Racism, Activism, and WhatAboutism

Nancy teaching class about racism(c) Nancy Wyatt     All Rights Reserved   June 12, 2020

This post is part of a Zoom speech about racism and activism that I gave to a chapter of the Holistic Chamber of Commerce on June 12, 2020. The concepts are incomplete and, perhaps, oversimplified because of the time constraints involved, but I offer resources and links to books and videos at the end of this post. I hope you will find it edifying. You can read it here or watch the video here.


Opening Salvo

Please do your very, very best to hold your reactions to what I say until you’ve heard the entire thought because where it ends may be different from what you expect at the beginning of each topic. If you are interested, I am willing to hold classes on these themes in the future, so we can discuss things in more depth with more time.


RACISM

What Qualifies Me to Talk About Racism?
Do I Have “Street Creds” as the Basis for My Opinions?

I could take the entire 20 minutes just listing my background as relates to Black Communities. Instead, here are a few main points. I’m not sharing them for egotistical reasons, but to raise awareness about the breadth of racism, as well as mentioning the kinds of activities in which you can help People of Color (aka POC).

Early Childhood

I was raised by an overtly racist father in Colorado. There were no Black folks in the community. I never even saw a Black person until I was 13 years old. But, Mexican and Native Americans were treated the same as Black folks are, so I learned about racism in early childhood.

The Black Movement
  • I was in the Black Movement from 1968 onward, starting when I worked for a program to support minority students at Cornell University.
    • We experienced frequent bomb threats, being shot at on campus, having the Africana Studies Center burned by arsonists, having a cross burned on steps of Black Women’s living center, and receiving tar and chicken feathers with obscene notes delivered to our office.
    • This kind of thing also happens frequently to black and brown families all over the country when they move into new housing, as well as happening to Black churches.
When They Come In The Morning
  • I have experienced this. Around 3 a.m., the police did a No Knock, yelling loudly, fast-motion invasion of our apartment with weapons drawn to take a Black man away for questioning.
    • This man was a teacher and a doctoral candidate at an Ivy League University, a Rhodes scholar, and a full-grown man, who as easily could have been talked to in a normal conversation in a normal house or office. He had committed no crime. It was not about guns, drugs, sex trafficking, or anything criminal. It was questioning about his immigration status.
    • This same man now is a world-renown physician and medical researcher. Yet, he still could be stopped and killed by any cop any day, just like George Floyd and countless others have been.
A Black Family
  • I have a Black family – helped raise two Black teens. I experienced extreme housing and other discrimination …. subtle and overt, but we don’t have time to go into those details here. Papa Bear died years ago, but the family still claims me.
Quick Examples of My Work in Black Communities

I was:

    • A founding member of the National Political Congress of Black Women in Prince William County.
    • Member of the First African-American Methodist Episcopal Church in Manassas for some years.
    • Member of the Prince William County Task Force on HIV and AIDS in the African-American Community.
    • Secretary of the Southern Africa Liberation Committee to release Nelson Mandela from prison.
    • Part of a group that created computer training with the NAACP chapter of prison inmates at the Sing Sing prison in New York. They were “Lifers” and not in there for jaywalking.
    • A volunteer for years with over a thousand homeless people in D.C.’s biggest shelter. Most of them were Black, reflecting the population of the District.
The Police, Racism, and Me

Based on the foregoing experiences, my impression of and feelings about police officers was the same angst, anger, anguish, and outrage that is being expressed now. My image of the police could be summed up in videos of the Rodney King beating.

And then, ….

I ALSO took a job in which I was in charge of fully-sworn, fully-armed police for about twenty years at Northern Virginia Community College’s Manassas campus. In the aftermath of the demonstrations related to the murder of George Floyd, I  have made a couple of Facebook Live videos about my opinions on whether police departments should get military equipment and about “defunding the police,” but we don’t have time to discuss that now.   Here are a couple of links, in case you are interested: Defund the Police?


Let’s Start with a Moment of Silence to Clear All Preconceptions and to Be Open to Divine Wisdom Within Each of Us


Overview or List of Complaints About Racism

That IS the Question

As I prepared this presentation for such a short time slot, I was faced with two options. I really wanted to give you a long list of examples of white privilege and racism that People of Color deal with on a daily basis. But I also wanted to take us to a higher level than just citing hateful incidents. So, I decided to mention only a few situations and then to share some resources and ideas for how each of us can help. I am willing to conduct additional classes or sessions in which we can be interactive and discuss many more examples at a leisurely pace. For now, “listen as fast as you can.”


