Gaining Perspective on Racism
In reading the January 2016 Joyful Noise feature article (MLK Day: A Call to Action) I was particularly struck by the following paragraph: “One of the challenges of their [the Conference Anti-Racism Team] work is a response that is common among whites in Western Pennsylvania: I don’t encounter people of color, so there is nothing I can do.”
As a white male, while I understand this reaction, I also believe that it is indicative of a lack of understanding, awareness and recognition of the history of oppression (of people of color) that has existed throughout America’s history, and the resulting prejudices, biases, and institutionalized racist practices that exist, and continue to perpetuate, in modern-day society.
For those that truly believe there is nothing they can do, one suggestion is to gain some perspective on what it means to be white, the meaning of white culture, and what it means to inherently benefit from entitlement and white privilege.
As the article mentions, Dr. Tochluk’s text Witnessing Whiteness is an excellent resource (one among many on this topic) to provide basic historical and contextual understanding; however, the real key is to use that knowledge to undertake some self-exploration and attempt to view the world through a different lens, asking yourself the following types of questions:
- Do I laugh along with racist jokes or comments and not speak out against them (even if they truly offended me)?
- How have I benefited simply from being white (and in some cases, more specifically, being a white male)?
- How aware am I of racially biased portrayals of people of color in television, movies or other media? And does this bother me?
- While unintentional, do I use language that could be offensive to people of color?
- When racism is mentioned, do I realize this is applicable to all people of color?
- How often do I talk to / teach my children about racism?
- Have I ever been followed by a security guard while shopping in a retail store?
If you were in the “There is Nothing I Can Do” camp, do you still believe that? Even if you don’t encounter people of color, you can be an agent of change in your white community. When you see acts of racism or hear racist comments, you can call them out. You can be an advocate of change, an example to your peers and teacher to your children.
At times when I am faced with something that seems too large or daunting to overcome, I often think of Mother Teresa’s quote: “We can do no great things, only small things with great love”. When it comes to dismantling racism in America (and in your corner of Western Pennsylvania), there is always something you can do.
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