Confronting Racism is Spiritual Work

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“Pray for the dead, and fight like hell for the living.” – Mary “Mother” Jones

I didn’t get much sleep last night, but I’m sure it was more than Trayvon Martin’s parents got. I’m sure it is more than the parents of young black or brown children got.

I’m not here to talk about the trial. Many others are doing that. I’m not here to talk about stand your ground laws. Many others are doing that.

I want to talk about the fact that white people have got to get ourselves together and confront racism.  

I want to talk about the fact that white people have got to get ourselves together and confront privilege.

You might rather I spoke only of spiritual matters. You might rather I spoke only of the love that flows through all things. You might rather that I spoke only of the power of illuminated hearts. 

I am speaking of all of these. Right now. 

When we live in states of fear, we forget the flow of love. When we create systems that are infused with racism, that end up teaching black teens that they are only worthy of being feared, and not worthy of being loved and protected, we darken the illumination in our hearts. We fail to recognize, over and over, that spirit joins us.

We are tearing ourselves asunder. The cost is high. Systemic racism means that every 36 hours an African American is killed by police or private security forces. Systemic racism means that when a black woman fires a warning shot into the air in an attempt to scare off her violent husband, she gets 20 years, despite the same Stand Your Ground Laws at play in the Zimmerman trial. Systemic racism means that every black and brown man in New York City has been stopped and frisked multiple times for no cause. Systemic racism means that African Americans are four times as likely to be arrested and jailed for marijuana possession than whites. Systemic racism means that more African Americans are in prison than were ever held as slaves.

Racism means that Trayvon Martin is dead.

Racism means that Alan Blueford is dead.  

Racism means that Kimani Gray is dead. 

Racism means that Sean Bell is dead.

Racism means that Gary King is dead.

Racism means that Raheem Brown is dead.

Racism means that Oscar Grant is dead…

Racism means that we live in fear and put each other in danger. We put one another in harm’s way. We do this. WE do this.

30,000 prisoners in California are on hunger strike right now. Did you know that? 

Most of the inmates of Guantanamo Bay were cleared for release years ago. Did you know that?  

Approximately 4,000 people have been killed by U.S. drone strikes. Did you know that?  

This is a spiritual issue. This is all a spiritual issue. Matter is not fallen. The material world is sacred. That includes all of us. And yet we forget. We say that this portion does not deserve the light of the sun. We forget that even things that live in darkness can be beautiful and true. We say we have no power. We say it’s not our problem. We forget: we too are sacred. We are touched with divine fire. We forget that we co-create the cosmos with the Gods. We forget that every moment of every day, we get to choose: this magic, or that magic? We forget the flow of love.

We forget that for love to flow freely, becoming the great connector, we must be open to it. We must open to love. In opening to it, love flows through us. Love flows on.

This is a time for prayer. This is also a time for action. This is a time to open the floodgates of love. This is a time to act for justice.

Here are just a few possibilities:

  • Educate yourself about racism and privilege.
  • Help the Vote Riders with ensuring greater access to basic voting rights for all citizens.  
  • Work to overturn punitive drug laws
  • Talk to your friends and neighbors. Get to know their hopes and fears.
  • Organize in your communities to address violence and corruption in police, security forces, and prisons. 
  • Plant a garden in an empty lot. Feed people. Throw block parties. Make art. Educate children. Take time. Volunteer. Dance. Make love. Study. Raise awareness. Educate yourself. Help educate others. Speak up. Sit down. Stand tall. 

 Ask yourself: what might a society based on love, mutual aid, and mutual respect look like? Which of my values uphold this? Organize toward that. We all must do our part. The only failure is to stop trying.

“Blessings onto a society that is rooted in confusion and bound by fear. Blessings onto the change agents that fight for a future that is not guaranteed.” – Crystal Blanton

 

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Today, my intention is to sit in silent meditation at Frank Ogawa/Oscar Grant Plaze in Oakland. 4pm pacific. Locals, I would love it if you would join me.

 Every first Friday I am at the main Oakland Police Department at 7th and Broadway with the Interfaith Tent for Justice talking with people, and reading the names of those killed by police: 100% Ceasefire.

106 Responses to “Confronting Racism is Spiritual Work”

    • Shannon Moore

      HOLY CRAP! REALLY? What a GREAT idea! Just in case you ever thought our justice system was about rehabilitation. FFS!

      Reply
  1. Simone

    I will take take this in to the night. 4 PM PST in 1 AM here.
    Racism can also be in very little things like not willing to see children the way they are behind the colour of their skin.
    Simone

    Reply
  2. Gillian

    You have outdone yourself my friend. What am outpouring of your own thoughts and emotion. Truly amazing post.

    Reply
  3. Evodia Silverwood

    Yes! I am so resonating with this. I hope that my career will take me to places where I can do this work, to raise awareness about injustice, help reach solutions, and open the flow of love! Moving to SF area in a month, hope to see join you at some of these events!

    Reply
  4. Katrina

    Very powerful post. May the vibrations be felt far and wide, inspiring us to claim and shape our desired co-creation.

    Reply
  5. Marlo

    Thank you for this. I spoke with my sister today and we were/are both so angry. Both native CA girls but now she is in NY and me in the UK. We talked about how this makes us feel about going home to CA & the stand your ground issue. If I could sit with you in Oakland I would. I’ll be there in spirit. Xo

    Reply
    • Thorn

      Marlo, the stand your ground laws are actually in Florida, but there is plenty wrong here in California. That is why I’m doing so much work now to try to counter police violence. blessings to you.

      Reply
  6. Oberyn Kunning

    Thanks for speaking this aloud from this place that gets so much attention. This is an issue that has been on my heart and in the work of my hands for a few years now. I’m feeling very called to doing some panel, forum or caucus about racism, white privilege, and white-supremacist thinking in relation to modern paganism and magico-spirituality communities at PantheaCon… maybe there’s collaborative interest out there?

    Reply
    • Thorn

      Oberyn,

      We did a panel on Pagans and Privilege last year – off the main schedule because it wasn’t accepted. It was *very* well received and we plan to do it again with the same line-up this year. I think other offerings that would complement it would be a good idea. The more of us presenting from different angles, the better.

      Reply
    • megan

      I am launching a spiritual talk show and am planning a series of discussion about colonialism, leading into racism, and its affect in America as well as globally. Researchong now, but hope to begin on spring/summer of 2014. I would like to find out about your discussions and learn…thanks…please contact

      Reply
  7. Roger Wolsey

    Straight, white, able-bodied, males too often view ourselves as the “default” or “normal/normative” kind of human being and therefore we too often view minorities and people of color somehow different than “normal”, other than normal, as aberrations, as deviant, etc. We tend to think this way even though the vast majority of humans on the planet are neither white nor male. Not only is our perception of reality and basic math faulty, we too often add negative connotations to our categorizations of those who we view as “aberrations” — adjectives such as “odd”, “irregular,” the pejorative definition of “deviant”,” and then the slippery slope to “subhuman.” Once we view someone as less than fully human, we can come to think that they don’t share our “human” values and norms. White women too often share this same set of perceptions.

    What’s needed is for more straight, white people to wake up each morning realizing our privileged status in this current social order, and to work to challenge and change that social order. There are many ways to do this. I’m not sure any one way is the best, what matters is that we come to our senses, repent, own and celebrate our uniqueness, celebrate the uniqueness of others, and become more mindful as we make our perceptions, assumptions, and choices in life.

    The realm that I work within is religion and in that realm I work to challenge people’s notions about God — as our image of God tends to ripple into our notions about ourselves and our fellow humans.

    Reply
    • Thorn

      Roger, I agree with you. It is tricky to see the water we swim in, and yet crucial to awaken to that fact. There is so much we can take for granted, regarding privilege. More and more is coming out, too about how white supremacy skews all of our systems — such as the ways in which black citizens in the South are simply not picked for juries, for 100 reasons that all end up boiling down to “s/he’s black”.

