Friday, July 3, 2009

Social Awkwardness - Race Again?

I've had the opportunity to have some adult time this week - and by adult time I mean social time designed to bring coworkers together outside of the workplace. Typically, I'm more of a hang out with my friends kind of woman - I'm not a social butterfly - although I have been told I'm rather like a chameleon and can hold my own in a number of social settings. True enough.

Lately I have found these social settings to be ripe with exchanges that make me uncomfortable and that require me to use some of the skills I have been developing as an anti-racist woman/parent/teacher. Recently I was in a conversation with a man who is deeply involved with a well known charity organization. I was hoping to glean some information from him regarding local (Catholic) worship communities with families of color. His response really astounded me and set off my whistles and bells. It was something like, "Let's set aside race, I mean, that's what we're all supposed to do, right? (ME: NO! COLORBLIND THINKING STINKS) Think about where you want him to grow up, with families like your own, families that think like you, feel about things like you do, families that are like you . (ME: THAT DOESN'T DESCRIBE HOW I WANT HIM TO GROW UP AT ALL!) I don't think any church would be threatened by your family. (ME:WHAT? I WASN'T THINKING ABOUT FAMILIES I WAS THINKING ABOUT MY SON'S FEELINGS!) You ought to think of sending him to a Catholic school where they don't have to lock lockers and where it is safe every day .(ME: I'M A PUBLIC SCHOOL TEACHER!) We had two boys at our church and school who were black and they did great;they felt so comfortable (ME: HOW DO YOU KNOW?) and none of us ever saw them as black (ME:TOKEN) , and we never think of their color (ME: THE ONLY COLOR YOU NEVER THINK OF IS YOUR OWN, THAT'S CALLED PRIVILEGE).

End rant. But really, I was so astounded by this conversation. It was so full full full of so much of the stuff that reminds me I have so much work to do to speak out to fellow white people in ways that get us all a little closer together. Gads - what a stinker that was. Reflecting, when Mr. Silly Pants and I made our way home, we were on the same page - we had the same experience in the conversation, we had similar thoughts. We've made progress as a "unit" -as a couple and as a family- and that was sweet.


Liz said...

It's hard work. Ever since I started learning more about race as part of preparing myself to adopt, I have conversations like this all the time and I still haven't quite figured out how to bring all the hidden privilege to the person's attention without getting into an argument about it. If you figure it out, please share!

rebekah said...

Hmmm. yeah. So many thoughts. People who talk like this think they are enlightened, and the thing is, I wonder, tell me what you think.... is this type of mindset part of the process toward a more full understanding? My mind is swirling.

M and M said...

Bek, elaborate, please? This guy is considered a "good guy" - successful, white, about 50, deeply involved in some good community work - but really hasn't "unpacked his knapsack" if you know what I mean. So, help me understand your question about "mindset".

Mindy and Baldwin said...

I say grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr! I am so tired of this way of thinking. I have found that it's frighteningly pervasive.

Here's a quote I found recently that appeared in this month's Sun magazine. I think it really fits this situation (and unfortunately, it fits lots of the situations I've found myself in lately too:

"Contrary to today's stereotypes, racists do not always chew tobacco and drive pickup trucks with gun racks. They wear silk shirts, treat women as possessions, and talk about human rights at cocktail parties far from communities of people of color. The men in pickup trucks are just as likely to be warm and caring as the high-minded liberals are to be racists."
-Wilma Mankiller

M and M said...

Oh how interesting, Mindy. Here's the thing, our communities are FULL of passive racists. It's a hard place to be, from my point of view. Many of these folks are actually good people - good people who haven't done their work/haven't challenged themselves to do the work/have no personal motivation to change. Yeah, I move in a circle of more silk shirts than pickup trucks. I'm frustrated - and I'm figuring out how to establish myself as someone who can come at it with authority and persuasiveness. I'm going to work on being an expert on this stuff - I'll start with some credentials in my school district and see how that (authority) helps me move my community. How's that?

Mindy and Baldwin said...

Me too! Me too! My goal is to be able to not only argue with people like this, but to make them understand where they are and where they need to be. I find this "second tier of racism" (i.e. the whole color blind/refusal to see white privilege) as the conversation I'm having most often. And yet, I always feel empty at the end- as if I didn't say everything that I could have said or that I could have said it better or differently.