Who Is an Expert on Topics About Racism?

I’m going to talk about racism; but, know this.

Black Folks
  • There is no such thing as a White Expert on Black People. Period.
  • There also is no such thing as a Black Expert on all Black People in the following sense.
    1. Black People are not all alike. Please pardon the stereotyping as I try to make a point.
    2. Not all Black Folks are undereducated, poverty-stricken, rap-music-loving, drug users.
      1. Someone raised in McLean, Virginia’s luxurious housing, by parents who were among the computer scientists who developed Artificial Intelligence and who now own an IT company that contracts with the Pentagon, does not have the same life experience and viewpoints as someone raised in Harlem by a single parent working 3 low-paying jobs who still can’t earn enough to buy food AND pay the rent.
      2. Ha! You didn’t know there were Black Folks integral to the development of Artificial Intelligence. Surprise. I know Black Folk who helped develop and design software from the beginning of computers and software. I lived with one of them. You will never hear their names. You will hear, “Bill Gates.”
White Folks and Socio-economic Groups of Any Race
  • White folks are not homogeneous either. The perspective of a white person, able to afford that luxurious home in McLean by virtue of systems design skills, has a dissimilar outlook from that held by someone whose occupation is driving a front loader, and who lives in a trailer in rural America.
  • Even among people in the same socio-economic groups, there are differences. I know a Black Republican who worked with George Bush in an economic development agency working with faith-based organizations. Most of the rest of the leaders in our organization (the National Urban League headquarters in New York City) would have been Obama supporters then and now.

WHAT ELITE BLACK FOLKS HAVE IN COMMON WITH URBAN AND RURAL BLACK FOLKS IS THAT THEY ARE EQUALLY LIKELY TO BE STOPPED, HARASSED, BRUTALIZED, AND KILLED BY POLICE.

WHAT ELITE WHITE FOLKS HAVE IN COMMON WITH URBAN AND RURAL WHITE FOLKS IS THAT THEY ARE NOT.


  • An exception to the rule about “experts,” might be people like Dr. Henry Louis Gates and others who have devoted their lives to the study of Black cultures and racism. I’ll be recommending some of their work at the end of this talk.

High, Low, and In Between

We’re going to take the view “from 35,000 feet,” as the saying goes, and then swoop down to a specific recommended action for every individual. This concept can be applied anytime and anywhere by anyone and might be the most important thing you can do. Then, we’ll delve into a few examples of racism and white privilege, followed by some resources and recommendations for self-education and constructive actions.


If You Were God Looking Down on the World, You Would See

  • There are prejudices and cruelty among:
    • Black Americans, Africans, and West Indians
    • Mexicans, Puerto Ricans, and people of various South American Spanish-speaking countries
    • Chinese, Japanese, Korean, and other Asiatic groups
    • Various Middle Eastern countries
    • White people against other White people, based on culture, occupation, and geography.
  • People in other countries are protesting now – not just in support of George Floyd – but because their countries also have rampant prejudice and police or military brutality.

Recognizing the universality and longevity of bigotry is, perhaps, the most disheartening aspect of racism. These evil strains have permeated mankind since the beginning of time. When you see hatred and violence among all people, you might think issues of prejudice and cruelty are insurmountable.

PERHAPS THEY ARE.            Then what?


Then What and What Then?

I don’t want to deal with these issues or actions as a fad… as things that will pass after the spotlight goes away as has happened so many times before over all these years.

The suggestions I make may or may not resonate with you, especially if you are among the people who are “introverts” or who are afraid to speak publicly and to take political action.  So, first, let’s go to a baseline that ANYONE CAN DO AT ANY TIME ANYWHERE.

The “what then,” from my perspective, boils down to individual integrity and adherence to principles of fairness and equity.  Simply stated, that can be broken down to the application of The Golden Rule, which is a maxim found in many religions and cultures.

The Golden Rule
  • Do Unto Others as You Would Have Them Do Unto You” is an ethic of reciprocity. It can be stated in three ways.
    1. Treat others as you would like others to treat you (positive or directive form)
    2. Do not treat others in ways that you would not like to be treated (negative or prohibitive form)
    3. What you wish upon others, you wish upon yourself (empathic or responsive form), and those of you who are spiritual leaders or aspirants should understand that well.
  • It turns out that The Golden Rule equates to several things, one of which is Karma. Karma means “action.” The effect resulting from a cause. And that leads to the concept of “For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.” (Isaac Newton’s Third Law). So, if you put out hatred, you will receive hatred in response. If you respect others, you will garner respect, etc.
  • In common parlance, that is the same as “What goes around comes around.” That is real – whether it is a positive or negative experience.