      As to your last point, it feels very important that we all do this work as we can, where we can. Today, author Teju Cole wrote: – “The basic question which no public event alters: how can I, myself, in my limited sphere of influence, be more just?”

      Reply
  8. Syrbal/Labrys

    Thank you very much for this; I’ve been in turmoil and swimming in a kind of horror since I read the verdict. My outer ‘know how the world bobbles’ self was not surprised, but my marshmallow heart was burnt through with pain. I spouted off quite angrily to relief the feeling that volcanic fire would come out my ears; but now, I am drying wormwood and lavender and making smudge sticks and keeping myself busy in physical tool construction until I can cool my mind. I lived in Louisiana before desegregation; I saw black children in open pick up trucks in hurricane driven rains. I wept and was given failing grades for being a “damned n-loving yankee’ in my all white school. I had my children in a briefly hope-lit time in the mid-70′s when I thought we had learned some of these necessary lessons in love and besides-the-skin-oneness. To be so disillusioned at age 60 is such grief-shattered misery. I will walk my Walk, clear my air and my head….and finally will hear the calmer voices within. But now…my very skin burns with pain and anger.

    Reply
  9. Shannon Moore

    I still maintain that the absence of oppression and the exemption from denial of God given rights is not “privilege”.
    Suggesting it is only plays into the hands of the oppressors.

    Reply
    • Shannon Moore

      just for starters, the assertion that something is a privilege necessarily implies that first of all, those things can be rightly revoked, and that second, they come from either the system, OR the people that run them.
      Particularly in the context of rights, Both ideas run in direct opposition to spiritual sensiblities

      Reply
      • Thorn

        I disagree for practical reasons, though I may agree for spiritual reasons. Access to clean clear water is a sign of privilege. Should everyone have rights to clean, clear water? Yes. But the fact that I can take access to clean, clear water for granted means that my life has privilege.

        Do I not get harassed because of my skin tone? Yes. That means that *in the society we have built* I am accorded privilege. Should this be the case, in a beautiful and just world? No.

        My long game is the creation of societies that reflect my spiritual values of equity, love, justice, and beauty. I also have to acknowledge that I currently live in a society where those things are not in play much of the time for large portions of our society.

        Reply
        • Shannon Moore

          It doesn’t mean that you’re privileged, it means you’re free of oppression.

          The example of being accosted is the perfect example. No, you’re not privileged by not being accosted for the color of your skin. You have the RIGHT to not be accosted by the color of your skin. The guy that IS accosted for the color of his skin (my brother comes to mind) IS oppressed. But that doesn’t mean you’re privileged. In order to be Privileged, you have to be given something by someone for whom it is theirs to give.

          That Freedom from oppression is not theirs to give. Its yours by right. The giving of something that is rightfully yours to someone else is the giving of a privilege. The giving of something to someone

          When you describe these basic rights as privileges, it means that the people that have granted them to you have the right to deny you that privilege. This is especially important in matters of law, for example where a drivers license is a privilege, but your freedom of speech isn’t. Especially in practical, legal terms, the use of the word Privilege Vs the use of the word “Rights” is VERY important.

          So, for both practical and Spiritual purposes, it is very, very important that we don’t misuse the term by using it to describe a lack of oppression.

          Reply
        • Shannon Moore

          The giving of something that is rightfully yours to someone else is the giving of a privilege. The denial of something to someone for whom it rightfully belongs is oppression of that person, not the privilege of everyone else.

          Reply
        • Shannon Moore

          O.k. one more thing, then I’ll stop. Wish I could edit these comments.

          The other problem with describing it as privilege is that it implies things that run very counter to the advancement of human rights.

          If you say that freedom from violation of rights is a privilege, then what you are saying by implication is that if we are all equally oppressed, there is a level of justice achieved. After all, if our rights are granted, and everyone is treated evenly, then the oppressor is being fair.

          If someone burned down every house on your block but yours, because you’re the only white person on the block, its more than a bit counter-productive to focus on YOU and your role in not having your house burned down. And the question of “Why didn’t they burn down Thorns house” is the wrong question. The wrong question is the surest path to the wrong answers. The real question shouldn’t be; “Why didn’t they burn down Thorns house.” The real foucs shouldn’t be Thorn. The real focus should be the oppressor. And the real question should be “how do we get them to stop burning other peoples houses down?”

          To me, thats both practical AND spiritual.

          Reply
        • Thorn

          Shannon,

          There are varying facets and levels of oppression in our society. That is where the idea of “intersectionality” comes in. We might have privilege in one way yet be oppressed in another. It isn’t clear cut.

          Privilege is a term that feels like a useful way to look at the ways in which I don’t have to fear police like many of the young men in Oakland or NYC do. There are ways in which it is easy to be unconscious about things we simply can take for granted. That is what I mean (and others mean) by privilege.

          However, it is not a complete term. It has its drawbacks, as you point out.

          To put this in more firmly spiritual terms: my experience is that the cosmos is all part of the same flow. There is a non-duality that is Reality. However, there is also duality. Duality may be “false” at the bottom of things, yet it is a still helpful way to learn about day and night, hot and cold etc. Duality becomes my teacher, even as I seek the non-duality of pure connection.

          It is the same with privilege. I want us all to have basic rights and call those things basic rights. However, I simultaneously need to look at the ways in which my rights look very different than the rights afforded to others (and vice versa in some cases). Calling that privilege puts a lens on the situation so I can better see it, better respond, better learn, and better change.

          Saying there isn’t privilege operational in our society, as imperfect a term as it is, is like saying we are post-racial. We just aren’t. Some people operate under the assumption of entitlement every day. And they are correct. This society does give them entitlement and privileges.

          That doesn’t make it right.

          Reply
          • Shannon Moore

            its a working term. O.k.

            I’m going to have to use a touchy metaphor below, I’m in no way comparing the life of the white male to a plantation slave, I’m just drawing a parallel.
            I can just tell you its generally going to be a non-starter (outside of a very, very small subculture). Tell the Native Americans they’re privileged. After all, they didn’t get murdered like other tribes. Because the USG decided they would be allowed to live. What a privilege! Essentially, IMO, you’re telling the porch slaves to focus on their access to the porch.
            If you tell that guy after he gets whipped at night that hes privileged because hes not as oppressed as the guys sleeping 6 deep in huts, he’ll say you’re nuts. And he’ll probably tell you to focus on how to get them all out of slavery. If he hasn’t been completely beaten into stockholm syndrome.

            The Average white male worries about his kids getting killed in an imperial war, the ever growing portion of his paycheck taken by the government, whether hes going to wake up with an M-4 shoved in his face for growing a plant. Or his lifes savings being stolen one day by the Presidents chief fund raiser. Are those privileges? Sure, hes got it better than the black man that can’t get a job, because he got railroaded into jail. But maybe hes privileged. After all, his great grandfather was a slave…
            If you want to tell that guy hes privileged, and thats the problem, because he doesn’t have it as bad as his black neighbor. Well…. Good luck with that, I don’t think you’re going to find a very receptive audience.

            Because the white male that is even remotely awake to oppression wants to end it.
            Convince him that he should focus on driving out the plantation owners instead of focusing on how privileged he is to rest his whipped back on a bed in the manner.

            You’ll get a lot further with people if you find a word that doesn’t frame them as beneficiaries of the system that produces problems that we all face.

            Because that produces guilt. And shame. Read some of the above comments and tell me thats not so. Guilt and shame are a particularly poor place from which to start empowerment. Outrage at victimization on the other hand?

            I’ll tell you what got me active. When I found out that as bad as I had it, the things they were doing to other people were far, far worse. It sure didn’t start with “focus on how good you have it” And I think you’ll find thats the case with the vast majority of whites. Or for that matter…People generally, even Brian…

            Reply
        • Crystal Blanton

          Shannon… I would like to respond from the perspective that you are not trying to be incredibly insensitive and dismissive of the oppression and killng of Black and natives in this country. I want to believe that is not your intention.

