You are on page 1of 12

A Primer for Whites by Karen Ashmore

Is Your World Too White?


A Primer for Whites Trying to Deal with a Racist Society

By Karen Ashmore

Several years ago in another city, I started a chapter of the National Organization for
Women. Since NOW and the women's movement in general is often associated with white
middle class women, we named the group Rainbow NOW to emphasize the fact that it was
for women of all colors. African American, Caucasian, Chicano and Native American
women participated in the group. After experiencing racially divided votes, we held anti-
racism workshops every Saturday to try to grapple with the root causes of racism within the
organization.

After twelve long months of dealing with the issue, the group finally began to understand
each other and work as a cohesive unit. It was a long, hard painful process and some white
women weren't too happy about sharing the power or working on their racism. Some white
women left the group but the ones who were committed on working on the issues of racism
stuck with it and the group turned out much stronger and much better.

The following points were a result of our Saturday discussions. How white is your world?
What can you do to make it more colorful?

1. Be honest about racism. Racism is race prejudice plus the power of the institutional
system to uphold that prejudice. In this country the institutional system supports the
prejudice of white people. If you doubt this, answer the following questions: How many
black Presidents have we had? Latino Senators? American Indian CEOs of Fortune 500
companies?

Racism is a systematic form of oppression by the dominant culture in power in which


people are oppressed economically, socially and politically solely based on skin color. Since
people of color do not have the institutions to empower their prejudices, they cannot be
racist. In other words, people of color can be prejudiced but they cannot be racist without
the institutional support.

There are varying degrees of racism just as there are degrees of sexism ranging from rape to
tasteless jokes. Racism can range from overt violence such as lynching to more indirect

1
A Primer for Whites by Karen Ashmore

examples such as insensitive remarks. Most people exhibit more subtle forms of racism but
it is important to acknowledge conscious or unconscious participation in a racist society.

Types of prejudice: based on skin color, gender, sexual orientation


Institutional power + prejudice = racism, sexism, heterosexism
Race prejudice + institutional power = racism

2. Acknowledge white privilege. More frequently than not, white people take advantage of
privileges generated by a racist society. White people are often unwilling to grant that they
are over-privileged, even though most are willing to concede the flip side of the coin, that
people of color are disadvantaged. Most white people are in denial about the advantages that
white people gain from the disadvantages of people of color. In an article on white privilege,
Peggy McIntosh describes white privilege as an "invisible package of unearned assets
which I can count on cashing in each day. White privilege is like an invisible knapsack of
special provisions, maps, passports, code books, visas, tools and blank checks."

White people are given no training in seeing themselves as the oppressor, as an unfairly
advantaged person. Whites are taught that racism is violence or meanness such as the Ku
Klux Klan but are not taught that racism can be systems that allow dominance by whites.
Author Beverly Daniel Tatum defines racism as "a system of advantage based on race". It is
up to aware white people to open their eyes and show them the consequences of being a
participant in a dysfunctional racist culture.

The following are examples of white privilege I can rely on but my African American
friends cannot count on most of the time:
• I can be sure of being able to rent or get a mortgage for a house in an area which I can
afford and in which I would want to live.
• I can be sure that I will be welcome in that new neighborhood.
• I can go shopping and not be followed or harassed.
• I can go shopping and get waited on promptly.
• I can go to a bar and get service.
• I can turn on the TV or read the newspaper and see people who look like me depicted as
leaders and influencers.

• When I am told about our national heritage, I can be sure that I will be told that people
of my race made it what it is.

2
A Primer for Whites by Karen Ashmore

• If a traffic cop pulls me over, I can be sure I haven't been singled out because of my
race.
• If I ask to speak to the person in charge, I can be pretty sure I will be talking to a person
of my race.
• If I have to go to court, I can be sure my race won't be held against me.

These are just a few examples of privilege that white people take advantage of every day.
Most people have seen the comparison done by a national TV newsmagazine, sending a
white male and black male with equal credentials to buy a car, look for a job and hunt for an
apartment. Time after time the black man came back empty handed or cheated while the
white male got the job, the apartment and the best car deal.

