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MLK Day

So on Martin Luther King Day I decided to use my platform to expand another voice.  My friend Crystal Blanton    is a Social Worker, an activist, and a talented writer.   Reprinted with her permission:

Losing the Illusion: The Reality of Racism Today

Losing the Illusion: The Reality of Racism Today

Jun 17, 2017

Many of us are angry right now. I am enraged by one more example, another reminder, that Black lives don’t matter in this country. After hearing the verdict today I am numb. I cannot wrap my mind around a society that clears a cop from all criminal charges after shooting and killing a man, Philandro Castille, in front of a 4 year old child and his girlfriend…. while he still had his seatbelt on.

I have been sitting in my numbness thinking about the trauma of this on that little girl, his girlfriend, his family, his community, the school children he worked with.. And the Black community at large. I have been thinking about the ways that trauma are retriggered and how that applies to racial trauma. I have been thinking about the generations of transgenerational pain in the Black community and how epigenetics pass this down generation after generation in our DNA.

It seems like year after year we have been fighting for the larger society of Americans to listen to our stories of pain, trauma, and fears. We have been working overtime to prove the existence of racism and discrimination that continues to be normal in our experience and a part of the fabric of the very society we share with others. It is interesting in today’s times to see the country continue to be divided by race, and to watch a portion of Americans come to grips with how overt racism has become (again) in the age of Trump. It is interesting to watch people come to grips with the ongoing murder of Black people by the state, and work to cope with the increasing realization that the words of our Black friends and family were truthful and real all along. It is essential for people to understand that racism is alive and well, functioning in all facets of our society and interwoven in the fabric of our history and our present.

Critical Race Theory is very applicable to this and understanding the ways that American society continues to thrive on systems of racism embedded into its very operation. And when we are evaluating the impact of racism, and ways to disrupt that pattern, we have to start looking at racism itself from a very different lens. Racism isn’t just the white hooded figure with an ignorant view on life and an affinity for the word Nigger. Racism is a system, a construct, that permeates every corner of our society and has been used as a tool for targeted success in this nation.

On the UCLA School of Public Affairs site it states that “CRT recognizes that racism is engrained in the fabric and system of the American society. The individual racist need not exist to note that institutional racism is pervasive in the dominant culture. This is the analytical lens that CRT uses in examining existing power structures.” Let’s say it again for the people in the back. “The individual racist need not exist…”

People live in a place of cognitive dissonance by convincing themselves that someone is a good person and “can’t be racist”, or that people of color just want to make everything about race. Arguments even ensure about how a cop, like the one that killed Philandro Castile, “isn’t white and so it couldn’t be racism”. Ignorance about the functionality of racism in power structures and institutions, coupled with cognitive dissonance, is the reason people can believe such things. It is comfortable to think that racism is a person, that it is “bad” people, and that others can be separated from it because they have Black friends.

There are tenants to Critical Race Theory, and while those tenants are often a source of disagreement among different theorists in the field, there are a some that are universally accepted. The widely accepted CRT tenets include the following: Racism is Endemic, Race is a social construct, the power of differential racialization, interest convergence and materialist determinism, advancing the voice of the marginalized and intersectionality of identities.

In Critical Race Theory in Social Work Education: A Framework for Addressing Racial Disparities, the first tenet discusses the very point of how we view the role racism plays in society. It isn’t isolated to an individual person or experience and is not abnormal in our society. It is the normal reality of the power dynamics within the society we have created in America.

“Racism is Endemic. First, CRT asserts that racism is not an abnormal experience, but an everyday occurrence for people of color. It is reproduced in our structures, customs, and experiences. Accordingly, race should be seen as a central rather than a marginal force that defines and explains human experiences (Solórzano & Bernai, 2001). Given this endemic nature, CRT suggests that the functions and effects of racism are often invisible to people with racial privileges.”

The reality of this statement strips away the lies modern society has been able to tell itself about what racism is, how they are exempt and the accountability each person holds in the continuation of this demoralizing and deadly epidemic. What we are seeing now is how this illusion of safety for the average American has been  slipping away with every police murder of an unarmed Black person that is caught on a standard smartphone by a passing citizen.

While white America experiences the slow slipping away of the illusion of righteousness and exempt status, Black people are losing the illusion too.

Once again the Black community is faced with the reality that change isn’t really change, we still aren’t safe, and that we are rapidly slipping back to the 1970’s civil rights era. We are dealing with the harsh reminders that our bootstrap muscles are more defined than most and yet we are still target practice in these streets.

We are again and again faced with the reality that we are not in control of the narrative and our voices are too often left out of the historical accounts of our history. Coming to terms with our lack of social capital, in 2017, and the disenfranchised power-base we are holding onto, it leaves us to really think about what it means to navigate as a Black person in a modern racist society. It is comfortable for us too to believe that “We The People” now includes us…. Until it doesn’t.

