I heard a white colleague call a black colleague by the wrong name. The two had distinct physical differences (height, features, hairstyle, clothing, voices). I heard a soft rumble that echoed by own murmur: “That’s ____.” But no one called out, stood up, spoke loudly, except the person called by the wrong name. What would you have done?
  3. Irving confesses her past limited understanding of the value of diversity, seeing people of color as “a bridge to their race.” Have you seen a system changed by embracing a fully integrated understanding?
  4. In this section, Irving offers five categories of “Outer Work.” We can stop being bystanders and become allies. We can join in solidarity with accountability. We can move past tolerance to active engagement with people who are different from us. We can listen. And we can get used to talking – in normal tones – about race. Which feels hardest to you? Which, if any, feels like a place you could start?

Please join the conversation in the comments below, and/or in our Facebook group! If you are interested in a video chat discussion of the book, mark your calendar for Wednesday, January 18, at 2 p.m. Eastern time, and email Martha at revgalblogpals@gmail.com to ask for a link to the Zoom meeting.


About the RevGals Anti-Racism Project: As a majority white organization incorporated in the United States, the leaders of RevGalBlogPals feel called to confront systemic racism in the U.S. As a global ministry, we feel called to oppose minority oppression and racial injustice in all nations. We hope this book discussion will be a step toward awareness and away from unconscious centering of whiteness.


RevGalBlogPals encourages you to share our blog posts via email or social media. We do not grant permission to cut-and-paste prayers and articles without a link back. For permission to use material in paper publications, please email revgalblogpals at gmail dot com.

Categories: RevGals Anti-Racism Project | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

RevGals Anti-Racism Project: Waking Up White, Week 7

Then you will know the truth and the truth will set you free. – Jesus, John 8:32

The truth will set you free, but first it will make you miserable. – James A. Garfield

Denial of white privilege (or any privilege) is putting your social comfort over your neighbor’s ability to live in truth. – Julia Seymour

In the section of Waking Up White called “Inner Work”, Debby Irving grapples with how she has internalized the realities, privileges, and teachings of whiteness for her whole life. Like most white people, she did not absorb these lessons as “the way white people do things”. Instead, they were imparted to her and learned as “the way things are done”. This  seemingly simple framework is actually one of the first and largest hurdles for white people (or dominant cultures) to recognize and comprehend. Whiteness isn’t the absence wuwcoverfinal-200x300of race- it is a racialized way of being in the world, one that has been privileged in appearance, cultural transmission, ways of speaking and acting, and whose racial story/history has been elevated as “the truth”.

On page 238, Irving creates a list of behaviors and beliefs that she had thought were cultural norms or at least American mores, only to come to understand that they were actually white [American] acceptable ways of being. While there is some classism evident in the list, the truth is that this list applies specifically and significantly to whites in the dominant culture. This list is not only descriptive, but it remains prescriptive as expectations for those who wish to “succeed” in American culture.

The list includes things like competitiveness, belief in one right way, defensiveness, and valuing formal education over life experience. The item that really flagged my attention was and is “right to comfort/entitlement”. Right to comfort. Right to comfort. Since reading it, I’ve rolled that phrase around in my head again and again.

It seems to me that we have seen an enormous drive toward that “right” in past few years. Black Lives Matter makes people uncomfortable. The apparent diminishment of American exceptionalism makes people uncomfortable. A black family in the White House makes people uncomfortable. Black men, women, and children moving freely in public or even being allowed to make bad choices without dying clearly makes people uncomfortable.

For most people who are on their way to being woke, there is a constant in the feeling of discomfort in realizing the extent of white privilege and how one has benefitted unknowingly and knowingly from that system. For other white folk, the denial of white privilege or the system of oppression requires vociferous support because it is easier than feeling uncomfortable. Across classes, there are white people who have been nursed at the cultural teat of white supremacy. To acknowledge and wean one’s self from that is to admit to having imbibed poison for years and, at some point, intentionally.

It becomes connected to feeling like one is or must reject one’s parents or grandparents or the “history” that formed one’s own story. Is it better to continue to build on a lie (or lies) for the sake of one’s own comfort? Does the story of our forebears as “heroes” matter more than the truth of sins committed against people of color and the way those sins still impact the lives of their children today? People at the top of the cultural mountain cannot call down to people at the bottom and say, “Put the past behind you”, all the while pushing boulders down.

This section of the book is a bit of a hamster wheel of Irving’s inner turmoil as she wrestles with the discomfort and pain of comprehending the height and depth and breadth of white cultural dominance and how it impacts and hurts people of color. With each lesson, she moves forward, but never quite as far as she hopes. The truth is that unlearning a lifetime of lessons taught through culture, family, and education takes the rest of one’s lifetime. And there is comfort in that truth, if we are willing to embrace it.

1. How would you describe your own reaction the first time you heard of white privilege or white cultural dominance? What was the example or situation that revealed that truth to you? If you still push back against the terms, please articulate how you’re wrestling with these things.

