White experience is not universal experience

Something that I notice a lot is when people with social privilege, often white and with economic privilege, speak about their experiences as if they are universal, as if everyone experiences them.  An example of this was from today when a young person who I know and is in her first year of college was telling me about how her professor was explaining a situation that he had been through.  He started out with, “everyone has been through something similar to this…” but the situation was very specific to somebody from an upper class, white cultural experience.  She is Black and grew up without a lot of economic resources and when she was listening to him, she was internally shaking her head and laughing at his assumptions and ignorance.

Working at a school with predominately white teachers and majority students of color, I often overhear situations like this.  What I have found is that, generally speaking, the more privilege a person has, the less likely they are to recognize that not everyone experiences the same types of situations than they do.

For anyone who has ever done the privilege walk, I think it illustrates this point beautifully.  If you have a diverse group of people and everyone stands on a line to start, different statements about having privilege or not having privilege are read out loud.  The people who have experienced what the statement says take a step forward or a step back.  After many statements, such as “take a step forward if you grew up with both parents in the home” or “step back if you have been pulled over by the police more than 3 times” are read, the people who experience the most amount of privilege, white straight males, end up at the front of the line and then at the back of the line are people who deal with the most amount of social oppression, which ends up being females of color, or queer people of color. Everyone else with varying degrees of privilege and oppression end up along the continuum, depending on their experiences.  If everyone is facing forward towards the front, the facilitator asks the question, “Who has the best view of the society.”  The people at the back of the line can see everyone in front of them, but the people in the front of the line can only see themselves or people next to them.  Their social blinders are on.

This seems to be exactly what happens in life.  The more privilege one has, the more difficult it is to notice others around you.  The blinders are on and unless we make an effort to turn around and ask people what they are experiencing or notice how their life is, we only see in front of us and from side to side.  On the flip side, people with the least societal privilege are aware of everyone else in front of them and aware of the differences in experiences.  I rarely, if ever, hear people who experience a high level of societal oppression talk about their experiences as if they are universal truths.  They can see clear as day that other people are living lives different than them due to racial privilege, economic privilege, educational privilege, etc….

For me the lesson in this is for all of us to take more time turning around and becoming aware of the people and experiences who aren’t directly visible to us.  Don’t make assumptions about other people’s experiences and instead take the time to learn about people, with an open mind.  And don’t assume you know what other people go through.  Assumptions don’t help us build relationships and connections.  They keep us divided and ignorant.

 

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White entitlement to POC lived experiences

This week we celebrated the birth of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., a holiday I am excited to celebrate every year.  There are so many holidays that are difficult for me to be excited about, knowing the underlying celebration is not aligned with my beliefs or values.  But this past Monday, I celebrated and soaked in the legacy of MLK.

His words, reflections and critical questions are still so relevant today and I wanted to touch on a point he made in his lifetime, specifically in his Letters From a Birmingham Jail.

He writes 55 years ago, “I suppose I should have realized that few members of the oppressor race can understand the deep groans and passionate yearnings of the oppressed race, and still fewer have the vision to see that injustice must be rooted out by strong, persistent and determined action.”

This passage makes me think about something friends of color often complain to me about with white people.  White people act as if they/we understand the experiences of people of color so much so, they/we argue with people of color to try and convince them they are being “too sensitive” or “too angry” or “taking things too personally” about experiences they are having.  This is so deep because as white people, we will NEVER know what it’s like to be a person of color. If we can’t ever understand this experience, how could we ever determine if someone is being “too” anything when it comes to dealing with the world and the racism, biases and microaggressions happening all the time?  We have never walked in the world in skin that is not our own and so the experiences we have in the world are of a person with white skin privilege, which has not dealt with racism on the receiving end.  We also don’t hold ancestral memory of racial oppression, attempted genocide and terror because of our skin color so it is impossible for us to really know the depth to how much a microaggression could impact a person of color.

Racism is traumatic and painful.  When a person is forced to deal with racially painful situations, and there is a lifetime and/or generations of trauma already there, the impact can be severe.  Nobody outside of that person, particularly someone who hasn’t felt that type of pain/ trauma, has the ability to know how that person feels.  AND, a white person telling a person of color that they are being too angry or too sensitive about situations in their life that are likely or definitely related to race is a microaggression.  If you don’t know what a microaggression is, I have added a definition and some examples below, courtesy of Derald Wing Sue from this article.

