Every now and then, my own implicit bias rears its ugly head and exposes my racist attitudes in new and unexpected ways. I have been listening to The anti-racist writing workshop: How to decolonize the creating class classroom by Felecia Rose Chavez (2021).
However sincere my intentions were, Chavez (2021) has me asking what are the underlying assumptions am I making in my teaching? The truth is, my white-skinned savior complex has been operating under the guise of helping. I have been guilty of working harder with black-skinned and brown-skinned students to ensure their success by showing and telling them how to improve their writing, speak their voice, locate references for their topics, and citing their sources in APA 7 format. Point blank, I have been assuming that black-skinned and brown-skinned need that extra help. I am guilty of upholding the white-skinned supremacy of institutional and systemic racism in my battle against the same. I have been playing the role of white savior in my classroom.
Deconstructing racism and disassembling systemic barriers requires challenging a worldview system that has privileged whiteness and, in my case, interrogating my white-skinned assumptions.
What assumptions are you making with your well-intentioned anti-racist work?
Chavez, F. R. (2021). The anti-racist writing workshop: How to decolonize the creative classroom. Haymarket Books.
DiAngelo, R. (2021). Nice racism: How progressive white people perpetuate racial harm. Beacon Press.
The power of protest and the power of words help in making white people aware of our role in keeping the status quo of systemic racism firmly in place. But you and I know that nothing will change until we back our voices beyond advocacy and into action. Action may be in the form of petitioning school boards to include accurate histories of the experiences of enslaved African Americans, it may be in the form of removing the boundaries of redlining that keep BIPOC individuals entrapped due to systemic racism in politics, and it may be in making educational access more available to persons impacted due to a history that they did not make but have suffered because of white privilege..
This is not my normal post. This is to announce the official formation of The Brett H. Cook Endowed Scholarship Fund as a recognized IRS Tax Exempt 501(c)(3) Public Charity 509(a)(2), and acceptance of the above service mark approved by the U.S Trademark and Patent Office for purposes of fundraising through sale of T-Shirts and Dress-Shirts to fund the scholarship.
Until the endowed scholarship is fully funded and can provide scholarships through accrued interest off the principal, I am making a personal commitment to award a $500.00 Fall Semester Scholarship and a $500.00 Spring Semester Scholarship for applicants who meet the requirements you may read about on the scholarship pages on this site.
I ask you to share this post as widely as possible in order that you may help in funding the education of black, brown, indigenous, and minoritized men and women, and reaching those donors who are able to make this vision happen. It’s time for reparations. Be part of the change. Thank you.
(asked by a Black seminary professor during a white fragility discussion group that I co-facilitate)
We were talking about DiAngelo’s (2018) analysis of the movie, The Blind Side (Hancock, 2009), in response to a question on white people’s motives when helping Black people. Often, even though white people think our motives are noble and pure, we may actually be operating from a posture of systemic racism. There was much discussion on how can we help Black people and not be seen as racists? It was an honest question from a church group who wanted to act in the way of Christ, and didn’t want that action to be viewed from a position of white beneficence. They did not want to be perceived as trying to “save” a Black or Brown person from racism.
That question rattled around in my brain. “Saving” Black people from themselves is a white supremacist, colonialist and imperialistic concept (García, 2017), directly rooted in chattel slavery. While García (2017) does not support the black/white paradigm of racism because he argues it excludes Mexican American’s [(García’s self-labeling)] and brown skinned persons, the question of the seminary professor hit home, as did García’s comment with regards to “saving”. It struck a chord of truth within my psyche.
Had I been doing antiracist work to save Black people from the effects of racism, or had I been doing this work to expose white people to their systemic racists biases?
I realized I had been doing this from the position of the former, and not the latter. While consciously trying not to be a white messiah of Black deliverance from white racism, I was subconsciously acting as one. This experience continues to remind me how deeply racism is embedded within white culture. It reminds me that even as an antiracist educator, I need to be called out when my racism rears its ugly head.
Since then, I have been grappling with the question of what it means to be an antiracist white person and an antiracist educator. While my answer is not quite congealed into a philosophy of antiracist education, it’s a start.
My antiracist educator role is to expose white minds to the truth of the systemic racism embedded deep within white culture. It is to challenge the status quo of white conservative and liberal minds and transform them into a mindset of active liberation.It is to advocate for change in the policies and practices white culture continues to use to keep Black and BIPOC bodies and minds oppressed. And it is to stand up, stand out, and stand with, all persons fighting for equality.
DiAngelo, R. (2018) White fragility: Why it’s so hard for white people to talk about racism. Beacon Press.
García, R. (2017). Unmaking gringo-centers. The Writing Center Journal 36(1), 29-60.
Hancock, J. L. (Director). (2009). The blind side [Film]. Warner Bros. Pictures.
I am at the end of teaching my 8-week course on information literacy. My students’ last major writing assignment is to summarize all their blog entries into one paper. This is my example for them on my topic of racism.
