Engaging in the “White on White Conversation” on Racism and Hate ~ The Choice ~ The Willingness ~ The Readiness ~ The Work
For far too long, people of color have been trying to educate white people on the legacy, complexities and interconnectedness of Diversity, Inclusivity, Equity, and Social Justice, while at the same time, explaining the historical roots of racism and White Supremacy.
It’s important, and I feel necessary, to briefly address the term white people. The choices of terminology have been historically ambiguous, using terms, for example, as Anglos, Caucasians, and European Americans. While there is no hesitation to use African American, Asian, and Latin American, the term white people, as soon as it is mentioned, can be interpreted as demeaning, derogatory and/or accusatory, and therefore left at a distance unattended.
But “white” is the racial option used in all federal data collection methods and programs. Also, as Susana Rinderle posits, “Caucasian, is a pseudo scientific term used to create distance from race discussions and racial identification, often indicating discomfort with the topic. We do not need more distance or “polite” euphemisms to keep an awkward but increasingly necessary conversation at arm’s length.” 6 Reasons to Not Say ‘Caucasian’ – Workplace Culture Dec. 18, 2014
Rinderle continues, “It’s this penchant for politeness that is whites’ Achilles’ heel when it comes to confronting racial issues. Beliefs about politeness get in the way of telling the truth, or talking at all. The history of race in the U.S., and its current reality, is anything but polite. Yet even young people have the sense that just making an observation about the race of a person or group of people is “racist.” This is dangerously superficial and borderline ridiculous. If recent events across the nation are any indication, our — and by “our” I mean white people — silence and overemphasis on politeness is stifling. Our discomfort with messiness, anger and guilt are major barriers to getting down to business and solving our deep problems of racial tension, mistrust and inequities. These are not going away, and in some ways they’re getting worse. Not naming them or not talking about them isn’t working. In the interest of adding depth, clarity and frankness to our much-needed national dialogue on race, we should refer to white people as such, and not as Caucasian.“
Freedom to use language that is pertinent to the subject matter impacts choice, willingness and readiness to engage in difficult conversations about race, racism and hate.
It has been my experience at extended Diversity Literacy conferences and workshops, that white people tend to be reserved spectators, waiting their turn to interject, cautiously posing a question, or entering conversations on race with some apprehension. It’s like watching someone place their toe in a swimming pool to determine whether the water is too cold or hot – making sure that the water is not too deep . . . and always wearing a life jacket.
The apprehension is due to not wanting to be unintentionally misunderstood. The hesitation is based on whether it’s better to remain silent and safe, allowing others to deal with the potential uneasy discourse.
I give a great deal of credit to anyone who is willing to deal with the language and complex concepts and dimensions of Diversity and its literacy. It’s a tough and courageous step and process. It takes emotional intelligence and moral courage to do so.
Historically and ironically, it’s been exhausting for minorities to define, explain, clarify, educate and reach out to white people to reflect on our communal humanity and citizenship.
Why is there a hesitation by white people to talk among themselves about Diversity and specifically racism? Is it because racism is viewed socially, culturally and politically to not be a problem for white people, but only for people of color – those characterized as different and other? Therefore, why talk about a contentious subject that is not a “white” problem?
But to be fair, and with due respect, just how educated and intellectually and emotionally prepared are white people to talk to each other about “race” and “racism?” And if intellectually prepared and educated, how willing are they to engage? What do they have to gain or lose? What is it in for them? Why not leave well-enough alone?
Research informs that one of the reasons for the lack of “The Readiness” and “The Willingness” is generational – the older the generation, the more reluctant. The younger the generation, the less hesitant to engage, debate and deal with the depth and breadth of such issues.
Two generations that tend to be more comfortable discussing diversity are Millenials and Gen Zers. A major reason is because Millenials and Gen Zers have been experiencing inclusivity most of their lives. They grew up in the early years of the 21st century. Their daily social-cultural curriculum was dramatically different than those from previous generations.
Of course, no generation is a collective noun and each citizen is an individual. But we can agree that tendencies, attitudes and behaviors differ from generation to generation.
In ‘media tech terms’, Millenials and Gen Zers were natives to the American culture – not immigrants and foreigners. Past generations are desperately trying to catch up with Millenials and Gen Zers, who tend to be comfortable with CHANGE. Difference, otherness, inclusivity, equity and diversity have been experiential realities in their lives.
For a large segment of Millenials and Gen Zers, contrived negative attitudes and divisionism about “others” and “difference” are insults to the realities of “we” and “us.” For current generations, ‘pronouns – language’ matters, and they are listening and learning from each other . . . and voting accordingly.
The prefix “bi-_______” does not cause pause. To ‘hang’ with friends who come from families with “bi-_______” member(s) is not out of the ordinary. E pluribus unum in the 21st Century means with recognition, validation and respect for each of the unum.
Lest we forget that there is also another segment of society of white people called Baby Boomers, who remember marching for civil and voting rights. These freedom fighters were motivated by a vision, mission and guiding principles of Democracy. They supported causes long ago that are still worth marching and sacrificing for.
These are the parents and grandparents, who taught Millenials and Gen Zers about fair-mindedness, collaboration, decency and integrity. They read their babies bedside stories about kindness, generosity and empathy. They explained why some people used the language of “hate” and how it hurts.
They made sure that their children’s playdates were diverse and that they grew up respecting “difference” and “otherness” rather than fearing it. They planted the seeds of hope. They still show up to this day because it matters.
“Their Readiness” was forged by family members, community, friends, colleagues and schools that nurtured and mentored inclusivity and equity. They walked across the country on behalf of all Americans, advocating for social justice, civil rights and equity throughout the 1960s and to this day.
What is impressive about the growing coalition of multi-generations of white people, is that they are not waiting around to express their views, opinions and beliefs. They tend to have little tolerance for ignorance and stand ready to call it out and challenge it.
“The Readiness” of this alliance to confront hate is ever present and is not based on “pandering”, “self-aggrandizement”, “expected applause”, but rather “in your face” and non-apologetic – based on their sense of citizenship and humanity. They refuse to let hate fester and linger.
I have always posited that America will not turn the corner on racism, White Supremacy and Hate Groups, until white people begin to openly and courageously take a stand against white people, who radicalize and normalize the rhetoric of hate, -isms, phobias and divisionism.
Senator Mallory McMorrow (Michigan 13th District) is one of those “white people”, who courageously and eloquently rebuked, not only her “white” colleague, but all “white people” who follow the Republican Trumpism ideology of fear, divisionism and hate.
The tone and impact of the message is critically different when the rebuke is WHITE on WHITE.