Category Archives: Race

The Alcoholism of Whiteness

“…I  shouldn’t forget: people were carried like chattel on ships to America; they were sold to other people; they were stripped of their names, spiritual practices, and culture; they worked hard their entire lives without just compensation; they were beaten into submission and terrorized or killed if they looked if they chose not to  submit; when they died they were buried in the ground to the far edge of the town; and as the town grew, roads and houses were built on top of them as if they had never existed.”  Lonely in America, Wendy S. Walters; The Fire This Time: A new Generation Speaks about Race,

A month ago a friend, colleague and mentor and I were having our monthly conversation. He’s in the process of writing a book and has entrusted me with the privilege as one of many to give feedback. He’s a white male, 30 yrs my senior, has a steel trap for a brain, passionate about social justice and lives his life on the issues with the urgency of the Black Lives Matters Movement.

This particular month’s conversation hit various topics, our current social and political landscape with all its various constructs; outdated models of organizations addressing significant issues, structural inequities, income and inequality, power and Race. We tend to go in hard. As part of the discourse we share books new and old voices and how they along with our experiences inform our optics and analysis, even when at times we find ourselves/behaviors a living contradiction.

Race bubbled up, Okay I raised it! It’s very much how I walk through this life and not of my own accord, I can assure you. In our conversation we somehow crossed the inter-sectionality of Race, White Privilege, self-care and drinking as part of a shared cultural history. Somewhere as we discussed White Privilege I blurted out metaphorically “like alcoholism of whiteness.” We both feel into a blustering of a laugh, one of those deep belly, cheek hurting laughs. Once settled, immediately I jotted down the phrase. From that experience, that moment, this paper started its gestation. It became a fire burning in my belly, a repetitive voice I couldn’t turn off penetrating my every fiber with a discomfort and yearning to be free. As such these next few lines serve as one voice of many wrestling with trying to capture and shed light on one aspect of what is meant when you hear the term, “The Black Experience.”

Metaphorically speaking white people are alcoholics. Essentially, they like the good stuff, the best, as should anyone. However, their alcohol is couture at least it starts that way, then it’s the good stuff, eventually moved to “top shelf.” Overall, it has always been marketed as couture and top shelve. It’s placed is special boxes, dressed up with fancy packaging, special calligraphic letters and placed literally at the highest shelf as a sign if it’s superior flavor above the rest.

Just like all alcoholics the moment anyone tries or attempts take the glass away (infringe upon white privilege) from which they drink they become threatened and belligerent, resulting in a tantrum about their rights, as substitute for the underlying belief that God meant it to be this way. Carol Anderson in her piece “White Rage” from The Fire This Time: A new Generation Speaks about Race describes this as the following:

“When we look back at what happened in Ferguson, Missouri, during the summer of 2014, it will be easy to think of it as yet one more episode of black rage ignited by yet another police killing of an unarmed African American male. But that is precisely backward. What we’ve actually seen is the latest outbreak of white rage. Sure it’s cloaked in niceties of law and order, but it is rage nonetheless…the real rage smolders in meetings where officials redraw precincts to dilute African American voting strength or seek to slash the government payrolls…It virtually goes unnoticed, however, because white rage doesn’t have to take the streets and face rubber bullets to be heard. Instead, white rage carries an aura of respectability and has access to the courts, police, legislature, and governors, who cast its efforts as noble, though they are driven by the most ignoble motivations.”

Yes, they are intoxicated with their self-defined top shelf liquor – “whiteness.” Not all just those who deny history and its continued manifestation in the present. However many still remain in constant denial about the historical facts of marginalization of other races and blatant denial of opportunity as a result of inequality and the many forms of racism. They stagger through life drunk with white privilege as a cloak of protection, drive recklessly running red-lights of cultural caution and disrespect with impunity then take advantage of communities that have been decimated by polices designed to plan people of color out of the landscape.  Carol adds:

“A little more than half a century after Brown, the election of Obama gave hope to the country and the world that a new racial climate had emerged in America, or that it would. But such audacious hopes would be short-lived. A rash of voter-suppression legislation, a series of unfathomable Supreme Court decisions, the rise of stand-your-ground laws, and continuing brutality make clear the Obama’s election and reelections have unleashed yet another wave of anger.”

