One of Lutheran Volunteer Corps (LVC) values is working for social justice with a significant focus on anti-racism work. At the beginning of of my LVC year I participated in nearly 20 hours of Crossroads anti-racism training with the other volunteers and LVC staff in St. Paul, Minnesota.
Lutheran Volunteer Corps has different groups of people who come together to reflect the organizations values. For instance, several times throughout the year the volunteers, staff, and the Local Support Committee (group of people in the community who hold the same values as LVC and support the volunteers and organization in general) come together to evaluate if our actions are meeting our values. Last weekend I went down to Detroit to join the Local Support Committee on their journey to an inclusive community retreat along with Michigan's Regional Director. We focused specifically on anti-racism both with respect to the Detroit and Port Huron communities, LVC itself, white privilege, and racism in general.
Now take a deep breath. Racism hurts us all, whether we acknowledge it or not.
Racism is complex. Even my simplified definition of racism in the title of this post does not even begin to cover its complexity. Really the title should say something like Racism = Cultural Prejudice + Misuse of Power by Systems and Institutions. The history is long and very involved.
This blog post is not intended to dissect the complexity of racism or lecture about it, there are other times and places to do this with people much more qualified and knowledgeable than myself, but rather this post is intended to get you thinking and starting the conversation about racism at the very least within yourself. We are all familiar with racism; from birth we begin to become socialized by ideas and actions about race.
For myself, as a white woman, going through the anti-racism training, reflecting on the history, the systematic oppression, acknowledging my white privilege, and actively noticing/observing how racism plays into my everyday life (aka not choosing to ignore it even though I have the privilege to do so) has been very eye opening. For instance, I can walk into any children's book store and find tons of books with pictures of people who look like me. When you start looking for books with main characters of people of color you will find it is actually very difficult. Another example, I helped out at a school's carnival doing a 'book walk' (like a cake walk except they get to pick their own books to take home). I was delighted to see a variety of books with lots of different characters of color. I decided to observe the students as they chose their books. Every single student picked out a book with a character who looked like them. It's unfortunate in a general children's book store it is harder for all children to do this.
There are unearned privileges white people, myself included, have whether they want those privileges or not. In fact, white people can easily ignore these privileges or be completely unaware of them and the fact that we can even do so IS A PRIVILEGE. We, as white people, do not have to wonder if something happened to us because of our race (lost our job, have people assume its how we got our job, why someone is rude to us, etc). We, as white people, also do not have to wonder when something racial will creep up to slap us in the face unexpectedly in normal day life. For instance, we don't have to wonder whether a cashier would rather place change on the counter instead of our hand because the cashier is afraid to touch our skin. Yeah... That still happens. All these things, we as white people don't see or think about if we don't want to.
The way I have come to understand racism is that we are all a little bit racist, because as you start becoming informed and self aware of racism you begin to see it everywhere both with your own actions, cultural actions, community actions, and institutional actions. What I have found to be helpful in all of this mess is to not deny or defend racism and its history by saying things like "I'm not racist" (denial) or "racism doesn't exist" (denial), but to acknowledge how racism as affected me and how I've benefited from it.
To read more information on White Privilege, I have found this article written by Dr. Peggy McIntosh called "White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack" extremely helpful to understand some of these unearned privileges and it can be read here.