I highly recommend that everyone read this. And then do some careful self-examination. I know from personal experience that examining yourself for racism and privilege hurts like hell. Something in me wants to rise up and protest that that’s not me, I’m not like that, or even that there’s a good excuse for my privilege and my failings. But in the end, I’m better for shutting my mouth, listening, enduring the pain involved in change, and growing.
Written by Josh Bryan
I live in rural Northeast Georgia, and was raised in rural Upstate South Carolina. I grew up hearing the black kids called monkeys and the n word at the playground in elementary school. I’ve heard members of my family say derogatory things about other races, including these racial slurs. I was even told in third grade that I couldn’t have a black girlfriend because, “people just don’t like that.”
I could make an argument that systemic racism is the cause of a vehicle plowing through a group of protesters in VA, but I know too many people who claim that “racism doesn’t exist.” So please, friends and family, hear me. I’m going to set aside the argument for systemic racism for a minute and look at the four types of racism that I see every day living here in the south.
I see this as a…
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August 14th, 2017 at 3:12 pm
Although you raise a matter that requires serious reflection I want to begin by saying how delighted I am to see you post once again. I have checked your site from time to time and I was so excited to see an email in my inbox today. You have been in my thoughts and prayers on many occasions in these last months.
I know that we have corresponded before about the painful history of the American South and I feel that as an Englishman I need to write about the terrible events in Charlottesville in recent days with great care. I have not shared the history of any of the people caught up in them.
There is one thing that I would like to share and that is that it seems to be a given in contemporary identity politics that an identity only has authenticity if it can be presented as an expression of victimhood. I remember that when I worked in Africa the thought began to grow that as a white, middle-class Englishman (I wasn’t middle-aged in those days, I can add that layer of privilege now!) I belonged to one of the most privileged social groups on the planet. I was not even blamed for my country’s imperial past! From that point I knew that I could not practice identity politics. If I were a character in Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings it would be someone close to Faramir. I couldn’t be Faramir himself. I have not inherited a title or that level of privilege but I am a man with quite a lot of it! There have been times when I feel that I have been treated unfairly but my security or that of my family has never been put at risk.
What this has meant has been that I have had to make my personal and moral choices on a basis other than my identity or sense of victtimhood. I have also had to be constantly aware of when my privilege has given me an advantage. In my own country this has meant that I have to recognise that I am not under threat from the importation of cheap labour by business people or their investment backers seeking to improve their profit margins and personal wealth. I have to recognise that a truly just way forward will seek the prosperity of regions in my country that are governed by a low wage economy as well as seeking to support immigrant groups who receive the same low wages with little prospect of becoming as financially secure as I am.
I hope that you don’t mind a long comment but it is a long time since I have been able to do so and it is good to be able to visit your site again! God bless you!
August 16th, 2017 at 9:50 am
I’m going to try and get back into posting. Things have been kinda crazy, but as I’ve said before, I miss blogging and the friends I’ve made through it (like you). By the way, you have some Faramir-ish elements to you, like thoughtfulness, integrity, and compassion.
Privilege is a crazy thing. I’ve had to go through the painful but extremely necessary process of facing my own privilege and coming to terms with it (and ongoing process, too).
It seems like there are powers intent on setting people against each other, especially poorer people, by feeding a sense of victimhood. Telling impoverished white people, for instance, that their enemies are immigrants and minorities in order to deflect them from the real causes of their distress in social injustice. It’s a process that’s been going on for a long time. But the ones who really anger me are the people who adopt a victim mentality in order to not have to face their own privilege. The current president of the U.S. (heaven help us!) is a perfect example. He never accepts ANYTHING as his fault. Everything is blamed on someone else, and he is as far from acknowledging his own privilege (which is among the highest in the world because inherited wealth is its own extreme form of privilege). And these white-supremacists are taking his “success” as a kind of invitation to express their outrage at the “attacks” on their privilege.
I just wish I could hammer into people’s heads the fact that losing privilege, which means either being brought down to someone else’s level or having them raised up to yours, is NOT the same as being a victim! But as we know… there is such a thing as willing deafness and blindness of the heart and mind.
August 16th, 2017 at 2:18 pm
This morning I read a meditation written by James Finlay, who was a novice monk taught by Thomas Merton, in which he spoke about the true self as one that has come to see all life as gift and to live in the light of that reality. We certainly live in a culture of entitlement that regards life either as compensation for some wrong or as a deserved prize for one’s efforts.
August 16th, 2017 at 6:59 pm
All too true. God help us!
August 16th, 2017 at 1:27 am
Hey, welcome back J.
As an infrequent/erratic poster online myself, I know how that goes but it’s nice to see a familiar face show up after a while.
That said, great share. Extremely well written, reasonable and rational. The really sad part being that most people who are on the spectrum referred to would not see it that way and would become defensive.
Plus I feel much of what is said in that post applies to not just American White-Black racism but to racism and communalism in principle in so many parts of the world.
Thanks for sharing and take care.
August 16th, 2017 at 9:57 am
Hey there! It feels great to post again. I hadn’t planned it, but when I came across this post I knew I had to.
You’re right, a lot of people’s knee-jerk reaction is defensiveness, and sadly a lot of people will shut down the self-examination because of that. But I figure even a chance of making someone re-examine their assumptions is worth the effort. It does get through to people sometimes.
And absolutely. The issue is world-wide, and involves all sorts of interactions and prejudices. I think us/them divisions and competition are a common human failing. I also have to tell people who live elsewhere in the U.S. that this is not just a problem in the South. It’s obvious down here because of our history and the fact that we talk about it and work actively on it. In other parts of the country it’s more subtle, and the denial of its existence makes it even more pernicious and difficult to fight.