          With that in mind… I will say that there are large holes in your ability to see privilege for what it is. This is normal in the unpacking of the invisible knapsack. If it was easy to see in yourself, it wouldn’t be invisible. To use a reference to slaves or the killing of natives to prove your point is disrespectful. Let’s look at that. Privilege does not pick apart and judge degrees of oppression or violation. slaves were beaten, raped, and chattel… regardless of the job it was traumatizing and harmful for generations to come. Natives were killed in the process of colonizing so I am not sure where that comment is going or coming from. The intersectionality of privilege is not about judging one oppressive fallout from another… it is the acknowledgement that rights are subjective and they do not apply to everyone.

          The assumption that all people should have rights is a sign of privilege. To compare the fear of parents of the average white parent that you posted are indeed a sign of privilege when you look at the amount of people in this country that do not have food, shelter or access to education. The playing field is not even and while that is not the fault of the average privileged person, to attempt to dismiss their oppression is harmful and a part of the overall problem in society. The systematic and historically dysfunctional and racist soceity that we live in has not equally given rights or opportunities to all people, especially those of color. That is a fact….. from slavery to Jim Crow to the fight for civil rights, our history shows us the disporpotionate distribution of rights and laws in this country. Today… you can do some research into the industrial prison complex and the new Jim Crow laws that continue to do this in the criminal justice arena… it is ever present.

          Privilege shows a variety of rights and circumstances that are not freely given to all people but only to some. It is not a judgement on the person with the privilege unless that person is using that privilege to further oppress those without it. It is a system of power that gives some the opportunity and others go without it.

          Europeans in this country came in with privilege and power, and the biased laws of this country have yet to catch up completely to rectify that. The stats speak for themselves.

          Lastly… the absense of oppression is absolutely privilege. While it is something that everyone should have… not everyone does. It is a privilege to be without oppression. That is also a fact.

          Reply
          • Shannon Moore

            I’m not even going to address your questioning of my character.

            And Starting with declaring that I have large holes in my ability to see…As though you get to dictate reality…Well… Talk about privilege.

            Frankly You’re missing the point entirely. There is nothing about the social dynamics that Thorn is mentioning that is “invisible” to me. (And its pretty offensive to me for you to just go around declaring I’m blind, and potentially bad intentioned.) I “confronted my privilege” Decades ago. The subject at hand isn’t her description of the dynamic (of which I am keenly aware) but is instead the degree to which the terminology As defined and understood in the English language matches the dynamics she draws attention to. The question is to what degree it is productive to point at that particular manifestation of the dynamic.

            No, its really more simple than that. Words have discrete meanings. I like it that way. It makes communication and ascertaining meaning so much easier.
            I guess the most important point I’d disagree with is your assertion that “the assumption that all people should have rights is a sign of privilege.”

            I’ve got to say… Did Martin Luther King Jr. Have that privilege? I remember him saying something about all people having God Given Rights. Once or twice. I can think of many minority civil rights leaders that “assumed all people that should have rights.” Come to think of it, I’m hard pressed to think of one who didn’t.

            You’re also wildly and inappropriately characterizing me. Did I not specifically say (just for you, in anticipation, in fact) that “I’m in no way comparing the life of the white male to a plantation slave, I’m just drawing a parallel.” Its a metaphor, an illustration. Obviously.

            Please don’t lecture me on history, when you could stand to do some studying yourself. I’m keenly aware of the “disproportionate distribution of rights in this country.”

            But are you? No, in fact, not All Europeans “came to this country in privilege”. In fact A great many of them came here as slaves. Ever hear of the Irish potato famine? Did you know that after the government there forced them all to grow the same potato, and the crop died, they forced the destitute peasants to choose between dying in labor camps to pay off their debts or to be shipped to the US to pay off those debts? Did you know that for Generations many Scottish and Irish were enslaved to corporations under the auspices of paying off debts in a system where their debt only got worse? Did you know that even through ww1 “celtic” was considered a different race in the US than White? And that “Celts”, apart from being kept in “financial slavery” were also kept in total slavery? Were prevented from entering stores, Sharing drinking fountains, etc, etc, etc with white people?

            How about the Hessians…. Did you know they were Forced to join the German mercenaries, being considered “expendable people” and were essentially sold to the British for the profit of their local lord?

            I could go on and on and on… Sufficed to say, They didn’t invent slavery or bigotry when they discovered black people, and they didn’t stop then either.

            See… Thats the problem with making this all about color. You don’t see that it isn’t Black and white… Its All of us, Vs. Them. Talking about who gets to sit on the porch, and whether blacks get more privilege than Hispanics, or visa versa, or if some hispanics count as white… All of that is to keep us from scrutinizing each other, and fighting over their table scraps instead of looking at the problem. THEM.

            Lastly. “the absense (sic) of oppression is absolutely privilege.”
            Sorry, but if you’re going to communicate, words have to have meaning. A privilege is something that someone grants you that is theirs to give. In order for that to be the case, there is a necessary, logical implication;
            That thing does not already belong to you. (I cannot grant you the privilege of your freedom of speech). Because it is a right. You already have it. And as our founding documents here in the US as well as every mystical tradition I can think of says, those rights belong to all of Gods people. Especially mystical traditions that don’t stem from races that you think “have privilege”.
            Oppression (of ones rights) is not the opposite of privilege. Because Rights are not privileges. See definition, of both.
            Likewise it necessarily, logically follows that it is NOT “a privilege to be without oppression.” This is just simple logic based on discrete definitions, commonly understood both in Basic English and Legal definitions. A privilege is Not a right. A right is something that you are entitled to (even if you’re not getting it) by virtue of your being human. Nobody can take away your RIGHT to free speech. (Even though they CAN oppress you and take away your speech, they cant take away your right to it.) A PRIVILEGE is something someone gives you, and retains the power to take back. Like a drivers license.

            You can look this up for yourself anywhere.
            Drivers license=privilege
            Free speech=right
            impingement on your ability to exercise that right=Oppression
            Therefore, axiomatically, the absence of oppression is NOT privilege, it is having free exercise of your rights.

            And sorry, I’m not going to relinquish my rights to the realm of “something someone gives me, and has the right to take away”
            No matter how much race guilt gets thrown at me.

            Reply
            • Crystal Blanton

              Shannon, so here is the thing. I said I was not going to assume that you meant disrespect. That was actually giving the benefit of the doubt on something that came across very dismissive toward my history and ancestry. If giving you the benefit of the doubt and assuming good intent is offensive, then I cannot help that. I will continue to approach people with assumed good intent until I can no longer.

              I am not going to tit for tat with you. I think your whole history lesson proves my point and so therefore I don’t have to. There is no comparison with chattel slavery and I will leave that there.

              And one thing I agree on with you is that I do need to and AM studying… and paying a lot of money for it. It is a good thing. I encourage everyone to study and learn more so that we can truly understand the privileges that we have and the intersectionality of privilege. I am quite privileged… don’t get it confused. Your assertion that you addressed your privilege long ago is not the same as I see unpacking privilege. As a black, lower middle class, woman… there is too much intersectionality of privilege to finish unpacking… it is a lifelong process. As we grow, our understanding of the world grows.

              So with that…. I again am not interested in the nit pick, tit for tat, “I know history and you don’t” assumption conversation. Your understanding of the definition of privilege does not work in social justice and social work contexts. It is not something Thorn or I, or anyone, have made up in this context… it is social work/social justice working definitions. The information is available to all who want it, and for those who don’t… that is ok. Your right to your opinion is yours. I am basing mine in studies, facts and an understanding of the language of social justice.

              Reply
              • Shannon Moore

                That you would diminish centuries of enslavement, rape, killing, discrimination and the treatment of people as little more than animals as “No comparison”. When it was addressing your completely false sweeping assertion that “Europeans in this country came in with privilege and power”, speaks volumes to me of this “social justice” of which you speak.
                Ironic in the context of “coming across very dismissive toward my history and ancestry.”