My next question that I ask is why do white people do this?  What is happening for us when a person of color is explaining their own experiences in life, particularly when it has to do with situations where race is involved, and we don’t believe them?  If we could admit that people of color understand their own personal experiences better than we understand them, would it somehow turn a finger on us to say that we are racist?  Are we so paranoid about being looked upon as racist that we subconsciously (or consciously) negate a person of color’s experience as a way to stay “emotionally safe”?  Or are we force fed the idea that this world is “our” world, that our voices, opinions and thoughts are validated in most situations in society so of course our experiences in life must be that of everyone else. So if our experiences are privileged above other’s, then when a person of color explains to us a scenario we don’t understand because we have never felt it before, we don’t believe them.  We think they are wrong.

A great way to hit this point home is the way people talk about police profiling and police brutality.  Most white people believe profiling and brutality by the police is either totally untrue, or is something that happens occasionally and by the few “bad apples” but not actually a common occurrence.  This is because we don’t witness it or experience it much, if at all.  For people of color, particularly the darker the skin and/or if the city and neighborhood they live in has a higher percentage of people of color, they see or experience or hear about profiling and brutality with such consistency that it is difficult to see it as random or occasional.  So, when a person of color explains how they have been taught to act when being pulled over and a white person says they are being paranoid or sensitive, this is a microaggression.  In the Black community, for instance, it is common place to have conversations with the children growing up (especially the boys) about how to act when approached by police officers.  They are taught very clear rules and regulations of how to behave in these situations, because it can be a matter of life or death.  Black people (and many Latino people or high melenated Asian and Pacific Islander people) know this intimately because of the history and current day world with police terror in communities of color. To a white person who has never experienced this or who doesn’t have many encounters with people of color to hear their experiences, they they don’t believe this reality exists.

Any my question to everyone who doesn’t believe in this reality, is WHY?  Why is it so hard to understand that someone else’s reality is not your reality?  If you/ I/ we don’t experience something that doesn’t mean it isn’t actually happening to people who live in a different experience because of something like skin color.

In order for us to do the real healing necessary, the real work necessary to make some significant changes and impact to our society, we MUST first listen to the ways racism has impacted people of color, with the FULL AWARENESS that it is really happening as they are sharing.  IT IS REALLY HAPPENING.  Once we can start learning these very important skills of listening without believing we know someone else’s experience better than they know their own experience, we can start having real dialogue about the impact and harm and move forward in how to heal and change.

 

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Microaggressions are the everyday verbal, nonverbal, and environmental slights, snubs, or insults, whether intentional or unintentional, which communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative messages to target persons based solely upon their marginalized group membership. In many cases, these hidden messages may invalidate the group identity or experiential reality of target persons, demean them on a personal or group level, communicate they are lesser human beings, suggest they do not belong with the majority group, threaten and intimidate, or relegate them to inferior status and treatment.

  • A White man or woman clutches their purse or checks their wallet as a Black or Latino man approaches or passes them. (Hidden message: You and your group are criminals.).
  • An Asian American, born and raised in the United States, is complimented for speaking “good English.” (Hidden message: You are not a true American. You are a perpetual foreigner in your own country.)
  • A Black couple is seated at a table in the restaurant next to the kitchen despite there being other empty and more desirable tables located at the front. (Hidden message: You are a second-class citizen and undeserving of first-class treatment.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Imagining Justice

I apologize for the super last minute notice about this, but if you are in the Oakland area tomorrow, December 20th, I will be speaking at Heart & Soul Center of Light.

Wednesday nights at Heart & Soul are entitled, Imagining Justice, and the month of December is themed,  Unleashing the Prophetic Voice of Creative Expression.  Each week highlights a different creative expression and I have been given the honor of bringing my Dissecting Whiteness work into the space.

If you are around, here is the information:

Heart & Soul Center of Light (heartsoulcenter.org), 1001 42nd St., 1st Floor, Oakland CA 94608

6:15-6:30 Meditation

6:30-8:00 Program

If you are able, come and be with me, be with us.

 

As always, I hope all is well in your world.

 

 

 

White Discipline

I work in the world of restorative justice, so the conversation about discipline is prevalent.  I also dissect whiteness, white culture and white norms, which requires a lot of reflective perceptions.  I do an exercise in many of my trainings that asks everyone to think about white culture and all the ways it shows up in the world.  Discipline is a part of culture and one of the questions I ask is how do white people discipline.  If you are white and are around communities of color and their conversation on how white people discipline their kids, you would definitely hear an earful about how white people let their kids run all around with no containment.  You would probably hear about how we are often seen as being soft on our kids and not holding strong boundaries, that we let our kids be disrespectful and talk to us and other adults in ways that would never be allowed in their homes.