Perhaps former Texas Governor Ann Richards described best the privilege of being male,
white and wealthy when she quipped, "George Bush thinks he hit a triple when actually he
was born on third base."

3. Start to heal. Racism is a disease like alcoholism. You never recover from alcoholism
and heal until you first admit you have a problem. The same thing goes for racism. You are
never going to heal until you first admit there is a problem. This step is mandatory in order
to continue to learn and grow. Acknowledge your privilege and participation in a racist
society, begin healing and continue down the path of growth and awareness.

4. Be comfortable with accusations against white people in general without taking it


personally. Whites have persecuted and oppressed people of color for hundreds of years.
People of color can verbalize this oppression without you taking it personally. Release your
guilt for past transgressions of other whites. Be comfortable with yourself because you
know you are working for change.

5. Learn about another culture. People of color are often bicultural and bilingual. They
know their own culture and own tongue yet also have to know the white culture and English
tongue in order to survive economically. For example, many African Americans know
Black English (Ebonics)and the King's English and many Latinas know Spanish and
English.

The least you can do as a white person is get to know another culture. Go to an African
American gospel extravaganza, a Native American pow wow, or a Mexican fiesta. If you are
the only white person there, you will not be attacked. In fact most people of color will
welcome you for taking the time to acquaint yourself with their culture.

3
A Primer for Whites by Karen Ashmore

The following are some suggested activities: Participate in Hispanic festivals. Cinco de
Mayo (May 5) and Dies y seis de Septiembre (September 16) are important Mexican
liberation festivals. Several activities in Denver are planned around those dates. The City of
Denver sponsors a big Cinco de Mayo Festival at Civic Center Park on the weekend closest
to May 5.

Juneteenth (June 19) is the day African Americans in Texas found out they were freed from
slavery, one year and six months after the fact. This date is marked by numerous
celebrations in the African American community all over the country. There are many
Juneteenth celebrations held throughout Denver www.denverjuneteenth.org .

Kwanzaa is an African American cultural celebration from Dec. 26 to Jan. 1. Each day
represents a different principle (unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility,
cooperative economics, purpose, creativity, and faith). Several organizations in Denver
collaborate on a community wide Kwanzaa celebration during that seven-day period. Check
the Denver Post for a list of activities.

Locally, another important black celebration is the Denver Black Arts Festival
www.denbaf.org . It is usually held the second or third weekend in July and is a fascinating
regional gathering of black art and culture.

A major pow wow takes place every March in the Denver Coliseum
www.denvermarchpowwow.org . Other pow wows are held periodically throughout the year
in various parts of the state.

The most well known of local Asian activities is the Colorado Dragon Boat Festival
www.cdbf.org , usually held on Sloan’s Lake in July.

In the arts area there are several performance groups that are the best in their field: Su
Teatro is a talented Latino theater group www.suteatro.org . Cleo Parker Robinson leads a
nationally acclaimed black dance troupe www.cleoparkerdance.org . Shadow Theater is an
acclaimed African American theater company www.shadowtheatre.com . Café Nuba
celebrates spoken word poetry slam the last Friday evening of every month
http://www.myspace.com/cafenuba .

6. Keep up with media aimed at people of color. The major news source for people of color
in the Denver Metropolitan area is the Urban Spectrum www.denverurbanspectrum.com.
Latino(a) media includes: La Voz www.lavozcolorado.com and El Seminario (The Weekly
Issue) www.elsemanario.net African American publications include Denver Weekly News

4
A Primer for Whites by Karen Ashmore

www.denverweeklynews.net .The Western American Indian Chamber Newsletter is also a


good source of Indian news.

Listen/watch radio/TV shows of other cultures. KGNU is clearly the leader in offering radio
programming aimed at communities of color and KUVO does well on Sundays.

