I am an antiracist activist and believe that the public school system needs to decolonize the curricula. Decolonizing the curricula allows for the voices of the traditionally marginalized and minoritized communities to be heard, learned from, and punctuate how a white centered lens has been used in education as the norm of instruction. Based upon my limited knowledge, critical race theory (CRT) seems to consider not only the white-centric lens, but the lenses of African Americans, LatinX, Natives, Asian, and other minoritized and marginalized communities. Recent protestors outside city hall in the City of Virginia Beach, where I live, argued that CRT is a ploy to give preferential treatment to students of color in the school system at the expense of white students.
I seriously question this assumption and believe it is a lack of understanding and misinterpretation of CRT. Because of this, and because I plan on running for the Virginia Beach City School Board as an at-large representative, I need to better understand CRT. The challenge will be reading and writing from an objective point-of-view because I am actively engaged in breaking down the barriers of systemic racism. However, I am an academic scholar, credentialed in education and education research, so I will do my best to apply my academic lens and included the data along with the discussions.
I will be looking at the overarching question of what is critical race theory (CRT) and is it an appropriate lens to be used in public school education? Along with that, I will investigate why are people protesting or supporting CRT, and what political efforts are being done to oppose or support CRT?
Last semester I started blogging about white fragility (DiAngelo, 2018) as an example blog for my students’ assignments. It’s another semester and time to start my blogging again.
My overarching question in my first post of last semester, What color is my hat, was how may I, as a Christian white man, talk with other white men and women of faith, on the topic of white fragility to be a change agent to fight against racism?
Summing up, in Color-blindness is a medical condition not a social excuse, I talked about the fallacy of claiming to see the person, not their color when we defend our non-racists positions. Doing so denies the experiences persons of color bring to the table and the real racism they face growing up black or growing up brown. In my next post, Family values, I examined the spoken and unspoken words that perpetuated the illusion that my family of heritage did not express racists ideology, only discovering upon reflection how deeply embedded generational racism is in my family of heritage and how it subtly blinded me to issues of white privilege and fragility. Next, in What color is your Jesus?, I asserted my belief that Christ, the center of my faith, was more than likely a person of color than the images of white Jesus that populates my faith. I also found research supporting that when that same Jesus is black (Marsh, 2004), it is more than likely an image of crucifixion then redemption. Finally, to wrap up the semester, I wrote about how the first step to change is awareness of the problem. This semester my goal is to begin to be an active part of that change.
Towards that end, when looking for new materials this semester to use as my examples for my students, I discovered a facilitator training opportunity offered by the United Church of Christ’s Sacred Conversations to End Racism (SC2ER) (United Church of Christ, 2018). As a congregant within the UCC, I will be completing that training. As a result, and because life and research are both messy, I’ve revised my question to how may I work towards social justice in the fight against racism with my brothers and sisters in Christ? Same topic, but a different perspective. This semester’s blog will chronicle that journey as my students complete their own journey on their own topics of choice.
Cook-Snell, B. H. (2019). [Photograph].
DiAngelo, R. (2018). White fragility: Why it’s so hard for white people to talk about racism. Beacon Press.
Marsh, C. (2004). Black Christs in white Christian perspective: Some critical reflections. Black Theology, 2(1), 45-56
“ … humanity comes out in a variety of strange forms now-a-days, and there is no end to the odd things that humane people will say and do” (Stowe, 1852/2003, p. 8).
This narrative is a quote from abolitionist Harriet Beecher Stowe’s (1852/2003), Uncle Tom’s Cabin. The book, at one time, was second only to the Bible in terms of sales. The context of the quote is the purchase of a slave and the seller’s silent objection to the buyer’s sentiment that the slave is property before person. I hope that most white people today are abhorrent to the idea of slavery, but based on our current treatment of immigrants, I’m not so certain. Politics is an institution that doesn’t surrender its power easily … especially politics rooted in white supremacy.
How can I, as one white man, fight the system? Herein lies the argument that allows white fragility to keep us entrenched in white privilege and racial injustice. Our silence and perceived powerlessness is our “odd thing”. Let me rephrase that, and instead of speaking of the societal us, let me say it is my “odd thing” that goes against my value system. One that I have failed to strive to change, because I have been color blind, taught to treat people equally, and am a Christian … all of which I addressed in my previous three posts and illustrated how they have served to perpetuate racism versus eradicating it. I can no longer claim these three truths but can only use these statements as an impetus for change. It is time to move from problem to solution. But how to you address an invisible and systemic problem.