2. On page 241, Irving says, “I’m not an active snob, just a well-programmed passive one.” What kinds of snobbery exist in your life? Have you overcome any kinds of “boxes or ladders” in your thinking? Which ones still exist?

3. In chapter 38, the story of Rosie is Irving’s illustration for how she had been taught and expected all students to learn in the same way and to function in the classroom in the same manner. Do you have any experience like this in your life? Consider your church or community congregational context? What is the behavioral expectation for the majority of gatherings? Is it communal? Sage on the stage? Facilitated discussion? Freeform activity? What might be gained from considering different modes of activity on a regular basis?

4. Do you believe there is a cultural preference for comfort over truth? Please say more about your perspective.

5. In ch. 40, Irving realizes that many of her conversation starters are based around white values (work, social acceleration, dominant cultural markers). She had to learn new ways of communicating in order to break down her own ways of classifying (judging) people. What are some conversation starters that you use to bridge gaps and show interest to the person you are meeting?

 

Please join the conversation in the comments below, and/or in our Facebook group! If you are interested in a video chat discussion of the book, mark your calendar for Wednesday, January 18, at 2 p.m. Eastern time. Details will be available in the New Year.


About the RevGals Anti-Racism Project: As a majority white organization incorporated in the United States, the leaders of RevGalBlogPals feel called to confront systemic racism in the U.S. As a global ministry, we feel called to oppose minority oppression and racial injustice in all nations. We hope this book discussion will be a step toward awareness and away from unconscious centering of whiteness.


RevGalBlogPals encourages you to share our blog posts via email or social media. We do not grant permission to cut-and-paste prayers and articles without a link back. For permission to use material in paper publications, please email revgalblogpals at gmail dot com.

 

 

 

 

 

Categories: RevGalBlogPals, RevGals Anti-Racism Project | Tags: , , , , , , | 1 Comment

RevGals Anti-Racism Project: Waking Up White, Week 6

I caught this Pokemon the other day with my son. The thing that I noticed was its attacimg_2241k/defense moves are transform and struggle. In the game, I could not really care less about these things (don’t tell my kid, please!), but the idea of these as primary motions made a connection in my brain with Debby Irving’s thoughts in the section “Leaving my Comfort Zone”. In order to actually become more aware and sensitive to her internalized racism and racist behaviors, she had to choose between struggle and transform. 

It is certainly a reality that retreating into white privilege reduces struggle considerably, but it definitely takes transform off the table. Additionally, retreating into privilege is always going to have an element of struggle. One can deny the existence of privilege or tell others to “g
et over themselves” (or history), but there is a constant looking over one’s shoulder. If a person expects to ride the bus of privilege forever, one has to be constantly vigilant against those who may want a seat on that bus and one in the front, no less. Maintaining privilege will be a struggle.

If a white person decides, like Irving, to do the work toward transforming- it will be work. Irving describes a conference she attended in which she was, as a white person, in the racial minority of the conference attendees. Yet in one of the sessions, she slipped into her comfortable role of “[white] person who knows how to help”. I put white in brackets in that last sentence because Irving had to learn, as do many of us, how she was viewed by the other people in the session. Her race could not be separated from how she had acted. She had to learn that just as she had done that for many years to other people, now it was being applied to her. (And rightly so.)

The trick for me has been learning to stay in the conversation long enough to get to the other side, where niceness gives way to authenticity, understanding, and trust, the ingredients necessary for social stability. (214)

White people have had the power and privilege for so long that it is extremely easy not to realize how quickly we offer advice when 1) we haven’t been asked, 2) our advice mistrusts or discredits the real, lived experience of people of color, and 3) what we offer often attempts to make that experience or expression more palatable to white eyes/eyes/tastes, rather than acknowledging the panoply of possibilities in experiences of culture, truth-telling, food, or anything else. We have to learn to listen, to absorb, and to sit with discomfort. This is not only because it is the experience of people of color all the time, but because the world does not actually revolve around us or our ability to understand. White privilege has made an idol of white comfort. 

Here is my confession: I try to follow as many people of color as I can on Twitter and I pay attention to the timelines of PoC on Facebook, as a friend or a follower. I realize this is a step removed from actual engagement, but my engagement is neither necessary or expected in these arenas (unless requested, on occasion). Instead, I am trying to learn about how things look to eyes that are not living with my privilege. (Oh, how I wish the “p-word” didn’t apply to me, but it does and I have to learn to live with that and to exploit it for good and not for evil.) Paying attention to these streams of conversation has helped me to understand more about daily micro-aggressions, the way the dominant culture teaches history (especially around holidays), and the ways PoC push back on line and in real life. I take cues from this on how I can grow as an ally. I have to watch and listen. And I have to sit with truths that are not mine, but hurt me none the less.

In this section, Irving reveals how she learned that feelings and expressing them is an actual thing.

