Time For White People To Act Up For Racial Justice

Thursday 17 August 2017

As a teenage white boy in the late 1990s, learning about the Civil Rights Era in my Holgate HS history class, I remember asking myself, “What would I have done if I had lived during that time?” Would I have marched with Dr. King or others like him? Would I have stood up against racism, bigotry, and oppression where I lived? Or would I have sat idle on the sidelines, unwilling or unable to challenge the status quo of a white-topped hierarchy?

The unfortunate events that took place in Charlottesville this past weekend are a tragic reminder that I need not wonder how I would have acted had I lived five decades ago; my opportunity for action is now.

Violent actions by white supremacists and calls by white citizens to “Take Back America” are a stark reminder that we do not, as many claim, live in a post-racial society. These events, along with recent government actions that seek to restrict people of color from voting and claim discrimination against white students applying to college, clearly show that race is still a defining construct of our country.

And as such, each of us has the opportunity to stand up and act out against the same vile beliefs and actions many hoped were relegated to history books.

So what can we do?

We—white people—need to learn the history of racism and begin to recognize systems and structures that are still in place that continue to oppress people of color. These include an unjust education system; unequal policing and jailing practices; and continued banking and mortgage discrimination, just to name a few.

We need to take the lead in addressing policies and practices in our government and the organizations we’re a part of that perpetuate racism. We need to recognize that white supremacy has been baked into our country and most of its institutions and work to eliminate it.

We need to openly and regularly discuss issues of race and racism at our workplaces, schools, places of worship, and dinner tables so we can become more comfortable when it’s time to have the tough conversations.

If you’re a white person sitting idly by, avoiding taking action against the systemic and interpersonal racism present in your life and community, you’re complicit in allowing it to continue.

The time of action is now. What are you going to do?


After Cubs victory, pushing for end to other generational longings

Friday 4 November 2016

Here in Chicago, we’re celebrating. After more than a century of waiting, “Next Year” is finally here; the Chicago Cubs are World Series Champions.

As I watched the post game celebrations with my roommates and girlfriend—none of them sports fans, but all of them swept up in the excitement—they asked me to help them understand the significance of this win for Cubs fans.

I made a few attempts—someone getting a job in their chosen field after years of trying, a young adult being the first of the family to attend college—but none got it quite right. The Cubs’ Game 7 win ended a generational longing, fulfilled a desire to prove we were “good enough,” and provided a feeling of accomplishment and acceptance that had eluded Cubs fans for decades.

There are few among us who were alive the last time the Cubs won the World Series, and most certainly no one who remembers it. But focusing on the living leaves out the countless stories of fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers, children, and grandparents who all cheered for the Cubs but never lived to see this moment.

I’m sure most Cubs fans have that huge fan in their lives who is no longer here to join in the excitement. For me, it’s Ron Santo, the former Cub and Hall of Famer who called games on Cubs Radio for 20 years. Ron’s radio antics are legendary, and while I never knew him personally, he’s certainly the biggest Cubs fan I’ve ever known. But having died in 2010, he’s not here to experience the joy of this historic occasion.

In pondering the generational longing of Cubs fans, I couldn’t help but think about the many other groups of people who have endured much more pain and suffering over the course of generations and still yearn for an end to their trials and tribulations. What would it mean for African Americans to be fully accepted and valued in our country, for their generational longing for justice to come true? What would it mean for women to achieve complete agency of their bodies and their lives, to be treated as fully human and not as objects or accessories?

In a city like Chicago, examples of continued injustice seeking recompense abound—lack of police accountability and continued issues of police brutality; gentrification and hyper segregation; and an underfunded school system, to name but a few. Many have died in the fight and the wait for justice, and yet these problems still persist.

We are conditioned to think that change will happen eventually, that if we’re patient enough, it will come. “The Cubs will win, some day, they have to,” we said. But their win was not inevitable; it took the concerted effort over multiple years of Cubs management to create the team that pulled this off.