Going back to the Critical Race Theory, how important is it for us to redefine our understanding of racism and the impact of the illusions of meritocracy, and good will on our psyche? How does this support or hinder positive change that promotes the survival and the ability to thrive for Black people?

For a moment, let’s dive a little deeper into the tenet about interest convergence and materialist determination.  Too often the survival of our people relies in our ability to appeal to dominant culture. Critical race theory makes space for us to understand that this itself is part of the construct of a racist society and an institutional system of privilege benefiting the majority.

“A fourth tenet of CRT is that of interest convergence and materialist determinism. This suggests that racism confers psychic and material benefits to the majority race. Further, it posits that the interests of the oppressed are addressed only when they converge with the interests of the dominant group (i.e. Whites) (Bell, 1980). According to Stec (2007), “acts that directly help blacks must implicate white interests because white economic (and other) interests and black oppression are inextricably interwoven and depend on each other for their survival” (p. 2). This means that those in the dominant culture who enact social, political, and economic change on behalf of racial minorities would only support changes if their own self-interest is better served.”


This leaves us with a lot to contemplate while we grieve yet another injustice at the hands of the state. How do we navigate a system, without the power of the dominant culture, and isolated from a system of justice that is meant to protect us? How do we heal hundreds of years of transgenerational trauma when we are living the horror that continues to retrigger the very pain of our ancestors? What does it mean to be an ally when the very nature of the system we exist within disproportionately devalues the oppressed and empowers others? When will we begin to look at how transgenerational trauma has impacted white America’s epigenetics around empathy, power, worth in our distorted systems?

I think it is time for us to begin the work of diving deeper into the construction of our societal fabric than we have ever been in order to gain understanding that will prioritize change. How can we shift what we do not understand…..

And in the meantime, I will continue to grieve for my people and the reality we are living in. I will continue to contemplate the meaning of freedom in the middle of the warzone. And I will continue to fight for the survival of myself, my family, my community and a collective consciousness that moves us back into future. In the meantime I will fight for love.

More to come…..

 

https://psychology.iresearchnet.com/counseling-psychology/counseling-theories/critical-race-theory/

http://www1.uwindsor.ca/criticalsocialwork/system/files/Constance-Huggins.pdf

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The Safety Pin

resized_20161115_091157There is a movement suggesting that people who are willing to be supportive of blacks, hispanics, LGBTQ, women and other communities being targeted by Trump inspired racists wear a safety pin to indicate that they hold a safe space.

There is a backlash from those communities.  There is anger that privileged whites think that just wearing the safety pin IS supportive.  It’s too little, too late.  Wearing a safety pin indicates intention, which frankly doesn’t count.  There are plenty of “well-intentioned” people who are happy to “mansplain” away the concerns of these threatened populations.  There are plenty of “well-intentioned” people who are sure they have the “solution”.  There are plenty of “well-intentioned” people who wonder why we can’t all just get along.

There is also a backlash from the racists (who resent being called racists because they feel that they are entitled to define what that term means – and it can’t be them because they are “good people”).   There is an “If you’re not with me you are against me” mentality.  There is harassment, from a meme being generated that that safety pin is a diaper pin and we’re all crying babies to actual physical confrontations.

I know people in all of these communities and I hear them.  Because I hear them I recognize that I can’t just “join the bandwagon” I need to make an active choice.  If I choose to wear the pin what does that mean?  If I choose not to wear the pin what does that mean?

I choose to wear the pin.  Here’s what it comes down to for me:

  1. Wearing the pin is a visible identification of some kind of support.   For a community that often feels very isolated just seeing someone making that small an effort can make a difference.
  2. Wearing the pin does not entitle me to anything.  It doesn’t entitle me to respect from these communities.  It doesn’t instantly bestow understanding.  It doesn’t in itself create the “safe space” it’s meant to indicate.
  3. Wearing the pin means I have an obligation to open my eyes and increase both my awareness and willingness to intervene.  That means more than filming an arrest or calling someone out on foul language.  That means being aware of the clerk keeping an eagle eye on the black woman in the store with me.  That means being aware of the cashier happy to chat with me after demanding identification from the hispanic man in front of me.  That means being aware of the stink eye look being given to the gay couple in the restaurant.  That means being willing to share a seat on the bus with a homeless man.  That means knowing when to shut my mouth and when to open it.
  4. Wearing the pin means I am willing to be a target.  It means I am willing to be a target from the communities that I want to support.  A safe space means a safe space for them to vent their anger, frustration and fear.  A safe space means I may be “harassed” for being a white woman who thinks wearing a pin is enough.  A safe space for the people being targeted means that I may be exposed to feelings that are unpleasant, uncomfortable and I may not feel safe.   Too bad for me.
  5. Wearing the pin means I am willing to be a target for the racist backlash.  I will be perceived as being part of the communities they threaten: the disabled, those with racial differences, those with non binary gender identities etc.  I will be putting myself in the position of being willing to accept some of the harassment those groups experience every day.
  6. Wearing the pin means wearing the pin.  It is privilege to chose to wear the pin or not.  The people in these groups do not have that choice.  They can’t take off their race, their self identity, their handicaps.  They can’t not be targets.  Ultimately that is why I must be a target as well.  I must wear the pin.

