Friday, July 15, 2016

Beginning To See in Color

When I was born:
  • The Watts Riots were less than 5 years old. 
  • The Voting Rights Act was less than 5 years old.
  • MLK and RFK assissnations were less than 2 years old.
  • Racial tension was high
  • "Jesus loves the little children" was a big hit in Vacation Bible Schools
    • "Red and Yellow, Black and White, they are precious in His sight."
Growing up in suburban, white Minnesota, however, I was buffered from so much of the racial turmoil. Suburban life provided a sort of privilege that kept me located in a place that did not have racial tension, but not because people of different races got along so well. Instead there was no racial tension because there was so little observed racial diversity in Bloomington and Apple Valley, Minnesota - at least not observed by me. 

I had no idea the social, cultural, and political context of the cute little VBS song. I recall my mother making the point, too strongly it seemed at the time, that all people are equal no matter the color of their skin. I also knew jokes about race were not acceptable. 

My childhood years took place in the lingering hangover of the racial violence of the 1960's, but I was not aware of it. 

When I was a teenager in the 1980's, I recall President Reagan aspire to a color-blind approach to race relations. To me, it seemed progressive and fair. And it was, compared to how I understood racism - a collection of offensive jokes and things that happened in history "a long time ago." However, I was not attuned well enough to observe the stark contrast between "red, and yellow, black and white" and being color blind. Frankly, the same people in my life were saying both messages. 

So I was left in a swirl of mixed messages of which I was unaware. 
  • I was unaware that one message highlighted difference while the other message dismissed difference - both messages intended to resolve the huge problem that difference was something people had divided on. 
  • I was unaware that difference was used to rank people. I couldn't see it because social structures such as housing, economics, churches and the social networks within them kept me deeply buffered into my own kind. 
  • I was unaware that history is not static, but sets trajetories. I  knew some bad stuff happened once upon a time, but I was unaware of 
    • how moments in history, ranging from individual behaviors to massive societal systemic processes, served to create the framework for the future, 
    • how moments in history gave us the vocabulary for very current conversations, 
    • how  moments in history caused wounds that were slow to heal
    • how moments in history highlighted and obscured what seemed availabe to grasp as reality.  
Many of these processes have come to light to me - the older I get the more of them I see. I am certain there are more to come. It is unnerving seeing the processes set in place that keep people ranking each other's value, that keep people objectifying each other based on arbitrary criteria, that keep people living their lives by perceived threats that perpetuate strategies of threat management. For example, the accumulation of aggressive and violent means of eliminating threat and keeping these mean in reserve just in case - resulting in a silent arms race that seeks to resolve our fear by show of force.  

I think we can agree that skin color is not the problem. 
I think we can all agree skin color differences do not deserve violence. 
I think we can all agree skin color should not change a person's risk of being killed. 

Where people diverge is how meaning has been and is currently being assigned to skin color. From assigned meaning flows how much people will tolerate someone being treated badly. The paradoxical and problematic process in place is that the people most invested in articulating a message of "race doesn't matter" are the very same people for whom race has served very well - and mattered quite a lot in their favor. Admittedly, it is much easier to notice suffering due to race when you are the one suffering than it is to notice privileges and opportunties due to race when you are the one experienceing the privileges and opportunities. Suffering is seen as unjust while privileges and opportunities experienced long enough simply register as normal - like "what have you done wrong NOT to be getting these privileges and opportunities? Look at me - I did it."

I see color now. I see "Red and Yellow Black and White" and Brown and Olive and... I see how the distribution of justice is skewed one way and distribution of privilege is skewed the in the opposite way. I still believe skin color does not cause problems. At the same time, I do believe that the assigned meaning to skin color by humans has gotten us to where we are right now. And where we are today needs improvement. 

I see color. I see color and I think everyone should see color as well. But when we see color, 
  • I want to see color redemptively, not by some ranking system.
  • I want to see color and have all manner of positive assumptions be the first thoughts I have.
  • I want to see color as God's imagination.
  • I want see color as an indicator that I have something to learn.
  • I want to see color and wonder what special thing God has hidden within that culture He has not hidden within mine. 
  • I want to see color and feel relieved that there are more people than people just like me.
  • I want to see color and wonder what great strength has emerged within the cutlure that has arisen around that color.
  • I want to see color. 
  • I want to see color. 
  • I want to see color. 
What do you want to see when you see color?
What do you want to look for when you see color? 
What will you need to get over in order to see color redemptively? 