In my reflections about my own discipline growing up and what I notice all around me, I am definitely in agreement that white people generally have much less discipline with their children and themselves than with most people of color.  A society rooted in white supremacy has made it unsafe for people of color to be running around all over the place with no containment.  Speaking disrespectfully to the wrong person could equal harm and even death.  The strong disciplinary practices in most families of color are coming from generations and generations of being hard at home in order to protect their children and themselves from the even harsher realities of the outside world.  White families, on the other hand, don’t have the same harsh realities of the outside world.  White privilege protects us from harsh treatment and so there hasn’t been any real need to have strict discipline at home.  We don’t need to protect our kids in the same way because white privilege protects them.

White culture is also the underlying culture of all the major institutions in this country, including the criminal system and our educational system.  Interestingly, in both of these systems, they advocate for strong punitive discipline.   So, what’s the difference?  The difference is the people who are getting the discipline.  When it comes to white people and our own families, we have a tendency to have a high tolerance for breaking rules and often give out softer punishment.  When it comes to disciplining Black and Brown youth and adults, there is harsh punishment, mandatory minimums, no tolerance policies, 3 strikes, etc.  In schools, the discipline has proven over and over to be more focused on Black and Brown students.  Read HERE for an article going into this in more detail.

And case after case has shown us that even when white people end up committing crimes, they are seen by the media and the judge or lawyers as “making a mistake” or “just doing what boys do” or other similar softening of the behavior to reduce the ultimate discipline afflicted on them.  Which, as a strong advocate of restorative justice, I believe this is the direction we should be taking things.  People make mistakes and the system shouldn’t ruin someone’s life because of it.  There should be consequences and accountability, but options that are actually in alignment to someone’s actual rehabilitation.  Unfortunately, the “justice” system too often gives a pass for mistakes to white people, while criminalizing and putting harsh sentences on their counterparts of color.

A prime example of this was with Brock Turner (a 19 year old white college student) and Cory Batey (a 19 year old Black college student) who were both convicted of raping unconscious women.  Both situations had ample evidence to prove the rapes happened.  They happened in different places, but were equally disturbing cases of young men assaulting and violating unconsenting women.  What were the sentences?  Turner (the white young male) was given 6 months jail time and could be released in 3 months with good behavior. He also wouldn’t have to go to prison and could stay at the local jail for his sentence.   Batey (the young black male) was sentenced to a 15-20 year minimum mandatory sentence in a prison.  The only clear difference between these two cases is the race of the young men.  This is one example of many to highlight what I am talking about.  To read more, click HERE

White culture has two personalities when it comes to dealing with discipline.  One side is forgiving and soft and not wanting to hurt people with too much punishment.  This is more often than not, reserved for people who are white.  On the other side, there is a belief that people must pay for their mistakes and learn hard lessons with harsh consequences.  This is reserved for people who are not white.  I believe this comes out of generational and historical beliefs of internalized superiority and subconsciously (and consciously, for some) needing to control people whose tenacity and fierceness through centuries of oppression has not been demolished. Deep down, I think white people fear people of color because we ultimately know in our spirits that what has been done to people of color is so bad that if there was actual righteous retaliation, we would deserve to be put through extreme, harsh conditions.  So white people have needed to manipulate and control people of color out of fear of that retaliation.   This is a theory that will be broken down further in future commentaries.

In closing, I wanted to share another training coming up in January that I am a part of:

Using a Culturally Responsive Lens to Build Community: A 3-day Restorative Justice Training

In this training, we will be breaking down culture and discipline and a lot of what I talked about in this blog post.  If you are in education and in the Bay Area, check it out.  If you aren’t but you know others who are, pass the information along.  The training is going to be amazing and it is being facilitated by a group of gifted and truly talented people, including myself.

 

To Love Whiteness

I have been thinking a lot about self love.  About loving all of who I am in order to love another.  There’s a song that’s been in my head for the last two days that I first heard being sung at the spiritual center/church I go to.  It’s simple, 4 lines:

I love myself so much,
So I can love you so much,
So you can love you so much,
So you can start loving me.

I had the song stuck in my head last night and then woke up this morning singing it too.  While singing it on repeat for a while, it struck me how challenging over the years it has been to love my whiteness.  It has been the missing link for me in my work towards loving every part of who I am.

