Thursday, June 11, 2020

There is something we can do -- June 11, 2020 column


The police killing of George Floyd and worldwide Black Lives Matter protests raise many questions. Chief among them, what can anyone do?

Vote, yes, but the general election is more than four months away.

On Capitol Hill, House Democrats are pressing a police reform bill that, among other things, would ban the use of chokeholds by police. A House vote is expected by the end of the month.

But the bill’s future is uncertain in the Senate, where Majority Leader Mitch 
McConnell tapped the only black Republican senator, Tim Scott of South Carolina, to lead a group in crafting a Senate version of police reform.

Republicans are also urging the White House to step up federal reviews of police departments.

OK, what else? Americans are still searching for ways to make their voices heard. 

Crowds of demonstrators have thinned, but a big, new March on Washington is being planned for late August.

Not everyone can march in the time of COVID-19, but those who want to do something can use their time at home to learn about racism – both conscious and unconscious -- and how to combat it.

It appears many people are doing just that.

Five of the top 15 books on the New York Times nonfiction bestseller list for June 14 tackle tough subjects: white privilege, how to be an antiracist, how to talk about race, the new Jim Crow era, and white supremacy.

None of these is a light beach read, yet several are sold out. Fortunately, some local libraries have copies available for downloading.

That’s how I was able to put on my Kindle “White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism” by Robin DiAngelo.

DiAngelo, a sociologist with more than 20 years’ experience as a diversity trainer for companies, writes as one white person to another. She argues “we” often become angry and defensive when confronted with the privileges of being white and resist even talking about them. She calls that defensive process white fragility.

Her book, published in 2018, soared to No. 2 on the latest Times list. I chose it after watching a video of DiAngelo give a talk on the National Museum of African American History and Culture’s new web portal Talking About Race.

The portal, launched May 31, is a tremendous resource -- a trove of videos, interactive exercises, scholarly papers and other materials aimed at helping people  start difficult conversations about race and racism. The portal is free and does not require registration or sign up.

It is broken up into eight topics – being antiracist, bias, community building, historical foundations of race, race and racial identity, self-care, social identities and systems of oppression, and whiteness.

Being antiracist, for example, is defined as making choices to fight racism in daily life, which might lead you to watch a short video featuring Ibram X. Kendi, whose “How to be an Antiracist” is a bestseller.

Being antiracist requires action, such as uncovering and overcoming one’s biases. In a clip from “The Daily Show with Trevor Noah,” the host interviews Jennifer L. Eberhardt, a social psychologist, about her book, “Biased.”

As extensive as the portal is, the Smithsonian has another project on race in the works, thanks to a $25 million grant from Bank of America.

The “Race, Community and Our Shared Future” initiative will explore race and policy with panel discussions, in-person and virtual collection efforts and oral history archives, the Smithsonian announced June 8. Specifics have not been announced.

And so, for many of us, the current moment is hopeful.

We could be at “a tipping point where people come together and recognize that the past should give you some hope,” Smithsonian Institution Secretary Lonnie G. Bunch III said in a video conversation with Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden June 5 on the library’s site.

Visiting the “Talking About Race” portal is bracing. It’s meant to challenge attitudes and change our perspectives.

Racism is insidious, learned over a lifetime from family members, friends, others we encounter, the society at large.

“We are all swimming in the same racial water,” DiAngelo writes.

Reading by itself won’t solve America’s social inequities, but it can make us more aware of our unconscious biases and the policies that support them. Then change can be possible.

©2020 Marsha Mercer. All rights reserved.

No comments:

Post a Comment