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Being a White Ally: AKA WORK

There’s been a lot of discussion going on about race in the science blogosphere lately, not all of which is-- hmmm I'm searching for a word and unfortuntely, the best word that comes out is civil. Anyway much of the discussion, including the sessions on gender and race at ScienceOnline09 (these were civil), has focused on being an ally and their (our) education. Indeed, one of the recommendations that came out of those sessions was:

Underrepresented groups are burdened by the need to educate their allies. Take it upon yourself to learn about the issues. And don't stop learning. Allies need continuing education.

Learning about race isn’t easy, and for me, as a white women, it can be uncomfortable. It's also a lot of work. damali ayo has a fabulous post that explains why work needs to mean “Whites Overcoming Racism through Knowledge.” Knowledge is key; communication, she says "is nothing without knowledge."

I’m working on this, and one of the resources that's helping me is an essay by Peggy McIntosh, called "White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack." Yes it's over 20 years old but it continues to be both relevant and powerful. Some of the things in it that resonate with me are:

I was taught to see racism only in individual acts of meanness, not in invisible systems conferring dominance on my group.

It seems to me that obliviousness about white advantage, like obliviousness about male advantage, is kept strongly inculturated in the United States so as to maintain the myth of meritocracy, the myth that democratic choice is equally available to all. Keeping most people unaware that freedom of confident action is there for just a small number of people props up those in power and serves to keep power in the hands of the same groups that have most of it already.

Peggy has a list of 50 daily privileges of being white; reading them and thinking about what still holds and what should be added is, I think, part of that work that ayo wrote about.

Even with knowledge, you (ok maybe not you but I) screw up sometimes when dealing with race. It is almost impossible not to. Vito Excalibur's post on what to and not to do when you screw up is really helpful. You will need to read the whole post and follow the links to get the full value (remember this is work and it takes work). Here is what Vito did after she screwed up:

1) I did not insult the shit out of everyone who was criticizing what I did. This tactic is not always easy, but it is surprisingly effective! It is also quite versatile! It includes everything from not angrily calling your critics "cunts" to not gently explaining that if they'd had your educational advantages they'd understand why what you did was completely reasonable. If you don't want to start a flamewar, this is the best tool you have.

2) I linked to the arguments of the people who were disagreeing with me instead of lying about what they were.
This one is straight out of How To Suppress Discussions of Racism. It is currently being used to suggest that RaceFail '09, all the painful and important writing that has come out of it, all the justified criticism, is "bullshit and fake identity politics." As a tactic, it works, it's vicious, and it's dishonorable. If you are sure of yourself, why not provide links to what the people arguing against you are saying? If right is really on your side, people will see that. You will have no need to talk vaguely about trolls, abusers, or dogpiles.

3) I had friends who were better people than me.
This one isn't really to my credit: I was just lucky. When [info]matociquala made her original response to Avalon's Willow, which I still think was a perfectly reasonable response, what happened was that her friends took it upon themselves to not behave so graciously. When I took up my position of defending and justifying myself, it was amidst all the other people involved acknowledging the mistake, apologizing, and promising not to have it happen again. If instead I'd been surrounded by people insisting that we hadn't done anything wrong and that the people criticizing our actions were crazy, I might well have started to believe them. It's what I wanted to hear, after all. All the more reason to try and hang out with people who are wiser than you are.

And yes there are references in the above, you don't understand; remember I told you that you really had to read the whole thing to really get it. Anyway I'm printing these out and putting them up next to my required sheets on Workers Comp and EEOC. I suspect they are going to be a lot more useful. And may I always have friends (and family) who are better people than I am.


From FairerScience friend Pamela Mason:

Mica Pollack has a very informative book, Everyday Anti-Racism, which has short chapters written by many authors with "thought" questions at the end of every chapter. When my students started referring to "those parents" in my class, I called a time out and assigned them to read Mica's chapter and John Diamond's chapter. Then we had a 22 person group conversation about assumptions and how they play themselves out in ascribing motive to others' actions. It was a two hour discussion and a productive one.

How Interesting, particularly to understand how you were taught about race.As Blacks (middle class, we thought)we were taught that we had a place and it was in the next row,not necessarily in the back of the bus but not in the front. Now from that row, we were taught that we could be anything that was offered to the back row via education.Wow!! Let's talk later, but your blog looks good. I have not read Peggy McIntosh's "White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack", but as soon as I finish this HBCU-UP proposal, I will get it and begin to read. Let's do keep in touch.

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