                Reply
            • megan Henry

              Damn woman, I do see your point! I shall add that the Irish were enslaved in their own country by the English. They were not permitted to speak their native language, their land and homes were forcefully talen from them. Briefly, a true story, a farm was taken from an Irish family, who owned it since anyone could remember, and the grandfather had to work for almost twenty years to buy it back from the ruling British thugs. Most never got their lands back. Africa, South Africa in particular suffers from this now. I am thankful that you clearing up meaning so a better understanding can come through, and a more productive conversation can begin, healing can happen, and a better life for all of us. Yes, and the question is….who are the oppressors today? Who benefits by keeping all this injustice and bickering alive. I believe ultimately we all lose if we don’t work together to solve these issues. Please keep posting!

              Reply
              • tomjefferson@hushmail.com

                Megan, Thanks for seeing it.
                I’m Male FWIW…No worries, it happens all the time

                Reply
  10. Stephanie Hartzell-Brown

    Thank you for posting this. Your words are so important for us all at this time in society. We are being confronted with serious ethical and moral issues that are finally starting to be discussed & dealt with-albeit after many a young man has to die. We must not let fear and anger and confusion overwhelm our hearts. It is important that we as parents teach our children that we are collectively humanity and that race/economic status/style whatever, should not enter into how we interact with each other. We must eliminate racism from our cultural biases and that is tough even in an extremely civilized nation. Your words make me encouraged that a dialogue is beginning! Namiste…

    Reply
    • Thorn

      Yes. It starts with us. The more we can help this ripple out, the better. Parents teaching children is a great way to go about this.

      Reply
  11. Helen/Hawk

    As I read this (for which I am grateful) I had an odd experience. Somehow I read the word “scared” when the word “sacred” was written. Still processing that experience.

    Reply
  12. Mary Gelfand

    As ardent liberals, my first husband and I intentionally bought our home in an integrated neighborhood in New Orleans. Approximately half the families on our street were, and still are, black. At first this was challenging for me. But over time I examined my responses to the young black people that frequented my neighborhood. I learned their names. I spoke with their parents. I discovered what it meant to be stopped in that town for “driving while black.” I overcame my gut reaction to meeting unknown young black men on different streets. I learned to exchange words of greeting when we passed–Good Morning, or Nice Day. It was not easy work, but it was definitely sacred.

    Reply
  13. Paul V Motaung

    After the fall of apartheid I must admit that I hid my head in the sand thinking that racism was over. I chose to forget that racism goes much further than legalised racism that apartheid was, and yes; I chose to close my eyes to the reality that racism is/was not just a South African phenomenon. Thanks to this (brutal) reminder my eyes are open again.

    Reply
    • Thorn

      Paul, the systems run deep. We really struggle with this in the US – but I think people struggle with this in many places in the world. And in the US we have had no Truth and Reconciliation committees. We haven’t had even that level of coming together. We just thought we could change some laws without having to deal with the grief, anger, and pain.

      Reply
  14. Crystal Blanton

    Thorn, thank you for continuing to post your thoughts about the fight that we are in and that which is ahead. It is so important that we have these conversations and think through the ways that we are a part of the system so that we can continue to be a part of the solution. And while it is challenging to fight this fight… it is a part of the spiritual construct of our faith to support the very ideal that we are all sacred and we should honor each of us as such.

    Thank you for your continued support for a better tomorrow.

    Reply
  15. Shannon Moore

    keep us from scrutinizing each other = Keep us scrutinizing each other

    Reply
  16. Crystal Blanton

    Your inability to distinguish the differences between chattel and different types of slavery is not me diminishing your history. and it is not a false sweeping generalization, if you desired to actually hear what is being said about privilege, you could see the social power given to people of European ancestry that has sustained throughout time in the US. It is truly your resistance to hear that is blocking true conversation and potential understanding.

    I actually have no interest in that with you. I was attempting conversation that failed and am ok with that. I move on and hope you do as well.

    Reply
    • Shannon Moore

      What the hell…If they get beaten and abused, killed, and have no rights… What is the difference?
      First of all…
      Second of all… MAybe you missed it where I said they were also actual, literal slaves. They chained Irish right next to the black people. Not exactly a secret, more like an inconvenient truth.. For some anyway.

      These are just historic facts. Well documented historic facts.
      Its ironic in all this need for sensitivity you insist on lumping all “European” people together… As if They all are a monolith, and came here under the same circumstances.
      Here we go again with you thinking you’re entitled to tell me what I’m sensing, and what I want to sense. I can hear, and see just fine thanks, and uh… You AREN’T in my head. Any imaginings you might have of my intentions aside.
      And speaking of which… Sorry, I don’t buy it. If I say to you in a public forum, “I would like to start from the perspective you might not be a child raping pervert or part of a black racist militia”
      The clear implication is that I might be. Notice I didn’t start with that. Why? Because I don’t think you might be. Passive-aggressive PC BS. Thats what that is. Its a very old, known and sad tactic… “Now I’m not SAYING my opponent is a philanderer… We don’t want to believe that!” All the accusation, with none of the accountability.

      I didn’t tell you you weren’t seeing, I didn’t tell you you cant hear, or don’t want to hear,
      This assertion that I’ve got privilege and don’t know it sounds in the above context more than a bit like projection.

      Reply
      • crystal blanton

        I am a very privileged individual. I am.

        Good night to you.

        Reply
      • Shannon Moore

        Thorn.
        This is the perfect example of why focusing on privilege is completely counter-productive.
        “All Europeans came here in privilage”
        Err, no… A lot of them came here as slaves
        “But your ancestors slavery isn’t as bad as my ancestors slavery,”
        “Well gee…Isn’t it enough to point out that they were horribly abused, and suffered many of the same discrimination, at the hands of the same evil bastards?”
        “No its different, back to talking about your privilege!”

        And meanwhile, while shes trying to convince me that what matters is “her people” suffered worse, and I’m trying to convince her that as a matter of history, it wasn’t only her people that suffered slavery, The ACTUAL problem which is the oppression and whos doing it to all of us (to varying degrees yes) to this day, goes ignored. What goes ignored is that regardless of who is suffering more, BOTH are suffering!
        Her chief preoccupation appears to be to get me to concede to some hierarchy of abuse victim that somehow makes her grievance more valid.

        Thorn… You are never going to get there from here, I’m telling you..

        Reply
        • Crystal Blanton

          Your misrepresentation of my conversation is showing the power of the invisible knapsack. In attempting, and rudely I might add, to prove your point… You are actually showing to us the impact of the knapsack on the psyche.

          I also want to check your assumptions that your ancestors are not also mine. Shocking that I could also have European ancestors… And thus I would not dismiss the pain of any group of people subjected to oppression. And yet I can still acknowledge the differences in servitude between different types of slavery and servitude. There are differences.

          My black ancestors were not released, had no rights, were not citizens and transitioned from chattel, to Jim Crow, to embedded systematic oppression based in race. That is a marked difference in the method and experience.

          The true challenge in this is to be able to be open to things that may not be apparent to all people due to differing cultural experiences, misinformation in the education system and ancestral knowledge that everyone does not have. The privilege here is apparent to those who understand it.

          Reply
          • tomjefferson@hushmail.com

            You’re the one that brought “my people” into this. I don’t and never pretended to know anything about who you are, what you think, or what you see. That was someone else doing that.

            Reply
        • Thorn

          Shannon,

          Someone posted this definition on FB today – relating to something completely different – but I found it helpful:
          privilege (n.)
          mid-12c. “grant, commission” (recorded earlier in Old English, but as a Latin word), from Old French privilege “right, priority, privilege” (12c.) and directly from Latin privilegium “law applying to one person, bill of law in favor of or against an individual,” later “privilege,” from privus “individual” (see private (adj.)) + lex (genitive legis) “law” (see legal (adj.)). Meaning “advantage granted” is from mid-14c. in English.