This alcoholism of whiteness has always been around but became that much more intoxicating/embolden once the most powerful man of the free world was black.  This white rage had been active since before Reconstruction fermenting, barreled to preserve its purity, richness and self –righteous claim of God’s intended flavor. Its fermentation process adopted by a coopted Constitution, barreled in created Legislation of protectionism and maintained by “In God We Trust” every Sunday, which I believe Dr. King referred as the most segregated hour in America.

Like all alcoholics sobriety has a fear that’s both paralyzing and aggressive. The mere idea of not drinking the privilege in all of its expected regalia causes a conniption. Having to operate in  a new-normal, where things like being culturally aware, or being intentional about an individual’s preferred pronoun or giving credence to the purity of why an NFL’er chooses to kneel during the National Anthem can certainly as we have witnessed causes withdrawal of epic proportions. These are recent examples of some dismissed issues of our current landscape has been responded and managed with the same lashing-out afforded by privilege and white rage. Mosques and churches become focal points for white supremacist, a shooter who has just killed 8 people of color in one of the most premeditated of heinous crimes is taking too Burger King or, the fact that African American males account for 12%-13% of the population but make up 35% of the jail inmates and 37% of incarcerated inmates. It’s as if a Jihad has been waged against black males a classic case of black robes white justice.

 

This drunken stupor of this alcoholism of whiteness has become so intoxicating it has set up multiple cases and situations of plausible deniability. The richness of whiteness not in wealth but an optic of being above and entitled over all others that are not its own hue is simply a reflection of a culture embedded in anti-black racism. Claudia Rankine captures this in, The Condition of Black Life Is One of Mourning:

“It’s in our laws, in our advertisements, in our friendships, in our segregated cities, in our schools, in our Congress, in our scientific experiments, in our language, on the Internet, in our bodies no matter our race, in our communities, and perhaps most devastatingly in our justice system…The Charleston murders alerted us to the reality that a system so steeped in anti-black racism means that on any given day it can be open season on any black person-old or young, woman or child. There exists no equivalent reality for white Americans.”

I’m sure as you read the excerpt that final sentence offends the sensibilities of your whiteness and you fall into your intoxicated sense of privilege developing defensive rationales like, the recent mass shootings. Las Vegas at concert where 59 were killed or Texas a church shooting were 26 were killed. To give you some perspective, according to the Huffington Post based on report by the Washington Post, 233 of the 963 people police shot and killed in 2016 were black. As of Wednesday evening (8/23/2017), black people had been the victims in 137 of 643 police killings in 2017, according to the Post. Police had also killed 113 other people of color up to that point this year. In addition, its reported, African-Americans make up roughly 13 percent of the country’s population ― meaning they are far more likely to die at the hands of police than white Americans, even though more white people are killed by law enforcement overall.

 

Does this mean that we need AA and NA meetings, with 12 step programs to come to terms with the power of this intoxicating disease that as ripped the very humanity of our Nation? Do we create detoxing and rehabilitation programs for the alcoholism of white privilege? Do we create a place for forgiveness, under the guise of relapse as part of recovery, so the all too occasional innocent black male sentenced for crime he didn’t commit; or the unarmed black male gunned down for following instructions; or policies predicated on disenfranchisement are to be viewed with compassion and empathy because it’s part of the process of their recovery? I don’t know, any of these steps seem to placate the alcoholism of whiteness. Even with cultural competency courses from academia to the work place, there is limited impact just bench marks for more boxes to be ticked.

Katy Tur, a white female reporter with MSNBC spent over 500 day’s on the Trump campaign. She endured some of the most misogynistic, demeaning offensive language because she reported on the facts of a campaign that was essentially fact less. She witnessed racist behavior in the form of language and brute force against people of color who were opposed to the incendiary language coming from Trump; one of her most important points, “facts matter.” The fact is white privilege has been established and maintained by brute force, slavery, false narratives about people of color, especially black males. Fact, established polices find ways to punish and blame the victims of circumstances created by the ethos of structural racism while the intoxicating alcoholism of whiteness enjoys access to resources, wealth and power.