Similarly, to create a country and world where justice reigns, to fulfill the generational longing of so many, it will take a concerted effort. But so many of us sit back, waiting for some inevitable day of justice that has yet to come. And as the days and years pass, more and more individuals depart us who were never able to experience justice, never able to shake the generational longing that had been plaguing them since their memory began.

Achieving that goal is the work of us all. We must diligently look at how our government, our institutions, and our own selves prolong the longing felt by so many others in the US and beyond. The joy and exuberance that will be felt when that longing has ended will pale in comparison to any joy being felt by Cubs fans today.

With “Next Year” having finally arrived for Cubs fans, we must all join in doing the work to end the generational longing still felt by so many.


Tea Party thoughts

Friday 16 April 2010

I was going to make today some (likely) pretty controversial and assured remarks, but doing some more reading and thinking, I decided to tone it down a few notches, but hopefully still make my point and jump start some conversation.

15 April was tax day, and it also marks an important anniversary for the current Tea Party movement, as it was the day of the first true and major Tea Party protests.  A recent NY Times/CBS News poll raises some interesting questions and issues about the makeup of those who consider themselves Tea Party supporters.  (You can see the full report, or general trends, in addition to a descriptive NY Times article on the poll.)

A conversation was also held on the NY Times “Room For Debate” page (fast becoming one of my favorite places to read about trends and topics), titling the discussion, “What Tea Party Backers Want.”  Contributors looked at some of the  basic findings of the poll — which include racial and class background — and tried to infer (as we all do) larger ideas going on inside the Tea Party movement.

From the poll itself, I wanted to pull out question #72 for specific examination:

72. In recent years, do you think too much has been made of the problems facing black people, too little has been made, or is it about right?

Too much Too little Just right Don’t Know/NA
All Respondents 28 16 44 11
Tea Party Supporters 52 6 36 6

I also particularly liked a few comments by Alan Brinkley, the Allan Nevins Professor of History at Columbia University, is the author of “The Publisher: Henry Luce and His American Century,” a forthcoming biography:

The other striking finding in this poll is the importance of race and diversity, something that Tea Partiers do not emphasize in their rallies and literature. But they show very clearly the racial anxiety that many of them appear to feel. This is not traditional racism, although there are almost certainly traditional racists within the movement.

The real issue, I believe, is a sense among white males that they are somehow being displaced, that the country is no longer “theirs,” that minorities and immigrants are becoming more and more powerful within society. And, of course, they are right about that. They just fear it more than many other Americans.

In particular, let’s look at a phrase Mr. Brinkley used: “traditional racism.”  I think what he means is bigotry, the overt feelings and declarations that whites are better than others, and certain rights should only be allowed to a particular group.  This “traditional racism” brought us things like separate water fountains, “white’s only” clubs, and the illegality of interracial marriages, to name of a few.  While some great civil rights laws prohibit these kinds of things, there are probably still those around who wouldn’t mind of some of those things were back.

But the larger problem here is the systematic racism that pervades society.  Looking at question #72 from the survey, I’m curious how one could say too much has been made of the problems of any group.  If there are problems, there are problems, and they need to be dealt with.  I guess the argument might come that one believes the amount of attention given to “the other group’s problems” are too large proportionally compared to “my problems.”

And here we get to what’s happening: internalized racial superiority.  As defined on the website for the People’s Institute For Survival and Beyond, IRS is:

The acceptance of and acting out of an superior definition of self, rooted in the historical designation of one’s race. Over many generations, this process of empowerment and access expresses itself as unearned privileges, access to institutional power and invisible advantages based upon race.

As Mr. Brinkley, I think, rightly posits, the Tea Party movement is a largely white movement based on those concerned with losing the privileges they hold based on their white race (and similarly their class status).  This is, however, an issue for all of U.S. society to deal with (while 52% of TP supporters answered “Too much” to question #72, so did 22% of the rest did, too — see below).  Practically, who would want to lose privileges they have?  If you have a company car or extra vacation days, to see them go away would not be enjoyed.  Similarly, many seniors have spoken up about cuts to Medicare — if you have something, you don’t want to lose it.

