Thursday, December 01, 2005

Guest Blogging Against Racism: My Mother

Pooh: via Bitch, PhD, I discovered that today has been designated 'Blogging Against Racism Day'. As my mother heads up an organization known as Healing Racism in Anchorage, I figured it would be good to have her share some thoughts on the matter. My own thoughts on the matter can be found here.

Take it away, Mom:

From reading comments by others, I see that most are in agreement about the definition of racism: a systematic use of power to advantage some (in America based on what is called "race") and disadvantage others. Or, more simply put, prejudice plus power (the ability to put the prejudice into action) equals racism. So only those in power (as a group) can be racist. Those not in power can be prejudiced, they just can't be racist. It's more than a semantic difference, because it places racism at the societal as well as personal level.

For instance, the systemic nature of racism means that white people like myself are routinely advantaged just because we are seen as white by others. Lord knows I've benefited, in obvious ways (not getting speeding tickets when I should have) to less obvious ways (getting jobs that I was qualified for, but then so were others). It also means that one can be a nice person but still behave in racist ways and say racist things. Finally, it suggests that it is meaningless to call someone "a racist," because we all are. Name-calling doesn't seem to be a fruitful plan of action in any event; it doesn't change the behavior, just draws battle lines.

The second item in general agreement in the comments I've read is that living in the US makes it nigh near impossible not to be infected by what Nathan Rutstein many years ago began calling the "disease of racism". The analogy is apt. It takes the discussion away from blame and guilt and places it in a stance of responsibility and action.

I'm a founding member of a group in Anchorage, Alaska called Healing Racism in Anchorage. We have had many a debate about whether to change our name because when people hear the
word "racism" many retreat out of fear or defensiveness, and so conversations are stopped before they begin. We have remained steadfast, however, insisting that we, and our various audiences, face and confront the word and deed. Many who object to the use of "racism" are white folks who are trying hard to be nice. Our organization's stance is that trying is a good start, but one must go deep down to understand one's unquestioned assumptions, early experiences, and "infection" by the media and society in general. When a person sees how he or she is implicated in the whole system, then, and only then, can the individual start to heal self and work with others.

It's been a long time coming (we've been working at it for 11 years), but our local school district has finally, recently, entered into a partnership with Healing Racism in Anchorage to explore with staff the effects of racism and tools for confronting and healing it. Our superintendent of schools is now a member of our organization.

Keep talking. One makes wonderful friends and has a great deal of fun in the process. On the down side, I don't think racism will ever be eradicated. As an anthropologist (though not one who knows anything about cannibals [Pooh: The genesis of today's blogging was the discussion and criticism surrounding Creek Running North posting an objectionable cartoon depicting cannibals.) I find that the evil twin of community solidarity is exclusionary boundary-building. Both seem innately human impulses. But we have to keep working and playing at doing away with this particular insidious manifestation of human nature.


Frankie said...

Very interesting post here. I think it's great that your mom is involved in an organization like that. Is racism a big problem in Alaska? (Sorry if I am showing ignorance here).

I've always been put in an awkward situation because of my heritage. I am caucasian, but I don't look it. So, the way people respond to me on paper...say, a job very different from how I am treated in person.

I always get searched/stopped/followed in stores. I've had obscenities yelled at me, too.

Such is life when you're "the other white meat.."

reader_iam said...

Wow, Pooh! Even your mom is impressive! (Mine doesn't know I blog--probably doesn't know from blogging--but I'm pretty sure she wouldn't like it.)

To "quxxo" briefly here, what a fascinating array of topics here at your place. I have to go check on the kid (I hear him coughing like crazy again), but I'll definitely be back.

Lauren said...

thanks for sharing. How'd your mom get to Alaska?? Also, I always like to use the phrase "fixing racism" (btw, this IS what I want to do with my life) but I think healing makes a lot more sense. I'm definitely going to start using that.