The Black Experience is an impassioned one, filled with pain and joy manifested on many levels, shared in various forms, one being music. Its’ been the place from Muddy Waters to Tupac to Bob Marley where our pain has been flavored with syncopation and melodies to draw listeners in too the brutal reality of life under the most adverse conditions. Yet, as observed and experienced many times the very  same conscious and unconscious anti-black racists, intoxicated with their white privilege, love Miles, Tupac, Public Enemy, Jay-Z, Notorious BIG and artist the likes Mos Def. In fact, I know this first hand as I have witnessed it; they know every verse and can recite it with or without the track.  However when confronted with the opportunity to have “real talk” with people living those same verses and lines, they lose all ability to listen as intently. I surmise it’s because lyrics do not talk back; they do not discourse adding a layer of reality that is not so far removed.

For some if not most of you this current social and political climate (Trumpism) is a new experience. For The Black Experience it’s par for the course. It’s the manifestations of a social construct people of color had and have to endure for centuries.

Still there is good news, the privilege of that top shelf brand can be used in a way that all can drink from the glass shift the optics and minimize the damage to ones liver (The Nation). It can accept its ability to use its influence to level the playing field, to change the narrative developed over several centuries about the value of black and brown bodies. It can manifest (show up) in the form of a Katy Tur, Tim Wise, Greg Popovich, a Hipster liberal or your deeply concerned social worker. Yet, that is not even half the challenge. Showing-up requires the uncomfortableness of listening, not interjecting, no “buts”, just listen with an active inquiry, led by a desire to know and hopefully the courage of conviction to act.

It’s really simple, listen, feel, listen more, feel more; search for commonalities in the humanity of The Black Experience and take ownership of your status not only when it’s comfortable or opportunistic. Embrace the facts as according to Katy Tur, “facts matter.”  Challenge yourself to do something uncomfortable and selfless; be fearless in pursuing those difficult conversations that need to be pursued as a central part of your individual and collective growth. Claudia Rankine captures this challenge put forth quite simply;

“In the words of the playwright Loraine Hansberry, “The problem is we have to find some way with these dialogues to show and encourage these white liberals to stop being a liberal and become an American radical.”

As you digest these few lines, develop a counter position, crafted with all the tools to refute and dismiss these passages. I’ll leave you with this; when last did you as a white person left you home with awareness that your whiteness can get you locked up or killed? When did your whiteness force you to change many times solely because you have to break a stereotype, for fear of being mistaken for a super-predator? When last did you have to be aware of your identities impact walking behind a woman particularly white, where your choice is either to slow your pace to create distance or the most obvious cross the road? When last were filled with anxiety entering a department store and followed solely because of your whiteness? Or, when last did you have to think twice running to catch a train or generally being late for fear of being tackled by a gun toting police officer? I will go far as to say, Never.  Garnette Cadogan in his piece “Black and Blue” from The Fire This Time: A new Generation Speaks about Race, captures the everyday level of conscious The Black Experience, requires before leaving the ones home:

“No running, especially at night; no sudden movements; no hoodies, no objects-especially shiny ones-in hand; no waiting for friends on street corners, least I be mistaken for a drug dealer, no standing near a street corner on the cell phone (same reason)…walking is as my friend Rebecca described it: A pantomime undertaken to avoid the choreography of criminality.” 

The privilege of the alcoholism of whiteness is so removed for from such preparatory thoughts and actions before leaving one’s home or the mundane joy of walking. The Black Experience is riddled with perceptions of “suspect” the feeling of a heighten awareness of my (black man) presences. This experience is a conscious separation from, rather than a part of the colorful fabric that makes our cities and this Nation great.  Kevin Young, author and poet, best captures both the beauty and tension of the Black Experience in the midst of the culture that has gone out if its way to reinforce its white privilege.

“This morning I woke from a “deep Negro sleep,” as Senghor put it. I then took a black shower and shaved a black shave; I walked a black walk and sat a black sit; I wrote some black lines; coughed black and sneezed black and ate black too. This last as least is literal: grapes, blackberries, the ripest plums.”