When I was younger I felt like loving my whiteness would make me racist because loving my culture meant to love white privilege.  I didn’t understand the difference because nobody talked to me about it.  And to love the recognition that my life is treated as more important than another’s due to the color of my skin was and is disturbing to say the least.  I also didn’t have any context to what white culture really was outside of the historical legacy that I was deeply ashamed to be connected to.  My mom was from England and didn’t hold the same historical context in her ancestry than my dad did, but England has it’s own colonial and white supremacist history.  But it was with my mom that I felt much more connected to a cultural identity outside of the bland and confusing white culture that I had been born into. In my confusion, I decided to just focus on loving myself as the person I am inside my skin like my compassion, my humor, my intelligence, my wit, my depth, my joy, my emotions etc.  And this has worked for a while…. but it doesn’t cover my fullness.  There are aspects of myself that are missing.  And there are parts of who I am that are very culturally connected and I am grateful for.  Loving these parts of myself does not mean I love white supremacy, and this is the love I am working on expanding.

I have said in my writings before that I am often in spaces with a very strong Black presence.  Many of my closest friends, comrades, co-workers, students, etc are Black.  Many of them have a strong love for their culture, their people and their Blackness.  It is inspiring and beautiful.  I am often in awe of what that would feel like.  I don’t just see this cultural love with friends of African descent, but of all racial and cultural backgrounds, except my white friends. I have thought many times that this lack of pride I had for my people was just one of the consequences of a history of white supremacy.  That in exchange for white privilege, we unconsciously gave up this possibility, this ability to have deep pride for our people.

Some of the reasons for this comes from my understanding of how “Black” and “white” culture has been formed.   A lot of “Black” culture comes from the ways people have survived and developed a culture of resilience in the face of severe abuse and oppression, control and attempted genocide.  The depth of connection and valuing community and family in the face of so much societal hate and fear. “Black” culture is the beauty of the rose that has been forced to grow between the cracks of the concrete.    Before “Black” culture, African people’s culture was connected to location, land, village/ tribe, family, etc.  Before “white” culture, European people’s culture was connected to location, land, village/ tribe, family, etc.  From the unfolding of this country, there has emerged cultures based on skin color, and specifically with people of African and European ancestry, neither group has any connection to ancestral land.  One group having had choice, with the other group having been forced.  From this history, Black and white culture emerges. White culture begins to emerge from an identity with irrational and false superiority, domination and violence.

But my yearning for a feeling of deep and full self love, I am brought to question whether the lack of love white people have for our culture is a major obstacle to transforming and healing the racial wounds we experience (this concept of white people having wounds from racism may be a new idea for some.  It’s the idea that there is a cost to racism that white people experience.  Whenever there is a harm, it is not just the person or people being harmed who get hurt.  But the person or people causing the harm are also hurt by it). If white people could find more love for ourselves, for our whiteness (the parts that are not about oppression, privilege and supremacy), would we be more available to love others in their fullness and not take aspects of other people’s culture in order to feel connected to something?  White culture is infamous (among POC communities) for being cultural appropriators.  Although this is frustrating and problematic, I understand where it comes from.  I have written previous blogs about this phenomena so I’m not going to go into detail about it now but I believe this is a result of not knowing how to love a culture that is so rooted in superiority, dominance and violence.

When two people meet from different cultures and both people have love for themselves, they are able to share in each other’s greatness without any jealousy, any need to diminish the other person’s fullness.  In these connections, there is true cultural appreciation and sharing and space for both people to express themselves in their full cultural selves without shame or hiding.  I am in a high school and I am constantly aware of how students of color get shut down and even penalized for being in their full cultural selves.  Our educational structures, and many of the people who work in them, are based in white culture and this culture becomes seen and held as the norm and people who don’t fit into it are pushed out or shut down.  This topic is  broken down in more depth and fullness in my upcoming training, “Dissecting Whiteness in Urban Education,”

https://facingwhiteness-urbaneducation.eventbrite.com

So what is white culture outside of white supremacy?  And what can I love about it?  What parts of myself that clearly come from my cultural upbringing can I whole heartedly love?  I thought about doing another facebook series of 100 days of loving my whiteness…. which not only felt weird due to the language of it, but I’m worried I wouldn’t be able to find 100 things….

Will the deepening of my self love, which includes love for my whiteness, allow me to have deeper relationships with people of color in my life.  I think it will.  I think it will for all of us.  I think, as the song says, if “I love myself so much so that I can love you so much so that you can love you so much so that you can start loving me.”

So, I start here.  And just to be clear, saying these cultural aspects are rooted in white culture, does not mean other cultures don’t also hold these values.

  1.  I love my culture for teaching me to love nature and the natural environment.
  2. I love my culture for teaching me to love salads and raw fruits and vegetables.
  3. I love my culture for teaching me to value traveling.