          “Advantage granted” and “law applying to one person in favor of or against” another. That is pretty much what the US looks like to me. I was raised poor, working class, sometimes on food stamps. Yet I am white. I was poor, but not so poor I didn’t get a good education. Yet I still had no clue how to go to college or navigate financial aid, though other kids families took that stuff for granted. They had more privilege than I did. I had more privilege than other kids did. I have friends who were pulled over multiple times by cops as teens. They were let go because they were white. Alan Blueford was just hanging out with his friends. He is now dead. He was black. The laws *are* different. I *do* have more advantages than a teenage African American boy. I also have more advantages than a white kid in a trailer park in Tennessee. Class is certainly part of the equation. Skin color is too. So is gender. Class can be changed. Racism ensures that skin color remains a factor. Sexism ensures that gender matters.

          For those who are interested, here is the article that brought the use of the word “privilege” more firmly into social justice circles: http://www.nymbp.org/reference/WhitePrivilege.pdf

          Yes, overall a middle class college educated black man has more privilege (recall the definition of “advantages”) than the white kid from a trailer park in rural Tennessee. However, walking down the street at night, he is still subject to arrest more readily than a white man. That is the *systemic* racism I was talking about. That systemic racism began with chattel slavery (which, frankly, was far more brutal and on going than the slavery the Irish were subject to. The slavery of Africans in that time period was a slavery like the world had never seen before. It wasn’t the slavery that folks were used to, with slaves as spoils of war, or slaves working off debt. Theory is that this difference is why Africans were willing to sell other Africans into slavery. They had no clue what these people were heading toward. There is so much documentation about this.)

          The legacy of chattel slavery is such that we are still reeling from the effects of it today. People much smarter than I have written books on the subject.

          I appreciate your passion and your willingness to dialog. I also wonder if we are talking past one another.

          To close, this morning Davey D posted a guest essay by Shamako Noble. This portion stood out to me: “The legacy of white supremacy, patriarchy and it’s grip on the American psyche often makes it impossible for those who are all collectively impacted by the history of capitalist and colonialist oppression to authentically and collectively come together and work towards collective, objective justice.” http://hiphopandpolitics.wordpress.com/2013/07/18/fruitvale-station-trayvon-martin-and-the-value-of-human-life-in-america/

          We are so often blinded because white supremacy and patriarchy are in the very air we breathe. It is my privilege, our privilege, that blinds us to this. There are others who see it all to clearly because it appears in every little thing, every day.

          in respect – Thorn

          Reply
          • Crystal Blanton (@BlantonHPs)

            Thorn, I appreciate that response. While this link is a personal experience versus academic… I was so profoundly impacted by this account from Questlove if you haven’t seen it. It is a clear snapshot of transgenerational trauma from historical oppression, and manifested in unconscious ways. So powerful… and I can’t tell you how many kids where I work are saying similar stories of their importance in the world based on the recent verdict of the Martin trial.It is the retraumitization of historical trauma that happens again and again… pushing damaging psychological beliefs about the self and about being black.
            http://nymag.com/daily/intelligencer/2013/07/questlove-trayvon-martin-and-i-aint-shit.html

            Reply
          • tomjefferson@hushmail.com

            “Talking past each other”
            Yes… That has come to be my conclusion. And its at least a little my fault. I don’t want to leave people with the impression that I think White privilege doesn’t exist. Somehow I let what I am trying to articulate be framed as that position. I stayed up quite late just thinking about this honestly. I want there to be justice. And I not only want equal rights for all, I want maximum rights for all. And beyond that, I’d love a fair and equitable society. You and I ultimately want the same things (I’m pretty sure). We even both call ourselves “Utopian Anarchists”. We just have very different ideas about how we all get there from here.

            Let me clarify my opinion; Yes, white privilege exists. Just like Male privilege exists. My contention is that privilege is a fools gift to accept as it ultimately hurts everyone (I’ll just leave that as an aside). Yes its true. Society is skewed to favor males in employment. And whites. Its true.. to use a cliche example, that bandaids were white until pressure was applied. Thats an effect of majority privilege, economic privilege, etc.

            My point is however that what were talking about here; the racism that makes a system where blacks go to jail for longer and more often for the same crimes ISN’T privilege, its oppression.

            When that F’ing monster murdered Oscar Grant execution style that wasn’t white privilege. That was oppression. I’m not privileged because the cops don’t do that to white people like they do other races. I have the God given right to not be treated that way. The killing of Oscar Grant conferred NO Advantage to me in life. It is a wholly different animal than “Women die more in surgery because surgical tools are designed to work on male bodies”.
            MY point is that looking for white privilege in that killing turns the focus away from the problem, which is a police state gone wild with impunity and immunity that hurts EVERYONE. I’ve been railroaded into jail and pulled over so many times for “driving while hippy”, I can’t even recount them all.

            So, thats it. Talk about privilege. Fine. Good even! I detest the idea that I got something another guy didn’t because of the color of my skin. I don’t need an “Advantage” Thank you, and I don’t want one. I have too much pride. I can succeed on my own merits and I resent being given and Advantage as it implies I must need it.

            But please don’t frame the oppression of the God given rights of Blacks and other minorities as MY privilege. No, its their oppression. I have the right to my rights that they are being deprived of. And I will deny, deny deny to my dying breath deny that those rights are privileges. Because privileges can be taken away.

            Frankly, we can talk about privilege. But in this day and age, I think we better stop with “whos getting more out of the Empire, whos at the right hand of the seat of power and whos on the left.” But I think it might be better, even within an unfair society, to put those matters aside and focus on the fact that the seat of power is completely out of control, and is going to hurt us all REAL BAD if we don’t come together, focus on the seat of power, and stop them from oppressing us ALL.
            It seems to me, the choice is between focusing on who gets hurt more or we can focus on the people that are hurting us all.
            Id rather burn down the plantation than try and fit everyone on the porch.

            Reply
            • megan

              Thank you my brother….yea, me African American woman…you do get it, and as I thought we are on the same page. I have been saying for years that it isn’t one over another, or who was or is still traumatized…it has to STOP now, or we all lose. At some point all the intellectual banter will need to begin to bring us together. All of us. So, yes, keep posting. I wish I had the gift of language and writing as you and Ms. Blanton. There will be more discussions particularly if there is a civil suit of some sort. I am looking forward to your input.

              Reply
              • tomjefferson@hushmail.com

                Wow… thanks. Yep.. While we’ve been talking about privilege, the Russian military has been doing “full combat readiness exercises” gearing up for ww3, Ben Bernanke just declared that financial oppression ( the intentional holding of interest rates below the rate of inflation) will continue until further notice. Hurting especially the poor, vets, seniors, the handicapped, etc. The 2012 NDAA, legalizing the infinite detention or murder, without due process, of US citizens was reinstated. I could go on and on and on, just covering this last week. Were in a LOT of very serious trouble… And we don’t have a lot of time to fix things before we ALL suffer gravely.
                forget the porch, burn down the house.

                Reply
                • Thorn

                  I agree that we are in very serious trouble, collectively. We all must work together, it is true.

                  Reply
            • Thorn

              I agree with you about oppression and brutality.

              The reason I brought up privilege in my original post is that privilege is something that makes looking at the systemic nature of oppression and brutality so difficult for many white people. I’ve seen people this week say “the trial is over, let’s move on.” The ability to think we can move on is a sign that those people are speaking from a place of privilege. They just don’t get that people have to live with this sort of brutality, oppression and the threats of these *every single day*.

              So, yes, let us work to combat brutality and oppression. But privilege *has* to be part of the conversation, in my mind, simply because it makes it so easy for people to not see the oppression that others live under every day.

              Walter Mosley quite simply stated today that when his dad came out to see who he was going to be hanging out with, and approved because they were nice teens, also had to say to him, “if you get pulled over by the police for something, know that your friends are going home and you are going to jail.” The fact that the parents of Mosley’s friends didn’t have to have that talk with them is a sign of privilege. Does that link to brutality and oppression? Of course it does.