It’s true; not all white families adopt the dominant WASP culture as thoroughly as mine did. However, for centuries, people have learned that in America’s classrooms, boardrooms, and public place, those who most often succeed are those who conform to the dominant culture prototype, which demands emotional restraint. (205)

Rather than face feelings like anger, embarrassment, or guilt head-on, my first reaction usually involved an urge to run, defend myself, blame someone, or have a stiff drink. (204)

Her cultural experience is not mine. There were many things expressed through yelling and tears and swearing in my family of origin. However, I was also taught that doing those things could “undermine one’s argument”. This is something that I often hear about #BlackLivesMatter protests or actions- that stopping traffic or blocking official buildings or destruction (NOT a sanctioned activity of #BLM) undermine the requests of the people involved. I don’t think so.

How many times have you found yourself yelling (or raising your voice) and the person to whom you are speaking is affronted by the loudness, though you know they did not respond the first 2 – 57 you spoke to them? Similarly, people of color have striven to draw attention to white privilege, to the imbalances of power, to the daily and life-long oppressions they face and have not been heard or have been ignored or have been given a list to “achieve” before changes will occur. The time for yelling has arrived. Dealing with the emotional blowback of years of oppression is not on the oppressed, it is on the oppressor. It is time to struggle (work to maintain the status quo) or transform (do the work of changing society, understanding that nothing will be the same).

 

  1. What did you learn about expressing feelings in your family of origin or from your social group growing up? How were grief, anger, frustration, or pride viewed and responded to? How do you think race, class, and personal histories affected those responses?
  2. Have you ever been in the racial minority in a conference, class, or community event? What was that experience like for you?
  3. “White privilege has made an idol of white comfort.” This can often be seen in congregational life? What does that look like in your community? If you have worked to counter this, please share that experience.
  4. What kinds of actions have you taken to be open to the experiences and stories of people who are different from you (in a variety of ways)?
  5. What is your experience with wanting to “fix” the stories of people of color or “help them understand” something that is happening? What have you learned by listening to stories about social norms or realities from people who are of different races, national origins, or classes?

 

Please join the conversation in the comments below, and/or in our Facebook group! If you are interested in a video chat discussion of the book, mark your calendar for Wednesday, January 18, at 2 p.m. Eastern time. Details will be available in the New Year.


About the RevGals Anti-Racism Project: As a majority white organization incorporated in the United States, the leaders of RevGalBlogPals feel called to confront systemic racism in the U.S. As a global ministry, we feel called to oppose minority oppression and racial injustice in all nations. We hope this book discussion will be a step toward awareness and away from unconscious centering of whiteness.


RevGalBlogPals encourages you to share our blog posts via email or social media. We do not grant permission to cut-and-paste prayers and articles without a link back. For permission to use material in paper publications, please email revgalblogpals at gmail dot com.

 

Categories: RevGalBlogPals, RevGals Anti-Racism Project | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

RevGals Anti-Racism Project: Waking Up White, Week 5

Where were all the black moms and children? Three blocks from my house sat Rindge Towers, three enormous subsidized apartment buildings full of families of color. Why weren’t we going to the same playground? Were they, like the First Night boy, uncomfortable around crowds of white people? Were my friends off-putting to them? Was I? How could I be scary to anyone? – Debby Irving, Waking Up White (p. 122)

Debby Irving and I are about the same age, and while I grew up in the South, I raised my children in Portland, Maine. This week’s section of the book deals with her parenting and teaching years, her conflicting desires to see her children experience a more diverse community than she knew growing up while she still had not confronted the systemic racism that advantaged her and them. These chapters are painful to read, in part because Irving unspools her own awakening at an excruciatingly slow pace and in part because they remind me of my own parenting experiences.

lucy-2006

When my youngest finished 5th grade in 2006, the school had some racial diversity, as seen in student self-portraits, but the kids who won citizenship medals at the 5th grade assembly were all white.

All three of my children attended the same elementary school in Portland, noteworthy at the time my oldest started kindergarten in 1991 for having the most socio-economic diversity among elementary schools in that small city. There were two classes in each grade, and it became apparent quickly that the kids who came on a bus from a more urban neighborhood were in one class along with the apartment-dwellers from closer by, while the kids of professional parents who lived in single-family homes in a charming neighborhood of dead-end streets would end up in the other.

I volunteered in the classroom regularly, and one day a teacher confided to me, “The mothers who live in the nice neighborhood across the street have a kaffeeklatsch every year and decide which teachers to request in each grade. I don’t know why I am never on their list.”

Portland was so white at the time that the issue was not one of race, but of class. (Racial diversity would increase due to immigration in the coming decades.) I didn’t need to hear it twice to figure out that the moms who lived in what I came to call “the Country Club” were taking advantage of a secret pact with the principal. If they got what they wanted, they supplied needed volunteer power.

I wonder how I would have felt if I hadn’t been aware of my “difference,” living in a rented two-family house on the other side of “the tracks?” Would requesting have seemed like a perfectly natural thing to do? I remember feeling I had nothing in common with the “Country Club” moms, but I also felt different from the moms on the playground who had not been to college.

