So, you’ve invited to the meeting, convening, conversation or whatever the hell it’s being called this time – Striving for Social Justice, Calling out Inequalities, Candid Conversations, City-wide Dialogues,..Sometimes the event is public. Other times it is by special invitation. You’ve been hand-selected to attend. (What will the door prize be you wonder?)
And by the way, this isn’t the first of these you’ve attended. You’ve attended social justice and diversity talks since you were in your teens – a time way far back in your past. And, also, each new administration of the company or institution has done something like this. These initiatives are funded for a small period and then the funds evaporate or the champion moves on and the effort is suspended until the next time a new hire has this interest.
You are bludgeoned with data that basically says Black and Brown people (Asians and Native Americans are rarely included) are at the bottom of society in these United States in every category: illness, education, employment, incarceration, ___________ (you fill it in). The data used to only be about my poor brethren. Now, it includes statistics on how even when Black and Brown people go to college, buy houses, etc., they still face discrimination in pay, housing values, and other indicators that measure well-being.
Me: Why you get funky on me? Tell me why?*
shit, I mean, data supposed to empower me? Is this supposed to make me feel sad or mad? Am I to be emboldened by this information or immobilized?
My white brethren in the room: Oops, my bad, I feel guilty….should I apologize? I mean I wasn’t even born when this stuff went down. What does that have to do with me?
Oh, white privilege, I get it, I mean I don’t get it but I do. And I don’t want to be reminded of it.
Some of the other community folk:
I would like to hear what the white people have to say – they aren’t talking. I think white people should be having this conversation alone.
And the disruptors (also known as screech owls, loud mouths, political poseurs, has-beens and crawfish): White people have….Racist, racist, racist…You need to understand history…
The apologists, those who have some skin in this game, or who are hoping for a job, a contract, some business make sure to proclaim: Thank you for bring us together so this important conversation could take place.
Oh, boy. I now have an Excedrin headache.
Side thought: Why am I invited to meetings to listen to stuff I already know? Why am I called to meetings that offer no clear benefit to me and mine? (More importantly, why do I go? See the end of this post.)
Me: like privilege and power can ever give itself up. It can be shared perhaps although people have difficulty with sharing information let alone privilege. (Is there a tutorial for how people with privilege and power can share and how those of us without power and privilege**can learn how to have some more?) Besides which white people, in general have had such a head start in terms of economic power – all those years when their ancestors could get jobs and loans and higher property values, etc., because they weren’t being discriminated against and held back or blocked.
Why y’all bringing up that history stuff that none of us can change except to correct the often-sanitized versions that are being taught when they are being taught at all. See, I think the truth should be taught while also saying this is how we’ve evolved as a society; this is how people got through; this is when Black, Brown & White pulled together; and this is what remains to be done. Tell the truth.
Let me end with one of my favorite poems, Nikki Rosa, by Nikki Giovanni I heard this in my teens and the truth of it hit me straight in the eye, especially the last lines which I have highlighted here.
Nikki-Rosa by Nikki Giovanni
childhood remembrances are always a drag
if you’re Black
you always remember things like living in Woodlawn
with no inside toilet
and if you become famous or something
they never talk about how happy you were to have
all to yourself and
how good the water felt when you got your bath
from one of those
big tubs that folk in chicago barbecue in
and somehow when you talk about home
it never gets across how much you
understood their feelings
as the whole family attended meetings about Hollydale
and even though you remember
your biographers never understand
your father’s pain as he sells his stock
and another dream goes
And though you’re poor it isn’t poverty that
and though they fought a lot
it isn’t your father’s drinking that makes any difference
but only that everybody is together and you
and your sister have happy birthdays and very good
and I really hope no white person ever has cause
to write about me
because they never understand
Black love is Black wealth and they’ll
probably talk about my hard childhood
and never understand that
all the while I was quite happy
Ba-Bam! Nikki. Now, I’m not naive and I know that racism and the resultant poverty, incarceration, etc., have and continue to wreak damage even on many Black and Brown people who are strong and resilient. Even the educated among us have less than their white counterparts but talking about it doesn’t change a thing. It is only through legal actions that are enforced that any gains and strives toward equity have happened.
I have given my husband instructions to slap me if I ever say I am going to another one of these
public floggings, I mean, meetings. Been there, done with that.
*Why you get funky on me by Today featured in the movie House Party.
**Except for the personal power we have
Recommended Reading (only a very few)
The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism by Edward E. Baptist
“Slavery was essential to American development and, indeed, to the violent construction of the capitalist world in which we live.” (from NY Times Review)
The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander
The New Jim Crow is a stunning account of the rebirth of a caste-like system in the United States, one that has resulted in millions of African Americans locked behind bars and then relegated to a permanent second-class status—denied the very rights supposedly won in the Civil Rights Movement (from the website)
The Warm of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson
The Great Migration, which comes to life in the pages of this book, lasted from 1915-1970, involved six million people and was one of the largest internal migrations in U.S. HISTORY. It changed the country, North and South. This book is lyrically written and has tons of information.
The Hidden Cost of Being African-American: How Wealth Perpetuates Inequality by Thomas M. Shapiro
Thomas Shapiro reveals how the lack of family assets–inheritance, home equity, stocks, bonds, savings accounts, and other investments– along with continuing racial discrimination in crucial areas like homeownership dramatically impact the everyday lives of many black families, reversing gains earned in schools and on jobs, and perpetuating the cycle of poverty in which far too many find themselves trapped. (description from Oxford University Press)
This is a post of mine from BlogHer.com by a similar name but different content.
Thanks! I so agree with you about these “public floggings” aka meetings. I honestly do think white people need to get in a room with each other and work on their white privilege and how it affects black & brown people. And we people of color need to do our own work!
Sounds like a plan to me. Thanks for reading and commenting.
“I think white people should be having this conversation alone.” I agree. I try and there is always someone who whines: Why do you ALWAYS talk about this? Like it was some sort of social faux pas. Like I should seek the approval of other white people above all. And if they don’t like the topic of racial disparities, then I shouldn’t bring it up.
They never say where they stand. Or sometimes they’ll say, “I don’t want to talk about it because there is nothing I can do.”
Then there are white liberals who talk endlessly about racism, but conclude: There is nothing that can be done. About deep-seated attitudes, maybe not. But what about enforcing the laws and regulations we have, living up to the Constitution? Locally there is much we can do to address racial unfairness and discrimination.
White people who care about racial justice and racial disparities need to be directed to specific things we can do in our communities, workplaces, schools.
I think enforcement of laws and having people work on the things they can in smaller groups rather than just rehashing stats, data, and history helps. For example – how to change algorithms and humans that screen out zip codes and ethnic-sounding names when people apply for jobs. That can be fixed. Having people have to read or listen to the Constitution being read when they register a vehicle and register to vote. Thanks for taking time to read and leaving a thoughtful comment.