I’m still working on it…. I would love to hear from anyone reading this about what you love and appreciate about white culture…..

 

 

 

Dissecting Whiteness in Urban Education

Hello everyone, I am doing a 2-day workshop January 4-5 in Oakland and I would love to see some of you there!!!  Or share this information with educators in the Bay Area who would be interested and who would benefit from this workshop!!

Click below for the eventbrite link:

https://www.eventbrite.com/e/dissecting-whiteness-in-urban-education-tickets-39682016981

And for the link to the flyer:

DIssectingWhiteness-UrbanEducationFinal

Love and gratitude to each of you for continuing to follow me in my writing, my learning and teaching!!

Las Vegas- White male dysfunction

Prayers are sent up for the families of the killed and injured in Las Vegas.  It is a tragedy as heart breaking as Puerto Rico and Mexico and Houston.  The depth of pain and trauma being experienced right now feels overwhelming, to say the least.

As prayers are offered, I am caught reading all about the tragedy and my critical eye is tuned up as I watch and read.  The overt and subtle racism that permeates most of it is not surprising, though still infuriating.

I have read many articles over the last 15 hours about the tragedy and the only news outlet that has shown a picture of the killer has been the BBC news, which is not based in the United States.  Every other media outlet continues to show the picture of his supposed girlfriend, who is a brown-skinned Asian woman, but the white man continues to be protected.  If the shooter was someone of any other race, I guarantee the picture will definitely be readily available for everyone to see.  It happens every time!

Another disturbing part of it is how white people aren’t racially identified.  After reading several stories, none of them including a picture of the guy, I had to only assume he was a white man based on the fact that his race was not disclosed.  This undisclosure often means the white people writing the story, producing the story and/ or anchoring the story all agree that white is the “norm,” and doesn’t need to be identified.  This is deeply racist and problematic thinking and continues to teach the subliminal messages of internalized white superiority.

Then, I was watching an ABC news piece video and the white male anchor, in describing the shooter (we still have yet to be shown a picture), he says he is “a 64 year old white male, hardly the classic description of what we would call an Isis Terrorist.”  As if the only people who have caused terror in this country are people affiliated with Isis or Islam.  In fact, a nonpartisan think tank based in Washington, DC, called New America, put out a study that showed between 2001-2015, right-wing American extremists killed more Americans than by Islamist terrorists.

I have actually witnessed this reality over my lifetime.  The mass shooting phenomena seems to be steadily increasing and along with it, the realization that the majority of them are committed by white men.  Yet the media has not ever (that I remember) made reference to there being a problem with white males.  There haven’t been references to this particular demographic of people being suspect and problematic or laws being written to make sure our society as a whole stays safe from “these people”. When it comes to white crimes, they are thought of as solitary incidences and the perpetrators as bad apples in a country of red delicious beauties. The same thing happened with this case.  Within hours, news media were reporting that Stephen Paddock (the shooter) acted alone and was not connected to any outside group.

Yet, when there is crime committed by Black people or Arab people, there seems to be a direct or subtle reference to a larger body of people or a cultural connection to their community as a whole.  This fuels racist views because it not only demonizes the shooter(s) but demonizes the entire community that they are from.

In conversations I have had with Black and Arab people in my life, they have shared that when a high profile crime involving a Black or Arab person or people happens, there is usually a feeling that the crime will be a reflection of their people as a whole.  They brace themselves for the backlash they could feel or be subjected to because of this ignorant and racist way of thinking.

On the flip side, if you ask white people about this same thing, none of us feel personally reflected or stereotyped due to the behavior of the perpetrator (as in the situation with Dylann Roof or Adam Lanza or James Holmes or Jared Loughner or Eric Harris or Dylan Klebold, etc.).  All of these men are white and responsible for mass killings in the United States, yet their crimes have never been referenced in any type of large media outlet as a white issue or a problem with white behavior or white cultural problems.  White men have yet to be stereotyped as being prone to irrational or violent behavior, even though a ride through the actual history of the United States would show a very different picture.

It’s this type of reflection that, for me, begs the question, “what is wrong with white men? What types of things are happening to them to cause this type of behavior?”  I truly believe the answer lies in the unhealed internalized and generational pain of racism.  In situations of traumatic harm, both the people who are harmed and the people causing harm, have long-term impact.  White people, my people, in this country, are deeply wounded by racism.  Our ancestors and family members have been the perpetrators of generations of violence and this wounding causes deep issues.  Issues so deep, they can cause people to snap and kill a whole bunch of people without any understandable reason.