Thursday, March 30, 2006

Diversity Must Be Earned, Not Stolen

I'm visiting a town hungry for people of color. It's estimated to be about 99% white and I cringe when I go into Whole Foods and all people of color are behind the food counters and white middle-class / upper middle-class folks stream through the aisles. They say this is a white place but I think the truth is we're only seeing the white people. There are people of color. They get up early and take a bus to work. We don't see them as we drive our SUVs. Do you count the people of color who live here or just the ones you can see? (We have a little eyesight problem too.)

I'm visiting a town, like many others, hungry for people of color. Is that why all the CDs packing the rack at the Boulder bookstore are by POCs. Is that why all the classes are for African drum, African dance ... Is that why the ads on the bulletin boards feature full color glossy Native Americans offering to teach some corporate yoga class? I'm guessing but this is about how white people are thirsty for people of color.

In person.

I don't mean to be harsh to my white brothers and sisters. In fact, white harshness is why we can't be trusted. That's a fact.

But hear me when I say, we don't get to use people for our own "international flavor". No, we get to earn these friendships and relationships by putting in the time. The time for what? To do the footwork. To study. To sweat a little. To get another white person to listen to all the foolish things that we think about when it comes to hanging out with people of color. It's not our fault these thoughts come in. We have been infected. Our minds have been colonized, infected by racism and yes, our brains need washing. But it's not POCs job to wash our minds. They are not the shoulder to cry on. Yet.

It's not their job to make us feel comfortable friends. "Fuck guilt" Feel that shame. Good white folks all. It's not our right to have "diversity" in our lives. Hello. Yes, I know as well as the rest of us of the isolation we grew up with. White people don't sleep with their children. They don't play much and they don't hug much. They don't laugh much. And they spend most of the time trying to look good. We have beautiful cribs and curtains. We don't have much connecting going on.

So the black folks look real good. Don't they now?

Well, guess what? You don't get to go grabbing after black folks to give you the young life you never had. No. You can't meet that need anyway because it's past. I call them frozen.

Frozen needs cannot be filled. It's not a black person's job to fill a white person's frozen needs for affection. So frozen needs can not be filled. They can only be discharged.

That's where the listening thing I do comes in.

You use your ListeningConnect session to tell your counselor all the reasons why you think you get to dabble in Native American spirituality. Why you get to wear African shells and why you get to call yourself an African dancer even though you're white to the bone. Then your counselor gets to tell you, "Nooo--you don't actually get to do that!" In a most cheerful voice.

In our sample session above, a few feelings of indignation may be rising. Good! Keep a' comin.

You do not have any kind of right to continue to rip off other culture's stuff. Don't romanticize these other cultures just because you're starving for something real!

Build those relationships with folks with skin color other than pink--neighbors, other school parents, working class folks. Yes! Do go after people of color. But slow down! Take time to discharge the strange feelings you have at first. This is new. This is huge. Do not underestimate how much pressure has been put on YOU to segregate, isolate and stay stupid. Learn this ListeningConnect process and melt out whatever has separated you from ANY human all this time. (You don't get to use the new friends of color to listen to your guilt though!! Not now.)

The ListeningConnect diversity trainings will assist you in releasing the hurt of growing up white. It will help you release the desperation you feel at wanting to eat-up and swallow whole the cultures which look so much warmer than yours does. Once you do that, at some point, you may get to burn a little sage ...

3 Comments:

Anonymous barb said...

Oh Sea, I am *so* sorry!!! I did exactly what blackademic said we do when a blog we regularly read (like a big-name blog for example) writes about something they read on a smaller lesser known blog. No one visits the original post they just respond over on the blog they're used to reading.

When I read Bitch|Lab's post that referenced this I had so much I wanted to respond to I just started writing on her blog and I never got around to clicking the link and actually coming over here to see what you said. To see that quote she took from you *in context*! That totally sucks. I'm sorry.

But regarding the actual post, it's AWESOME!!! This is *so* true. I see this all the time in the white liberal community... this fascination with other people's cultures. And yes I understand where it comes from --our own shame at a painful history and consequent relatively "empty" culture and it's good to feel that but it's not good to appropriate. Thanks for writing this.

6:12 AM PDT  
Anonymous Edna said...

Oh Gosh! I knew you were talking about boulder within the first sentences.

If you are really interested in racism there, and the sincerity of the will toward diversity in boulder look into the universities there, and what the climate is. Look at the cost of living, and the cultural norms. Read the Boulder weeklys articals on racism in Boulder *they are archived online* and admire the hands off approach boulderites have toward people of color. Especially vocal self loving ones.

They aren't actually interested in us, beyond the extent they can use us to erase their white guilt, and obsorb our cultures in order to gain status as worldy white liberals.

As a person of color, living in boulder was a great education as to the truth of racism in this country.

One leader of the KKK identified Boulder as an ample center for his organization because "it is impossible for a lower middle class family with multiple childeren to live here."

Thank you so much for posting this perspective! It warms my heart.


I'll be in Boulder May 2nd, and if you are interested in meeting with me, and other Boulderites of color, it can be arranged.

Just e-mail me @ sirina5@sailormoon.com

Thank you agian.

12:08 PM PDT  
Anonymous Larry Yates said...

Thanks very much for this. I also came here via a link from one of the big dog blogs, but will add your blog to my personal list.

Expanding a little on your point -- my advice to white folks (and I am one) is to connect to people of color who are doing things that you care about. Like if you are a stamp collector, find stamp collectors of color (or more accurately, stop avoiding them).

Years ago, I wanted to write for a small community paper. Some African-American folks in my city started one. I went to meetings in "that" part of town, took on assignments, and did my bit. Some of those connections lasted many years and led in interesting directions. But I belonged in that room, I wasn't just there to beg borrow and steal.

I also suggest to white folks that they subscribe and read newspapers from the local people of color community. After all, you live there, and there's a lot you don't know about where you live that gets published in that paper.

Finally, I want to invite you and your readers over to http://www.wacan.org/, the White Anti-Racist Community Action Network, where there are similar conversations, though not usually as well written I must say.

thanks again

7:09 PM PDT  

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