Sunday, July 21, 2013

why whiteness wins

there are so many more eloquent posts breaking down the recent trial of Trayvon Martin -- oops, i mean george zimmerman -- so i think it's important that i link you to some great reads, that you should check out before reading this.  go ahead and take your time, i'll wait.

Gone Agape - White Out

What I want you to know about being a young black man in America

How White Supremacy Tells Its Stories

i have spent the past few weeks sifting through media coverage, blog posts and informal social media analysis, in attempt to make sense of a trial/verdict that was not surprising, but devastating all the same.  no matter what i have to say on this topic, one of the overwhelming points that has been made incredibly clear to me in the last few weeks, is that the voices, stories and credibility of people of color to tell their own stories, and have agency over their own lives is still fundamentally lacking.  so my perspective is not nearly as important for you to read as the words and analysis of people of color, whose voices need to be heard, but it is also important for me to speak and not remain silent.

no matter my life choices, friendships, what communities i walk or work in, i still reap the benefits of white privilege on a daily basis.  it has been eye-opening to leave New York and return to see the impact of race on my family life in a liberal midwest town, where "eracism" bumper stickers are abundant and white folks don't seem to want to have an open dialogue about race, because they are liberal and "could never be racist".  they fail to understand the inherent privilege involved in being able to erase racism from their daily existence, to exit the room, avoid conversations that are uncomfortable -- in short, to have the choice as to whether they want to deal with this topic. they take for granted that the police are there to help them, will believe their version of a story, that they are considered innocent until proven guilty (unlike Trayvon, who was found guilty of his own murder), and most of all, that they will not be held responsible for the actions of their entire race -- white people have the freedom to be seen as individuals and aren't consistently essentialized and stereotyped, their every move and decision criticized by both the law and dominant culture.

but we exist in a hypocritical society that has told itself the fiction of "freedom for all" in order to rock itself to sleep at night, when that has never been the case.  perhaps many people are convinced that there has been progress because there are successful black actors, musicians and sports stars, because we elected a black president -- but how much has changed if black bodies are merely used for the consumption and entertainment of white people, if violence perpetrated against black people (from Troy Davis, Mumia Abu Jamal, Amadou Diallo, Oscar Grant, Sean Bell, Emmett Till, Trayvon Martin, Rodney King, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr. to name only a very few... to the millions of people currently or formerly in prison, to generations of brutal slavery, to the countless instances of violence and rape against black women that have been normalized, as in the case of Marissa Alexander), how much has changed if violence against black folks is allowed to continue because those who write and interpret our laws don't value the lives of non-white people?  having a black president does not mean that the psychology of violence and institutionalized oppression of black and brown people magically disappears - in fact, while he was comparing himself to Trayvon, was he also saying that violence against Middle Eastern people should end?  that we were pulling our military out of the Middle East and Northern Africa, where we occupy and safeguard natural resources that don't belong to us?  life should be universally respected, throughout the world.  I believe that the only thing that will start us on the path to healing is education and consistent, long-term action.  becoming engaged and aware, and teaching our children to become engaged and aware citizens who not only tolerate, but truly learn about other cultures, travel outside of the U.S., as well respect and honor the contributions and values of different cultures.

so rather than blogging and thinking i've done something, i am focused on taking action in the places where this conversation isn't happening on its own - in all-white spaces (not that i regularly find myself in those), amongst my conservative family members, and with the students i work with, who may not be "old enough" to talk about these issues, but who also have questions and are trying to process what's happening around them.  the idea of shielding kids from the violence of the world is another manifestation of white privilege, and as a mother, i will have to have deep conversations with my son much earlier than i would like.  while i understand the desire of many white parents to "protect" their children from talking about these issues, i also understand that black parents do not have the luxury of protecting their children from the reality that we live in - and we must help kids understand both the horrible, real history of our country, and current events like the zimmerman case, so that we can help them understand, critique, and question what happened and why.  only then can we work to envision and enact a future that truly values each person's voice, each person's contribution, and each person's life.

this week, we are doing a "walk against hate" in the neighborhood of our school, which was the kids' idea and they are spearheading the messages on signs, the route we're taking and what we will say to the community when they ask us why we're doing this.   there is so much work to do, and we must be the ones to work hard to ensure that the script is being re-written, so that justice, and not whiteness, becomes the victor for the first time.

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