We can do this. 

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

I say "Black Lives Matter"

I say ‪#‎Blacklivesmatter‬ because there is so much history and current events suggesting that black lives have not mattered enough and still do not matter enough.
In slavery, Black lives did not matter enough
In the US constitution, Black lives did not matter enough
In the Jim Crow era, Black lives did not matter enough
In the Selma, Black lives did not matter enough
In department stores, Black lives do not matter enough
On roads and highways, Black lives do not matter enough

In prisons, Black lives do not matter enough
In Baton Rouge and Falcon Heights, Black lives did not matter enough
Until we have experienced no fewer than three generations of unquestioned equality, we will not have said #Blacklivesmatter enough.
Currently, we have not had five straight minutes of unquestioned equality.
Let's get to work.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Uhm, I Don't Have Any Black Friends

Here is a somewhat awkward post about white privilege and black lives matter by a guy named Gonzalez, but here it goes.

I have friends who are Black. Real friends. Life long friends who I went to church camp with as a kid, who I went to college with when I was trying to learn how to be an adult, who stood up for me as groomsmen in my wedding, and continue to be great friends.

So how did that happen? Luck. Honestly, it was luck. Perhaps it was more than luck and it was an act of God. All I know is that it did not happen by any effort on my part to connect with Black people.

I grew up attending nearly all white schools.
I went to a nearly all white colleges for undergrad, masters and doctorate.
I have always lived in nearly all white neighborhoods.
I have always attended nearly all white churches.
All of my jobs except 1 have been in nearly all white workplaces.
I married a white woman.
I have white children.
I shop where white people shop.
I eat out where white people eat out.

How in the world am I supposed to have a bunch of Black friends if everywhere I go is filled with white people?

And that is exactly the right question. I have made choices within the existing institutions, social structures, and geographies that were presented to me. In short, I have lived my whole life in the flow of a culture that made being with white people the easiest, most obvious and most advantageous choices for me to make - over and over and over again. Other options were available, yes, but mostly obscured from my eyes.

I would have had to work and work hard to choose otherwise.

I do not have friends who are Black because I ever traveled a cultural divide of any kind, but rather because my friends who are Black have lived, for whatever reason, in my predominantly white world. I am grateful for that, humbled by it. It costs them something (every single day) to live in this world that it does not cost me.

When I talk about white privilege, it is (usually) not some sinister thing white people intentionally do to be extra super white. It is not about white people saying, "hey, look at me, I'm all white and we all know what that means." Instead it means that there are institutions and social processes already in motion that highlight options, possibilities and expectations for white people that keep white people all together and obscure a broad scope of options, possibilities, and expectations that would integrate people. The available options often times have benefits to them provided the individual works hard and plays by the rules (and sometimes working hard and playing by the rules are optional). These benefits are enticing and who doesn't like benefits?

The problem is that these same options are not highlighted for non-whites as often as for whites and they are often not nearly as accessible. The options, possibilities, and expectations for non-whites are different and often have fewer benefits. Much of these options are obscured from view for non-whites. The cultural flow passes by non-whites differently than it does whites - and sometimes it is not even the same cultural river flowing by.

These processes are generally not sinister on the individual level (the level at which most people take offense when they hear the world "privilege"), but they are on the cultural and institutional level. Very few white people wake up each morning and say to themselves, "Ahhh yes, another day to cash in on my white privilege at the expense of non-whites." And no one is really making the accusation that white people are saying such things (with the exception of a few corrupt CEOs of major corporations). What is so sinister about the societal and institutional levels of white privilege is that they are mostly so invisible to the people accessing them that they feel normal.

But Chris, aren't you Latino? How can you even talk about white privilege? 

It is a fair question if we have never met. I assure you, I have my white card. So here goes: I do get junk mail written in Spanish sometimes (that I can't read), get a sweet farmer's tan in the summer and three generations ago my great grandparents who I never met lived in Mexico. But I am as Mexican as Tom Fischer from Nebraska is German. Family processes and American culture have effectively scrubbed so much Mexican from my identity. I love being a Gonzalez, but that's now you learn Spanish or have a cultural identity. Yes, I have had some moments that remind me I am not always seen as white, but generally I pass as white and if my name were Smith, I would probably always pass as white.