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Filed under Equality, Poverty, Race, White Privilege

Passport of Whiteness

“…At present large numbers of the offspring of immigrants, even those born here in Britain, remain integrated in the immigrant community which links them with their homeland overseas. With every passing year this will diminish. Sometimes people point to the increasing proportion of immigrant offspring born in this country as if the fact contained within itself the ultimate solution. The truth is the opposite. The West Indian or Asian does not, by being born in England, become an Englishman. In law he becomes a United Kingdom citizen by birth; in fact he is a West Indian or an Asian still. Unless he be one of the small minority – for number, I repeat again and again, is of the essence – he will by the very nature of things have lost one country without gaining another, lost one nationality without acquiring a new one. Time is running against us and them. With the lapse of a generation or so we shall at last have succeeded – to the benefit of nobody…” Enoch Powell, Conservative 1968″

That is an excerpt from Powell’s famous November 16, 1968 speech, several months after his April address in Birmingham titled: “Rivers of Blood”. Powell crafted this piece as a response to what he saw as the shrinking of Merry Ole England and “The Englishman.” He grew up during World War I living through a King’s abdication, World War II, the creation of the National Health Services and the death of Winston Churchill, seeing not so much the British Empire’s stalwartness of its colonial and imperial empire but rather a shrinking loss of identity due to an ever growing immigrant population creating a sense of powerlessness or what some may call xenophobia. Sounds familiar?

Indo-Asians (Indians, Pakistani’s etc.) and Caribbean islands still owned by the Empire (the mother country) Imperialized and Colonized, migrated with the promise of better conditions, earning potential and overall improved quality of life. Education was the hook especially for their children; dreams of becoming a barrister, a nurse or aspirations of becoming a doctor and if that failed manufacturing would get them a better life in the “mother land”.

Authors like my fellow countryman Pinckney descendants of the first immigrants of Powell’s time straddle countries with a firm grasp of living in the gray. Crafting a keen and innate optic for tensions between xenophobia and racism due to growing up under the constant reminder of being a UK citizen by birth but by no stretch of the imagination never an Englishman.

In my experience it’s not impossible to separate Xenophobia from Race. However there are so many shades and hues of people with attributed negative associations of origin, it is easy to succumb to the simplistic reduction of either or both as the intersection is too taxing for some to unpack. More so it means the re-evaluation of their/one’s place in the ever changing social construct, causing the ground beneath them to shake in a manner they have never experienced. Resulting in a form of blind patriotism under the guise of the protection of their “way of life”, a racist code imbedded in language.

All hues of black and brown in America has been met with some form of both xenophobia and race(ism). Pre-9/11 the optics were black and Mexican (outside of urban environments), in major cities, Dominicans, Chileans, Colombians fell under the umbrella of Puerto Rican. Then everyone else were the Blacks, didn’t matter which part of the diaspora one was from it was, “Blacks.”

Even with the global back drop of Iran-Contra, War torn Sierra Leone (the fruits of the British Empire); under a shadow of a cold war where the only real xenophobic threat was the Soviet Union (Ruskies). Within the borders the intersection of race and xenophobia was central to black/brown skin. The fear perpetuated around black bodies derived from a racial classification creating two pillars that have continually feed each other to the demise race relations and increased intolerance of anyone remotely related to being an immigrant. 

Post 9/11 shifted not only the optics but an emotional base central to xenophobia and racism in the form of a major identity crisis. Identification and classification became the lens through which the new social construct of a supposed new enemy was purported and cemented. Under the guise of protectionism, tapping into the xenophobia catalyzed by 9/11 the emergence of racial discrimination took hold to varying groups from Arab nations and the likes. In fact, the global impact, London, France, Germany, initially Europe and allies gave way to behaviors of old. The underbelly is a subtle narrative as an attack on white (male) power, privilege and preservation.

Darryl Pinckney’s, The Passport of Whiteness http://www.nybooks.com/daily/2017/09/20/the-passport-of-whiteness/, picks apart the tensions between the protectors of whiteness and those seekers of a better future who by default succumb to a normative acculturation process. However, the gatekeepers and standard bearers under the guise of “immigration policy”, “homeland security” and “patriotism” message xenophobia wrapped in racism reminded Arab born, Mexican born, Indian born Americans, they may be citizens by law but they will never be “American”. Pinckney’s point, “we live in the wake of profound population movement” could not be truer. Nationals are no longer determined by pigmentation. One only need to look at football (soccer) matches, Premier League to international competitions like the World Cup or the Olympics and you see various hues of all colors that do not align with stereotypes of old. However, when we drill down or magnify if you will, respective countries carry a stain synonymous with the United States and its history of the cancer of racism. Pinckney lifts this up:

“…Europe doesn’t have a Muslim problem. It has a race problem. One that doesn’t get talked about, a history that doesn’t get connected to what is going on today…It has also been true of American life that one of the ways in which despised white immigrants gained acceptance and a share in national identity was by subscribing to the racial order of segregation…”

His insight while not new is refreshing as he is a new voice for me with a shared experience, optics and an experiential/empirical analysis that confirms I’m not going mad. In addition, this piece confirms much of what I experience is not “inside out” but rather “outside in” which he captures beautifully in closing remarks:

“…Everyone knows we are a nation of immigrants that immigrants are good for the economy, and that freedom seekers are our kin. What is sad is not the subscription on the part of so many to old settler attitudes, but that I had not thought that all those debates that we read about as nineteenth- or early twentieth-century history are back, to take a final stand. We did not think the ideal of liberal democracy, the open society, would have to be fought for all over again…”

In many ways I am reminded by the great late James Baldwin and one of his many profound statements:

“The American ideal of progress is measured by how fast I can become white.” James Baldwin

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Filed under Diversity, Race, Uncategorized

Race – “Not some cheesy contest”

Dear blog followers and new readers the following entry is from guest blogger Jim Naremore. Jim is well know to the Indianapolis community. He is Partner and Director at 3rd Sector Consulting and WhitepaperBluesky:  http://whitepaperbluesky.com/

Jim Naremore (dba 3rd Sector Consulting), BA, Indiana University and graduate work in film studies and psychology, offers 25 years experience in public and private social change including the arts, environmental action and community development.

Dominant  American  culture  in  general,  and  the  dominant  Indianapolis  status  quo  in   particular,  seem  to  have  become  especially  enamored  lately  with  the  idea  of   competition.    This  seems  somewhat  counter  to  the  loudly  stated  “anti-­‐bully”  push   we’ve  seen  in  recent  years,  since  the  basal  notion  of  competition  in  the  social  setting   largely  stems  from  school-­‐yard  survival  of  the  fittest;  a  sort  of  adhoc  social   Darwinism  is  taking  place.     This  is  particularly  troubling  when  bully  based,  voyeuristic  competition  begins  to   spill  over  into  the  very  serious  “arena”  (there’s  a  competition  metaphor  illustrating   the  point)  of  social  progress  or  social  change.

We’ve  become  awash  in  “competitions”,  “challenges”,  and  “contests”  here  in   Indianapolis  in  the  last  few  years  when  we  take  up  the  questions  of  how  to  improve   our  community  and  our  society.    The  most  recent  example  is  the  Spirit  And  Place   festival’s  “A  Competition  about  Race”  contest  where  twenty  thousand  dollars  will  be   awarded  to  the  winning  idea  dealing  with  the  issue  of  the  “race  dialog”  and   centering  around  the  large  theme  of  “risk”.    We’ve  seen  it  in  every  aspect  of   community  and  social  efforts:  education,  community  development,  public  art,  etc.,   etc.

Why?

Probably  a  lot  of  reasons.

First  realize  that  the  masters  of  the  competition  (the  Caesar  of  the  gladiatorial   contest)  are  invariably  status  quo  groups:  corporations,  foundations,  government   agencies,  enormous  organizations,  dominant  social  classes,  or  some  combination  or   defacto  creation  of  all  of  the  above.    A  “competition”  loudly  trumpeted  by  these   status  quo  groups  to  deal  with  issues,  problems  or  questions  that  they  themselves   either  created  or  profit  from  allows  them  to  buy  off  a  tremendous  amount  of  guilt   without  a  lot  of  cost  to  themselves.    “We  are  allowing  citizens/neighborhoods/the   people  the  chance  to  come  up  with  their  own  answers  to  these  problems!    Aren’t  we   magnanimous  and  of-­‐the-­‐people?”    In  reality  what  they’re  saying  is  “We  don’t   really  want  to  spend  a  great  deal  of  effort  to  deal  with  this  stuff,  since  we’re  okay   with  it  anyway.    You  do  it  for  us.”    And  when  the  idea  fails  (which  it  usually  does   because  its  inherently  sabotaged  by  the  status  quo)  it  allows  them  to  say:  “Ah,  well,   we  tried!    Gave  it  our  best  effort.    It  won  a  CONTEST  after  all.    You  can’t  blame  us.”    It   essentially  allows  the  powers  that  be  to  check  a  box  on  their  to  do  lists.

