This past week hasn't been the best "diversity" week for me. Other than having Tim Wise come to shake things up a bit, the whole issue of walking-the-walk has been on the forefront of my brain and my work. But, here's what's been ticking me off lately: the act of calling out racism and oppression, only to have people say things like, "Well *I* don't think that about people of color!" or "I've never exoticized anyone!" ... implying, then, therefore, the feelings and experiences don't exist.
This is a key point to understand for those who are loosening the mind. News flash: No, you may not actually personally engage in discrimination, racist acts or beliefs, or oppresion. BUT, if you belong to a group that does, then you must recognize and own up to it. This goes for any group in power -- group. Not just individuals.
I'll make it personal here ... so, yes, I am Catholic in a state that has a whole lot of other Catholics. I am religious, I believe lots of what is in the Bible, I pray with my children at night, I am married to a man. I also believe in gay marriage, a woman's right to choose, and the freedom of all (and no) religion in a person's life. While I'm liberal in my practices and beliefs, I also fully own that I follow a faith tradition that is NOT so inclusive. I've done my best to find the right fit church for me and my family -- one that pays a whole lot of attention to social justice, inequal treatment of others, and doesn't use the word "man" when referring to all people - even in the most traditional of the prayers. Yet, the Catholic church has yet to include gay marriages; and this goes against my very grain. So, in my non-religious realm, I am inclusive, I educate others about the gay community, I am vigiliant about making sure that "diversity" always also means LGBTQ. My children are friends with other kids who have 2 moms, 2 days, and we celebrate them as equally as anyone else. My children do not believe that only a man-and-a-woman can marry -- and they'll be the first ones to tell you that 2 men can be in love and that 2 women can be in love, just like their own mom and dad are in love.
But, when I read and hear about oppression that gay couples experience, I do not quickly run to say, "Well, that's just crazy that you feel that way ... after all, *I* do not believe it. So, therefore, it must not exist."
Then, why are people so quick to say this when the race conversation occurs? When I bring up that Black students are feeling marginalized, others are quick to say, "Well, *I* don't discriminate against Black students" or "I have a diverse staff, so I must be treating all Blacks equal" or "I've never thought of Hispanics as lazy, so that's just crazy that others do"? It doesn't make sense to me...
Individual vs The System.
That's great that you don't think of Asian women as exotic. It's encouraging that you think Hispanics can be day laborers and CEO's It's promising that you believe gay marriage is marriage. But, that doesn't mean the experience isn't real to Asians, Hispanics, and gay couples. It doesn't mean that others don't make up for what you don't do.
The promise is in the belief that we (individuals, communities, schools, political parties, countries, etc) can overcome the system of oppression through the determination and role modeling of individuals who refuse to marginalize others. However, we must be careful not to use the "But I don't do it" line to detract from the very real experiences that do exist.
Tim Wise, in his visit, said, "It seems as if people today use the 'I voted for Barack Obama' line in the same way that folks use to use the 'I have a Black friend' line." I'm finding this more and more true. That, while Obama's victory was a victory for our country and for people who believe in equality, we still have a long way to go. All of us (Black, White, Asian, Gay, Hetero, Rich, Poor, Able.. all) have a long way to go. And, even in my Letter to My Children, I don't believe that racism is over just because President Obama was elected. It's too easy to believe that. His election doesn't erase the hate crimes that have happened in my own city in the past few months. His election doesn't mean that all of a sudden workplace discrimination has ended or that people of color aren't statistically experiencing racism.
What it does signal is that enough people are tired of racism. That enough people believe that there is a different story to be told, and that we are eager to hear it.
Between Barack and a Hard Place by Tim Wise -- check it out! Just got my hands on a copy and love it!