              I’m not playing oppression olympics here, I’m simply stating that for me, when looking at systemic racism, it feels really helpful to notice the simultaneous systems of privilege. They are part of the conversation.

              Privilege is not the absence of oppression. Privilege is the ability to not have to stare oppression in the face.

              Reply
              • Shannon Moore

                “Privilege is not the absence of oppression. Privilege is the ability to not have to stare oppression in the face. ”
                O.k…. I’m cool with that.
                I think maybe its that I’ve NEVER in my ENTIRE life even considered not wanting to stare oppression in the face.
                I was taught at a very young age that my job, as a male, being gifted with being bigger and stronger than women was to track down the people that would victimize them. I was taught that to the extent I was privileged (I grew up quite poor, and lived in some pretty bad neighborhoods), it was my job to use that privilege to smite oppressors. And far from not having to look at it, I was taught to walk right up to Goliath stare him in the face, and if necessary, knock him one to protect the oppressed.

                It never occurred to me that it was my privilege not to, I always believed it was my obligation to do something.

                And FWIW, I was also taught like Moselys kid.

                My mother reviewed the earlier half of our conversation… She told me (to paraphrase); “You’re right, but what Thorn is saying is that its necessary to awaken people to a point that you’re so far past, it looks wrong to you.
                I think its fine to talk about privilege. Talk about privilege, I’m with you when its actually privileges (although, as I’ve said, we have bigger fish to fry in my opinion). Combat oppression…I am ALL for that!

                But if you tell me that my rights are a privilege, whether because you’re a statist neo-con, or because you think its part of some sort of “social justice” And I’ve got to go against that.

                but yeah… “”Privilege is not the absence of oppression. Privilege is the ability to not have to stare oppression in the face. ”
                That I can agree with.

                Reply
          • tomjefferson@hushmail.com

            As an aside. I’m pretty sure the chattel slavery of the 18th C was not a new idea. They got it from the Romans and Greeks And many other “work them to death and throw them in a hole” cultures. I can think of half a dozen cultures where they simply killed slaves when their master died to keep the master in slaves in the afterlife. Its a tangent in the overall conversation, but I have to wonder… What is this need to grant special status to blacks as victims of slavery? Do we do that with rape? “Well, I’m different, I got it worse” OR Child abuse? Why have I NEVER heard “Well, your dad just hit you, thats not the same as my dad molesting me” “Social Justice” would come right out of the woodwork at that assertion with “All victimization is wrong, abuse effects people in different ways.” Immediate sympathy for all… But with RACE and slavery, its “circle the wagons” maintain special victim status. Somehow apparently recognizing that its ALL bad and that ranking victims is a disservice to their victimization goes right out the window when you talk about race and enslavement.

            I find that curious, and perhaps even suggestive.

            Reply
            • Crystal Blanton (@BlantonHPs)

              From a social work perspective, it is not about victim status at all. It is about studies that show the effects of different types of oppression, and the lingering effects of the trauma individually and culturally. The details of the trauma matter in the assessment of the effects. For example… rape is horrific no matter what. As a rape survivor, I know this to be true. My personal trauma from my experience is different than someone who might have been attacked on the street and beaten in the process. Both accounts are horrific no matter what, it is not about sizing them up. It is about being able to correlate the experiences and trauma with behavior and effects later. The circumstances to my assault did not result in the same types of fears that others have experienced because the nature of the details of the trauma varied.

              Same with any mass oppression. It isn’t just about the enslavement. It is about some of the details, length of time, ways of enslaving that cause specific traumatized responses to an entire culture of people in the states. And studies are showing correlations with primary and secondary trauma, that then became transgenerational. I posted a bunch of incredibly interesting research studies on my blog when doing a history challenge and was amazed myself at much of the correlations.

              Empirical data is now making correlations to PTSD and secondary trauma of PTSD within the Black community. The correlations are astounding actually. Once I started doing that research…. I was amazed at how much it applied to me personally, not just in my profession.

              So again, this is not special victim status, those words dismiss the crippling effects of the trauma experience. I definatley am looking for no pity. It is about understanding science, and the effects of oppression and historical trauma. For those reasons slavery is not “in the past” as many like to say, for Black people. The psychological damage is ingrained and then reinforced by current re-traumitization. These are not my original ideas… they come from a host of studies that have and are happening in the social sciences, and medically. (like the re-wiring that happens in the brain when introduced to trauma, and then the hard wiring that happens when trauma is chronic).

              Reply
              • Shannon Moore

                I am very, very sorry to hear that happened to you. I have a special hot spot for men that prey on women like that.
                Untightening my jaws…
                O.k. I can see your point in that. But thats different in comparing what they went through. Which is what the conversation WAS about.
                I certainly won’t attempt to assert that the various white peoples remain as damaged by their discrimination as African-Americans.
                Its certainly not my area of expertize, but I have to wonder… To what degree is that PTSD an effect of slavery, and to what degree is it actually an effect of government programs designed specifically to destroy and disempower, and turn against itself, the Black community.
                From my understanding, African-Americans had more cohesive families than whites, and had managed to do a pretty good job of progressing towards recovering from their racism blighted past (not saying its all good now, but it was obviously worse), and were making significant strides towards community power, right up until the 60′s civil rights movement when They assassinated black power leaders (much like they were considering doing to Occupy leaders, according to leaked memos), set up the gangs, and started flooding the streets with guns and drugs.

                As an aside, I think its a testament to character of culture that so many African-Americans, in the face of such ongoing atrocities, STILL advocate for peace, equality and sanity instead of going on the warpath. I don’t know if I’d measure up, honestly.

                Reply
                • Crystal Blanton (@BlantonHPs)

                  Shannon…. good point and I could only guess at some of the answer. I think it is BOTH….PTSD from slavery and programs/policy designed to dis-empower certain groups of people. I could see the correlations between complex trauma versus PTSD where it is based on one event (as defined in the DSM currently). The newest version of the DSM is said to change that when released because it will have both diagnosis and complex trauma might fit better…. meaning that it is not one isolated trauma but the continuous tramatization from slavery to community.

                  I also agree that black families did pretty well at maintaining despite circumstances. I think one of the things to consider in the structure of the black family is that “family” is often defined culturally to include kinship and not just biological. This is a direct result of slavery and the continuous breaking up of families….. Although all cultures have this to some degree, not as prominently and overarching as black culture. And so the families that held together were often a created family for shared resources, and that holds today. (hence everyone is either brother or sister, shared legacy that creates instant family bonds or community ties).

                  I read a study that correlated those specific ramifications of chattel slavery to the current psychological disconnect of attachment to familial family members, mothers to children and fathers to children specifically. They correlated the consistent loss of family members to being sold, killed or especially when women were bred after the actual slave trade ended, to the way that mothers and fathers connected to their children culturally. Pretty fascinating to me and I am hopeful that studies will take that data and then research the connection with murder rates and the disconnection from human life.

                  Sorry to ramble a bit… the point is that I agree that both slavery and structural programming play a role….. and I will also say that some of the effects of that oppression have built cultural strengths in the African American community (like kinship family and survival), which is what you just pointed out as well.

                  Blessings.

                  Reply
  17. megan Henry

    Damn Crystal, you are correct here too. Keep it coming, and if I may, I think you and Shannon are on the same side of this issue. Please keep posting too. M

    Reply
    • Crystal Blanton (@BlantonHPs)

      Megan, I don’t think we are on the same side, although we might have some similar points. I think that oppression is so devastating and horrific across the board and am an advocate for equality. I think one of the things I firmly experience, believe and been researching is how that is profoundly not true here and historically for people of color. While all cultures have had some form of slavery, the American chattel slavery is unlike any other in history. And it isn’t just about that. It is about what happened afterwards as well. It is about the psychological trauma that was experienced by an entire race of people here in the US and then transgenerationally passed to their children as “culture”. It is about the systematic forms of racism that the country was built on and then laws were created to support this structure. Jim Crow is the most known period of time that we talk about because the laws were so apparent and obvious. But it didn’t stop there. There are laws on the books that are still like that.