The  second  thing  these  competitions  do  is  limit  the  communication.    What  “The  best   and  most  well-­‐conceived  idea  wins!”  really  does  for  the  status  quo  is  solve  this   problem:  “We  really  don’t  have  time  for  all  you  whiners.    There’s  too  many  of  you.     Pick  one  representative  so  we  can  deal  with  them  and  not  waste  our  time.”

Most  importantly,  competitions  ALWAYS  provide  the  safest  and  most  acceptable   idea  or  answer  for  the  status  quo.    Always.    Competitions  are  by  their  nature  tightly controlled  and  organized.    They  have  lots  of  rules.    Rules  created  and  over-­‐seen  by   the  “competition  committee”  which  is  nothing  but  the  status  quo  to  begin  with.    This   prevents  messy  disorganized  out-­‐of-­‐the  box  solutions.    And  most  obviously,  all   competitions  have  to  be  “judged”.    Who  are  the  judges?    Usually  either   representatives  of  the  organizers  (with  a  few  safe  tokens  for  the  community  tossed   in)  or  a  popularity  contest  where  the  person  with  the  most  Facebook  friends  wins,   or,  in  the  rare  cases  where  the  judging  is  actually  done  by  the  people  with  the  most   to  really  gain  from  the  answer  (I  mean  besides  the  status  quo,  who  always  have  the   most  to  gain),  the  rules  are  so  tightly  manipulated  or  created  that  its  impossible  not   to  choose  the  status  quo’s  entry.

At  this  point  someone  usually  says:  “But  resources  are  so  limited.    We  have  to  focus   our  efforts  on  one  or  two  ideas  to  get  the  most  bang  for  our  minimal  bucks,  right?     Competitions  are  the  best  and  fairest  way  to  do  this.”

Putting  aside  the  real  question:  “Why  are  resources  so  limited  if  this  is  really  an   important  issue?”  for  a moment…

No.    Competitions,  challenges  and  contests  are  spectacularly  bad  ways  of  getting   solutions  to  social  issues.    So  much  so  it  should  be  obvious  that  they  are  precisely   the  WRONG  way  of  going  about  it.

The  first  thing  these  contest  do  is  guarantee  only  one  (or  a  minimal  number)  of   “winners”.    With  real  pressing  problems  facing  society  (all  of  us)  we  need  to  have  as   many  potential  ideas  as  possible  working  at  the  same  time.    A  correlation  to  this   problem  is  that  competitions  automatically  brand  all  non-­‐winning  ideas  “losers”.    Its   really  tough  for  a  “losing”  idea  to  gain  traction  anywhere  else  even  if  its  really  a  good   idea  over-­‐looked  by  a  bad  contest  or  bad  judgment  especially  when  potential   funders  or  early  adopters  are  sometimes  wrapped  up  in  the  contest  in  the  first   place.    There  should  be  no  “losers”,  all  ideas  have  great  value  and  we  should  not   jettison  them  or  ignore  them.

They  don’t  always  give  us  the  best  solution,  either.    The  bigger  the  contest  the  more   likely  you  are  to  see  the  winner  being  the  one  with  the  best  marketing  or  packaging   or  frame  (the  one  that  knows  how  to  play  the  “game”  best)  winning.    Often  that  has   little  or  nothing  to  do  with  the  actual  quality  of  the  solution  presented.

Secondly,  contests  play  into  our  cultural  disease  of  minute  attention  span.    A  contest   allows  for  basically  ephemeral  effort.    “We  only  have  to  focus  our  attention  as  a  large   community  until  the  next  contest  comes  along.”    This  creates  the  atmosphere  of   short-­‐term  community  (city-­‐wide)  attention  rather  than  long-­‐term  thinking  and   exploration  and  trial  and  error  experimentation  with  multiple  ideas.