My point in all of this is that what we are facing is not only on the individual level, but it is also on the cultural level and includes institutions and social processes with long histories that perpetuate divisions between people - even if those divisions are not part of the current intention of the institution. The divisiveness survives because they are not overtly intention and "normal."

What I need to do is to create space in the normal and consistent flow of my life where I am in a context where I am not part of the dominant culture. I need to situate myself into places where I am the learner, the student, the one who has to work hard to understand what the assumptions, expectations, and options are. Sometimes I need to be in a context where it is impossible for me to ever be the expert or the hero.

Perhaps if I can find a way to get the privilege of being invited into the flow of another culture I could have more non-white friends.

Friday, July 08, 2016

Black Lives Don't Matter...Enough

Philando Castile and Alton Sterling are dead. Unnecessarily dead. They were killed by police officers whose job it is to protect and serve. Somehow in their efforts to protect and to serve, two men are dead.

How could this ever happen? How could this ever happen again? There is no indication that these men did anything worthy of being killed. Not even close. So if they did not do anything that required their deaths, then why are they dead?

There are lots of things we want to be true that are not true. We want some things to be true because it sure would make it a lot simpler.  We want this to be an isolated event. It isn't.  We want the killing to be justified in some way. It isn't. We want it not to be about race. It is getting to be an impossible argument to justify given how often this happens.

Under what conditions does it make any sense that black men keep getting killed by police? Is it the same processes that allow my white law breaking friend with no front license plate get away with it for 8 years while my black friend who one time broke an obscure law about dog walking get cuffed and stuffed? Maybe. What are those conditions, if they even exist?

The energy that is perpetuating the sense that Black Lives Don't Matter Enough could possibly flow from three different, but related social processes

None of us feel the upper level winds. The upper level winds are not something we feel on our skin. However, these winds can push a hurricane toward us or away from us. They can move a massive blizzard north or south. No one can see or feel the upper level winds as they are imperceiveable, but the implications of what they do to the things that do impact people are highly consequential.

Perhaps we can think of prevailing cultural norms and performed cultural assumptions as the upper level winds that push the hurricanes and blizzards of discrimination, objectification, and ranking of people's value based on arbitrary categories such as skin color. My point is that there may be some very powerful forces at work that are not easily observed (by some)

One might rush to call out racism as the problem - and I agree that it is, but what if the word racism did not exist? What if we had to describe the processes at work using other terms? What are these processes at work that make it more likely that people with darker skin will get worse treatment, in general, than people with lighter skin?

Resisting White Privilege Erosion
The privileges that white people enjoy in the world and in the United States are many. However, these privileges have been modestly eroding over time (and that is very good and a very "Declaration of Independence-ish" thing by the way). With civil rights progressing slowly and in fits and spurts as well as demographic shifts from white to non-white accelerating, the power structure of people who are white owning and controlling most things, organizations, and political offices is in modest decline. Make no mistake, Whites are still the most privileged by far, but there is modest decline and it is being detected by some whites.

No one likes to lose privilege. It is not a person's "whiteness" that makes them not like losing privilege, it is their humanness. Being white is not a sin and no one should be made to defend themselves because of their skin color. Not liking the loss of privilege is a human thing. The privilege in the USA just happens to be distributed in vastly greater quantities to whites right here and right now - and often, if not usually, it is at the cost of non-whites.

When people feel like they are losing something that they believe belongs to them, they are going to put up some resistance. With the the modest erosion of white privilege occurring in the USA, there is a coalescing resistance to the erosion that appears to be gaining momentum. In some cases, there is a no holds barred resistance to the recent modest erosion of white privilege and it gets ugly.

Resistance to white privilege erosion manifests itself in claims of reverse discrimination, in knee jerk reactions to immigration policies, in convenient amnesia concerning the relatively short history of the nation in general and what appears to be the betrayal of the melting pot impulses that made this country great in the first place.

For example, when a black man is killed by police and it is highlighted in the news, it is almost certain that someone will post something like this on social media: "White man killed by police and no one cares" or someone will post the pseudo enlightened statement about how All Lives Matter. Yes, all lives matter. The white lives matter, but this fact is not even in question. The extent to which the Black Lives Matter or matter enough is most certainly in question. These are a couple of the many, many ways that resistance to the erosion of white privilege plays out. The irony of the resistance to the erosion of white privilege is that it can only be considered a just response based upon the assumption that the very privilege being defended doesn't exist.