At 6’4”, I’m hard to miss. Add a white shirt, suspenders, bowtie, and a fedora and I’m even harder to miss. I used to get several comments a day about my style. People would smile, nod, and acknowledge my presence. But not anymore. Not since I added a “White Silence Equals White Consent – Black Lives Matter” t-shirt to my daily ensemble. Now most white people avoid eye contact. I have become visibly invisible.
So what changed? I didn’t change. My views didn’t change. The places I go to didn’t change. The only thing that changed was my outfit expressing my own outrage of three more deaths of black men at the hands of white men. Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd, and Rayshard Brooks. One murdered by white supremacists, one murdered by the knee of a law enforcement officer, and another shot in the back.
Sadly, white outrage at black and brown death is already passing. BLM rallies with white participation are already slowing down. The next big news story is increases in COVID-19 are back.
White immunity and white privilege have reasserted themselves. White community has already diluted the message of “No Justice! No Peace!” into “Know Justice. Know Peace.” in attempt to maintain the status quo of white dominance. This change of is another example of minimizing racism to assuage white consciousness.
But as for me, I will continue to wear my T-shirt to be a visible witness to closed minds. In fact, I think I will go order several more.
Social media lip-service alone will not solve black and brown oppression. You and I will, at the polls, in 2020. You and I will, by holding those officials we elect accountable. To abate the rise of white rage directed at persons of color and end a culture of fear, you and I must make the difference.
After the posts and protests die down, what will you and I do? After the police departments are restructured (if they are), what will you and I do? What we are seeing today regarding the murder of George Floyd is not a new event. The protests are not a new. Posts with #BlackLivesMatter are not new.
In 2014, protestors of the murder of Michael Brown at the hands of police in Ferguson, Missouri, resulted in riots erupting in fires. There was shock and condemnation by white community that black and brown people would set fire in their own neighborhoods. Why this reaction? Why this response? Dr. Carol Anderson says it best, “We [(Americans)] were so focused in on the flames, that we missed the kindling [emphasis added]” (Anderson & Emory University, 2018, 6:59-7:09).
The kindling was not the murder of Michael Brown, the kindling was (and remains) black and brown oppression by the power culture of white America. The kindling was (and remains), white rage directed at black and brown people. White rage are those subversive, yet legal acts, white people use to keep black and brown people oppressed. In an interview with Dr. Anderson on C-Span (Orgel, 2016), Orgel quotes Dr. Anderson on white rage then Dr. Anderson responds:
Orgel: “White rage,” you write, “is not about visible violence, but rather it works its way through the courts, the legislatures, and a range of government bureaucracies. It wreaks havoc subtly, almost imperceptibly. White rage doesn’t have to wear sheets, burn crosses, or take to the streets. Working the halls of power, it can achieve its end far more effectively, far more destructively … The trigger for white rage, inevitably, is black advancement. It is not the mere presence of black people that is the problem: rather, it is blackness with ambition, with drive, with purpose, with aspirations, and with demands for full and equal citizenship. It is blackness that refuses to accept subjugation, to give up”. Tell us more [Emphasis added].
Anderson: Yes, and so, one of things that we have is a narrative in this society that if only back people would…, right? … If only they would value schools, if only they would work hard, if only they would … fill in the blank. But when you look back historically, African Americans have actually done that, but for aspiring, the response has been a wave of policies to undermine that [advancement].
White rage is white peoples’ fear that full equality in socio-economic rights for black and brown people will result in loss of white money, white property, white power, and white prestige of dominant white culture. White people fear this loss of power and control because at our core, we know that we are responsible for the racists attitudes and actions that continue to suppress and murder black and brown people with impunity. It is also that same fear inducing white rage culture that keeps liberal white people from speaking out against black and brown oppression. Fear that they will be put on the alt-right radar screen and suffer the same oppression in which they are unknowingly and equally culpable.
I close this entry with a video from the Ferguson riots (CNN, 2014). It will look familiar, because it looks like protests in the death of George Floyd. There remains the same senseless murder of a black man at the hands of a white police officer. There are the same signs, albeit different slogans. There are the same black, brown, and white faces, albeit with different names. There are the same outcries on social media as there were with Michael brown (Ray et al., 2017).
And yet, nothing has changed. Nor will anything change until white people vote out of office those white legislators who drive the dominant fear inducing white rage culture. Nothing will change until white people of courage standup, standout, and be counted in the political system and elect official who will develop, implement, and adhere to policies guaranteeing socio-economic and educational equity for black and brown people. Are you willing?
Anderson, C., & Emory University (2018, April 13). White rage: The unspoken truth of our nation’s divide [Video]. YouTube. https://youtu.be/YBYUET24K1c
Ray, R., Brown, M., Fraistat, N., & Summers, E. (2017). Ferguson and the death of Michael Brown on Twitter: #BlackLivesMatter, #TCOT, and the evolution of collective identities. Ethnic and Racial Studies, 40(11), 1797-1813.
*Posted on 6/9, edited on 6/10 to add the CNN, 2014 reference in the paragraph starting with “I close this entry…” and correcting a grammatical error in the same paragraph.
“ … 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.