From the Toronto Star reporting on a press conference earlier today, Obama finally gives the world a bit more than a written statement about the Trayvon Martin case.
“Trayvon Martin could have been me 35 years ago,” said Obama, not just acknowledging but slaying the elephant in the room.
A gape-jawed White House press corps sat astonished as Obama, himself the product of a biracial family — a black father from Kenya, a white mother from Kansas — described, as never before, what it feels like inside young, black male skin.
Time changes but history doesn’t. And it is “inescapable” that African-Americans will see the scot-free exoneration of Zimmerman in the shooting death of a Skittles-toting Florida teen through the lens of their own collective experience.
“There are very few African-American men in this country who haven’t had the experience of being followed when they were shopping in a department store. That includes me,” said Obama.
Before the Zimmerman verdict came down yesterday, I had plans to post about racism. I had a perfect post in mind, about how each person who grew up in the States, myself included, is racist, whether they believe so or not. And for that matter, each white person who grew up in a country where white people hold the structural power, each of those people is racist, too. It is an inevitable fact because you can’t separate yourself from the air you breathe or the water you drink. It’s all woven into us. And it’s a fact that we don’t want to face because of all of the shame that comes with it.
As an anti-racist, I have openly admitted to my racism in fora where the participants are predominantly people of colour and I’ve done so for the plain and simple truth that a) it exists and acknowledging it helps us all breathe a sigh of relief and b) the only way to make it go away is to address it, examine it, and break it apart. I don’t want racism anymore so I’m working to divest myself of it in a way that is healthy, open, and honest.
I, Angela Warner, am a racist anti-racist. I also struggle with internalized misogyny and internalized homophobia. It’s all part of me, woven into how and where I was raised.
It’s not enough to simply know that racism exists, that we live in a racist world. In the outpourings of grief and anger about the Zimmerman verdict, I’m asking myself and other white people: how are we reflecting on and actively transforming our own personal racism? And our collective racism? Because white people: we are ALL racist. It is impossible to have grown up in a white supremacy and not have taken on racist beliefs and actions. And before you defensively cite the number of friends of colour you have, please remember that sometimes these beliefs and actions are incredibly sneaky – they are designed by white supremacy to look normal and natural. As white people, sometimes we can find them difficult to spot – yet they are glaringly obvious to those who are hurt EVERY SINGLE DAY by our racism. I originally posted that I was not going to elaborate with detailed examples today, because on this day of grief and rage I didn’t want to unconsenually subject friends of colour, particularly black friends, to the details of the racism that arise in me and that I need to vigilantly be aware of, unpack and work to change. However, I got some feedback a few hours after posting that some liberal white folks couldn’t read beyond the first paragraph because they were upset at having been called “racist”. So, I’m going to post a list of examples right at the bottom of this article, with warning at the top so folks of colour and Indigenous people can choose whether/when to read this.
Go Read The Examples in Drake’s post. This is an important thing to do. We can’t fix the problem if no one knows what the problem really looks like, and if everyone, therefore, feels they can deny that there’s a problem. If all of us are walking around saying to ourselves and others, “It’s Not Me! I’m Not The Problem! It’s Those People Over There! I’M NOT RACIST” meanwhile, they’re busy minding their own business and then suddenly a race-based stereotype pops up into their thinky thoughts but that gets relegated to generic stereotype and not seen as the racism that it is, racism will continue to persist.
And when others’ sneaky thinky thoughts become vocalized and are seen for what they are, it’s a good idea to pay attention to how to approach that conversation. Watch this, because this is important. This is something I wish I had seen ages ago when it first came out. It would have saved me several heated “discussions”: How To Tell People They Sound Racist
It is also important to note that just as internalized misogyny and internalized homophobia exist, internalized racism exists, too. This is what I was referencing when I initially stated that All of Us who grew up in the States are racist. It’s awful, and this is some of what it looks like: A Girl Like Me
In his post, Drake makes lucid and valuable points when he talks about the shame of racism and how we can work to free ourselves from it. He states plainly that “the shame is not that these racist things come up in us – growing up in a white supremacy, it is impossible for them to not. The shame is when we deny it, refuse to do the work and therefore turn our backs on our sisters, brothers and siblings of colour. The shame is when we are inactive through fear of doing the wrong thing.”
Would you like to witness what people feeling shame looks like? This is the most amazing and astounding example of shame I have yet seen recorded. It’s really something to marvel at.
When Brené Brown did her second TED Talk, she spoke about Listening to Shame. Her first talk was on the Power of Vulnerability, and this talk on shame helped bring her back to the roots of her research. She says, “Jungian analysts call shame, ‘The Swampland of the Soul.’ And we’re going to walk in. And the purpose is not to walk in and construct a home and live there. It is to put on some galoshes, and walk through, and find our way around.” Watch what happens next (skip to 10:11):
Did you catch that? When she says, “Here’s why. We heard the most compelling call ever to have a conversation in this country, and I think, globally, around race, right?” When she says that, what does the audience do? *crickets*
In the same talk, at 18:58, Brown says, “If we’re going to find our way back to each other, we have to understand and know empathy because empathy is the antidote to shame. If you put shame in a Petri dish, it needs three things to grow exponentially: secrecy, silence, and judgment. If you put the same amount of shame in a Petri dish and douse it with empathy, it can’t survive…. If we’re going to find our way back to each other, vulnerability is going to be that path.”
We need to let ourselves be seen honestly, instead of putting up a wall between us and the problem. When we do that, we become part of the problem that we want to go away, so ultimately it’s really unproductive. In his post, Drake continues with this:
Let’s raise the bar. Let’s listen deeply to people of colour and Indigenous people and respect their wisdom and stop appropriating it and re-packing it into $30,000 university degrees and pretending we came up with it (thanks Kim Crosby for pointing that out). Let’s learn to admit when we fuck up (because we do, everyday) and figure out how to transform ourselves and make amends to those who we hurt. Let’s lovingly yet firmly point out racism to each other and hold each other accountable for making amends to the people we hurt and changing our behaviour for future. Let’s remember that we are the ones responsible for holding each other through the process of changing, so that we’re not expecting the support of folks of colour – think about how painful that must be- first, being hurt by racism, then having to hold the hand of the person who hurt you…
We’re all in this together, but the white folk need to put on their big girl and big boy undies and own their shit. There is no Us versus Them because we’re all human here, sharing this planet with each other. Most of us want to believe we’re all playing on the same team. We need to start acting like it. The only dividing lines that exist are the ones we’ve created ourselves or the ones we continue to pass down from the racist societal structures we live in. Denying the existence of those dividing lines (through denial of white privilege or pretending to be colourblind, which is the dumbest fucking thing ever) is a slap in the face to people who are hurt daily by those divisions. Yes, we humans constructed those dividing lines, but they don’t need to persist. Go read Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack by Peggy McIntosh, if you’re new to this and feel compelled to learn more. It’s eye-opening.