However, if we desire to be a place where all are treated equal, we must come to terms that the current structure (capitalist as it may be) privileges whites and oppresses black.  Much of this has to do with the economic that favors the haves (generally whites) and oppresses the have-nots (generally people of color).  It’s a cycle that many people are trying to end, but it is also one that isn’t know by many and often not talked about.

If some or all of this is news to you and you’re white (or anyone curious about all this), your next step is to read the article (just click on the title) White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack by Peggy McIntosh. It will help you recognize the ways you gain privilege in ways that probably go unnoticed to you every day.  When you see how much you get without even realizing it, maybe you’ll think more clearly about the ways we’re oppressing people of color by failing to recognize the problems and issues of others are really the problems of all.

**(The calculation that 22% of non-Tea Party supporters answered “Too much” to question #72 was found by showing 52% of the 19% of TP supports who said “Too much” was about 10% of the total.  That meant 18% of the total who said “Too much” were not TP supporters, and 18% of the whole relating to the 81% of the group remaining leads, by ratio, to 22% of the non-Tea Party supporters responding “Too much.”)**


wealth disparity for women of color

Sunday 4 April 2010

A few weeks ago, I heard of a report that looked at the differences of wealth for white women and women of color.  The report is titled Lifting as we Climb: Women of Color, Wealth, and America’s Future and was conducted by the Insight Center for Community Economic Development.  It  contained some very troubling facts.  Here are just a few, pulled from the Executive Summary (it should be noted that wealth here excludes vehicles)
(also, remember median means “middle” — half the women/people are above that vale, and half are below it):

  • Single black and Hispanic women have a median wealth of $100 and $120 respectively, which is approximately 1 percent of the wealth of their same-race male counterparts.  It is only a fraction of one-percent of the wealth of single white women.
  • Nearly half of all single black and Hispanic women have zero, or negative wealth (negative wealth occurs when the value of debts is greater than the value of assets).
  • Never-married women of color have a median wealth of zero.  In comparison, never married white women have a median wealth of $2,600, never married men of color $4,020, and never-married white men $16,310.
  • Divorced women of color have a median wealth of $4,200, which is 26% of the wealth of divorced men of color ($16,100), 8% of the wealth of divorced white women ($52,120), and 5% of the wealth of divorced white men ($80,000).
  • Black and Hispanic mothers with children under age 18 have a median wealth of zero.  Black and Hispanic fathers have a median wealth of $10,960 and $2,400, respectively.  White mothers have a median wealth of $7,970 and white fathers have $56,100.
  • Prior to age 50, women of color have virtually no wealth at all.

This is what systemic racism looks like.  Obviously there is disparity here, and it might be easy enough to claim that women of color don’t work hard enough or that they do or don’t do certain things to bring such statistics on themselves.  However, there are much greater and more powerful structural components to this problem that create this issue and allow such racism to continue.  Again, the Executive Summary puts things in context:

“The earnings of women of color are not converted to wealth as quickly because they are not linked with the “wealth escalator” — fringe benefits, favorable tax codes, and valuable government benefits.”

I would add that the opportunities of education and work are not equally afforded to women of color.  The report notes these statistics:

  • Women of color are more likely to work in service occupations — 28% of black and 31% of Latina women compared to 19% of white women and only 12% of white men.  These jobs are the least likely to provide wealth-enriching benefits such as retirement plans, paid sick days, and health insurance.
  • Women of color benefit less from tax advantages such as the home mortgage interest deduction because they are less likely to own homes.  Due to residential segregation, their homes typically have less value and appreciate less quickly.
  • Women of color depend more on Social Security because they lack other sources of retirement income.  In fact, Social Security is the only sources of retirement income for more than 25% of black women.  But women of color receive lower Social Security benefits because of their lower earnings and because they are less likely to receive benefits as wives of high-income beneficiaries.
  • Women of color are less likely to meet eligibility requirements for unemployment insurance since part-time workers (primarily women) are often ineligible for benefits.
  • Women of color have been hard hit by predatory lending practices.  Of low- and moderate-income borrowers, Hispanic women were almost one and a half times more likely and black women more than twice as likely to receive high-cost home loans as white women.
  • Many women of color who received subprime home loans could have qualified for conventional lower-cost mortgages.  Subprime home loans cost a borrower between $50,000 and $100,000 more than a comparable prime loan over the life of the loan.