      It is also the way the law is applied and the aversively racist biases in the system that continue to hold power. Aversive racism is something that is so profound in our society and because it is hidden behind often unconscious biases, we don’t always see it at the forefront.

      No tragedy should be compared to others per se, I am a believer that all are important and have a place in society. In addition, I am often puzzled at people wanting to make comparisons to African American oppression to dismiss the continued devastation of it, in an attempt to continue a state of cognitive dissonance in this country. Acknowledging the differences in the history of a culture does not dismiss other forms of oppression, and often times it is important to look at the distinct issues historically, when addressing a current issue that is rooted in the history. We don’t have to dismiss any other form of oppression in order to examine the effects of chattel slavery, oppression, brutalization, systemic racism, racial biased policies and trauma of black people in this country. It directly connects to the outcome of this case, to the woman sentenced to 20 years in florida for shooting a warning shot, for the killing of unarmed black people every 36 hours by a form of law enforcement (recent study says 28 hours but I have not thoroughly looked at it yet), and continued systematically oppressive laws that target ethnic minorities and poor people.

      It is all directly related and empirical studies are showing the direct connection between the history and current climate of racial issues impact on African Americans. Studies are showing that the impact is unlike any other we have seen or experienced with any other culture in the United states.

      Reply
  18. Crystal Blanton (@BlantonHPs)

    For clarity, when I said we not being on the same page, I was referring to your previous post saying Shannon and I. I was not referring to you. I should have made that clearer that I was responding to that point only.

    Reply
  19. megan

    It is all good my sister…! And you have brought up many historical facts that my family is still not recovered from. My grand mother looked white, and would pass when she needed to do so…the trauma of the raping of black and “colored” women to produce house slaves, or whores, the affect on the families up to this day has not been talked about, or how our people were used for medical experiments. I do know our history here and am just old enough to have lived through some of the remains of Jim Crowe. What is important, is to realize that others are currently devasted by this oppression. The Pakistani who thinks his daughter is beautiful because she is light skinned…so many nations were colonized, abused, and suffer knowingly or unknowingly. It isn’t to take away at all, our people’s suffering on this country. We Must keep it out on the front, the truth, just as the Jew, or the Irish must keep that pain out front, however, we will have to come together…really, it will have to be a joint effort, to eradicate this illness of humanity. It is a human problem, and it must be dealt with. So, anyway, I complete understood your post. Brilliant writing, oh and I love your books. M

    Reply
    • tomjefferson@hushmail.com

      You make me wish I could like posts Megan.

      Reply
    • Crystal Blanton (@BlantonHPs)

      For sure! I am lucky enough to miss the Jim Crow era, but not the aftershock of it. My family is from the South and while I didn’t initially understand the idea of retraumitization or transgenerational trauma, after recent research I’ve been doing… I see it in my family too. The customs, beliefs, fears, history and knowledge comes from generations and generations of pain, lack of self worth, lack of societal worth, and so on. Even to the way we raise our children……

      I went and saw Dr. Joy Degruy speak in May, one of the best things I ever did. If you have never heard her speak, there are some good youtube videos online. I walked away from there with a different understanding of where some of our unconscious programming, and even parenting beliefs come from…. years of trauma response that become “culture”. Everything she spoke of was a part of my families beliefs too… and we didn’t know each other, except for the shared legacy of trauma and oppression. It was powerful for me.

      And so…. do I believe we have to come together? YES!! Am I anti any culture, no. And while I think many cultures have healed some of the pains of the past oppression, I feel that the continued societal effects of chattel slavery and systemic racism on Black people have not had that opportunity because it continues. And thus I am very vocal about that.

      I wish people in society could have conversations like my husband and I about race relations. He is white and native, me African American….. and we both work to own our privilege and our pain. He doesn’t dismiss the continued pain of the Black community, and now that he has grown Black (biracial) kids… he sees it in a way he has never seen before. We now have to talk to them about being profiled and their experiences. And it changes ones ability to see the differences in current experience, even though we live in the same society.

      Many blessings.

      Reply
  20. Syltegeek

    The first few times I happened upon the word privilege, about ten years ago, I found the whole word extremely uncomfortable. While male privilege made sense to me, I wasn’t too keen on the idea of white privilege.

    My very different feelings about the privilege I didn’t have (male) and the one I did have (white) was a big part of what ended up convincing me of the word’s merit and usefulness.

    Reply
    • Thorn

      Thanks for sharing about your journey.

      So many people want to reject the word “privilege” because it can sound like an insult (and to be fair, occasionally gets used as a bludgeon by some). But it is just a statement of things we are allowed to take for granted.

      Reply
  21. Evan

    Here was my Facebook response to the verdict:

    This whole “post-race” idea really marginalizes black and brown people in this country and ignores the history of the Americas, which were basically pillaged or otherwise exploited to benefit Europeans and their (white) descendants who set up camp here.

    It’s like someone robbed your house and beat your parents to death, and then said, “I wonder why those kids are having such a rough time.”

    The post-race idea that “we’re all equal” is just a reinstitution of white supremacy, and you can only think that it’s unequivocally a good idea if you benefit from white privilege. I think it’s hard for a lot of people to grasp what is meant by white privilege. It means, for example, that when you apply for a job, especially a white-collar job or a job in the information economy, almost everyone looks like you. Or at least everyone places a sense of value in you for being European, and they’ll almost always feel more comfortable with you than with anyone who isn’t white. You’ll also understand the culture much better than most of your non-white or foreign peers. This is true throughout the Americas, even in places we don’t normally think of as being all that white (like Mexico). There are still plenty of “white” people in the professional classes and in politics in these countries.

    On the other hand, throughout the Americas, anyone “dark” is associated with a host of negative stereotypes by the white community. Everything from belittling jokes to rampant assumptions about crime and violent tendencies.

    A Few Statements of Fact (as I see it):

    This is a pretty violent country

    There is a lot of crime and violence in the black community.

    That second statement has something to do with a culture developed around systemic poverty and racism that has continued well after the Jim Crow era (which I allude to in my Facebook post).

    Zimmerman actually wasn’t white, although he had some sort of vendetta against black people. You get the sense that he would’ve liked to have white privilege though.

    I think we can all pretty much agree that the Zimmerman guy was pretty insanely racist as well. That’s pretty clear from the record of calls he’d made to 911 regarding “suspicious activity.” Other aspects of the case aren’t so clear as far as race is concerned. For example, I have a feeling that had the races been reversed, Zimmerman would’ve gone to jail right away, but I can’t prove it. That being said, it’s hard to imagine a black vigilante tracking down white kids and shooting them, then claiming self-defense.

    Also, I found the self-defense claim pretty weak, and I think a stronger prosecution would’ve been able to break it down (or at least have figured out how to get the defense to commit to a plea bargain for manslaughter). There probably was some sort of confrontation, although the injuries (which weren’t severe at all for Zimmerman) didn’t match up with Zimmerman’s claims or the positioning of Trayvon’s body. Still, the idea of self-defense isn’t a novel one, and you can theoretically claim self-defense regardless of race and be let free — although it’s not clear to me that Zimmerman really was acting in self-defense at all, since he was pursuing Trayvon and for all we know he was the initiator of any physical confrontation that may have taken place.

    Getting back to the original point, it’s pretty much unarguable that none of this would have happened if Trayvon were white, and that Zimmerman was racist on a pretty insane level (despite not being white himself) and must have some serious psychological issues. So that’s where white privilege comes in.

    Also, I want to briefly comment on some of the discussions that have been taking place here. One of the interesting things about U.S., I believe, is that it was created with the idea that any (Western or Anglo) European could come here and create a life for themselves, regardless of whether they were poor Anglos or Dutchmen or whatever. At least that was the Enlightenment-influenced idea that was prevalent by the time the Revolution. You could also argue that the Europeans who came here were well-versed in different types of slavery, and were perfectly happy to enslave the various marginalized European and Native American peoples, although throughout the Americas it developed into an economic system that dealt in the trafficking of black bodies. Native American slavery continued in various forms in other parts of the Americas, however. White Southerners still tell the tale that it wasn’t all as bad as people make it seem, but this is pretty ridiculous. Masses of black people were trapped in perpetual servitude, with no way to buy themselves or their children out of it. It was bad*.