 

 

Though I had made a shift from wanting to help and fix people of color to wanting to develop my own ‘diversity’ skills, I didn’t get how problematic my approach still was. far from the important work of understanding systemic racism and its impact on my life outcomes and perspective, my new aim was to understand some magical set of cross-racial manners. (p. 126)

In the elementary school her children attended, Irving began to interrogate the outcomes for children of color, particularly boys. The way she tells her stories allows a reader whose experience is similar, or who perhaps hasn’t reached similar moments of recognition, get to understanding at a moderate pace, but is admittedly frustrating to me. For instance, I cringed at her initial reaction to concerns about the Halloween parade (p. 139). How could you live in a diverse community like Cambridge, with immigrants who are not Christian, and never consider that newcomers’ religious practices might differ from those of white, quasi-Christian American ones?

Chapter 26, “Surviving Versus Thriving,” describes the work of Jane Elliott, who began teaching students about discrimination in response to the assassination of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. I want to point out that Irving and I are both in the age bracket Elliott began with, before moving on to conduct similar work with adults. (Read more about her work here.) The temporary reaction she elicited from subjects of her exercises are of course only a tiny fraction of the kind of psychic and physiological response to the stress of discrimination experienced by People of Color on a daily basis. The story of Jared in chapter 27 illustrates how the system of discrimination prepares children to think of themselves as naturally successful or doomed.

White friends, Irving concludes this section by identifying herself as the elephant in the room when it comes to conversations about race. Her background, education, and social expectations made difficult conversations seem impossibly embarrassing. How do we find a way to be vulnerable without being fragile, to be humble about our ignorance without asking our friends of color to do our work for us?

  1. As a person raised to believe there was etiquette for every situation, though mine with a Virginia flavor, I cringed with recognition many times throughout this section. Irving asks us to explore the rules we have for social interaction and examine how they might hamper authentic conversation and relationship. Can you name some basic social rules that go back to your childhood?
  2. If, like me, you cringed, what was the passage that made you want to write, “No!” or “Ouch!” or “Aargh!” in the margins?
  3. What expectations did you have for your life as a second-grader?
  4. Can you name a time when you recognized you had an unearned/undeserved advantage?

Please join the conversation in the comments below, and/or in our Facebook group! If you are interested in a video chat discussion of the book, mark your calendar for Wednesday, January 18, at 2 p.m. Eastern time. Details will be available in the New Year.


About the RevGals Anti-Racism Project: As a majority white organization incorporated in the United States, the leaders of RevGalBlogPals feel called to confront systemic racism in the U.S. As a global ministry, we feel called to oppose minority oppression and racial injustice in all nations. We hope this book discussion will be a step toward awareness and away from unconscious centering of whiteness.


RevGalBlogPals encourages you to share our blog posts via email or social media. We do not grant permission to cut-and-paste prayers and articles without a link back. For permission to use material in paper publications, please email revgalblogpals at gmail dot com.

Categories: RevGals Anti-Racism Project | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments

RevGals Anti-Racism Project: Waking Up White, week 4

“People were good. My family was good. I was good, right?”img_6170

Here we have the crux of the problem that white people have with racism. We have been taught that racism is bad…but we are not bad people, and the people we know are not bad people, so therefore we cannot be racist.

In chapter 17 of Waking Up White, Irving begins to delve into the identity and perception problem that is ultimately at the core of the ways we perpetuate racism–usually unknowingly.

“America’s use of racial categories seemed fraught with unfairness, cruelty, and dishonesty. Yet my parents’, grandparents’, and entire extended family’s life philosophy, as I understood it, had revolved around fairness, compassion, and honor. This was my legacy, the one I took the most pride in passing on to my children. Discovering I’d been complicit in perpetuating a system that was so very terribly bad flew in the face of all I’d understood about myself.”

This is why dismantling white supremacy is so difficult: because we get defensive when we are told that’s who we are. We want to believe the story about ourselves that doesn’t involve race at all…and we don’t see how that is a privilege reserved for the powerful majority. We have many generations of narrative that tells us we can’t possibly be the problem…when in fact it is the narrative itself that is the problem, and we are unwitting participants in it. And, as Irving points out, “If you can’t see a problem for what it is, how can you step in and be a part of its solution, no matter how good a person you are?”

Once she began to see the narrative with clearer eyes, Irving tried to imagine her life if one parent had been non-white. She quickly realized that the life she had known as a child and young adult would have been impossible, and her current social and economic status would be much different due to historical factors well beyond her control. And then finally, at the end of chapter 18, she begins to realize what “color blind” really means–it means willfully ignoring a major part of someone’s life, experience, family, and history. I confess I wish she had gone further down this road, because I think her two sentences still neglects a serious problem with being “color blind”–that even as it professes to be a philosophy that “just sees the person” it in fact dehumanizes by insisting that a defining characteristic of someone’s embodied presence in the world is irrelevant or even non-existent. Claiming not to see color means we do not see the person.