African American radio shows include:


KBCO - Blues from Red Rooster Lounge 9 pm Sunday
KGNU - Reggae Bloodlines Sat 1-4 pm, African Roots 4-6 pm
107.5 - Urban Contemporary format

Latino radio shows:


KBNO - Spanish speaking station 1280 AM
KLVZ - Spanish speaking station 1220 AM
KMXA - Spanish speaking station 1090 AM
KXPK - Spanish speaking station 96.5 FM
KJMN - Spanish speaking station 92.1 FM
KUVO - La Nueva Voz 8 am Sun., Cancion Mexicana, 10 am Sun., La Raza Rocks 1 pm
Sun., Brazilian Fantasy 6 pm Sunday
KGNU – Corriente 7:30 pm Tuesday, Latino USA Th 4pm

Spanish Speaking TV Channels:


KTFD Channel 14
KDEN Channel 25
KZCO Channel 27

KDVTLP Channel 36

KCEC Channel 50

5
A Primer for Whites by Karen Ashmore

Native American radio shows:


KUVO - AlterNative Voices 7 am Sunday
KGNU - Indian Voices 3 pm Sunday

Asian American radio shows:


KGNU – Hmong Colorado 3:30 pm Sunday

With the internet, it is simple to do a quick search of websites and blogs devoted to different
cultures.

7. Question yourself. Why are you threatened by change? What threatens you about a
Latino or an African American representing you in the legislature or City Council? Whites
have represented people of color for hundreds of years. As human beings, people of color
are often more empathetic than whites and are often bicultural and thus more able to
represent diverse populations.

8. Try to learn from your mistakes. When a person of color challenges you or corrects
you about a racist or insensitive statement, that does not mean she does not like you. She
cares enough about you to inform you of your misconceptions so that you can grow and be
a more whole person. If she felt you were a hopeless case, she wouldn't have even bothered.

9. Acknowledge the skills and experience of people of color. Many times a person of color
comes to an organization with more leadership skills than Anglos. People of color have
been organizing and fighting for civil rights actively as a group for many, many years.
African Americans and other oppressed groups have to be emotionally and spiritually
strong to endure the inequities, discrimination, lynchings and hatred for generations and still
persevere as a race. Acknowledge these leadership skills and strengths as well as your own
limitations. Try to learn from your sisters and brothers.

10. Never be afraid to ask questions. People of color are often well-versed in BS detection.
They can tell if you are sincere and will answer your questions or help you understand any
misassumptions.

11. Learn the history of another culture. If you have never seen the award winning civil
rights documentary "Eyes on the Prize", rent/borrow the DVD. PBS often airs it during
February, Black History Month. It is also available in book form.

6
A Primer for Whites by Karen Ashmore

Much civil rights history for Latinas took place in the Southwest. Learn about the Crystal
City boycotts in South Texas and the role Denver played in the founding of La Raza. There
is a great documentary called the Chicano! A History of the Mexican American Civil
Rights Movement that airs periodically on PBS and is available on DVD.

12. Join another organization oriented towards another culture. National organizations like
League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), SCLC (Southern Christian
Leadership Conference founded by Dr. Martin Luther King), NAACP (National
Association for the Advancement of Colored People), AIM (American Indian Movement),
AALDEF (Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund), American-Arab-Anti
Discrimination Committee (ADC) welcome sincere white supporters. Sometimes you may
have to join an organization as an associate member or supporter, but you can still
participate in activities.

13. Try to put yourself in the other person's shoes. If you have trouble relating, try looking
at an analogous situation. For example, at a recent meeting of a community organization,
some white people could not understand why people of color did not come back after an
initial visit. I presented an analogous scenario: Imagine an organization founded for
women but you attended a meeting dominated by men who did not understand the issues of
women. Would you come back? Probably not. Likewise, if an organization wants to
recruit people of color but the meeting is dominated by whites, people of color are not
likely to return because they will probably not feel like they have a place there.

14. Learn to share the power. Don't be afraid to be led by people of color. We, as whites,
must become more comfortable with accepting leadership by people of color. This is
especially important for the coming decade as people of color become the majority and
assume more leadership roles in Colorado and throughout the country.

15. Realize the enemy is not people of color. The force to be dealt with is oppression--
racism, sexism, classism, homophobia, ableism, etc. Understand the connections between the
"isms". Racism, sexism and other isms are about power and control and fear of those who
are different.