August 23rd, 2017 at 1:02 am
You’re very right, there’s a tendency in people to put themselves into “bubbles” where they think that so many things happen, well, elsewhere – sometimes amazingly even when it is happening around them or not far from them. It’s like a strange wilful denial.
In any case, I’m glad you shared that post because it kind of inspired me and I wrote a blog-post about it and applying the reaction/idea from charllotseville to a more general global situation as I see, that I then shared with a journalist friend who posted it up on their op-ed site :D
Strange how these things happen. Ideas come from all kinds of places.
November 1st, 2017 at 2:50 pm
Hi, Jubilare! It’s good to see you posting again. I myself need to work on blogging more frequently.
I’m one of those persons who doesn’t like identity politics, white guilt, racial hierarchies, and anything associated with these things. If racism is bad, then increasing people’s racial sensitivity so that they view the world and make decisions according to race–the goal of identity politics–has to be equally bad.
The problem with modern politics is that we’ve essentially discarded the idea of racial equality. Racial equality was the goal of Martin Luther King and others seeking racial reconciliation. Now, people harping on past and present racial injustices seem to want white people to feel guilty about themselves and their past and to establish people of color as superior by virtue of victimhood and innocence. It’s less about equality than creating a new racial hierarchy.
With some pushing that whites should hate themselves and their past history, it’s not surprising that some white people now engage in white identity politics. All the same, idenitity politics and racism, besides being rebarbative and unjust in themselves, are highly undesirable for the United States, since we are a multi-ethnic country. But, I think that most Americans see themselves and others as Americans. Where there is conflict, most of the conflict is drawn up on conservative and liberal lines. “White” is practically a code word for conservative and “minority” a code word for liberal, which is why conservative minorities face special prejudice and are even dubbed race traitors.
Those are my two cents at any rate.
November 1st, 2017 at 3:22 pm
It’s good to see you again!
“If racism is bad, then increasing people’s racial sensitivity so that they view the world and make decisions according to race–the goal of identity politics–has to be equally bad.”
I get where you are coming from, but I think you may be conflating two things that people often conflate… or perhaps not recognizing a spectrum rather than an either-or situation.
There are situations in which racial identity politics are divisive and destructive, and that is bad. White guilt, as such, is also bad, I think. Using race and racial issues to create conflict and drive politics is also destructive, so I agree with your point, there. However, for all the people trying to use the issue for personal gain in politics, there are countless more who are trying to, non-politically, talk about and resolve real social issues.
There’s a need for recognition of the existence of privilege in order to combat something that exists without racial identity politics and which has existed from the foundation of our nation if not before (and it’s pervasive everywhere I know of in the world where people from different backgrounds meet).
Every single day of their lives people who are not obviously anglo/white are faced with “othering” and far too often, open racial discrimination. Othering seems benign on the surface. For instance, a friend of mine has people react in surprise when she answers “where are you from?” with “Tennessee” and when she answers with that, she often gets “no, I mean where are you really from?” The reason is that she’s Asian-American. She has a Tennessee accent, and is more like what people imagine a “Tennessean” to be like than I am, but she’s also Asian, so she can’t possibly be “just a Tennessean” despite the fact that people from Asia (even discounting possible Native American origins in Asia) have been here almost as long as European immigrants.
This kind of thing doesn’t seem harmful until you think about the consequences of dealing with it every single day of your life, never being accepted as part of your home because of your looks. And some people, like my African and African-American friends have do deal with much worse: people following them in stores to make sure they aren’t shop-lifting, people moving to the other side of the street to avoid them because they “look dangerous” despite the fact that the only difference between them and everyone else around them is the color of their skin. And that’s the mild stuff. That’s not including actual violence (a bi-racial couple was attacked around here recently by white supremacists) and the struggle to find employment.
It’s a real problem, not an imagined one, and it’s everywhere. That’s what privilege is. The fact that, as a white woman, the only way I know about this happening to people is by hearing about it from the people who experience it. I’ve never once been followed in a store, or had my origins and my identity as a Tennessean questioned. That’s my privilege. And until everyone has that same privilege, then we have to keep having this conversation.
The point and the upshot is this: the goal of most (admittedly, not everyone… there are extremists in everything) is to not have to have this discussion anymore because it’s become a non-issue. But before we can stop talking about it, the behavior that causes it has to stop. And for it to stop, the people causing it have to become aware of what they’re doing. As the ones with the privilege, it’s up to white-folks to A. actually listen to the people telling them what the problem is and B. stop making it a problem. It really wouldn’t be that hard if we were willing to become aware of the issue. It’s easy not to ask an Asian woman where she’s from and expect her to say “China” or “Japan” or something. It’s easy not to follow someone around a store just because they’re black and not because they’re acting suspicious (and that’s not even taking into account the fact that when you are afraid that you’re going to be profiled, it can make you nervous…)
Most people I know aren’t out for anything more radical than that. They don’t want to make people feel guilty. They’re not out to be patted on the back for being victims. They’re definitely not out to become ‘superior’ in some way. They’re just asking to be treated as if they belong as much as everyone else, and to have the same treatment and opportunities as everyone else.
November 2nd, 2017 at 10:33 am
Well, if the main goal of most minorities is simply to be treated as ordinary Americans rather than as foreigners or possible malefactors, I can get behind that. It seems like common decency.
Human interactions are complicated, and I can’t imagine a world where all stereotypes and prejudices are eliminated. But, as you say, it’s good to be aware of them least we judge people without a basis in fact. That is the first step.
November 2nd, 2017 at 2:40 pm