I have often wondered what I would have done had I lived through some of the great social movements of history, such as the civil rights movement, the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa, or Gandhi’s movement to end British colonization of India. Well, since the shooting death of Jamar Clark by a police officer in north Minneapolis, and subsequent protests, the continued struggle for racial equality in America seems to be a bit closer to home. (Or more accurately, it is demanding my attention in a more direct manner because what could happen anywhere in America has most recently happened closer to my home.) And so I can’t help asking myself how I can respond in a way that is actually meaningful (and not just the “slacktivism” of posting something to Facebook & Twitter – though I’ve done that too)?
In Racial Justice and the Catholic Church, Fr. Bryan Massingale suggests that blacks and whites can lament together about the continued racial injustice and structural sin of our world – following the pattern of the Psalms of lament – and then move forward toward compassionate action. Such action, he claims, will require white Americans to actively work to renounce the system of white privilege that is the flip-side of the coin of racism. He claims that a willing renunciation of privilege and acceptance of potential ridicule or suffering is the only way toward true solidarity. I offer the following suggestions for ways that I have thought of in the past few weeks to renounce white privilege and work toward greater racial justice, equality, and solidarity. I make no claims that this is a comprehensive or definitive list. Nor do I necessarily believe that this list would be satisfactory to others – whether black, white, or other. Rather, I offer it for your consideration as a result of my own personal questioning amid recent events and my particular role as a citizen of the Twin Cities and the United States, a parent, a spouse, a neighbor, and as a person trained in theological ethics.
Listening is truly the foundation of the spiritual and moral life. As Peggy MacIntosh notes in her famous article, “Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack,” the difficulty with confronting white privilege is that I have been brought up in a culture that is structured around veiling the ways in which I benefit from it. In other words, I have been educated and inculturated not to see my own status of privilege, or at least to see it as something I deserve. Therefore, I have to listen to the stories of racism and exclusion from black citizens and friends and temporarily suspend the usual narrative I learned about racial equality in America (especially the one that tells me we solved this problem in 1964 with the Civil Rights Act.)
2. Support #BlackLivesMatter…
…and skip the part where I feel like I have to justify or rationalize it to my (white) friends or colleagues.
3. Show up
Look for ways to show up and be present at community events where issues of racial or economic injustice are being addressed. This can include demonstrations, marches, rallies, city council meetings, etc.
4. Reach out and build relationships
I can only listen (see #1) if I am in relationship with others. We are currently looking for ways that the Project for Mindfulness & Contemplation at the University of St. Thomas can support students of color on campus.
5. Express solidarity publicly
All of these ideas emerge out of my desire not just to feel sympathy and compassion for those who are affected by racism and white privilege (this includes both black and white citizens), but to put it into action.
6. Check my fear
I’m afraid to post this to the internet. I’m afraid that blacks will see it as mere tokenism without real commitment, and that whites will ridicule or judge me. If you’re reading this, I posted it anyways…
7. Support reparations
This is not a popular political stance in our nation today, but I recommend this article.
8. Support others who are attacked for speaking out
Keep up the good work, Katie Grimes.
9. Choose to live in diverse neighborhoods and to send my kids to diverse schools
The more I think about it, the more important I think this is. A recent report found that Twin Cities’ urban school districts are among the most racially segregated in the nation. Where I choose to live affects who I encounter on the sidewalk and in the cafe, who I develop relationships with, where my property taxes go to support schools and neighborhood development, and who my kids build relationships with.
10. Raise consciousness through teaching, research, writing
This is unique to my position as a university professor, but everyone is involved in various institutions and professional contexts where we can raise critical questions and question assumed ideas and values that uphold the system of white privilege.
If you’re interested in pursuing this idea with some greater depth, I also recommend the collection of essays on Interrupting White Privilege.
This is an issue that raises strong emotions and opinions for many of us. If you choose to post a response to this blog below, feel free to disagree with me and critique my list, but please keep your comments positive and constructive.