Introducing A New Blog: White Voices on Race

I’ve recently launched a new blog, “White Voices on Race.”  The first piece unpacks how white people, intentionally or otherwise, put up “Keep out” signs in their lives that prevent their ability to build relationships across difference. An introductory snippet:

Keep Out-hortKEEP OUT

I’m reading “Sundown Towns” by James Loewen.  It’s a fascinating deep dive into the circumstances that resulted in today’s suburbia being nearly all white and inner cities being nearly all black.  A sundown town was a town which expelled its existing black residents from 1890-1940 (sometimes Jewish and Chinese too, but mostly African American), then posted signs at its borders with the warning: “[racial epithet], don’t let the sun set on you in this town!”  People of color could work there, but couldn’t live there or be there after dark without significant risk to their personal safety…

Read more here

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Ferguson & the Gay Rights Movement

This Black gays for justiceweek Ruth Bader Ginsberg drew an important distinction between the gay rights movement and the civil rights movement – and she’s not been alone in her assessment.  The gay rights movement, which gained dramatic momentum following the protest at The Stonewall Inn in 1969, has had notable success.  It is less than 40 years later and people who couldn’t even say the word ‘gay’ back then now support legal gay marriage.  Everyone says it’s just a matter of time  before everyone will be able to legally marry.  National organizations and LGBT organizations across the country are scrambling to figure out what the next major gay rights cause will be – a new mission and purpose.  I use “gay rights” here on purpose because transgender rights are still woefully hard to find and certainly have not enjoyed the success that gay rights have enjoyed.

They say slavery ended nearly 150 years ago, yet this country still imprisons 30% of young black men.  Black and brown people are several times more likely to live in communities riddled by poverty with no access to opportunity.  They are more likely to drop out of their under-performing school, and be arrested or stopped by police – often landing them in jail.  As we have seen in Ferguson (and in many other cases), young men like Michael Brown are more likely to be killed.

The reason the gay rights movement has moved ahead so quickly is because gay and lesbian people live in families all across the country.  In every city, in every town, in every suburb.  Every time someone comes out, it forces the entire extension of people in that person’s family and friend network to question their assumptions about gay people.

People who have been at odds with “the gays”, found them sick, wrong, unqualified parents and undeserving spouses now have children that fall into that category.  And their personal knowledge of their son, their daughter, brother, sister, aunt, best friend, their relationship with that person, conflicts with the societally-driven stereotype they have always known.  It forces them to confront their biases in a very personal way.  And love is winning out.  People are renouncing their bias.  As people know someone who is gay, they become supportive of gay rights.  This is backed by ample research.

Research also shows that lesbian, gay bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people of color are at greatest risk for poverty, unemployment, incarceration, HIV/AIDS infection, and premature death – whether due to health access issues, suicide, violence or racial profiling.   LGBT people of color are not benefiting from the gay rights movement the way that white gay and lesbian people have.

People in the LGBT movement have an opportunity and a responsibility to ensure that all of our brothers and sisters are protected – especially those who are most abused by our system – our brothers and sisters of color.   If you’re white – you can take a hint from the gay rights movement.  Make some new friends.  Expand your family.  Get to know your existing friends and family who are people of color – ask them about their experiences.  This call extends to the transgender community. If you’re gay or lesbian, make some friends in the transgender community.  The killing of the Michael Brown is personal and it should be personal for all of us.  Including those of us who have white skin and are cisgender.

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Kathleen LaTosch at NCRC Annual Conference 2012Kathleen LaTosch is a diversity and inclusion consultant specializing strategic planning for organizational change at nonprofit organizations. She works in Michigan and nationally, assisting organizations in making systemic and lasting change.  For more information, visit www.LaToschConsulting.com.
 

The “R” Word: Racist

On Thursday (May 17, 2012), the U.S. Census Bureau reported that for the first time in American History the majority of babies born in the U.S. were to parents of color.  Twenty-six percent of those babies were Latino, 15 percent were African American, and 4 percent Asian.  Researchers estimate that by the year 2050, there will be more people of color alive in the U.S. than whites, making it the first time ever that whites have not held a majority population since arriving on American soil hundreds of years ago.

My question is What Will The Whites Do About This?  What will you do about this?  I did a quick facebook search of groups, searching for “whites against racism” and what I found was not what I was looking for.  In that one small search, I did not find any groups for whites who support anti-racism efforts.  Instead, I found five groups titled, W.A.R.R. (Whites Against Reverse Racism), Racism Against “Whites” Is Still Racism, Racism Against Whites, and again Racism Against Whites.  Granted, not a very creative grouping of titles, except perhaps the first which raises serious concerns of its own.

That seems to answer, at least briefly, my What Will The Whites Do About This query.  The more important question here is what are you going to do about it?  In my experience, the progressive white voice typically falls into one of three camps: 1) the annoyed person who doesn’t get what all the fuss is about and is sick and tired of talking about race; 2) the “bleeding heart liberal” who almost wishes he/she were born a person of color; and 3) the silent and largely uncomfortable majority.  I acknowledge here that there is always a portion of that silent majority who remains quiet in deference and respect for the voices of color and experiences they speak to.  However, I believe quite a few of them are silent out of fear and/or a lack of education on issues of race and culture.

In fact, I believe most whites remain silent out of fear of being called the dreaded “R” word.  I remember being silent many times when the issue of race would come up in a group.  I was fearful I would say the wrong thing – use the wrong words, say something that someone would take offense to – fearful that someone would say or think I was a racist.  The dreaded “R” word.  It’s the name that strikes fear into the heart of many a white person.

By many definitions, I am a racist.  Can I really escape being a racist if my actions or inactions benefit me simply because of the color of my skin or the way I speak?  The way I look wholesome to shop owners, never suspicious.  The way I get smiled at because I look conventional, even conservative to some – with my medium blonde hair, blue eyes, clear and slightly pinkish Germanic-descended skin tone.  The way I can go joy-riding in a stolen car at the age of 15 and never see a jail cell, have my mom pick me up at the station crying and then send me back to the same family whose car I “borrowed” while babysitting, to apologize.  It’s called white privilege because if I had a different skin tone, I’d have a record, a mugshot and fingerprints on file;  I certainly wouldn’t have been treated so sweetly by the police or that family – I never even wore handcuffs that night.

If I take advantage of that privilege, some might call that racism.   There’s not a single white person in America who has not benefited from this kind of privilege and taken advantage of it.  There’s not a single white person who’s not racist in some way or another.  Still, white people are so afraid of that “R” word that we remain locked in our own fear, unwilling to engage in the conversation.

But now is a good time to end that.  When I do a search on “whites against racism” I don’t want to see WAR shout back at me.  I want to see white people speaking up and out in support of our entire community – and denouncing inequality wherever it hides, saying something as simple as, “hey, that’s not right!”

White mens restroomIn his Letter from a Birmingham Jail in 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King wrote “Lukewarm acceptance is more bewildering than outright rejection.” It was in reference to asking white Birmingham business owners to take down the signs of segregation from their storefronts.  Encouraged by the nodding heads, it was indeed bewildering when the following week he found the signs still proudly posted in the front windows of the shops, “whites only.”

I appeal to the silent majority to end your silence.  Don’t nod your head.  Speak up and take part in the conversation.  Risk being called the “R” word.   I don’t know a single person of color who has the luxury of choosing whether or not they get insulted.

Re-posted December 5, 2014.

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