As part of the evidence for this truth, I submit chapter 20, in which Irving describes how she spent a fair portion of her career “helping the inner city youth.” Her white savior syndrome was strong–so strong that she wouldn’t even go into “those” neighborhoods where the kids came from, but didn’t recognize that they might also feel uncomfortable in her neighborhood. She spoke with other organizations about what they thought “those” kids lives were like, but “never once did I sit down with a group of these kids, their families, or their teachers”….as I read, I felt like I was reading a history of colonial missionary work rather than an account of someone my parents’ age. She was describing the very thing that many of us have been working to undo–the idea that we can decide what other people need and do it for them. And then she describes her likely reaction had someone told her she was part of that pattern:

“The idea that my world might feel uncomfortable or even dangerous to someone else would have been inconceivable to me. Had someone tried to point out to me that I was part of a national pattern of white people deciding what people of color needed, and white people holding the purse strings, I’m guessing I would have silently smiled while thinking How Ungrateful.” (from chapter 20)

Bumping up again on “I’m a good person,” it seems.

A key component of the anti-racism journey is to learn to separate our understanding of ourselves from the reality of the larger systems we benefit from and perpetuate. Defensiveness will get us nowhere–and worse, it actively harms our neighbors. This is 100% our work as white people–no one else can do our internal work for us, but when we don’t do it, it’s everyone else who suffers.

All that is necessary for the triumph is evil is for the good to do nothing. ~Edmund Burke

 

Questions for Reflection & Discussion–please join in the comments below or in our Facebook group! (note: there is a reflection question at the end of each chapter, as well, and we’d love to hear your answers to those, too.)

  1. When was the most recent time that your reflexive thought in the midst of a situation was “but I’m a good person”? What was happening? How did the situation play out as you offered that response? How might you catch yourself next time before getting defensive?
  2. Have you ever been uncomfortable or afraid to go to a particular neighborhood? How do you think residents of that neighborhood would feel in yours? Why do we have these gut reactions to each others’ “home turf” (as it were)?
  3. Have you ever claimed to be color-blind? How does that philosophy (which, admittedly, many of us were taught over the past several decades) affect your relationships with people of color? with other white people? with yourself? Can you imagine someone saying they don’t see or take into account something so visible and defining about you? How does that feel? (i.e., “I don’t see gender.” or “I don’t see disability.”…)
  4. Irving describes (in chapters 19 & 20) two colleagues who were black–the first, Herb (whom she met when she was young, just starting out), she says “made it impossible to ever again buy into the idea that black people are lazy, less intelligent, dangerous, or any other sweeping malignment.” The other, Nan, she hired because her skin color would allow her to be more effective at working with partner organizations…and because it would get her (Irving) off the hook for actually going to black neighborhoods. (We won’t even go into her calling them by only their first names when in the previous section she learned about the importance of using titles and last names as a sign of respect…) When you look back on your various experiences, do you see any of this kind of cognitive dissonance in your own life? How might you be more intentional about living consistent with the values you profess when it comes to race?
    1. related: for those who read Trouble I’ve Seen, how does this set of experiences compare to Dr. Hart’s description of being the black man who changed nothing about his friends’ perceptions of other black students? What might account for that disparity?

 

“Seeing myself in a system with people as opposed to a sympathetic observer on the sidelines changed my relationship to the problem. I understood then that it was possible to be both a good person and complicit in a corrupt system.”  (from chapter 17)


About the RevGals Anti-Racism Project: As a majority white organization incorporated in the United States, the leaders of RevGalBlogPals feel called to confront systemic racism in the U.S. As a global ministry, we feel called to oppose minority oppression and racial injustice in all nations. We hope this book discussion will be a step toward awareness and away from unconscious centering of whiteness.


RevGalBlogPals encourages you to share our blog posts via email or social media. We do not grant permission to cut-and-paste prayers and articles without a link back. For permission to use material in paper publications, please email revgalblogpals at gmail dot com.

Categories: RevGals Anti-Racism Project | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

RevGals Anti-Racism Project: Waking Up White, Week 3

This week in our discussion of Debby Irving’s Waking Up White, we address Section 3, “Why Didn’t I Wake Up Sooner?” Irving builds the case that as white Americans, we lack a vocabulary for race. We have been encouraged, sometimes consciously and other times unconsciously, to identify others *by* their race while considering ourselves to be outside those categories.

Not having a label for white people reinforced for me the idea that white populations are the norm, raceless and ethnicity-less. (p. 89)

When the culture is designed to set us off to advantage, of course we look good, like my late mother-in-law, who filled her home with dim lighting that did not accentuate her aging complexion, sort of a whole-house filter on the lens of life. Media colludes by amplifying the “normal” that is really cultural supremacy, so unless we hear the stories of other people whose lives are different than ours, we may have no idea what goes on in the world they inhabit. To illustrate this, Irving relates the story of a black woman who is told the local store does not take checks, when they accept them regularly from her white husband.

