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DETOURSPOTTING forwhiteantiracists

joanolsson
ForwhitepeoplelivinginNorthAmericalearningtobeantiracistisareeducationprocess. Wemustunlearnourthoroughracistconditioningtoreeducateandreconditionourselvesasanti racists.Thereisscantsocialorpoliticalencouragementforthisjourneyofreeducation.Weare constantlytemptedtodetouroffcoursebytheracistpropagandaofsocietyandourownguiltanddenial. Inthefaceofsocietysandourownresistance,sustainingthewilltocontinuethisjourneytakesboldand stubborneffort. Thisjourneysendsusintounfamiliarterritory.Nowhitepersonhaseverlivedinanonracist NorthAmerica.Wewerenevertaughttheskillsofantiracistliving.Indeed,wewerecarefullytaughtthe opposite:howtomaintainourwhiteprivilege.Racism,thesystemofoppression(ofpeopleofcolor)and advantage(forwhitepeople)dependsonthecollusionandcooperationofwhitepeopleforits perpetuation. Mostofusfirstbecameawareofracialprejudiceandinjusticeaschildren.Aswhiteinfantswe werefedapabulumofracistpropaganda.Thatearlytrainingwascomprehensiveandleftlittleroom forquestion,challengeordoubt.Ourchildhoodgames,rhymesandmediaconspired:Eenie,meenie, minie,mo;CatchanrbyhistoeWeplayedcowboysandIndians.AllofusknewtheIndianswere badandhadtodie.MyWWIIgenerationwatchedBugsBunnyoutwitevilJapanesevillains.AsLillian Smithacknowledged: Theseceremonialsinhonorofwhitesupremacy,performedfrombabyhood, slipfromtheconsciousminddowndeepintomusclesandglandsand becomedifficulttotearout.(1) Ourgenerouschildwisdomtoldusracismwaswrong,buttherewasnoescapingthedailyracist catechism.Weresistedthelies,thedeceitandtheinjusticeofracism,butwedidnothavetheskillsto counterthepoisonousmessages.Ourconditioningfilleduswithfear,suspicionandstereotypesthat substitutedfortrueknowingofpeopleofcolor.Weinternalizedourbeliefsaboutpeopleofcolor, ourselves,otherwhitepeopleandaboutbeingwhite.Thoseinternalizedattitudesbecameactualizedinto racistbehavior. AsIcontinuemyjourneytowardbecomingareconditionedandeffectiveantiracist,Ihave becomeawareofhabits,attitudesandtheirattachedbehaviors,whichdivertmefrommyintendedgoal. Tochangethedetouringbehavior,ImustfirstbefullyconsciousofwhatImdoing,thebehaviorandits consequences.Next,Ineedtoreflectonthebehaviorsattitudinalroots.Finally,Ideterminethe prescribed,desiredchangeIwanttomakeandthebeststrategyforachievingit.SometimesIneedto removethebehaviorfrommypersonalrepertoire.Moreoftenthough,retoolingisnecessary,replacing thediscardedpatternwithnewbehaviors.ItwilllikelytakerepeatedattemptsbeforeIhavefully internalizedandexternalizedthedesiredchange.

Mostoftheobstaclesanddetoursencounteredonourjourneyofreeducationarethosesame habitualbehaviorsbirthedinourinternalizedbeliefs.Thebehaviorswillvarywitheachwhiteperson.I recognizethatnotwowhitepeopleshareexactlythesameexperiencesandsocietalmoldings.Welearned racisminouruniqueandpersonalwaysfromdifferentteachersandatdifferenttimes.Butwealllearned thelessonswell.Ihaveobservedinmyselfandotherwhitepeoplesomecommonpatternsofguilt,denial anddefensivenesswhichappearregularlyinourinteractionswithpeopleofcolorandotherwhitepeople. Eighteencommondetoursfromourantiracistjourneyareexaminedinthisway:

TheDetoursTitle Attitudesorbehaviorsthatsignaladetourorwrongturnintowhiteguilt,denialor defensiveness. RealityCheckandConsequence Aclarificationoftheunderlyingmeaningandconsequenceofthisbehaviorpattern. 1) ImColorblind Peoplearejustpeople;Idontseecolor.OrIdontthinkofyouasChinese. RealityCheckandConsequence Statementsliketheseassumethatpeopleofcolorarejustlikeus,white,andhavethesame dreams,standards,problems,peevesthatwedo.Colorblindnessnegatestheculturalvalues, norms,expectationsandlifeexperiencesofpeopleofcolor.Evenifanindividualwhiteperson couldignoreapersonscolor,thesocietydoesnot.Bysayingwedontseetheircolor,wearealso sayingwedontseeourwhiteness.Thisdeniestheirexperienceofracismandourexperienceof privilege. Imcolorblindcanalsobeadefensewhenafraidtodiscussracism,especiallyifone assumesallconversationaboutraceorcolorisracist.AsmyfriendRudysays,Idontmindthat younoticethatImBlack.Colorconsciousnessdoesnotequalracism. 2) TheRuggedIndividualandTheBootstrapTheory Americaisthelandofopportunity,builtbyruggedindividuals,whereanyonewithgrit cansucceediftheyjustpulluphardenoughontheirbootstraps. RealityCheckandConsequence TheruggedindividualandthebootstraptheoryaretwoofthecrownjewelsofU.S. socialpropaganda.Theyhaveallowedgenerationaftergenerationtosay,Ifyousucceed,you didthat,butifyoufail,orifyourepoor,thatsyourfault.Beliefinthispropagandaisfounded inatotaldenialoftheimpactofeitheroppressionorprivilegeonanypersonschanceforsuccess. 3) ReverseRacism (a) Peopleofcolorarejustasracistaswhitepeople.

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(b) AffirmativeActionhadaroleyearsago,buttodayitsjustreverseracism;nowits discriminatingagainstwhitemen. (c) Thecivilrightsmovement,whenitbeganwasappropriate,valuable,needed.Butits gonetotheextreme.Theplayingfieldisnowlevel.Nowthecivilrightsmovementis nolongerworkerforequalitybutforrevenge. RealityCheckandConsequence (a) Letsfirstdefineracism: Racism=RacialPrejudice(whitepeopleandpeopleofcolorhavethis) Plus Systemic,InstitutionalPower(whitepeoplehavethis) TosayPeopleofColorcanberacist,deniesthepowerimbalanceinherentinracism. Certainly,peopleofcolorcanbeandareprejudicedagainstwhitepeople.Thatwaspart oftheirsocietalconditioning.Apersonofcolorcanactontheirprejudicestoinsult,even hurtawhiteperson.Butthereisadifferencebetweenbeinghurtandbeingoppressed. Peopleofcolor,asasocialgroup,donothavethesocietal,institutionalpowertooppress whitepeopleasagroup.Anindividualpersonofcolorabusingawhitepersonwhile clearlywrong,(nopersonshouldbeinsulted,hurt,etc.)isactingoutofapersonalracial prejudice,notracism. (b)Thisformofdenialisbasedinthefalsenotionthattheplayingfieldisnowlevel. Whenthepeoplewithprivilegeandhistoricalaccessandadvantageareexpectedto suddenly(insocietalevolutiontime)sharesomeofthatpower,itisoftenperceivedas discrimination. (c)ThiswassaidbyRushLimbaugh,whoisobviouslynoantiracist,butthiscommentis loadedwithwhitepeoplesfearsofpeopleofcolor,especiallyiftheygainedcontrol. EmbeddedhereisalsotheassumptionthattobeproBlack(oranycolor)istobeanti white.Asimilarillogicalaccusationisdirectedatwomenwhoworkforandendto violenceagainstwomenandgirls.Womenwhoworktobetterthelivesofwomenare regularlyaccusedofbeingantimale. BlametheVictim (a) Wehaveadvertisedeverywhere,therejustarentanyqualifiedpeopleofcolorfor thisjob.OrIfheonlyhadastrongerworkethic.Or(b)Ifshejustfeltbetterabout herselfOrInternalizedracismistherealproblemhere.Or(c)Sheusesracismasan excusetodivertusfromherincompetence.AndHegoeslookingforracism everywhere.(Asifracismissohiddenorhardtouncoverthatpeopleofcolorwould havetosearchforit.) 3