What If You Are Uncomfortable In Taking Noticeable Action Against Racism?

The truth is that many of you will feel uncomfortable with taking a more activist posture in combating racism for a variety of reasons. Some of you have zero interest in learning more about how People of Color experience the world. These people probably will not follow up on any suggestions. Whether that is or is not true of you, the most important take-away from this presentation is that you abide by The Golden Rule as the guiding principle of your life – applicable to every action and inaction that poses itself each day.


Quote from THE TAO OF NOW

“The universe unfolds bringing to bear any cause that needs to be included. Don’t take this process personally. The working out of cause and effect is eternal. You are part of this rising and falling that never ends.”


Taking It to The Next Level

Now, let’s look at just a few examples of white privilege and unconscious stereotyping which results in racist actions and inactions.

 Subtle Ways in Which Racism Is Purveyed and Is Unwittingly Absorbed By Everyone In Society

News Coverage

      • Boston: A White person viciously attacks a Black person. Fight with weapons. The black guy wins. ALL TV news accounts show the poor white guy in hospital and the Black guy in handcuffs going to jail. When we used to watch the 6 o’clock news, you could see this same kind of manipulation occurring over and over again.
      • The way in which history is taught in schools – leaves out or misrepresents roles and events relating to slavery, reconstruction, and the rest of history as involves POC.

      • Antifa – Antifa is a “straw man” –  a fake entity created by Right Wing and Russian operatives promulgating “Active Measures” for political purposes. You can see it in the bots all over Twitter. Antifa is not an organization with leaders, and officers,  and a platform. The word “Antifa” is a contraction of the words Anti-Fascist.
        • What is the true definition of fascism?
          • Definition of fascism: a political philosophy, movement, or regime…that exalts nation and often race above the individual and that stands for a centralized autocratic government headed by a dictatorial leader, severe economic and social regimentation, and forcible suppression of opposition.
          • Why do we care? Because the continued and enhanced oppression and brutalizing of People of Color is being perpetuated by this government, just as was the oppression of People of the Jewish faith under Stalin, Hitler, and other leaders.
          • One issue is that – even media and reporters who know all that, refer to Antifa as if it were a real organization when reporting on things like the President’s tweets, thereby embedding the concept into the society and causing people, like Trump supporters, to take action against People of Color and their supporters on a mass scale.
          • I realize the media does that because they have to make sound bites and cannot explain this every time they report. But, the effect is just as brutal as if they intended it to be so.

Shopping

  • As soon as they enter a store and until they leave, POC regularly are followed or watched on closed-circuit tv to see if they’re shoplifting. White privilege – doesn’t happen.
  • I’m with my Black family in a small mom-and-pop store with almost no other customers. We can be heard throughout the store conversing in normal tones. Black son asks if I want something. I say, “no, I’m not getting anything.” He goes to counter to make a purchase. I stand off to the side. The White clerk wants to know if she can help me – ignores the actual customer.

Examples of Subconscious Racial Stereotyping

  • There I was in the Black Movement – active – knowingly putting myself in danger on behalf of supporting Black Folks and – lo and behold, I found myself being surprised the first time I heard a Black student discussing how much he loved classical music. What were my assumptions? That all Black Folks love only R&B? That no Black Folks had exposure to classical music, much less were they musicians in that field? It was a shameful recognition.
  • Another example is of coaches coming to interview Bill’s 6’8″ 14-year-old son, whom I helped raise.  They assumed that what we cared about was whether el son could play basketball, rather than what his academic program would be. They were shocked – as in SHOCKED – to the point of barely being able to converse with us after that revelation.
  • A teacher gave el son a B+ on a book report, saying he was “living up to his potential.” In fact, el son also is a genius who could have written the book.

Police

White Privilege

What Do You Think When You See a Police Officer Coming Toward You?

White Person:          I might get a traffic ticket now.

Person of Color:       I might die now.