We are selective in what we see. Can we put ourselves in the place of a grocery shopper trying to reach an upper shelf from her wheelchair?

Privilege is a strange thing in that you notice it least when you have it most. (p. 71)

White people (or able-bodied people or straight people) have to understand discrimination in order to understand our privilege. Irving recommends watching the video, True Colors, broadcast on ABC in 1991. Upon seeing it in a class in 2010, she assumed things had improved, but classmates pushed back.

UCC Clergywomen in Arizona

UCC Clergywomen in Arizona

In the chapter “Zap!” Irving relates a conversation about the use of titles and formality as a sign of respect, specifically in relation to calling President Obama “President” rather than simply using his surname. Would she have called a white President only by his last name? I know I have done it both ways, depending on how I felt about whichever president was in question, but that I have been inclined to always use President Obama’s title. The importance of acknowledging the titles of people whose race might otherwise “allow” for disrespect was trained into me by my parents, yet my own approach is “casual privileged,” much like Irving’s. I encourage parishioners, even children, to call me by my first name with no title, so I was surprised when keynoting at an event for clergywomen in my denomination to hear the other keynoters referred to by attendees as “Rev. Traci” and “Dr. Sharon,” and to hear them say “Rev. Martha” to me. I have served in overwhelmingly white geographic areas, and it was a new thing for me to attend and speak at a much more racially inclusive event. I quelled the urge to say, “Just call me Martha” and paid attention to the way I referred to others in that context.

Family and national history are both formed by who is telling the stories. I am made aware weekly if not daily that there are parts of our national history I was not taught and have not learned, despite thinking of myself as widely-read and well-informed. We have different levels of education, from 4th grade state history to undergraduate majors to just tuning into “Drunk History” on Comedy Central to watch Lin-Manuel Miranda. And we can be inclined to invent our own histories for other people based on our limited knowledge, as if we are all logos or stereotypes. Irving encourages us to deconstruct those stereotypes, to listen to the stories of others in the first person and not dismiss them. In this time when “identity politics” is being maligned, it’s more important than ever to be active in this work.

  1. In what ways have you considered white culture to be above or outside categories of race?
  2. Think about your family’s typical Thanksgiving menu. Do you know its history? Do you figure everyone everywhere eats the same meal? My life has been opened wide by seeing black friends post about their Thanksgiving dinners. Check out the hashtag #blackfamilyThanksgiving on Facebook or Twitter.
  3. Where do you get your information about American history? Have you ever learned more about something you thought you knew well, only to discover that your “truth” was distorted?
  4. Have you recently read a first-person narrative by a person of color, describing his or her life? What did you learn?

Please join the conversation in the comments below, and/or in our Facebook group!


About the RevGals Anti-Racism Project: As a majority white organization incorporated in the United States, the leaders of RevGalBlogPals feel called to confront systemic racism in the U.S. As a global ministry, we feel called to oppose minority oppression and racial injustice in all nations. We hope this book discussion will be a step toward awareness and away from unconscious centering of whiteness.


RevGalBlogPals encourages you to share our blog posts via email or social media. We do not grant permission to cut-and-paste prayers and articles without a link back. For permission to use material in paper publications, please email revgalblogpals at gmail dot com.

Categories: RevGals Anti-Racism Project | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

RevGal Anti-Racism Project: Waking Up White, Week 2

This week covers “Midlife Wake-Up Calls”, chapters 6-11 (approx. 40 pages).

How do you feel about pain?

Let’s assume that, in general, you don’t like pain.

Which bothers you more- the idea of you being in pain or the idea of someone else being wuwcoverfinal-200x300in pain?

Do you have additional questions, perhaps is the person is pain close in relationship to you  or close in proximity? Does it make a difference to you to be able to choose that someone else is in pain, but far away from you? In fact, if you want, you can make it so that you rarely have to see or interact with the person who is experiencing the pain.

Now what if the choice is that you might be a little uncomfortable or that a person you don’t know, and with whom you can be prevented from interacting, will experience pain? What do you choose?

In the section “Midlife Wake-Up Calls”, Debby Irving realizes that many generations of white people chose, deliberately, the pain of others over their own discomfort. The idea of learning and accepting that melanin does not actually amount to any kind of real, scientific, measurable biological difference between human beings was anathema. Physical, fiscal, and fickle American realities were entirely structured around the idea that white was right and might.

In order to keep a racial and class system that is based on a “pigment of the imagination” (p. 66), white men and women had to accede to the inequities of the distribution of the GI Bill, the benefits of the Social Security system, business and financial means and connections, and the glorification of “Manifest Destiny”. Irving found herself wrestling with and grieving over the truths that had unknowingly paved and smoothed the path of her life, while tripping up so many others. She is nearly half a decade old when she first hears of red-lining and blockbusting, real estate practices that essentially ghettoized black Americans and purposely created financial hardship and ruin.

