Jun 16 2012

Happy Birthday to Me, Tupac and a White Dude Who Dyed for Freedom (not a typo)

Today is my birthday. And Tupac’s Too.

Another June 16th human being I really love is John Howard Griffin.

6/16/20 – 9/9/80

I hope you already know all about this man, but if not, he was a White anti-racist who grew up in the South and wanted to do something to reach the hearts and minds of White Americans, most of whom were in denial about the conditions under which Black people lived.

Griffin conducted an experiment in 1959 that included shaving his head, darkening his skin with lamps and pharmaceuticals and living as a Black man in the deep south.

Though he endured for several weeks, he ended up cutting the experiment short, as he found that being a Black man was too difficult for him to maintain for long. He wrote a book about his experiences that made him a celebrity and (to some) a villain.

“Nothing can describe the withering horror of this. You feel lost, sick at heart before such unmasked hatred, not so much because it threatens you as because it shows humans in such an inhuman light. You see a kind of insanity, something so obscene the very obscenity of it (rather than its threat) terrifies you. It was so new I could not take my eyes from the man’s face. I felt like saying: “What in God’s name are you doing to yourself?”

“Suddenly I had had enough. Suddenly I could stomach no more of this degradation- not of myself but of all men who were black like me.”

“When all the talk, all the propaganda has been cut away, the criterion is nothing but the color of skin. My experience proved that. They judged me by no quality. My skin was dark.”

Mr. Griffin knew when he conducted his experiment he would forever be putting himself at odds with those in America who didn’t want the ugliest realities of racism to be exposed and so vividly expressed by someone White. After his book “Black Like Me” was published in 1961 he and his family received continual death threats. They left their Texas home and eventually moved to Mexico.

“John Howard Griffin was one of the most remarkable people I have ever encountered…He was just one of those guys that comes along once or twice in a century and lifts the hearts of the rest of us.” -Studs Terkel

Here is an excellent article about Griffin’s life, his experiment and his writings: JimCrowMuseum <<–Highly suggested reading!

“It seems to me that our country is involved in a kind of mass insanity where you can abuse the gift of sight in order to use it to discriminate against somebody.”

♥ HIM !

 


May 15 2012

Asian Activist Scot Nakagawa: “White Supremacy Has a Special Relationship with Blacks”

If you have ever attended a cultural sensitivity training or participated in a forum or workshop exploring issues of race and racism, you have probably noticed that when the dialogue moves to a specific focus on white/black relations (and the ferocity with which institutionalized racism impacts black people and communities) someone in the room will object.

The objection is often couched in terms that sound inclusive, like “What about Native Americans? They’ve suffered too.” or “That’s not really different from how gays are discriminated against.”

It can be an exasperating moment for those in the room who realize that any authentic effort to focus a lens on the concept of “white supremacy” will invariably lead to a discussion about white on black racism. Not because it is “more important,” than any other expression of racism, but because, as activist Scot Nakagawa so aptly puts it, “Blackness is the fulcrum.”

At his blog RaceFiles.com, Nakagawa states:

I’m often asked why I’ve focused so much more on anti-black racism than on Asians over the years. Some suggest I suffer from internalized racism.

That might well be true since who doesn’t suffer from internalized racism? I mean, even white people internalize racism. The difference is that white people’s internalized racism is against people of color, and it’s backed up by those who control societal institutions and capital.

But some folk have more on their minds. They say that focusing on black and white reinforces a false racial binary that marginalizes the experiences of non-black people of color. No argument here. But I also think that trying to mix things up by putting non-black people of color in the middle is a problem because there’s no “middle.”

So there’s most of my answer. I’m sure I do suffer from internalized racism, but I don’t think that racism is defined only in terms of black and white. I also don’t think white supremacy is a simple vertical hierarchy with whites on top, black people on the bottom, and the rest of us in the middle.

So why do I expend so much effort on lifting up the oppression of black people? Because anti-black racism is the fulcrum of white supremacy.

A fulcrum is defined by Merriam-Webster as “the support about which a lever turns” or, alternatively, “one that supplies capability for action.” In other words, if you want to move something, you need a pry bar and some leverage, and what gives you leverage is the fulcrum – that thing you use so the pry bar works like a see-saw…

…while there’s no bottom, there is something like a binary in that white people exist on one side of these dynamics – the side with force and intention. The way they mostly assert that force and intention is through the fulcrum of anti-black racism.

Please read the full text of his article, and know why I so appreciate Nakagawa’s take on this issue, not because this point was never brilliantly and succinctly addressed by others, including contemporary black writers like Dr. Joy DeGruy, Michael Eric Dyson and Michelle Alexander, but because whenever this sentiment is expressed in any public way by a black person it is mis-perceived as self-serving (read: whining).

When non-black anti-racist activists like Nakagawa, Edward James Olmos and Tim Wise speak about the unique impact of white supremacy on black people, and acknowledge that its eradication will herald the eradication of racism for all groups, a significant number of people will find the message more palatable.

Perhaps a significant number will also find their way into this struggle to internalize the concept of the oneness of humanity, become devoted to dismantling white supremacy and work to purge our institutions, homes and hearts of the insidious (often subtle) blight of racism. . .

. . .both the external and internalized versions.


Feb 29 2012

Know Good White People: Wrestling the term ‘White Pride’ Out of the Hands of the Klan

Jean Rankin was a wife and mother of thirteen children living in a modest home overlooking the Ohio river in what was the “free state” of Ohio. Through her window she could see a clear and gorgeous view of Kentucky, where thousands of enslaved African Americans lived under the cruel system of American chattel slavery.

For forty years, leading up to the Civil War and the abolition of slavery, Jean and her husband John opened their home to offer food, lodging and directions further north to nearly 2000 fugitive slaves seeking freedom.

As a mother, and as an American woman who descended from enslaved Africans, I am awed and humbled by this family. When I think about putting my own freedom and my own children’s lives at risk to serve others, it is a frightening, daunting idea.

While researching this subject of whtie anti-racists in American history, I am finding hundreds of stories of courageous and inspiring people like the Rankins who have been left out of mainstream hero worship. I hope you will agree that it is time to remedy that omission. These are amazing American heroes our children should know about.

Know Good White People: Wrestling the term ‘White Pride’ Out of the Hands of the Klan is an homage to anti-racist white Americans whose lives embodied the ideals of “freedom and justice for all” that our forefathers prescribed at the birth of this nation. Why have they been excluded from our national memory? What has their absence done to our collective psyche in terms of race relations?

The idea for this project came, in part, from an article I read about a young girl named Lisa McClelland who tried to start a “Caucasian Club” at her high school. Long story short—for her own safety, she eventually had to change schools.

Prior to her exile to another campus, the 15-year-old insisted her proposed club would be “a positive organization dedicated to honoring diversity” and a place to learn more about what it means to be white.

Amid the firestorm of controversy Lisa sparked, a KKK representative welcomed her to join their group, and the local NAACP spokesman slammed her idea, calling it racist in name, if not intent. He said,

“When we use the word ‘white’ or ‘Caucasian,’ it has always been associated with racial bigotry. Using that term opens up old wounds…”

What message is sent to young people with the omission of white anti-racist heroes from our national history? White Americans will not (should not?) bother themselves with issues of racial justice?