The subtitle is “why it’s so hard for white people to talk about racism.” By now you know I don’t have that problem. Income disparity is why I picked this particular career field and we cannot have that discussion without talking about race. I’m going to repeat myself from earlier posts you’ve most likely already read.
I didn’t just see systematic racism. I lived it. I spent years in a Section 8 housing with mostly black families. I went to the same horrible schools throughout most of my childhood. I’ve been put on the ground with a cop’s gun in my back because I was with black boys. Yet, I am not black.
I was looked at as poor white trash but I was never called the n-word, because I am not black.
I saw black families around me stuck in a system that would never let them escape. I escaped when my mother remarried but even then I was obsessed with black culture. I was the white boy memorizing every rap lyric, wearing clothes that three of me could fit in with a big Wu Tang Clan necklace and bumping bass so loud in my car that it literally broke my trunk lock. Even once I got to college I went on a NAACP spring break cruise as the only white person. During my first two years of college the “wigger” term was thrown at me quite a lot, even by my own family.
I was surrounded by black people my whole life. Yet, I was not black. I still had my privilege, the privilege of not immediately being judged by the color of my skin.
This book is written for people like me who think they totally get it just because they grew up in it. This book is also written for all my white friends who say things like “I have black friends,” “racism doesn’t exist,” “systematic racism is made up,” “I don’t have privilege,” and “I don’t see color.”
I enjoyed the opening chapters of the book in which the author discusses our immediate reaction when challenged on race. The discomfort immediately forces us on the defense. We refuse to analyze our upbringings and the fundamental assumptions about society. We feel attacked, so we only reinforce our past beliefs. It’s a “moral blow” to us so “we must defend our character,” as she writes. You’ll see it clear as day when I post this to Facebook.
Instead of feeling attacked, what if we accept our discomfort and really think through what we grew up told to believe? As I say in my fitness posts “Embrace The Suck.” Get comfortable being uncomfortable. Only then can we really grow.
I found the argument that reverse racism cannot exist especially interesting because it’s one I had not heard before. Diangelo argues that racism isn’t about one person. It’s about the system. She writes “when I say that only whites can be racist, I mean that in the United States, only whites have the collective social and institutional power and privilege over people of color. People of color do not have this power and privilege over white people.” It’s a strong point but I think she gets lost in definitions here. People of other races can definitely be racist even if they don’t have the collective power to take advantage of it as whites have throughout history. Perhaps she should find a different word for this argument rather than “racism” or be more specific and call it “institutional racism.”
I really liked the birdcage metaphor which I had not heard before. She writes about the “interlocking forces of oppression:”
“If you stand close to a birdcage and press your face against the wires, your perception of the bars will disappear and you will have an almost unobstructed view of the bird. If you turn your head to examine one wire of the cage closely, you will not be able to see the other wires. If your understanding of the cage is based on this myopic view, you may not understand why the bird doesn’t just go around the single wire and fly away. You might even assume that the bird liked or chose its place in the cage.
But if you stepped back and took a wider view, you would begin to see that the wires come together in an interlocking pattern — a pattern that works to hold the bird firmly in place. It now becomes clear that a network of systematically related barriers surrounds the bird. Taken individually, none of these barriers would be that difficult for the bird to get around, but because they interlock with each other, they thoroughly restrict the bird.
While some birds may escape from the cage, most will not. And certainly those that do escape will have to navigate many barriers that birds outside the cage do not.”
There’s a lot in the beginning of the book I agree with but as it went on I found some things odd and at times even disturbing. Diangelo writes that we never talk about racism in school, even through college. That’s just absurd given the liberal leanings of most college professors, or at least the ones I had who always talked about racism. Like most books I’ve read on racism lately, any discussion of bootstrapping or individualism is seen as racist at heart. I disagree.
What I find most concerning about this book is that it could completely silence white people all together. Diangelo thinks there should be a discussion on racism, but basically implies that white people should just shut up and listen. Everything out of our mouths could come across as offensive. She gives an exhaustive list. That’s especially strange given that she’s a white woman writing a whole book on racism.
Speaking of white women, this is where I thought Diangelo went too far. She wrote an entire chapter on how white women cannot cry when a black person, such as George Floyd, dies because black people get offended when white women cry. “When white women cry, black men get hurt,” she writes about past claims of rape from white women. Someone better go tell all those current white female protestors to chill out. We’ve seen plenty of them on the news crying. Is that racist? Maybe a white women cannot cry when a black man dies, but it’s okay to make money when a black man dies and your book becomes a NYT #1 bestseller? Just seems a bit hypocritical to me.
This nation, especially where I live, was built on the backs of black slaves. They were given freedom and systems were then put in place to keep them beneath us. Many of those systems were torn down but we cannot expect black people to have caught up in such a short amount of time. The Civil Rights Act was passed just eleven years before I was born. And yes, there are still systems in place that are racist. Our jails are full of black people who had a drug that many states now profit from. Our eduction system is completely out of whack. Black people are far more likely to have severe underlying health conditions, which we now see yet ignore during the COVID pandemic. I truly do not understand how anyone can deny these facts.
All my white friends should read this book. Look, I’m going to be honest. You’re going to get offended, maybe even all out pissed off. There’s a whole lot that I disagree with and that’s okay. However, there are some really good nuggets here that may open your eyes and have you re-evaluate the way you think. That’s always a good thing. You don’t have to agree with everything here to understand that racism permeates our nation and maybe even our thinking.