With her eyes opened, Irving begins to grapple with the idea of “headwinds and tailwinds”. Privileges are tailwinds. They lift one up and accelerate one’s progress, beyond or without one’s acceptance, request, or recognition. Prejudices are headwinds. They impede progress and hamper effort. They may be hard to measure and the distress they create is behind the people who are trying to move- making them harder to see, but easier to feel.

The biggest problem with America’s idea of racial categories is that they’re not just categories: they’ve been used to imply a hierarchy born of nature. (62)

The headwind of racial biases has caused untold damage to American culture, neighborhoods, economies, and our national psyche. Our inability to grasp, ponder, and rectify this painful reality is due to the fact that we continue to say that we would rather someone far from us experience a little pain, rather than sit with our own internal discomfort. Reckoning with the vast racist inequities of American history (and the way we talk about it) is necessarily uncomfortable. Being drained of a poison hurts. Swallowing the antidote- that as white Americans, we are born with a tailwind that we do not want to relinquish (and that some among us believe we deserve)- is a bitter pill.

The rise in white nationalism that we are currently experiencing is entirely based on a social and societal construct that being white- at any class level- was better than being black. Facing people of color (and women) who reasonably want and expect to be treated as equals and afforded equal opportunities means that the mental hierarchy of many men (and some women) has to be undone. Very few people sign up for psychic pain. Thus, they fight and resist this truth. They lash out at those who insist upon it and fight for it.

Dismantling white nationalism requires all white people to do the work that Irving starts in this chapter. Looking at the truth of American history, having real and honest conversations about inequality, imperialism, barriers, gentlemen’s agreements, and a lot more. These conversations must happen with children, partners and spouses, friends, family members, co-workers, fellow congregation members, community leaders, and across all platforms. It will hurt, but it cannot wait. White people have outsourced this pain long enough.

There are questions at the end of each chapter that you are encouraged to use for your own reflection and in the comments. In addition, here are some other thoughts:

1. Irving was very surprised to learn about the extreme inequity in distribution of the GI Bill to black soldiers after World War II. When she told her husband about what she had learned, he doubted her facts until he researched the issue for himself. Did you know this information before reading about it in this book? If so, how and when did you learn about it? How do you think most Americans could come to learn and understand this aspect of our history?

2. In ch. 6, Irving details her history of trying to “help” children and adults from backgrounds different from her own. Later she realizes that “helping” actually meant “making more like her”. In other words, the work in which she was engaged was, intentionally or not, attempting to make minorities act more “white”. How does the framework of social engagement and assistance through charitable and educational entities contribute to racism in America?

3. Irving repeats the information that blew her mind: there is more diversity within different ethnic groups than across them. What does that mean to you? How would you communicate that across the Thanksgiving table?

4. White nationalism has never been absent from America, but its adherents are certainly feeling a certain amount of liberty in public expression these days. It is important to realize that this is a movement of emotion and power, not facts. Some people never let facts get in the way of a good argument or their desire for power. How can we use the language of headwinds and tailwinds to disrupt this narrative and where?

5. What is an uncomfortable realization you had about yourself or your own history during the reading of this section?

This week in the United States, we mark a holiday that should actually be fraught with wrestling with our history of whiteness, decimation of native populations, denigration of non-white societies as valuable or complex, and manifest destiny. Ironically, our failure to  fully contend with this things over the past 200 years means that we are still reaping and suffering from them today. Historical acid reflux… mmm, pass the sweet potatoes.

Please join the conversation in the comments below, and/or in our Facebook group!


About the RevGals Anti-Racism Project: As a majority white organization incorporated in the United States, the leaders of RevGalBlogPals feel called to confront systemic racism in the U.S. As a global ministry, we feel called to oppose minority oppression and racial injustice in all nations. We hope this book discussion will be a step toward awareness and away from unconscious centering of whiteness.


RevGalBlogPals encourages you to share our blog posts via email or social media. We do not grant permission to cut-and-paste prayers and articles without a link back. For permission to use material in paper publications, please email revgalblogpals at gmail dot com.

Categories: RevGalBlogPals, RevGals Anti-Racism Project | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

RevGals Anti-Racism Project: Waking Up White, week 1

Waking Up White is the second book in our RevGals anti-racism project. I encourage you to also read the posts and discussion about the first book, Trouble I’ve Seen, though of course it is not a pre-requisite for this book. In fact, Waking Up White is intentionally written for those of us white people who need to go back to the beginning and consider how we got here in the first place.

The discussion of this book will happen in sections, so this week we have the introduction and section one, “Childhood In White” which includes the first five (brief) chapters.

“I thought all those other categories, like Asian, African American, American Indian, and Latino, were the real races. I thought white was the raceless race–just plain, normal, the one against which all others were measured.”  (from the introduction)

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Little Teri

Several months ago, I heard a white person (of my age–late GenX) tell me they didn’t have a race or culture. I think my mouth may have physically dropped open. I confess it had never occurred to me that I didn’t have a race or culture. Perhaps this is because I come from a family that had only been in the USA for less than a hundred years when I was born, and because so much of my family was German…I grew up being told that I needed to be very careful how I thought of myself and others because I looked just like the ideal Aryan girl–dark blonde hair, fair skin, green-blue eyes. I can’t even remember the first time my parents and grandparents began to tell me that my coloring was never ever to be thought of as superior, no matter how many people might treat me better than others because of it.