Charleston

01 Jan 2013, Charleston, South Carolina, USA --- Senior Pastor, Rev. Clementa Pinckney, speaks to those gathered during the Watch Night service at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina December 31, 2012. New Year's Day 2013 was the 150th anniversary of President Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation, which declared free all slaves in the rebellious states of the Civil War.The Watch Night tradition at black churches goes back to Freedom's Eve, on New Year's Eve 1862 when slaves, free blacks and abolitionists gathered in churches and homes to wait for the Emancipation Proclamation to take effect on January 1, 1863. REUTERS/Randall Hill (UNITED STATES - Tags: SOCIETY RELIGION POLITICS) --- Image by © RANDALL HILL/Reuters/Corbis

Senior Pastor, Rev. Clementa Pinckney, 41– Image by © RANDALL HILL/Reuters/Corbis

I could choose to write about Father’s Day.  I’m not worried about my father getting shot just going through his day.  That’s Privilege.  I could choose to write about the Summer Solstice.  The longest day of the year when the sun shines, illuminating things.  Maybe I’ll just shine my light on a Difficult Topic, #BlackLivesMatter.

Tywanza Sanders 26 Graduate of  Allen University in Columbia, SC. with a degree in business administration.             (Anita Brewer Dantzler via AP)

Tywanza Sanders 26 Graduate of Allen University in Columbia, SC. with a degree in business administration. (Anita Brewer Dantzler via AP)

We are taught a very highly Edited version of history.   I had no idea how important the AME church was, historically, until Obama started talking about it.  I believe it is our personal responsibility to educate our selves on the things going on around us that the System would rather we ignore.  This is not an easy task.  It first requires an understanding that what we are taught isn’t the whole story.

Cynthia Hurd, 54 Hurd was a branch manager at the Charleston County Public Library.

Cynthia Hurd, 54
Hurd was a branch manager at the Charleston County Public Library.

The reason people who are educated in this area talk about systemic racism is because it is invisible and perpetuated by the system.  This is not a new thing.  I remember Kent State.  The first time the National Guard opened fire on campus?  No.  The first time a white upper middle class student was killed.  Yes.

Rev. Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, 45 Coleman-Singleton was a high school track coach at Charleston Southern University

Rev. Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, 45
Coleman-Singleton was a high school track coach at Charleston Southern University

I hear white people ask, “Why is it always about race?”   Because when you have to live with it every day, you begin to realize it is inescapable.  There is a reason that #BlackLivesMatter is not #AllLivesMatter.  It is not because all lives shouldn’t matter, but because it’s clear that Black lives don’t.

There is a difference between not actively perpetuating the problem and helping to solve it.  That difference starts with awareness.  The things that are so common it’s easy not to even notice are often referred to as microaggressions.

Myra Thompson, 59 The Church of the Holy Trinity, via its Facebook page, identified Thompson as the wife of Reverend Anthony Thompson, Vicar of Holy Trinity Reformed Episcopal Church in Charleston.

Myra Thompson, 59
Wife of Reverend Anthony Thompson, Vicar of Holy Trinity Reformed Episcopal Church in Charleston.

Learning to recognize these in ourselves,

in the media, and in others is a big step towards simply validating the problem.  Then the next step is to Speak Up.

Ethel Lee Lance, 70  (AP Photo/David Goldman)

Ethel Lee Lance, 70
(AP Photo/David Goldman)

I end where I started, encouraging self education.  Each of these links takes you to places where you can hear different voices, and perhaps learn more.  Additionally I recommend checking out my friend Crystal Blanton’s 30 Day Real Black History Challenge.  She’s been doing this for several years so check out her archives as well.

Rev. Daniel Simmons, 74

Rev. Daniel Simmons, 74

Crystal was instrumental in the editing of the anthology Bringing Race to the Table:Exploring Racism in the Pagan Community.  I have a small essay in that book, and I’m very proud to be a contributor.  I recommend it to non-Pagans as well.  The book is structured with a section on People of Color’s experiences, a section on History, and a section where ally’s speak.  I think the material is widely applicable and sometimes it’s easier to hear if you have a little distance.

Thank you for reading.

Rev. DePayne Middleton-Doctor, 49 Enrollment counselor at the Charleston campus of Southern Wesleyan University

Rev. DePayne Middleton-Doctor, 49
Enrollment counselor at the Charleston campus of Southern Wesleyan University

 

Susie Jackson, 87  (AP Photo/David Goldman)

Susie Jackson, 87
(AP Photo/David Goldman)

Photos from Huffington Post

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