Visibly Invisible

Museum visitors in front of the Martin Niemöller quotation at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. (n.d.).
Museum visitors in front of the Martin Niemöller quotation at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. (n.d.).

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.

Cook-Snell (2020).
Self-Image (Cook-Snell, 2020)

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.

References

Cook-Snell, B. (2020). Self-image [Photograph].

Museum visitors in front of the Martin Niemöller quotation at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. (n.d.). [Photograph]. https://encyclopedia.ushmm.org/content/en/article/martin-niemoeller-first-they-came-for-the-socialists

White rage: Fanning the flames of Black and Brown Oppression

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.

Profile: Ferguson shooting victim Michael Brown (2014)

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].

Dr. Carol Anderson (Orgel, 2016).

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].

Book cover. (Anderson, n.d.).

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?

 

Riots, bullets, tear gas in Ferguson (CNN, 2014)

References

Anderson, C., & Emory University (2018, April 13). White rage: The unspoken truth of our nation’s divide [Video]. YouTube. https://youtu.be/YBYUET24K1c

Anderson, C. (n.d.). White rage: The unspoken truth of our nation’s divide [Photograph of book cover]. https://www.professorcarolanderson.org/white-rage

CNN. (2014, November 25). Riots, bullets, tear gas in Ferguson [Video]. YouTube. https://youtu.be/5vF4si3hoRA

Orgel, P. (Host). (2016, December 21). Carol Anderson discusses white rage. [Television Interview]. C-SPAN. https://www.c-span.org/video/?419681-4/washington-journal-carol-anderson-discusses-white-rage

Profile: Ferguson shooting victim Michael Brown [Photograph with caption “Michael Brown was due to start college two days before he was killed”]. (2014, November 14). BBC News. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-30207808

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.

The Journey Continues

Dr. Cook-Snell in Starbucks
Dr. Cook-Snell in Starbucks (Cook-Snell, 2019).

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.

References

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

United Church of Christ. (2018). Sacred conversations to end racism. Retrieved January 22, 2020, from https://www.ucc.org/sacred_conversations_to_end_racism

The first step to change is awareness of the problem

“ … 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.

Saskatoon Fight Against Racism Campaign
Saskatoon Fight Against Racism Campaign (Megginson, 2017).

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? Megginson (2017)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.

References

Diangelo, R. (2018). White fragility: Why it’s so hard for white people to talk about racism. Beacon Press.

Megginson, T. (2017, July 5). Saskatchewan, Canada billboard [Photograph]. https://osocio.org/message/canadian-city-tackles-white-privilege-in-anti-racism-campaign/

Stewart, T., Latu, I., Branscombe, N., & Denney, H. (2010). Yes we can! Prejudice reduction through seeing (inequality) and believing (in social change). Psychological Science, 21(11), 1557-1562.

Stowe, H. B. (2003). Uncle Tom’s cabin: Barnes & Noble Books. (Original work published 1852)