16. Read feminist literature by women of color. Women of color face two biases: sexism
and racism. Open your eyes by reading from their perspective. A good reading list
includes:

* This Bridge Called My Back by Cherrie Moraga & Gloria Anzaldua (multi-cultural)
* Women, Race and Class by Angela Davis (African American)

7
A Primer for Whites by Karen Ashmore

* Women, Culture and Politics by Angela Davis (African American)


* Ain't I a Woman by Bell Hooks (African American)
* A Gathering of Spirit by Beth Brant (American Indian)
* Sister Outsider by Audre Lord (African American)
* Yours in the Struggle by Elly Buskin, Minnie Pratt, and Barbara Smith (Anti-semitism
and racism)
* When and Where I Enter by Paula Giddings (Racism in the women's movement)
* Three Asian American Writers Speak Out on Feminism by Nellie Wong, Merle Woo,
and Mitsuye Yamada (Asian American)
* Mexican Women in the United States: Struggles Past and Present by Magdalena Mora
and Adelaid Castillo (Mexican American)
* Breath, Eyes, Memory by Edwidge Danticat (Haitian American)

17. Expand your spiritual horizons. If you are a spiritual person, acknowledge the female
aspect of the Creator. If you study theological history, you will learn that female aspects of
the deity were included in the original scriptures of the Bible but were edited out with the
King James version for political reasons. Hasn't it ever occurred to you to question why one
half of the population is not revered in the Bible? Why would a document only
acknowledge a trinity of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost when women are the givers of life,
the nurturers, the ones who understand the essence of life?

According to contemporary archeological findings, all civilization began in Africa, thus we


are all African descendants. White people are thought to be mutations who survived over
the years after migrating to the colder climates in the Caucasoid Mountains. Early
civilizations regarded a Black Woman as the Creator. I strongly recommend reading When
God Was a Woman by Merlin Stone and The Great Cosmic Mother by Barbara Mor and
Monica Sjoo.

18. Visit the church of another culture. A good way to learn about another culture is by
sharing in their worship service. Churches, mosques, temples, synagogues abound for
Islamic, Protestant, Gaian, Jewish, Kemetic, Catholic, Sikh, Buddhist, Quaker, Mormon, and
other worshipers.

19. Look at the people you have a choice in selecting--friends. How many of your close
friends are of another race? If none of your close friends are of a different culture, analyze
the reasons why. Do you fear diversity? Why do you not seek out friends of color? Do
you limit yourself to Anglo-oriented activities, neighborhoods, employers?

20. What kind of music do you enjoy? If you are a mainstream rock fan, have you ever
explored reggae, rap, salsa, or music of other cultures? Have you ever frequented a reggae
club? Ever been to a pow wow or a taiko drumming performance?

8
A Primer for Whites by Karen Ashmore

21. Explore neighborhoods and communities of color. Have you ever acquainted yourself
with cultural institutions in Five Points in Denver? Do you know where Five Points is? The
NEWSED Community Development area in west Denver? Do you know where the closest
Indian reservation is?

22. Support minority owned businesses. Do you shop mostly at white owned businesses?
Try some affirmative action with your pocketbook. Is all the art on your living room walls
Anglo art? Try some diversity in your home decorating and check out Akente Express at
919 Park Avenue West. Subscribe to the Black Pages www.denverblackpages.com . Join
the Black www.coloradoblackchamber.org , Hispanic www.dhcc.com , American Indian
www.indiancountry.org or Asian www.asianchambercommerce.org Chambers of
Commerce in Denver and download a copy of their minority business directories. Support
minority vendors whether it is for furnishing your home or for business purchasing
decisions.

23. Support non-profit organizations that empower minority populations. Volunteer time,
donate money, or attend special events sponsored by such groups as the Lambi Fund of
Haiti www.lambifund.org, Moyo Nguvu Cultural Center www.afrikanarts.org, Colorado
Statewide Parent Coalition (mostly Latino(a) www.coparentcoalition.org , Black United
Fund of Colorado www.blackunitedfundcolorado.org , American Indian College Fund
www.collegefund.org and other groups organized to empower people of color. Remember
your goal is empowerment, not patronization. Don't volunteer with a condescending attitude
that you're going to "save these poor people".

