Institutional Racism

  • Charlottesville and Houston

    blogpic CharlottesvilleandHoustonWhile Noah-sized rain and floods ravage southern Texas and Louisiana, I continue to ponder the events in Charlottesville. I expressed my dismay and concern to a friend who is African American. I asked her how she was doing with all this ugly, explicit racism and its tacit approval by the POTUS. She said, “I prefer it this way. I want to know who my enemies are.” I responded, “Yeah, well, at least you know what you’re dealing with”—and I immediately caught myself and corrected what I said to—“but you’ve always known what you’re dealing with.” She said, “yes, but now YOU know what we’re dealing with.”

    Indeed. What she said keeps replaying in my head. “Now YOU know what we’re dealing with.” And not only me—but most definitely me—and all light-skinned people, now really know the attitudes and the hatred and the fear that infects our national psyche and affects so many of our citizens. We can no longer deny what people of color have always been and continue dealing with in this country.

    Perhaps this truth is what I call a “backdoor blessing”—something positive that God can bring out of something so awful. Denial of deep-seated racism is harder now when the ugly chants and angry violence of white supremacists litter our media. It adds necessary credence to the cry that Black Lives Matter—a movement that is not a passing fad, but a clarion call to rid our structures and hearts from the injustice, harm, and death that results from empowered bigotry.

    Disasters like Hurricane Harvey, equalize us all and drive home the truth that we are in this together. We must invest in one another’s well-being and not just our own, or this planet will not survive. Our basic needs are the same—food, water, safety, shelter, family, love, purpose and meaning. Much of this is being washed away for our brothers and sisters in the Gulf Coast; in times of crisis, it doesn’t matter the color of the hand that helps us. From Houston, the white supremacists of a couple weeks ago look even more ignorant and ridiculous—about as ridiculous as a white woman telling her African American friend that at least now she knows what she’s dealing with.

    Photo: From www.thepoliticus.comand @HCOTexas

  • Hidden Figures Brings Us All into the Light

    blogpic.hiddenfiguresmovieGo see the movie, Hidden Figures!

    I was both inspired and disturbed as I watched this movie last weekend. It’s not difficult to understand the depth of structural and institutional racism that lingers in this country when only 60 years ago, Katherine Johnson had to run a half mile to find a “colored ladies” restroom at NASA; Dorothy Vaughan couldn’t access a computing book since it was in the “whites-only” section of the library; and Mary Jackson had to petition a judge to attend an engineering class only taught at a segregated white school. Neighborhoods were red-lined and schools were and continue to be under-resourced. In her blog, the Rev. Wil Gafney, PhD, writes, “This intentional under-education, miseducation, and constant changing of job qualifications to exclude African Americans—along with excluding black veterans from the GI Bill—was designed to build the white middle class at the expense of and on the plundered wealth of black folk.”

    And whites today still wonder why there’s a Black Lives Matter movement when the racist attitudes behind the segregation so clearly portrayed in Hidden Figures is still manifest in some of our institutions. It’s hard for us as white people to admit that an equal playing field for people of color feels like oppression to those of us who are accustomed to preference and privilege. The importance of the movie, Hidden Figures, is that it so clearly portrays that access for and full use of the talents and intelligence of ALL Americans does not create fewer opportunities for others; on the contrary, it benefits all of us—it got us to the moon! It’s hard to let go of the zero-sum approach to equal access and economic success, but having these three powerful women working in NASA in the 1960’s was a boon to all Americans, indeed, all of humanity. Far from diminishing others, their lives and work created more opportunity for so many, not the least of whom of was John Glenn.

    We can still support our societal structures and those who work in them (e.g. law enforcement) and also hold them accountable to the hard work of eliminating prejudice and racist beliefs that manifest themselves in unequal treatment (and too often, death) of persons of color. Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson succeeded due to their brilliant minds, their tenacity in the face of discrimination, and the support of their families, church and community. We all need to continue to work for a country where their counterparts today find even more support through fully funded schools, safe neighborhoods, access to healthcare, and institutions that advocate and celebrate their contributions to society on an equal playing field with all citizens.

     

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