Tuesday, February 3, 2009

This is why I am anti-racist

Lately I've been missing-in-action on the web. Life is full of good things, like work and friends and amazing moments of grace. There is a lot to write about from this last week, but right now there is something buzzing in my brain that I need to share with others.

For class tomorrow my Race & Ethnicity professor is having us watch this video, A Girl Like Me from the Media That Matters Film Festival. It's short, so watch it.

The scene with the doll test made me stop breathing; I just couldn't breathe as I watched the little girl push the brown-skinned doll towards the camera. "Can you show me the doll that looks bad?" Of course she can. She's probably not even eight-years-old and our society has given her the reason: "Because it's black."

"And can you show me the doll that looks like you?"

No. Don't. Please. I'm looking at the little girl, dreading the choice that she is about to make. But I'm really pleading with her culture-- my culture-- to leave her alone. Don't. No.

We are killing our children.

For the same class we read an article from Tim Wise, a noted anti-racist activist and author who address white privilege. A friend forwarded me one of his articles this summer (Your Whiteness Is Showing) and during the last leg of the election season I stumbled upon This Is Your Nation on White Privilege. It's good stuff, in my opinion. He shows the glaring inconsistencies between logic and practice, in which the latter is skewed by the social sin of white privilege.

The piece we read for class, Famous Last Words: Exploring the Depths of Racial Socialization, was similarly heart-breaking. In it, Wise's recounts how his strong, progressive grandmother succumbed to debilitating Alzheimer's disease to the point where she could not remember anything about her life... except that her African-American nurses should be addressed by the N-word. Wise writes that "resisting socialization requires the ability to choose," and that the disease that sapped his grandmother's soundness of mind took away her power to resist after a lifetime of standing up against oppression. The point is this: our society is so steeped in white privilege and racist attitudes that all of us-- Wise, his grandmother, the little black girl, you and I-- have been planted with the seeds of oppression. Untended they grow, and because of this part of our humanity is stolen from us.

Part of our humanity is stolen from us. Part of our humanity is stolen from us. Part of that little girl's humanity is stolen from her. Part of my humanity is stolen from me.

Wise cautions against white guilt, which is paralyzing and so does no good. And even though this isn't the first time I've felt the knife twist in my heart (it won't be the last, either) I'd like to take a space of time to mourn. Which doesn't mean that I'll stop working to resist racism, or that I won't celebrate the human spirit alive and well where I find it, or that I won't be thankful for the healing of human souls and social systems. But as I have found over time, the ones who mourn are the ones who are blessed (I'm lifting my language right out of Matthew 5:4, btw). By not suppressing the horror and sadness that come out from seeing that little girl push the doll towards me, or reading about Tim Wise's grandmother, or listening to the choreopoem of Ntozake Shange's For Colored Girls / Who Have Considered Suicide / When the Rainbow is Enuf, I'm holding on to what humanity I have.

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