RealityCheckandConsequence Allblamethevictimbehaviorshavetwothingsincommon.First,theyevadethereal problem:racism.Second,theydeletefromthepicturetheagentsofracism,whitepeople andinstitutions,whicheitherintentionallyperpetuateorunintentionallycolludewith racism.Aslongasthefocusremainsonpeopleofcolorwecanminimizeordismisstheir reactions,andneverhavetolookdirectlyatracismandourownresponsibilityor collusion. 5) InnocentByAssociation Imnotracist,becauseIhaveVietnamesefriends,ormyloverisBlack,Idonateto Casa Latina,orImarchedwithDr.King. RealityCheckandConsequence Thisdetourintodenialwronglyequatespersonalinteractionswithpeopleofcolor,no matterhowintimatetheymaybe,withantiracism.Itassumesourpersonalassociationsfreeus magicallyfromourracistconditioning. 6) Thewhiteknightorwhitemissionary We(whitepeople)knowjustwheretobuildyournewcommunitycenter.OrYour youngpeople(readyouthofcolor)wouldbebetterservedbytravelingtooursuburbantraining center. RealityCheckandConsequence Itisaracist,paternalisticassumptionthatwellmeaningwhitepeopleknowwhatsbestfor peopleofcolor.Decisions,bywhitepeople,aremadeonbehalfofpeopleofcolor,asthough theywereincapableofmakingtheirown.Thisisanotherversionofblamethevictimand whiteisright.Itplacestheproblemsatthefeetofpeopleofcolor,andtheonlyappropriate solutionswithwhitepeople.Oncemorethepowerofselfdeterminationistakenfrompeopleof color.Regardlessofmotive,itisstillaboutwhitecontrol. 7) TheWhiteWash Hesreallyaveryniceguy,hesjusthadsomebadexperienceswithKoreans.Or ThatsjustthewayUncleAdolfjokes.HesverypolitetotheBlackjanitorinhisbuilding. RealityCheckandConsequence Weretrappedherebyanotherversionofourguiltresponse.Weattempttoexcuse, defendorcoverupracistactionsofotherwhitepeople.Weareparticularlypronetothisifthe otherpersonisclosetous,familyorfriend,andifwefeeltheiractionsreflectonus. 8) IWasAnIndianinAFormerLife(2) AfterthatsweatlodgeIreallyknowwhatitfeelsliketobeanIndian.Ihavefoundmy truespiritualpath. 4

RealityCheckandConsequence Thisisspiritualorculturalappropriationandposesaseriousthreattotheintegrityand survivalofNativecultures.Tofillavoidintheirownspiritualcore,somewhitepeopleare drawnintotheNewAgegardentopickfromavarietyofNativespiritualpackagesusually offeredforsale.SinceNativespiritualpracticeisinseparablefromtheirhistoryandcurrent community,itcannotbedisconnectedfromthatcontexttoservicewhitepeoplesearchingfor lifesmeaning.AppropriatingselectedpartsofNativeculturesromanticizesthelivesofNative peopleswhiledenyingtheirstruggles.Theirlandsandlivelihoodsstolen,indigenouspeoples nowwitnesswhitepeopletryingtostealtheirspirituality.Ratherthanescapeourwhiteracism byfindingaspiritualpath,weinsteadcolludeinonemorewaywiththegenocidalattackson Nativecultures. 9) TheIsolationist Ithoughtweresolvedthisissue(racism)whenitcameupontheboardlastyear.Or Weneedtodealwiththisspecificincident.Dontcomplicateitbybringingupirrelevant incidencesofthepast.OrThisonlyhappenedtodaybecausetheTVnewslastnightshowed policebeatingaBlackkid. RealityCheckandConsequence Attemptsaremadetoisolateaparticularincidentofracismfromofthelargercontext.We blameapublicizedincidentofracismoutsideourorganizationtorationalizeaninternalincident andtoavoidfacingtherealityofracismwithin.Whentryingtoresolveanaccusationofracism withinaninstitution,weoftenseetheincidentinavacuum,orasanaberration,inisolationfrom anhistoricpatternofracism.Racismhasbeensoinstitutionalizedthateveryincidentis anothersymptomofthepattern.Ifwecontinuetoreactincidenttoincident,crisistocrisis,as thoughtheyareunconnected,wewillfindgenuineresolutiononlyfurtherfromourreach. 10) BendingOverBlackwards(3) Ofcourse,Iagreewithyou.)SaidtoapersonofcolorevenwhenIdisagree)orIhave tosidewithBettyonthis.(Bettybeingawomanofcolor.) RealityCheckandConsequence Ourwhiteguiltshowsupaswedefertopeopleofcolor.Wedontcriticize,disagree, challengeorquestionthemthewaywewouldwhitepeople.Andifwedodisagree,wedontdo itwiththesameconvictionorpassionthatwewoulddisplaywithawhiteperson.Ourracism playsoutasadifferentstandardforpeopleofcolorthanforwhitepeople.Ifthisisourpattern, wecanneverhaveagenuinerelationshipwithapersonofcolor.Peopleofcolorwhenweare doingthis.Oursincerity,commitmentandcouragewillberightlyquestioned.Wcannotgrow toadeeperleveloftrustandintimacywithpeopleofcolorwetreatinthisway. 5

