Deal with Racism: See It, Believe It, Say It, and Act on It!
What do we mean when we say "Dealing with Everyday Racism."Lets focus for a moment on the concept of dealing with racism. What does it mean to deal with racism. Well we surely don't mean to ignore it or downplay it. We do not mean to explain it or excuse it. We could not possibly mean to embrace it or condone it.
When I say deal with racism. I say it a special way. I say Hey deal with racism. When I say deal with racism, I mean you must See It, Believe It, Say It, and Act on It!
I remember something Alice Walker once experienced when she dined at a restaurant with two friends. A couple of white men starting singing some racially charged song. One of the women simply sat eating as if nothing had happened, the other women was outraged and complained to the management. Both women were white, but Ms. Walker noted that the woman who took action was Jewish. She told this anecdote to illustrate the long history of Jews taking action against racism. What really amazed her and me was the woman who either did not recognize racist behavior or choose not to act. If I take the tack that this woman was in fact an ally, the problem may have been that she simply did not see racism.
One might pose the question what would have happened if the Jewish woman had not been in the room. Maybe after a time this woman may have noticed Alice's discomfort, maybe if it still wasn't clear she might have inquired as to the cause of Alice's discomfort and maybe she too may have acted. In either case one must see racism before you can challenge it.
Some of you may have wondered why maybe Alice Walker had not acted first. Who knows, maybe her ally was quicker on the draw or Alice was not sure about her relative safety in a strange town. I only know that many times a victim of oppression after evaluating the relative risk, may themselves choose not to act. In any case, it is one of the main roles of an ally, is in making it safe for a person to challenge their oppression. They can challenge the oppression themselves, support the victims challenge or refuse to benefit from the oppression.
I remember once during a department meeting at work, I had brought a demo tape of a commercial about a new product I was developing. After watching the demo, the group broke into spontaneous applause. At which point instead of thanking me for my presentation, my boss immediately began commenting on how happy he was with someone else's project. It was an awkward moment. My friend Ken, an ally, was outraged. It was the response of two other colleagues that amazed me however, both were adamant that my boss' behavior was just impolite, not racist. They refuse to believe that this mild mannered man could engage in racist behavior. An ally must accept the truth of the perceptions of a victim of oppression. If I say it hurt me, it did. If I say it was racist, I know what I am talking about. And two people of color do no have to agree that something is racist, if even one feels it is racist - an ally should treat it so. Scary isn't it this faith thing.
My friend Ken, a very dear man, came to me troubled one day because of something that had occurred when he was trying to sell his home. One of the potential buyers made a racist statement during the tour of Ken's home. He and his wife were shocked speechless. They quickly ended the tour, but felt that they should have done more to challenge the words spoken within their home. I asked Ken why he did not simply say "That is racist, and I do not condone such language within my home."He confessed that saying the words had not occurred to him. He thought he had to lecture or shout or jump up and down or something. I said he should only jump up and down if he were wearing comfortable shoes, but that simple direct statements works what ever the wardrobe.
Act on it
Alice Walker's friend took action. White abolitionists were the stations on the underground railroad. White college students across the country joined the freedom rides. We have always had allies in the fight against racism and many of them engaged in action to challenge the systemic nature of racism. At this stage, an ally pays a heavy price, they may lose their access to privilege, often they are treated worse than the oppressed people themselves and some have paid the ultimate price with their lives. In some areas of my life, I have reached this stage of being an ally. I wrestled daily with the added exposure. It is often very uncomfortable. At this stage one finds it painful watching yourself fall back into old habits. Sometimes I truly wish that my eyes had not been opened to the reality of someone else's oppression. I can only imagine the pain and confusion of an ally against racism. If you are in this stage, I honor you and stand with you in our mutual struggle for freedom.
We all have an opportunity to be allies in the fight against oppression. It is risky to step outside of ourselves and see the world through the eyes of another but it is necessary if we are to change the world for the better. As witches and pagans, we know how our energy can affect the world around us. With love, compassion and intent let us take the first steps toward healing and lasting change.