24. Think globally, act globally. Remember that the majority of the world lives on less than
a dollar a day. The environmental and economic conditions in other countries are beyond
your comprehension. Make an effort to plant a tree in Haiti, sponsor an AIDS orphan in
Kenya or help people in developing countries become self-supporting. Plant hope, trees,
dignity and self-determination. These are ways you can truly make a difference.

25. Make a commitment to broaden your perspectives beyond your narrow euro-centric
world. You will be amazed at how enriched your life becomes.

This article has been published in the Feminist Networker and Careers magazine and is
taught in many college and university classes around the country.

9
A Primer for Whites by Karen Ashmore

Specific Recommendations for Educational Institutions

A. Leaders set the inclusiveness culture of the department. The leader or head of the
department almost always establishes the level of commitment, the attitude, the pace, and the
behaviors related to an organization’s overall inclusiveness practices.

B. Long term approach. The most important quality that is found in leaders of organizations
that are highly inclusive is that these leaders take a long-term, holistic approach to
inclusiveness and integrate it into all of the work of the organization. Case studies
demonstrate that organizations taking an integrated approach to inclusiveness:

* examine how their programs are designed and implemented;


* look at how they recruit, retain and treat diverse staff; and
* nurture an inclusive organizational culture and environment.

C. Recognize assets and contributions of all. Highly inclusive organizations recognize that
people of color represent every socio-economic class and bring with them a variety of assets
that will be valuable in achieving the department’s mission.

D. Increase number of faculty and staff of color and improve retention rates
1) Recruitment: If making our organization a more inclusive environment is a goal, and then
add goal-oriented criteria to the qualifications of teaching and administrative positions. For
example, job qualification criteria should include:
· the extent of experience in a multi-cultural setting, acheving cultural competency
· the experience of being supervised by managers of color
· experience of collaborating in multi-cultural groups
· living in racially diverse communities
· fluency in a second language
· substantial coursework in the study of multi-cultural perspectives.

In some cases, recruitment efforts build on reciprocal relationships with other organizations
serving or involved with communities of color.

10
A Primer for Whites by Karen Ashmore

2) Retention: Once a diverse staff is recruited, retaining staff members does require work.
Create a campus-supported network for faculty and staff of color to meet with and support
each other. Provide time, space, food and staff support to ensure that the network succeeds.
Provide professional development training of interest to the participants.

E. Provide opportunities for whites to become allies


Conduct mandatory EFFECTIVE anti-racism training for all faculty and staff. The training
should evoke discussion about the advantages of white privilege living in Denver, as well as
institutional bias.

Suggestion: Hire Beverly Tatum as a consultant to help develop the training. Her expertise
in educating students of color in white dominated school systems is invaluable. She is a
well-known author of numerous books addressing this topic and is President of Spelman
College.

F. Inclusive organizations develop their programs with an awareness of people from


different cultural backgrounds. Research shows that the best approach for program
development for an inclusive organization are:
Universal and Inclusive: Programs are developed with an awareness of the needs of people
from different cultural backgrounds.
Specific to Communities of Color: Programs are developed for particular racial or ethnic
populations.

G. Curriculum and Resources


* Build a library of anti-racism resources for educators.
* Ensure that each school library has adequate books by authors of color.
* Ensure that language arts curricula include diverse authors.
* Ensure that history curricula provide a multi-cultural empowering perspective, i.e.,
Black history goes beyond slavery and MLK, human rights textbooks go beyond European
Enlightenment,

H. Questions to Ask (From Denver Foundation Inclusiveness manual)


* If you are the head of the department, have you developed and expressed your own
commitment to inclusiveness?

* Has your department developed a long-term, integrated approach to inclusiveness?


* Have you considered the assets and markets that communities of color could bring to
your department?

11
A Primer for Whites by Karen Ashmore

* Have you recruited and retained a staff that represents and can effectively communicate
with your constituents?
* Does your department implement programs that are universal and inclusive and/or
specific to communities of cColor?
* Do you know how communities of color understand your mission and your work?
* Have you investigated the cultural nuances of your programs and services?
* Have you assessed existing resources for developing inclusive leader ship in your
department, including volunteers and clients?
* Does the structure of your department lend itself to developing inclusiveness?

12