11) BWAME ButWhatAboutMe.LookhowIvebeenhurt,oppressed,exploited? RealityCheckandConsequence Thisdiminishestheexperienceofpeopleofcolorbytellingmyownstoryofhardship.I loseanopportunitytolearnmoreabouttheexperienceofracismfromapersonofcolor,whileI minimizetheirexperiencebytryingtomakeitcomparableorlesspainfulthanmine. 12) TeachMe,Please Iwanttostopactinglikearacist,sopleasetellmewhenIdosomethingyouthinkis racist. RealityCheckandConsequence Whitepeopleoftenassumewecanlearnaboutracismonlyfrompeopleofcolor.We furtherassumethatpeopleofcolorhavetheenergyand/ordesiretodothisteaching.My understandingisthatmostpeopleofcolorarewearyofeducatingwhitepeopleaboutracism. Wewillgetstuck.Wellgetfrustratedandimpatientwithourselvesandotherwhitepeoplein thisstruggle.Andwellstaystuckifwedontseekhelpfromotherwhiteantiracists.Our inclinationhasbeentoaskpeopleofcolortohelpus.Weshouldseekoutotherwhitepeople BEFOREwegotopeopleofcolor.Perhaps,aswebecomemoretrustworthyasallies,wewill buildgenuinerelationshipswithafewpeopleofcolorwhooffertheirreflectionsforuswhenwe getstuck.Thisisattheirdiscretion,notours.Wecantassumepeopleofcolorshouldbeso gratefulforourattemptsatantiracism,thattheywillbewillingtoguideuswheneverweare readytobeguided. 13) WhiteOnWhite,andRighteouslySo Whatiswrongwiththosewhitepeople?Canttheyseehowracisttheyrebeing?OrI justcantstandtobearoundwhitepeoplewhoactsoracist.And YourePreachingToTheChoir Yourewastingyourtimewithus,werenotthepeoplewhoneedthistraining. RealityCheckandConsequence Wedistanceourselvesfromotherwhitepeople.Weseeonlyconfirmedbigots,card carryingwhitesupremacistsandwhitepeopleoutsideourcircleasrealracists.Weputother whitepeopledown,trashtheirworkorbehavior,orotherwisedismissthem.Werighteously considerourselveswhitepeoplewhohaveevolvedbeyondourracistconditioning.Thisis anotherlevelofdenial.Therearenoexceptionalwhitepeople.(4)Wemayhaveattended manyantiracismworkshops;wemaynotbeshoutingracistepithetsoractivelydiscriminating againstpeopleofcolor,butwestillexperienceprivilegebasedonourwhiteskincolor.We benefitfromthissystemofoppressionandadvantage,nomatterwhatourintentionsare.This distancingservesonlytodivideusfrompotentialalliesandlimitourownlearning. 6

14) TheCertificateofInnocence Sometimesweseekorexpectfrompeopleofcolorsomepublicorprivaterecognitionand appreciationforourantiracism.Othertimeswelookforacertificateofinnocencetotelluswe areoneofthegoodwhitepeople. RealityCheckandConsequence Ifourallycommitmentdependsonpositivereinforcementfrompeopleofcolor,weset ourselvesupforsurefailure.Thefirsttimeapersonofcolorisdispleasedwithouractions,we couldrespond,Well,ifthepeopleImdoingallthisfordontwantmyhelp,thenwhybother?I quit.Clearly,werechallengingracismforthemnotforus.Wehavenotidentifiedourself interest,aswhitepeople,forfightingracism.Untilwedo,wecannotstayonthislifelong journey. 15) SmokeAndMirrors WeusethecurrentPClanguage;welistentotherightmusic;westatetheliberalline; wereseenattherightmeetingswiththerightpeople.Weeveninterruptracistremarkswhen therightpeoplearewatchingandwhenthereisnorisktous.Welooklikeanantiracist. RealityCheckandConsequence ThisistheAvonAlly,thecosmeticapproach.Peopleofcolorandotherwhiteanti racistsseethroughthispretensequickly.Thispseudoantiracistposturingonlyservestocollude withracismandweakensthecredibilityofsincerewhiteantiracists. 16) TheAccountant Wekeepatallysheet.Ifweperformsomefeatofantiracism,weexpectreciprocity fromanindividualorgroupofcolor,usuallywithsomeprestigeorpowerthatcanserveour interests. RealityCheckandConsequence Iscratchyourback,youscratchmineisNOTjusticeseekingnorallybehavior.Itserves onlytoreducejusticeworktosomekindofpowerbrokeringcurrency. 17) Silence Westaysilent. RealityCheckandConsequence Oursilencemaybeaproductourguiltorfearofmakingpeopleofcolororwhitepeople angrywithusordisappointedinus.Wemaybesilentbecauseourguiltstopsusfrom disagreeingwithpeopleofcolor.Wemaybeafraidthatspeakingoutcouldresultinlosingsome ofourprivilege.Wemaybesilencedbyfearofviolence.Thereasonsforoursilencearemany, buteachtimewemissanopportunitytointerruptracism,ortoactasalliesortointeract genuinelywithpeopleofcolororotherwhitepeople.Andnoantiracistactionistakenaslong aswearesilent. 7