As a researcher, I discovered there is hope that change is possible when it comes to racial injustice, perceived or factual. Stewart et al. (2010) conducted a study allowing white undergraduate students to work on a math project or a social justice project on racial inequity at their university. Over 90% chose the social justice project. The project involved reading a statement on the lack of African American role models, followed be a fictional statement of inequity in the number of positions of black versus white faculty at the university not due to qualifications. They then read a section about white privilege immediately afterwards and were required to write an anonymous letter to the university calling administrators to address this inequity. Findings suggested acting to resolve this social justice increased feelings of self-efficacy when working towards a positive common goal to remedy the situation. Important here is the desire to change expressed by the white undergraduates and the desire to work together to address social issues.
Back to my original question of how may I, as a Christian white man, talk with other white men and women of faith, on the topic of white fragility to be a change agent to fight against racism? While I am just one person, I am one person writing a blog to educate my white friends on becoming aware of the biases that we hold unknowingly. The blog is public and available for comments. I have also invited several black friends and colleges to co-facilitate. I am posting my links to my entries on Facebook and asking members of my church to join me in the conversation. DiAngelo (2018) acknowledge that while we can’t change the world, we can facilitate change through awareness of our own biases.
Diangelo, R. (2018). White fragility: Why it’s so hard for white people to talk about racism. Beacon Press.
To the left is a picture from my Facebook feed (Cook-Snell, 2018). My mother is standing next to a member from my local church. Both women are in their 80s and have experienced a rich and full life. The caption I gave the picture in my post is “wisdom personified”. I can only imagine the experiences both women have had, to include gender discrimination, separate but equal segregation, and the civil rights movement. But clearly and instinctively we know that each experienced separate but equal in vastly different contexts.
How does this become important in the discussion on white fragility? I grew up in a family that taught me not to judge based on what I now call the colorblind fallacy. As DiAngelo (2018) observes, “A racism-free upbringing is not possible, because racism is a social system embedded in the culture of and its institutions”. Research supports this observation (Smith & Ross, 2006). Smith and Ross (2006) examined to what extent the beliefs of parents shaped the beliefs of their children. The participants in the study were undergraduate students, who we could now assume, had come to adopt some of their own beliefs that may or may not be the same as their family. The researchers found there to be a slight correlation between the belief of the mother and that of the child.
While my mother grew up in Alabama in a lower-class family, she still grew up white. She grew up in an error when black people were still referred to as colored people. When we would visit, as a child I still heard the label colored from my aunts, uncles, and grandparents. My uncles also made frequent use of the “n” word. I cringed then and I still cringe now because instinct told me they were really saying colored people were good, but not equal, and “n” people were bad, and not to be trusted. It was ok to associated with “the colored” but “the n”. Today, fewer of these relatives are living but of those that are, the only thing change is colored to black. The rest remains the same.
After reading DiAngelo (2018), now I have a moral dilemma, what do I say to the seniors in my family when the talk starts again, and it invariable will, so aptly illustrated in the picture to the right (Onsizzle.com, n.d.)?
Look at the chessboard in the picture from Chessbazaar.com (2019). What colors do you see? If you said black and white, then you cannot claim color-blindness. Color-blindness is a medical condition not a social excuse.
Recently I had a conversation with a colleague in which they stated they were color-blind when it came to race. They asserted that when they look at people and speak with people, the color of the person does not come into play, but they look at that person as an individual and judge them based upon their merit, not their color. In theory, I would have liked to agreed with the individual, and probably would have had I not just finished reading White fragility: Why it’s so hard for white people to talk about racism (DiAngelo, 2019), as part of a college wide read at the university I work.
As DiAngelo (2019) so aptly illustrates in describing a similar conversation between her black male co-facilitator during a workshop and a white woman who made the same assertion as my colleague, the black male facilitator responded, “Then how will you see racism?” (p. 42). Not seeing his color served only to affirm the white woman’s experience while denying his. Claiming not to see color, argues DiAngelo, continues the status quo of white privilege; albeit subtlety. It excuses the individual by fooling them into complacency because of their already achieved state of enlightenment. When, in reality, it only services to perpetuate racism.
If I don’t see it, then I can claim I am not a racist. Racial hate crimes are only committed by fanatical, radical contingents, of which I am not a member. But if I do see, I acknowledge racism, and therefore must be racist. I must examine my own internal racist biases that I would rather not look at, yet even talk about. And talking about it is taboo in a to a white-centric society (Sue, 2013).
Returning to my story, as I sat listening to my colleague, I found myself more concerned with what they would think about me and fear I was judging them if I talked about how color-blindness is a white fallacy. Sadly, all I could do was mumble something about the college wide read of DiAngelo (2018) and leave it at that. I placed the burden of proof on a book, not on a relationship. But at least it was a start, however feeble.
Now look at the picture again and tell me the colors you see … it’s your move (and mine)!