3 More Valuable Baby Steps Towards my Education on Racism
Updated: Jun 29, 2020
Juneteenth, Responsible Self-Education and 3rd Degree Racism
As I noted in last week’s post, I stumbled and fell hard on my white privilege when George Floyd was murdered. My next several posts are focused on amplifying Black voices. I will share some of the things I’m reading and watching and some short reflections on them. I hope you will follow the links and continue listening to Black voices.
If like me, you have never heard of Juneteenth, this is a must-read and must-scroll. The article is followed by pictures of celebrations (visual tour) and adds a wonderful richness to the reading experience.
Juneteenth is a celebration, not of the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation, but commemorating when a group of slaves in Texas found out (over 2 years later) that they were free as the Union Army made its way to Texas. You would think that in a country that holds liberty as one of its central values, I might have known about a holiday around emancipation.
Although it’s recognized in most states, Juneteenth has not been made a federal holiday. I think it’s important that it is made a federal holiday and here’s why. Any person, group, community, or country can SAY whatever they want about their values but they are most clearly communicated through actions.
Which is more valued? Option 1: a federally recognized holiday that government workers and most companies give as a paid holiday or increased pay to workers and kids get out of school (think 4th of July here). Option 2: a holiday in most states that has some local celebrations that might or might not get some local news coverage?
If as a student in school, I got Juneteenth off, I would know why. And if it was a federal holiday, it would have come up in my Google “Holidays in the United States” calendar and I could have Googled it sometime before I turned forty-frickin’-three!
This is one of those gazillion small ways white culture and history stay dominant and Black culture and history take a back seat.
Costley also talks more about the ways in which Black people are still not free that are worth reflecting on for our road ahead. The article ends with a wonderful visual tour, photographs of several celebrations.
This article was helpful to me for a few reasons. She addresses a lot of new-to-me concepts like white decentering, tone policing, and derailing.
She also gives me something very concrete to DO.
“If you're a white person who wants to be an ally, who’s dedicated to learning, who wants to be educated, start by looking it up yourself! ...Do your own research on why that person doesn’t answer when you ask “What are you?” or why that woman doesn't want you touching her hair, or why all these people seem so angry. But please stop expecting to have it explained to you by a benevolent POC.
(FYI, POC is the acronym for people or person of color.)
As I was reading her characterization of some of the conversations she had, it occurred to me that I have a very simple hack to cue me to the times that I might be protecting my privilege. When I move from curiosity to defensiveness, I’m probably protecting my privilege.
“All lives matter,” “I have Black friends,” and “There’s nothing I can do about it,” all come from a defensive, oppositional stance.
Curiosity on the other hand - hanging in there and listening even when I feel defensive - will help me move away from ignorance. Listening to people’s stories and perspectives and Googling and Googling and Googling.
This article is an interesting take on creating real movement in people’s behavior on more of a macro level. Rice talks about a directive from his father, an economist, that we need to “increase the cost of racist behavior.”
This caught my attention because getting everyone with the privilege to understand what privilege is and make different choices absolutely needs to happen. But what if we could create incentives to shift privileged people’s behaviors to at least stop getting in the way so much. From my experience in the mental health field, sometimes you change someone’s mind to change their behaviors and sometimes you change their behaviors to change their mind. This article talks about the latter.
He notes that you first have to define what racist behavior is, then you can figure out how to make it more costly. This is where the three degrees fit in and they are worth the read to understand where you fit in and where you can direct your change efforts.
This article is really focused on businesses and what they can do to move in a better and more profitable direction. His characterization of the thought process of a Black person at work in a room full of white people is particularly powerful.
If you have a leadership role in a company or aspire to one, or you work in a mostly white organization, this article is for you.
You Can’t Win if You Don’t Stay in the Game
The lessons above this week were powerful. Especially the one connecting my defensiveness with my privilege and to keep striving for curiosity.
What keeps punching me in the gut is how much damage I do that I’m not conscious of. All of the articles I have been bringing here have had one thing in common. While reading them, I started shaking my head and saying to myself, “I had no idea. That’s totally obvious but I just didn’t see it.”
Honestly, it brings up a lot of feelings of shame, and sometimes I just don’t want to do it. But walking away is taking advantage of my white privilege. Someone who is discriminated against does not get to call time out and decide to not engage with discrimination.
I also know that my self-flagellation helps no one and in fact, can divert the conversation to me (white centering) rather than keeping the focus on Black voices and racism.
So, I hope those of us with privilege will keep reading, watching, Googling, and maybe even taking some informed action around racism. Even when it’s hard.