In that connection, new software is available. You say, ‘Siri, I’m getting pulled over.’ When you have this Shortcut feature, called, “Police,” for iPhones, and you say that phrase, “Siri” can automatically record the police and will text a predetermined contact that you’ve been pulled over. It also sends a video of the encounter to your contact. The creator says the shortcut can be adapted for other situations. Business Insider


ACTIVISM

The Role of Bravery

  • Taking action publicly may be frightening, but it also is freeing and gives a sense of purpose and some accomplishment
  • No courage is required if you weren’t afraid to begin with. However, bravery is required if you are afraid. The best tool that I know of for overcoming fear is a belief in the principles and/or the people you are supporting. When your belief is powerful, it demands action, and it demands you stand on that principle, regardless of fear. That is what happened when people watched the officer murder George Floyd with cold-blooded intent. That is why people were able to take to the streets, despite COVID-19, and to speak up throughout the world’s civilizations.

The Role of Politics in Systemic Racism

“We in America do not have government by the majority. We have government by the majority who participate.” ~ Thomas Jefferson

  • I used to be one of those people who finds politics so abhorrent that I wanted nothing to do with it. I did not vote for many years. Then, I realized two things.
    1. Politicians are lawmakers who affect every aspect of our lives, from health care to education, to businesses, to law enforcement. If they are not for the people, we have major – even life-threatening – issues.
    2. People who don’t participate in office politics, and in local or presidential elections are, in fact, being political. They are a group of silent manipulatable people upon whom others can impose their will through formal means (like via policies, regulations, and laws) and through informal means (like peer pressure or the pressure a boss exerts on employees). Political parties and politicians make ads and legislation to keep these groups silent. So, whether you like it or not, you are either a player or are being played. You either participate, or your silence is deemed consent.
  • Thus, it is important to pay attention to what’s going on. For example, the Trump administration and Department of Justice is actively in court right now trying to dismantle the entire Affordable Care Act (ObamaCare) which will cause millions of people to lose health insurance coverage during this pandemic. That affects all poor people and especially POC. Note: millions of people who have lost their jobs in this pandemic also lost their health insurance, which is an example of why having health insurance should not be dependent upon an employer or employment.
  • The same administration is proposing or is cutting benefits to veterans, disabled, and poverty-stricken people, such as in food stamps.

Let’s Talk About Talking to Congress | How to be Effective

  • Congress makes the laws, and Congresspeople respond almost exclusively to what their constituents say and do. Susan Collins of Maine does not care what we think. Your local representatives in Congress do. But, they respond only to the extent they are contacted.
  • Politicians know that, if you cared enough to call, probably X number of others care that much. If you care enough to write, probably X number of other constituents have that same view. If you care enough to email, probably X number …. Unless, of course, they’re seeing bots, which is why calling and letter-writing might be more effective.
  • You don’t have to be afraid. When you call Congress and someone answers, it probably is an intern with a checklist. What is the issue and are you pro or con? It’s like counting the checks for the pros and then the cons and giving the summary to the Congressional representative. You don’t have to make a speech. On the checklist, your vote will count as much if you say “pro” as if you try to give them a speech. They don’t have time to listen to a speech.

Citizens Have More Power Than They Realize

The most influential advocacy strategies for swaying an undecided Member of Congress depend on

personal communications from constituents. Whether individuals make contact face-to-face, by

phone, or through personalized email or postal mail, Senators and Representatives are influenced by

their constituents’ own views about the public policy issues before them.

 It’s Not the Delivery Method – It’s the Content

There is virtually no distinction by the congressional staff we surveyed between email and postal mail. They view them as equally influential to an undecided Member. What matters most is the content, not the vehicle. Whether they are delivered via email or postal mail, messages that are customized in some way by the constituents sending them are much more influential than identical form messages. The personal touch from a constituent goes a long way toward differentiating a message.

Preferred Ways to Communicate to Congress

This is an excerpt from the Congress Foundation

  • Most of the staff surveyed said constituent visits to the Washington office (97%) and to the district/state office (94%) have some or a lot of influence on an undecided Member.
  • When asked about strategies directed to their offices back home, staffers said questions at town hall meetings (87%) and letters to the editor (80%) have some or a lot of influence.
  • Constituents who make the effort to personally communicate with their Senators and Representatives – except via fax – are more influential than lobbyists and news editors.
  • Individualized postal letters (not form letters)
  • Individualized emails (not form emails)
  • Phone calls

 The Role of Empathy in Challenging Racism

Guided Meditation

Our President, Uma, recently led meditation as if all participants were having the Black experience. It was very powerful, and we could do that kind of thing again.

