Wait… you’re BROWN?

To keep myself entertained — rather, to keep myself from going nuts — I often try to find humor in my non-diverse working world. A game I typically play is “How many brown people will I see when walking from my office to the dining hall?” I’ve been playing this little game for about 3 years now.

In those first three years, unless I saw my own reflection in a mirrored window, that number was ZERO. Yup. Zero. And, this is no short walk, mind you. It’s a good 7 minutes, and I’m typically walking at a time when classes are just getting out and everyone is rushing to the dining commons.

This past year, with increased efforts to increase diversity, I’m shocked at the number of SOC’s (students of color) that I see — I see an average of 4-5 students during my 7 minute walk! C’mon… I know that’s not a huge number, but for me, that’s a 500% increase! I’ll play those odds any day! Continue reading

Introducing… White Privilege

Ah, my good old friend – White Privilege. Unfortunately, too many people have been subjected to this friend’s presence. And, too many people have never even heard of this legendary idea. That’s too bad, because we all have to deal with it. It’s the house guest that was never invited, never leaves, and is also the elephant in the room.

As an aspiring anti-racist and multicultural life liver, white privilege has been something I’ve known about for years and years. It’s taken some time to truly understand it, but I had at least heard of it, knew I needed to know it, and have been working to introduce it to others.

Most folks (hopefully) are hip to Peggy McIntosh’s “Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack”. If you aren’t, it’s a “gotta read.” Or, really, a “stop what you’re doing and gotta read it now” deal. Want someone more current, get hip to Tim Wise‘s work. While he’s been out there a long time, people recently started to get on to him with an essay that’s gone viral (nice job, Tim!). I’m finally hearing people mention his name (even though he’s spoken at hundreds of schools and organizations, has a great blog, and written a handful of powerful books).

There are entire blogs out there just about white privilege, and mine certainly isn’t one dedicated to it. But, as white privilege is the flipside of discrimination, it’s a must-talk-about in all diversity circles.

So, a few interesting stories about white privilege that I’ve experienced in the past few weeks:

There have been a couple of other messages out there about white privilege and the election (of course). So, one was forwaded to me the other day at work comparing and contrasting the “get out of jail free” cards that McCain and Palin get while the Obamas get slammed. I won’t go into all the details here, but they are obvious enough to figure out.

A friend of mine had forwarded to me, and I simply responded with, “Hurray for white privilege!” (sarcastic, of course). She then emailed me back and wrote, “I don’t think it has anything to do with white privilege — they would have done the same things to John Kerry and Hilary Clinton.” I didn’t respond via email, rather, I snarked and said aloud, “Like I said…. Hurray for white privilege.” Yes, the friend is a white woman… with enough privilege to be able to negate that the freebies McCain/Palin were getting weren’t based on race. Yup. White privilege. Let me introduce you, shall I?

I’ve written before about how a dark-skinned Puerto Rican friend of mine got nailed for wearing a “Got Privilege?” shirt in public. A white woman came up to him and began criticizing him for wearing it and even went as far to say, “How would you like it if I wore a ‘Got Affirmative Action?’ shirt??” Uh, huh. It’s too good to even lie about that stuff.

This entry wasn’t so much to digest White Privilege, but hopefully to get you to click on some links and check out other people’s thoughts and such. Feel free to leave you’re own here, too!

Reverse Racism?

I promised my friend Jeff that I would get to this entry before the end of the week – so props to Jeff who has pushed me to finally get it done.

Okay, so this whole conversation — one in which many smart diversity folks find themselves in — has surfaced yet again. Reverse Racism. Does it exist? CAN it exist? By definition, is it as non-sensical as “Jumbo Shrimp” or it based on similar myths of advantaged affirmative action?

As most people even finding their way to this blog know that I have very strong opinions, I think the term “reverse racism” is a bunch of crap ridiculous. Putting it out there, I think that, by definition, it can’t even exist.  In the interest of not taking up all of my web space or tying up a server, I do think this whole thing can be summarized in a few points. So, here goes — the cliff notes version of Liza’s take on Reverse Racism:

Define it please?” So, when I ask people (students, classes, friends, etc) to define “reverse racism”, here is what they usually come up with:

  • “policies in the United States that give people of color advantages over white people”
  • “giving people of color something that white people can’t have”
  • “segregating a population based on race, and then giving the people of color opportunities that white people can’t have”

 

So, aren’t programs and opportunities offered for a particular underrepresented group considered “reverse racism?” No. It’s not. Let’s talk about practice — opportunities given to underrepresented groups, or, better stated, groups with little to no institutional power, are not designed to disempower majority or power groups. Rather, they are really attempting to level a playing field that, for years/decades/centuries has not been level at all. Truthfully, people who are not in power are intentionally and systematically (whether you want to believe that or not) kept disempowered. 

Visual person? Here’s a way to picture it…

So, imagine a race, a starting line. Some runners are at the start line, have the best shoes, have had adequate time to stretch, hydrate, and carb-load the night before the race. Some runners are coming to the start line having already run 3 miles, with backpacks, and with people yelling at them. Will the outcome of the race be fair? Will it accurately represent the talent, skill, and fair competition of the runners? Is it disadvantaging the runners at the start line if you give the runners who are exhausted a drink of water? Will the words “Hey! Why do those people get a drink of water? I was here first! I should get a drink of water, too!” make sense? Will you consider that an “unfair advantage”?

A runner at the start line may say, “But, I was here early! I prepared! I stretched!” or “Why do they get water and I don’t? It wasn’t like I was one of the people yelling at them as they ran the race prior to this one? I didn’t do anything wrong to them!” or “It’s not my fault they are tired and thirsty!”

True. You may not have personally disadvantaged the tired person at the finish line. However, you benefitted from not having to run the previous race. You benefitted from being given a sports drink by those who were also at the start line with you. You benefitted, even when you didn’t ask to. So, is it a fair race? Does your win accurately reflect true competition?

Is it “reverse racism” or is it “prejudice?”

I find that what most people like to call “reverse racism” is actually “prejudice”, which is a belief system. In my diversity sessions, I highlight that we are ALL prejudice. We all prejudge – whether it be a biological (fight or flight) reaction, a cognitive reaction, or an emotional response, we all prejudge. (note: the point of awareness exercises is to raise our level of consciousness about reasons why we do this).

So, yes, we can all be prejudice.

But, we cannot all exert “reverse racism.” Racism is a system of power. And, as a member of the numeric minority group, I do not hold the same institutionalized power as the majority group. I may be able to exert power in individual ways, however I still operate within an institutionalized set of rules (laid forth by white people in power).

“Reverse racism” – a way to ignore white privilege

Sorry, can’t credit where I heard this, but I admit to it not being my own…

One of the best “holla!” things I had heard someone say about “reverse racism” was that it was a way for white people to ignore the privilege they have as white people. By saying that people of color are exerting “reverse racism”, they are using the term to give themselves an out, an excuse, and a way to not take responsiblity for the larger system of racism from which they benefit.

So, that’s my brief, brief, brief version of something that could be written about in 100+ pages. There is so much more to it than what I’ve written here, but it’s a start for those who are just trying to wrap their brains around it for the first time.