Sunday, January 16, 2011

Looking for Loopholes

One of the blogs I've been enjoying recently is Resist Racism, an Asian-American male perspective - sharp, smart, fierce and funny. One of the features of the blog is Racism 101, "an ever-expanding list of common understandings we share as anti-racists." ("1. White privilege exists.")

Number 8, "Defensive responses to issues voiced by people of color are invocations of privilege," has provoked a long exchange of comments, mostly between one questioner (whose race is never identified but is clearly speaking out of the white experience) trying to clarify definitions, and a very generous and patient person providing a lot more information.

It's a rich and substantive conversation, but eventually the white person concludes: "At this moment, as a person open to hear the more nuanced perspectives on racism, I’m walking away from this with a sense that it’s over-thought excuse making."

From the overall exchange and the outcome, it appears that what the questioner was seeking was not true understanding, especially of the discomfiting type, but justification. All his/her effort was concentrated on dissecting what words meant, rather than imagining how the idea might pertain to his/her own experience. What a missed opportunity, all the more ironic because the person was engaging in the very defensive responses that #8 describes.

This is familiar territory to me. I've spent many uncomfortable hours twisting my brain and heart into pretzels, trying to construct a reality that justified ... me. This is indeed "an invocation of privilege," because I'm making it all about me.

And, blessedly, over the years I've discovered that I can choose another path. Seeking racial awareness and understanding can be a process of liberation, a continually unfolding journey. When a person of color raises an issue of race, you can:

Start with the assumption of your own goodness.
When we feel compelled to defend and justify ourselves, it usually means that we're afraid we might be guilty. Harmful patterns of white socialization exist, and denial, guilt and blame hold them in place. The way out is to respond not from your socialization, but from your authentic humanity. If we trust the goodness of our intentions and our hearts, we don't have anything to prove or defend. (More on defensiveness here.)

Assume you know almost nothing, as if you were a new arrival in a foreign country with biases which might blind you to other ways of seeing things. Consciously choose to place your assumptions aside. Be curious.

See an opportunity for learning and growth. Listen, listen, listen, listen, listen. You don't have to agree, but use your imagination: What if this person's perceptions were accurate? What a chance to see what things look like through someone else's eyes!

At any moment, we can make the choice to walk in the direction of freedom.


Anonymous said...

Just an FYI, the main author is not male :-).

Great post and I'm glad to see my fellow blogger friends at Resist Racism featured!

Anne Sibley O'Brien said...

Oops! Thanks for the correction.