Sunday, May 07, 2017

Facing White Fragility

I am nervous basically every time a person of color tells me they have read or will read my book. That's not fair, of course, as that kind of generalization is never fair, but I am aware enough of my white privilege to know that it probably comes out in my book at some point, as hard as I tried to be aware. Because white privilege is that ingrained.

I was very careful in my book, asking former students and Black and Latino/a friends if certain phrases were acceptable, and having these same friends read chapters or read the whole book. I did my best, and I took suggestions and criticism.

But here's the thing. I'm white*, and the world looks different with privilege. No matter how aware I am, I'm still going to stumble. And that hurts people. And that is really uncomfortable to face.

I was recently called out on something I had said that had an unintended but real impact on a Facebok friend who is a person of color. I'm not going to share any details, because it was a private conversation, but I want to share my reaction in hopes that it will help other white people to be willing to accept correction. Because let's face it, no human likes to face correction, and white people seem to be especially fragile in our reactions.

As I've written about before, my first reaction when I am confronted with my privilege is to be really, really defensive. Although I think they're totally wrong, I do understand the knee-jerk reaction of white people who claim that they have no privilege because they grew up poor/didn't go to a good school/don't see color/whatever. It's uncomfortable to face privilege and easier to convince yourself you don't have it.

So when this person very thoughtfully and respectfully pointed out what I had said and how that showed my privilege, I immediately felt defensive, and embarrassed. Really embarrassed. After all, I wrote a book about teaching kids in East Oakland! I'm not prejudiced.

But of course I am. We all are, because we're human. We all have biases and white people have more power to hurt others with those biases.

I went through various responses in my head, discarding them one by one. I thought about saying that the person was wrong; that they didn't know my whole story and I couldn't be racist if I was a teacher in that school. I thought about saying that they were oversensitive. I thought about getting angry or about ignoring it.

But if I had done any of those, I would be in the wrong, and I would be doing what I'm so often angry about -- discounting the truth about white privilege and how it hurts others because I was uncomfortable. And you know what? White people have to deal with this discomfort much much less than anyone else in this country.

I suspect my response was inadequate. After all, I don't really know what to say. White people have generations and centuries of harm to apologize for and make right. And I can't do all that. But I do hope that I can become less defensive each time this happens, and that I can set aside my discomfort to listen and learn. I hope I can clean up my mistakes to the best of my ability.

*I struggled with whether or not to capitalize Black and White throughout this piece and I suspect I am very inconsistent in my writing. Here is more food for thought on the disparity of the capitals. 

Thursday, May 04, 2017

The BART Mob

I was going to write a really thoughtful, well-reasoned response to the story of the mob of teenagers who robbed people on BART, but then I started seeing the reactions. The knee-jerk, racist, totally devoid of caring reactions.

So this is what I came up with. I posted it to a local Facebook group where it got deleted eventually. Possibly because I called out another local Facebook group that was advocating murdering the kids. I'd say enjoy, but, well....


No surprise here, seeing how some of the other local FB groups are advocating blowing the heads off of these kids" but I want us to think about our knee-jerk reactions. I have worked with "these kids" for years (and by "these kids" I ran nothing more or less than the kids in this particular neighborhood) and I want to point out a few things:

1. All kids in East Oakland aren't black.

2. All kids who commit crimes aren't black. Or brown. Or any other generalization.

3. My friend who worked at a super wealthy white school had fare jumpers on field trips and the PARENTS were advocating fare jumping because they didn't want to pay. They didn't rob people but fare jumping is also a problem that is usually attributed to black and brown kids in the inner city.

4. Some of these kids have stories you CANNOT EVEN IMAGINE. I am not saying all of them and I'm not saying that it's an excuse, but I am saying that some kids who end up in gangs/as followers for crimes, etc. have trauma that some of us will NEVER BE ABE TO FATHOM EVER.

5. I taught kids who were involved in this kind of crime and regret it so hard. Or were killed when they tried to get out of this life. Who had no community whatsoever other than kids who were criminals/drug users/gang members. THEY DIDN'T HAVE ANOTHER MODEL.

6. I am not saying I know these particular kids' stories. I'm saying that they HAVE stories and that is no excuse but it is context.

7. Understand that kids, no matter what they do, do not deserve to have their heads blown off. Someone in a public group, using his real name, advocating kids having their "goddamn heads blown off" IS THE PROBLEM HERE. THEY ARE KIDS AND THERE ARE STILL WAYS TO REACH THEM. I've worked my whole life to do so and there are not enough people who are helping. Way more who are judging.