Aside from the startling statistics, I wanted to share this as an example of institutionalized racism.  The word “racism” has been thrown around a lot lately, especially in relation to the health care bill.  Often when people say it, they are referring to personal acts perpetrated by individuals.  However, we need to recognize that U.S. society is structured in many ways to benefit whites and oppress people of color,  and we all (but especially us whites whom the structure already benefits) must work toward changing the system to create equality for all people

The personal bigotry may always remain, but the structures that perpetuate oppression and racism must go.

(See here a 20-minute discussion on the topic from Democracy Now! with guests Mariko Lin Chang, the chief author of the report, and C. Nicole Mason, Executive Director of the Women of Color Policy Network.)


textbooks and their impact on our ideologies

Sunday 14 March 2010

Ah yes, school textbooks.  Where would any of us be without hours and hours of reading and learning from these wonderful books.  Perhaps one of my favorite parts of textbooks was covering them with brown paper bags and drawing mazes on them (and now they have pre-made plastic or even “mesh” covers — the shame).  I even remember keeping my desk so full and organized in 3rd grade that I had no room for some of my textbooks and had to sit on them!

Perhaps the fact that my memories of textbooks are not of their contents is a good thing after reading this article, Texas Conservatives Win Vote on Textbook Standards, though sometimes the more harmful items of learning is actually the indoctrination that you DON’T remember.

Basically, the article talks about how the Texas Board of Education recently voted to approve the state curriculum for the coming decade.  A panel of teachers had proposed curricula in each subject, and then the TX Board of Ed. offered their own amendments to deal with the “liberal bias” they said they found in the curricula of certain subjects, such as history and economics.

This is an interesting subject to me because what it really comes down to is the question, “Who should decide what our children learn in school?”

We all know children are impressionable, and people of different ideologies, be they economic or religious or political or sociological, of course what children to grow up to believe the same things they believe and thus propagate the ideology further.

Two amendments noted in the article that the Tex. BOE made stuck out to me:

“Dr. McLeroy pushed through a change to the teaching of the civil rights movement to ensure that students study the violent philosophy of the Black Panthers in addition to the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s nonviolent approach.”
“… an amendment stressing that Germans and Italians were interned in the United States as well as the Japanese during World War II, to counter the idea that the internment of Japanese was motivated by racism.”

(My note: if you follow the link, you’ll see that 10 times as many Japanese Americans — about 110,000 — were interned than whites, and an act of congress in 1988, signed by Reagan, mentioned “race prejudice” as one of the reason for internment of Japanese Americans.)

I’ll simply leave those for you to ponder as well.

The reason Texas’s decisions matter is because their have stringent textbook rules which ultimately dictate what is printed in textbooks that are then used in schools across the country.  I’ve heard of high school history teachers supplementing textbooks with Howard Zinn‘s (RIP) book, “A People’s History of the United States,” looking at events from another point of view that surely would not go over well with the conservatives on the Texas Board of Education.

I’m all for people getting all the information possible, but we all understand that there is limited amount of time in a school year, so someone has to decide.  Who and how is obviously not an exact science, so I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on the subject.

For me, it just further affirms the need for continuous education as we get older and a never ending quest for the truth, obtaining all the information we can get our hands on — whether it’s in a textbook or not.

Updated: you can check out The Colbert Report’s take on this subject, as well — looks like I broke this one people!
Update 2: Oh, and apparently Jon Stewart on The Daily Show got wind of this, too.

(Another much longer article on Texas’s textbook-making process was in the NY Times last month, too — How Christian Were the Founders? — if this subject particularly interests you?”)