I think this facet of my childhood life, which I am beginning to see was an oddity, is its own form of privilege. I am constantly surprised and frustrated that other white people don’t see what has been self-evident to me since before I could read. And then I have trouble holding a rational conversation when people say things like “white isn’t a race” or “I’m just normal.” But I am trying, and Irving’s book is helpful.

As she reflects on her childhood, Irving tells stories of the type we all need to learn the courage to tell: stories that cast both her family and herself in an unflattering light, but form the backdrop for a biased worldview. She talks of her mother’s explanation of “what happened to the Indians” and how horribly incomplete and biased it was, and also her own passive acceptance of everything she was told as she grew up in her wealthy white suburban life. She writes about her family background, her social circle, and economic location as realities that formed her understanding of “normal” and her beliefs in the quintessential American Dream. She says, of family stories told at dinners and holidays and summers at the cabin:

“Tales of Mayflower settlers and other early American ancestors suggested to me that America provided a kind of neutral template on which anyone could design the life they chose. Not only did those stories affirm my place in American history; they translated into a sense of confidence and ability that took hold from an early age.”  (chapter 2)

She goes on to discuss how “negative” emotions were not allowed–especially anger. And she notes the “tragedy that over time my natural curiosity, open mind, and loving heart dulled, keeping me from confronting wrongs I never knew existed.” (chapter 1)

This is exactly where many white people find ourselves–unconscious of the depth of wrongness in the system, and our complicity in it even though we did not construct it; unconscious of our own race and culture (and sometimes our class) and how that affects our worldview and our expectations of ourselves and others; unconscious of the ways our own minds and hearts have been dulled, and so unable to open and sharpen them again until we do this hard work that Irving begins in the book: looking honestly at our own stories, and the stories of our family, digging into both memories and real history, and placing ourselves in the arc of the American reality so that we can better participate in bending it toward justice.

 

 

Questions for reflection and conversation  (note: there is a question for reflection at the end of each chapter, and you are most definitely invited to answer those in the comments too!)

  1. As you think back on memories of your childhood, where are people of a different race, culture, or class than yours? (For Irving, they are in a mural and in books, for instance–that counts!)
  2. What stories does/did your family tell about who you are (as an individual and as a family)? What morals or lessons did you take away from those stories, and how (if at all) do they make room for people whose experience of life is very different?
  3. In chapter 3, Irving notes that some may think her story is more about class than race, but then she tells two stories including one about a white man who shoplifted his way to college tuition, and one about a black historian celebrating being given the Presidential Medal of Freedom and being mistaken for a servant in the dinner club. When you hear stories like that, what do you feel? (not just what do you think!) Have you personally experienced or witnessed moments when expectations were clearly formed based mainly on skin color?
  4. In chapter 4, Irving says “In the same way I was trained to make myself visible and seek opportunity, many children of color are trained to stay under the radar and avoid suspicion.” This is a massive gap in the way people see and navigate the world, and a major player in the white culture’s sense of how “they” just need to work harder to be like “us.” Have you experienced this gap, or fallen into the trap of encouraging people of color to just fit in better to white culture? How have you seen this play out in your own relationships, work environment, and friendships?
  5. The self-understanding created by Irving’s family stories, relentless optimism, and repressed emotions leaves no room for people whose experiences of the world are markedly different, who have reason for outrage, or who don’t reap the rewards her family has seen. Are there parts of your own identity that crowd out the possibility of other, equally valid, experiences and reactions?

“White has long stood for normal and better, while black and brown have been considered different and inferior. Social value isn’t just a matter of feeling as if one belongs or doesn’t; it affects one’s access to housing, education, and jobs, the building blocks necessary to access the great American promise of class mobility.” (chapter 3)

This is why we do this work: because not only is there no reason for white to be normal and better, but also the insidious racism of majority culture is actively harmful to our sisters and brothers, and they deserve our best effort in dismantling the structures that have bound us all for so long.

Please join the conversation in the comments below, and/or in our Facebook group!


About the RevGals Anti-Racism Project: As a majority white organization incorporated in the United States, the leaders of RevGalBlogPals feel called to confront systemic racism in the U.S. As a global ministry, we feel called to oppose minority oppression and racial injustice in all nations. We hope this book discussion will be a step toward awareness and away from unconscious centering of whiteness.


RevGalBlogPals encourages you to share our blog posts via email or social media. We do not grant permission to cut-and-paste prayers and articles without a link back. For permission to use material in paper publications, please email revgalblogpals at gmail dot com.

Categories: RevGals Anti-Racism Project | Tags: , , , , | 4 Comments

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