[Anoteaboutsilence:Silenceisacomplicatedissue/matter.Therearetimeswhenfaced withapotentialinterventionsituationthatImaychoosenottointerruptforreasonsofgood senseorstrategy.Antiracistsneedcourage,butfoolishrisksmakeslittlesense.Whenthechoice isbetweeninterveninginthismoment,alone,orgatheringalliestospeakoutlaterinamore strategicway,thelattermayprovemoreeffective.] 18) ExhaustionAndDespairSoundTheRetreat Imexhausted.Imonlyoneperson.Icanstopandrestforawhile.OrRacismisso pervasiveandentrenched,therejustisntanyhope. RealityCheckandConsequence Despairisarealenemyofantiracists.Forourcommitmenttobealifelongone,wemust findwaystomitigatetheeffects.Burnoutordesertionareofnousetothestruggle.Wecan remembermenwhojumpedonaTakeBacktheNightbandwagon,challengingviolence againstwomenforawhile.Untiltheattentiononthemasgoodmenwaned.Untilthe glamouroftheissuefaded.Oneofthehistorical,repeatedfailuresofliberalsinsocialjustice movementshasbeenshorttermandinconsistentcommitmenttotheissuedujour. Ifwequit,foranyreason,weengageourdefaultoption.(5)Aswhitepeople,wecan takeabreakfromthefrustrationanddespairofantiracismwork.Suchretreatwillresultinno significantconsequencesforus.Racismdoesntallowsucharespiteforpeopleofcolor.Oneof theelementalprivilegesofbeingwhiteisourfreedomtoretreatfromtheissueofracism.If thingsgettootoughwecanalwaystakeabreak.Andourworkagainstracismdoesntgetdone. THEJOURNEYCONTINUES Onceidentified,behaviorslikethoseabovearepossibletochange.Thepatternsare repeatedlessoften.Wereeducateandretoolourselvestoavoidracistbehaviorsandtotake morepotentantiracistaction. Peopleofcolorwillcontinuetodemandtheirrights,opportunitiesandfullpersonhood. ButracisminNorthAmericawontendbecausepeopleofcolordemandit.Racismwillonlyend whenasignificantnumberofwhitepeopleofconscience,thepeoplewhocanwieldsystemic privilegeandpowerwithintegrity,findthewillandtaketheactiontodismantleit. Thatwonthappenuntilwhitepeoplefindracisminourdailyconsciousnessasoftenas peopleofcolordo.Fornowwehavetodragracismintoourconsciousnessintentionally,for unlikeoursistersandbrothersofcolor,themostpresentdailymanifestationofourwhite privilegeisthepossibilityofforgettingaboutracism.Wecannot.Racismcontinuesinthename ofallwhitepeople.Whilethereisnothingaboutracismtocelebrate,thereismuchtocelebratein alifelivedinthepursuitofjustice. 8

ENDNOTES
1. LillianSmith,KillersOfTheDream.W.W.Norton&Company:NewYork,1949.Page91. 2.ParaphraseoftitlebyAndreaSmith.ForAllThoseWhoWereIndianInAFormer Life.FirstprintedinSojourner:TheWomensForum,November1990. 3.IfirstheardthisphrasefromRev.JoeBarndtofCrossroadsMinistryandtheauthor ofDismantlingRacism.AugsburgFortress:Minneapolis.1991. 4.CredittoKathleenCarlinforherPrincipleofIntentionsversusEffectfromher antisexismwork.Translatedheretoaracismcorollary.Beforeherdeathin1996 shewastheExecutiveDirectorofMenStoppingViolenceinAtlanta,GA. 5. TermfromDr.MolesiKeteAsante,ChairofAfricanAmericanStudies,Temple University,Philadelphia,PA.

1997joanolsson Usedwithpermission