Role-Playing

Years ago, third-grade teacher Jane Elliott, showed her students a map of the world. “How many of you have seen this map or one just like it?” Jane Elliott asked. Every hand went up. It’s a Mercator projection map, widely used in American schools and universities. Elliott explained how it is distorted, the equator two-thirds of the way down, making North America and Europe — both majority-white countries — look like they are the center of the world and bigger than they actually are. Africa seems half the size of Greenland. Alaska looks bigger than Mexico. “This is not just ridiculous — it is deliberate,” she said. (Photo: Karina Bland/The Republic)

That same Jane Elliott, who showed us the contorted map of the world, is 84 years old, a tiny woman with white hair, wire-rim glasses, and little patience. She has been talking about how ridiculous it is to judge someone based on the color of their skin for almost 50 years. She can hardly believe she still has to say it. “We need to fix this,” she says.

    • Elliot is best known as the teacher who, on April 5, 1968, the day after Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated, put her third-grade students through a bold exercise to teach them about racial prejudice.

    • She divided the children, who were all white, by eye color, and then she told the children that people with brown eyes were smarter, faster and better than those with blue eyes. What happened next proved to Elliot that prejudice is a learned behavior. Which means, she says, it can be unlearned.

“WHATABOUTISM”

Black Lives Matter  (versus All Lives Matter)

When you say, “Save the rainforest,” it doesn’t mean other forests should not be saved. Other forests may not be in danger, but the rainforest is.

How can we learn and do better?


The Role of Education

I’m going to share some recommendations for videos and books that can give great insight into the experience of Black people in America. I hope you’ll take advantage of the opportunity to learn. Even though I have been a member of Black communities for most of my life, there were many things in these videos that I did not know or that gave me a new framework for understanding.

A resource. https://nmaahc.si.edu/learn/talking-about-race from the National Museum on African-American History and Culture – the Smithsonian

Videos and Films

Eyes on the Prize  – Award-winning PBS series – Aired October 2, 2006 https://www.amazon.com/Eyes-Prize-Americas-Rights-1954-1965/dp/B0031WNYHK/ref=sr_1_2?dchild=1&keywords=Eyes+on+the+Prize&qid=1591786548&sr=8-2

Produced by Blackside, Eyes on the Prize tells the definitive story of the civil rights era from the point of view of the ordinary men and women whose extraordinary actions launched a movement that changed the fabric of American life, and embodied a struggle whose reverberations continue to be felt today. Winner of numerous Emmy Awards, a George Foster Peabody Award, an International Documentary Award, and a Television Critics Association Award, Eyes on the Prize is the most critically acclaimed documentary on civil rights in America.

Producing more than 60 major film and media projects, Blackside has given many emerging filmmakers the opportunity to learn their craft. Eyes on the Prize (1987), the company’s definitive history of the civil rights movement, won the duPont-Columbia Gold Baton, the Peabody Award, Academy Award nominations, and numerous Emmys. Blackside has also brought many other award-winning productions to public television, including The Great Depression (1993); Malcolm X: Make It Plain (1994); America’s War on Poverty (1995); This Far by Faith (2003), and I’ll Make Me A World (1999).


The African Americans, by Dr. Henry Louis Gates, who also does the Ancestry series you now see on public television.

Reconstruction – America After the Civil War.

There are several additional fascinating histories – often by Ken Burns – on The American Experience.


Books and AudioBooks About Racism and Black History

  • Dr. John Henrik Clarke. Clarke rose to become professor emeritus at Hunter College without a high school diploma or Ph.D.
  • New York Times Best Seller How to Be an Antiracist, by Ibram X. Kendi. From the National Book Award-winning author of Stamped from the Beginning comes a “groundbreaking” (Time) approach to understanding and uprooting racism and inequality in our society – and in ourselves.
  • “The Chinese Exclusion” – American Experience, Season 30, Episode #6. While some of you are watching “Everyday Racism in America,” I am not. I already have a Ph.D. in racism in Black and White. But, this PBS program is mind-blowing about racism against Chinese people, acts of which were equally brutal and law codified.
  • The Wall Street Journal@WSJ offers advice for parents from pediatricians, educators and other experts on conversations about race and violence surrounding the demonstrations. Wall Street Journal   https://www.wsj.com/articles/how-to-talk-to-your-children-about-the-protests-11591387738?st=uz3zmbw1s4kra47

Stack of books on racism and Black History

Do It The Write Way! Let My Fingers Do Your Talking!

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