Furthermore, resistance to white privilege erosion necessitates identifying who the "eroders" are - which of course ends up being those with less privilege - non-whites. Resisting the erosion of white privilege must have enemies and people who are considered the "takers." Resisting the erosion of white privilege is a social process that is divisive and can be very immoral, and runs a terrible risk of being vulnerable to the seduction of unthinkable things. The narrative of White Supremacy can filter its way in and take root before it is even recognized - some otherwise honest person could become an accidental White Supremacist. Not good.

Black Lives Matter is hard to accept for the person who is resisting the erosion of their privilege. If resisting the erosion of white privilege is paramount, then Black Lives Don't Matter...Enough.

Indifferent White Silence
If resisting the erosion of white privilege is one process that foments the conditions where hostility could erupt, the indifference of white silence is white privilege leveraged against non-whites. Being socially situated to have the option of apathy can feel like a neutral non-response to events and social processes that occur seemingly outside of circle of influence or circle of concern, but indifferent white silence is anything but neutral. The "not my problem" mentality is itself an act of hostility. Indifferent white silence is potentially lethal.

How is it that the (mostly white) right to life people are silent when people are killed?
How is it that the (mostly white) NRA is silent when guns are used to kill people whose right to carry is leveraged against them?
How is it that white church is silent on these matters? And if not silent, almost completely inactive?

The social process of indifferent white silence means there will never be the necessary relationships that allow for the strengths of diversity. It perpetuates the distance that makes the kinds of devastating losses experienced in Baton Rouge and Falcon Heights not hurt white people. Indifferent white silence serves to insulate white people from the pain experienced by Blacks that would otherwise motivate action. If lots of white people were friends with the people who were killed, the white people would experience the loss in ways that would not be tolerable. When your friend is unjustly killed, it is impossible to be indifferent. It is impossible to be silent. When it is someone unlike you or anyone you know, who lives way over there, and might be in a group the appears to be involved in the erosion of your privilege, it is pretty hard to care much about the loss. In such a case, caring about such tragedies is optional.

Black Lives Matter is hard to accept while maintaining a social process of indifference and silence. If protecting the right to be indifferent and silent is paramount, then Black Lives Don't Matter...Enough.

Perpetuating White Obliviousness
One of the most insidious conditions of privilege of any kind is how much obliviousness can be up and running. Obliviousness is a difficult condition to remove because by definition there is no awareness of its existence. People who have more privilege do not need to know the assumptions, experiences, or burdens of people with less privilege because there is no perceived gain worth putting forth the effort. The perpetuation of White obliviousness is almost impossible to detect, and in the rare cases it is detected, it is difficult to motivate the unraveling of the obliviousness in order connect with less privileged people. People with less privilege, however, have to be aware of those with more privilege because it may be that there is some stake in it for them.

I want to make the point that obliviousness is not the same as stupid. Obliviousness is to be unaware of knowledge or information while being stupid is incapable of having the knowledge or information. It is not about intelligence, but it is about perspective.

Now, obliviousness can operate at the individual level, and that is problematic enough. However, obliviousness does its best and most sinister work at the level of social process. The unwritten rules, the unspoken rules, and even the unknown rules that keep entire groups of White people unaware of the everyday realities of non-Whites generally operate in ways that are experienced as "normal." No one is trying to be oblivious, but when all of the options highlighted before someone are all different ways to continue to be oblivious of certain things while being aware of others, there is little chance to break through the social forces at work to become aware.

However, the way to break the obliviousness is to take initiative and make friends with people who have less privilege. The blinders can come off quickly when you are friends with people who do not carry the same sets of assumptions as you do.

Black Lives Matter is hard to accept while perpetuating White obliviousness. If the commitment to simply choosing from the easy options available without exploring what it is like to be someone with less privilege is paramount, then Black Lives Don't Matter...Enough.

Are the upper level winds of White Privilege in America pushing hurricanes and blizzards of horrific outcomes like the killings of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling? Are the social processes of resisting white privilege erosion, maintaining indifferent white silence, and perpetuating white obliviousness actually social processes and if they are do they have any bearing on the recent violence? I don't know for certain. What I do know is that these processes increase the likelihood of division between people, weaken the social safety net, and make genuine empathy between Whites and non-Whites next to impossible.

When Black Lives Matter Enough to everyone, then we collectively take away the current and completely unnecessary risks of being Black  in America. Until then, we are all partially complicit in contributing to the conditions that make killing make sense..