Lastly,  and  most  insidiously,  a  competition  or  challenge  or  contest  absolutely   inherently  cheapens  or  demeans  the  very  issue  it  sets  out  to  address.    Contests  or   competitions  are  basically  entertainment  vehicles.    As  the  leader  of  the  Central Indiana  Community  Foundation  recently  stated  “People  love  winners  and  losers”.     The  idea  comes  from  sports.    Entertainment.    Issues  like  race  or  education  or   poverty  or  hunger  or  community  empowerment  are  not  there  for  entertainment   purposes.    The  dominant  social  class  and  the  monied  status  quo  are  not  really  sitting   around  enjoying  watching  people  with  real  ideas  fight  it  out  over  peanuts  and  then   saying  “That  was  fun.    Is  American  Idol  on  yet?”  are  they?    The  notion  of  an   “entertaining  contest  that  people  will  enjoy  because  we  all  love  winners  and  losers”   in  order  to  promote  social  progress  is  really  disgusting.

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“Race” is NOT a competition

Last week I received an email from a colleague about the Spirit & Place Festival, November 1st -10th. This will be the 18th annual festival so it’s safe to say Spirit & Place know what they are doing.  For context, Spirit & Place is a project of The Polis Center, a unit of the Indianapolis University of Liberal Arts at IUPUI. This year’s festival theme is RISK, http://www.spiritandplace.org/.  As part of the theme the organizers and coordinators thought it was a great idea to lift up the issue of Race, as an opener for the festival and in the form of a competition: “A competition about Race”http://www.spiritandplace.org/ . For several days I sat on this email trying to work through what is it exactly about this so-called opportunity that did not agree with me. This past Sunday sitting with a group of colleagues and peers I was finally able to articulate why I am troubled and why this time Spirit & Place after 18 years, as well intended as it is, their organizer, planners and sponsors have it wrong.

First let me start with the title, “A Competition about Race”. The notion of addressing Race through a competition I find highly offensive. As a person of color who has experienced overt racism, stop and frisks, driving while black, followed in department stores as well a myriad of ongoing micro-aggressions to this day; I find to relegate my experience and others like me to “A Competition about Race” denotes the lack of sensitivity of the sponsors, organizers and coordinators. Some may argue it’s a start that there is courage in this opportunity and Spirit & Place should be commended. May be they should, however, with all of the many initiatives underway from Velocity to the Bi-Centennial real courage would be to address the issue of Race though all of those and many other structural mediums.

As person of color the issue of Race has never in my experience been a competition but rather a way of life which has resulted in less than savory outcomes. It is obvious to me that sponsors and organizers have never experienced the ugly and vile atrocities that racism has dispersed on boys, girls, men, women, old and young.  It appears; the issue of race has been relegated to their catch phrase, “One energizing night. Four innovators. One $20,000.00 award”.  I’m left to believe in their estimation addressing Race is a side-show to highlight a superficial approach to address an issue that has deep seeded roots in a City and State that has on all accounts done its best to limit and /or relegate people of color to have significant impact within its landscape. To say I am conflicted is an understatement. Yet in a juried fashion we find not only the discussion but the speculated planning process on Race being shaped by members of the dominant culture.

The language used to define the awardees ideas is “daring” referencing the implementation of their respective projects. From my lens and the few community members I have shared my thoughts; anything that is established or constructed around Race is not “daring” but rather “much needed and long over-due” Furthermore, they state whatever idea the awardees come up with is “for reshaping notions of race in Central Indiana”. I put forth, how can we develop an approach to address the burning issue of Race when there has not been an adequate and intentional conversation about what is the notion of Race in Central Indiana? In essence we have avoided the uncomfortable and foundational conversation for an event that reduces my experience and many others like me to a competition.

If Spirit & Place really wanted to uplift RISK it would have more courage in developing a serious foundation and not another check the box to support its and other organizations imperatives grounded in a façade of “inclusion”, “equity” and “diversity”

I think everyone knows that Race is complex, just look at the many cultures and ethnicities that make up Central Indiana and America.  The many cultures and ethnicities that add to the economy and social fabric but experience the highest rates of unemployment, mass incarceration, inequity, exclusion, segregation and an onslaught of micro-aggressions. When it comes to the experience of Race(ism) for people of color, it is NOT a competition. It’s our way of life; it’s the way we have been continuously systematically and negatively impacted from the playgrounds all the way through to the boardrooms.  We just celebrated 50 years since the March on Washington where it was concluded, we have come not far enough and  have a long way to go; 50 years since the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing that took the lives of four little girls, Yusef Hawkins, Eleanor Bumpers, James Bird, Amadu Diallo, Oscar Grant, Trayvon Martin and Jonathan Ferrell, I put forth the question:

Was Race a competition to them?

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