Saturday, June 03, 2006

"I was taught to see racism only in individual acts of meanness, not in invisible systems conferring dominance on my group" Peggy McIntosh

Haven't you heard? Racism is like totally over!

Yesterday at work there were a few minutes waiting around time for clients. I mentioned to a co-worker I will be a guest on KBOO Thursday July 14 for Leigh Ann Kranz of the women's Bread and Roses collective. She asked me what the topic was. I said uh, eliminating racism.

She began to tell me she'd only encountered two racist persons in her life. (Incidentally, we are two white women having this conversation.)

She told me of someone she had dated who was openly racist and she was shocked with the things he began saying one day. She told him, "Don't ever say anything like that again. That is disgusting!" The other person, she said, was her grandpa, now dead, who had been in WWII. His comments she had been repulsed by but because of his age hadn't confronted him.

I thought about it for a moment and I asked her, "As a person who hasn't encountered racism do you think there are other ways which seem to separate people of color and white people as friends or in our society in general?" She said, "No my best friend is black."

So, it was easy to love this gal--she just told me about interrupting overt racism and also that her best friend is black. That's awesome! It was also easy to think that maybe her black friend hadn't been able to break the news to her--racism is a 24/7 thing she's dealing with...

Just a day before I had been about to greet a client when the receptionist called him--a person with very dark brown skin--a "silly" name and giggled (before he actually walked in from the parking lot.) I asked, "Silly in what way?" She quickly claimed it was nothing personal but stopped her line of humor. My next question would have been something like, "How long do you expect to work here?"

Earlier in the day I had overheard her idly chatting about times people had mistook her for a person of color. She emphatically and with no small tone of disdain exclaimed, "I'm NOT [such-and-such ethnicity]" I'm sitting there thinking, wow, considering she is telling all that to a person of color.

This is just a drop in the bucket. It's just a few moments in a day. Yet this is all around us. It's all around and most white persons don't think much of it. And if you ask, they'll say "I don't see racism."

Leigh Ann sent me this link the other day. The opening quote is revealing. "I was taught to see racism only in individual acts of meanness, not in invisible systems conferring dominance on my group."

To redesign social systems we need first to acknowledge their colossal unseen dimensions. The silences and denials surrounding privilege are the key political tool here. They keep the thinking about equality or equity incomplete, protecting unearned advantage and conferred dominance by making these subject taboo. Most talk by whites about equal opportunity seems to me now to be about equal opportunity to try to get into a position of dominance while denying that systems of dominance exist.

If we think of racism as meanness, it's true but we don't get it. Most of the meanness is something we are conditioned to accept as "normal". It's everyday white privilege. It's being born on third base and thinking we hit a triple.


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