    Whiteness, on the other hand, was eventually expanded to Europeans of many different nations, including Irish people and Southern Europeans, so white privilege now exists for virtually all Americans of primarily European descent.

    *Of course not every white Southerner tells their kids this story, but it’s more prevalent than some might think.

    **To the comment about apartheid: It’s hard to compare racism in the U.S. and South Africa, although George M. Fredrickson makes a valiant effort in “White Supremacy: A Comparative Study of American and South African History”

    Reply
    • Thorn

      Evan,

      Thanks so much for chiming in. I appreciate the reminder of the expansion of the blanket of whiteness. Yes, Italians, Irish, Jews were all considered “colored” or even “black” at one point in the US. They are all now considered white.

      Something that came across my G+ feed this week feels germane to other of your points. It is an infographic from Colorlines regarding 5 myths about crime in black America:

      http://colorlines.com/archives/2012/04/crime_myths.html

      Reply
    • Tony

      It’s also important to consider how some European minorities that eventually became White did so through deliberate cultivation of White supremacist, anti-Black attitudes and laws, as Noel Ignatiev traced in his book How the Irish Became White.

      Reply
      • megan

        Yes, for many years I was surprised by the difference in awareness of the Irish from Ireland, and the American Irish. I found a strong connection with those from Ireland and their fight for freedom, and they also connected very strongly with me. I will have to read this author’s work.

        Reply
    • Thorn

      Thanks! I look forward to reading this. The more resources we have on hand, the better!

      Reply
  22. Lyne

    I am an African-American woman. I am so glad I found this. Seriously. You have no idea how much I needed to read this. I feel like I can stop crying for a while.

    Reply
    • Thorn

      Lyne,

      Thank you for writing. I’m glad this was of some help. I’m still seeking out ways to be of better service, to challenge the status quo, to help bring more justice… My hope is that we can all find ways to better work together. And white people need to take on more of that burden than the bulk of us have been.

      love to you. and blessings.

      (and if you don’t mind – I’m curious as what route helped you to find this piece)

      Reply
  23. J'Carlin

    As Graham Nash reminds us so beautifully and meaningfully “Teach Your Children Well.” All children. Racism begins in kindergarten and is difficult to change later in life, not impossible. It just takes constant effort.
    Children must be taught to respect all at the same time they are taught to recognize the signals of danger that can come from anybody. Racism: being mugged by a white male because you saw the danger signs and ignored them. Tells the white male, ruefully.
    Conditional radical respect, or Frith as I understand it imperfectly, is a taught value. Respect is a given for all until clear indications of unworthiness are recognized. Gender, color, eye shape, nose size are all irrelevant and never an indicator of other.

    Reply
      • Mary Gelfand

        I am reminded of a song lyric from the musical South Pacific–”You’ve got to be taught before it’s too late to hate all the people your relatives hate.” I’m such a Pollyanna that my recurring question is “Why can’t we just all get along?” Across the globe we are alike in so many more fundamental ways than we are different–we need to look for those resonances and enhance them rather than enlarging the differences.

        Reply
        • Thorn

          We are more alike at core, I agree. And our differences are often things to celebrate.

          The why we can’t get along however, isn’t just about personal experience or personal prejudice – which are the important things you and J’Carlin are speaking of. The systemic racism however, is a very strong force that can keep even people of good will from getting along. These systems need to change.

          Reply
  24. timothy

    I find it so interesting that racism is only talked about as bein against black people. racism knows no boundaries. I’m german/Cherokee/norse and I myself have been treated badly for my race. indentured servants were treated just as badly as slaves and ALL races who conquer took slaves historically. i’m ready to just live in a world where we’re all HUMAN. rehashing stuff that happened hundreds of years ago doesn’t help anything it just stirs the pot.

    Reply
    • Thorn

      Timothy,

      I agree that the treatment of the First Nations/Native American peoples was and is a terrible thing. We are still dealing with that today.

      I don’t feel we are rehashing things that happened hundreds of years ago. What I’m trying to do is look at the way the systems that began 100s of years ago affect the systems we live with today. These systems have a huge effect. This isn’t just history. Many Native Americans live in crushing poverty today as a direct result of policies put into place a long time ago.

      I don’t think this is pot stirring. While I agree we are all human, and I want to create a world where that reality is reflected and we treat one another with respect, I have to acknowledge simultaneously that this is not currently the world we live in. We live in a world where racism and injustice are still very active forces.

      There needs to be healing. There needs to be change. We can’t just say it is all better now. I wish we could.

      Reply
      • Shannon Moore

        I think its pot stirring. I think that the things that settle to the bottom where people can’t see them get Burned when you don’t stir the pot now and then. Maybe the problem isn’t pot stirring, maybe the problem is that when you stir the pot, some things get brought to the surface people would rather pretend isn’t in the soup. And yeah, in terms of settling to the bottom, getting burned, and people rather not seeing it, the deplorable conditions many Native Americans endure, the subsidized corporate slavery of Latin-American immigrants, and the continued oppression of blacks all come to mind.
        Lets bring those things to the surface, lest they get burned again, and let us continue to stir, lest at some point in the future, it becomes our turn at the bottom.
        When anything burns in the soup, it makes the whole thing taste terrible IMO.

        Reply
    • Crystal Blanton (@BlantonHPs)

      Indentured Servants had their share of horrible circumstances and traumas. Yet there is still a marked difference between chattel slavery and other forms of servitude or slavery. It is a part of the point I am trying to make.

      The sheer damage, trauma and systemically oppressive systems that has have been put in motion for hundreds of years… it is not a system that ended with the ending of slavery. We see that in the Native community and in the African American experience. The political, social, and psychological impact of systematic racism is seen throughout the current structures of these ethnic groups. We see that in our stats of suicide, homicide, disproportionate sentencing in prisons, drug abuse and alcoholism, access to fair education, etc. For the person of color, it is not in the past. It is very present.

      To imply that we should just move on is to dismiss and ignore the consistent adversive, symbolic and systematic racism that continues to affect our community today.

      Reply
  25. Megan

    To Shannon and Crystal, you are both right on. To those who say “you should just move on….” well, I doubt you would tell that to Jewish people that continue to keep the Holocaust alive. BUT, you think it approapriate to tell people of color to move on. Yea, you do. Interesting that and you should stop and reconsider and listen to what all of us are saying. It is just that sort of thinking to “just get over it, it was in the past, move on…” that got Trayvon Martin killed. Ignoring what is happening for what is basically your convenience and negligence. To all of you, of all races, that see the injustices keep speaking up, keep fighting. I used to stay quied and take ignorant statements such as these, and keep my own counsel. But no more. I used to think that it wasn’t my job to teach ignorant people anything..let them stay in their glass house, it will break soon enough, but my spiritual practice says that we are all each other’s teachers and students at any given time. I’d be negligent to not instruct in some way. Many of you on this site are so intelligent and brave…it really gives me hope…many of you are many years younger than me, and you remind me in your posts that the future actually is looking brighter. Keep it coming!!!

    Reply
    • Thorn

      Megan,

      yes – we need to help one another and sometimes that requires sharing knowledge and perspective. I thank you for chiming in here! Many voices are needed.

      Reply
  26. Megan

    I also meant to add that many of you are so very intelligent but more importantly you show that you have wisdom. Intelligence, education without wisdom…well, means very little.

    Reply
  27. Megan

    To Timothy…honey, you DO live in a world where we are all just human!! The injustices that we are screaming about is a part of human behavior. You can ignore all you want, but it is there and you are a part of it. Humanity…

    Reply

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