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If you intend to be an anti-racist, and I hope you do, you have to understand that we are dealing with issues that are hundreds of years old, that they are being supported by a system that conditions people to behave and react in specific ways that perpetuate that system, that even when you are trying to do the right thing, it might go wrong or it might be wrong, and that ego could sometimes cause personal embarrassment, guilt or even make you want to give up and walk away.

That's all by design.

The system of racism has so many checks and balances, it makes getting a bill through Congress seem like an Executive Order.

Nothing here is an accident. This is a system, designed to make certain that a particular group is on top and stays on top, and that there is a group or groups always beneath. While that seems beneficial to the over group, what we see happening is that there is fear, there is hatred, there is a clear lack of understanding, there is arbitrary reward and punishment for people who deserve neither, in short we see a lot of injustice. And, as Americans, I hope we can agree that we want to eliminate injustice for our citizens.

That's why I'm going through Jona Olsson's essay, Detour-Spotting point by point and looking at all the ways we have been ignoring the issue of racism. Today's topic is another one that is a bit more complex than you might imagine at first blush.

24) Whites Only

I have no connection with or accountability to people of color. I do all my anti-racism with whites only. I am accountable only to other white people.

Reality Check and Consequence

While it is vitally important for white anti-racists to work with other white people, this detour results in white people again controlling the direction and focus of anti-racism work.

Learning to follow the leadership of, and taking direction from people of color, while being accountable to them are all vital components of our ally-ship.

One of the problems we face when it comes to trying to discuss race in America is a basic concept: white people don't know about racism.

I've pointed this out before: White people have never previously, do not currently and likely will never experience racism in the United States or in any of the current "whitecentric" nations, worldwide. We've been through the false equivalent of racism, usually involving some sort of physical harm perpetrated by a minority citizen against a white person, or a series of epithets being said by a black person to a white person. That actually isn't racism. It can be prejudice, discrimination or bias, for certain. But racism, if we are looking honestly at it, is a lot more wide ranging, deeper, more insidious and much more powerful than hurt feelings over an insult. Racism harms people physically, psychologically, emotionally, politically, morally, and that's just what it does to the perpetrators of it.

The problem comes when white people want to focus on the injustices that they face, so they can claim they suffer in a similar way to those that are living with racism. It's another method of derailing the conversation we need to have about race in America.

As the USA is a White Supremacist country, white people tend to both expect to be the experts in everything and to discount the opinions of anyone else. Sadly, that holds true even when it comes to topics they know nothing about, like racism.

A brief example... many years ago, there were studies that suggested that the muscle groups of black people and white people were different physically: black people were particularly good at sprinting short distances, which is why they did well in the hundred meter dash, but white people were better at the more elegant longer races like marathons. It had something to do with processing oxygen or getting rid of lactic acid or the length of tendons... some sort of "scientific proof" that "explained" this.

Not only don't you hear those sorts of comments anymore, nobody ever came along to refute them after they were proven wrong.

And, in a way, that relates back to how white people don't want to listen to black people about racism. They still want to be the experts in the situation and maintain control of the conversation. It's a method of preventing guilt. It's a way of protecting feelings. It helps assure that we never go into areas that might make white people "uncomfortable."

I hope we can agree that talking about a subject is not as "uncomfortable" as having some of your family members, friends, neighbors or fellow citizens gunned down in cold blood by someone who was sworn to protect them.

So, what we have here, with today's topic, are white people who simply won't listen to anything black people have to say on the subject of racism. And, let's face it. People like that probably haven't put "ending racism" as a top priority on their list of things they want to accomplish in life. But the good thing is we have folks like Ms. Olsson, Jane Elliott and Tim Wise specifically to help people like that.

I've mentioned Ms. Elliott and Mr. Wise in previous essays in this series, but now is obviously the time to closely examine who they are and what they do.

Jane Elliott is an important figure because she has come as close as anyone to giving white people a hint of what racism actually is about.

In 1968, after Dr. King was assassinated, Ms. Elliott wanted to give her grade school students a real sense of who that person was and what he was trying to achieve. In order to do this, she created a unique experiment. Now known the world over as the "Blue Eyes Brown Eyes Exercise," she divided her class up by eye color, then purposefully treated the blue eyed students nicely, and the other set as if they didn't belong.

The reaction brought a lot more than just learning. Fellow faculty members and parents of her students lashed out at her for this lesson.

If you have an hour to spare, the long time PBS series "Frontline" did a piece on Ms. Elliott and her exercise back in 1985. Sadly, it is just as timely today as it was during both the Reagan and Johnson administrations.

A Class Divided was the name of the episode. If you have a chance, please view this. It lays out the entire story and gives you a sense of how her class digested this lesson and where it took them as adults.

Ms. Elliott has been teaching this lesson every year since 1968, which is now approaching a half-century.

Mr. Wise is also a long time activist who began his entry into the field when he worked to get US colleges and universities to divest from South Africa during their Apartheid period, and expanded as he started to notice the injustices in the US. Active since the 1980s, he is a lecturer, a writer, and a staunch antiracist who is in constant demand to present this material and put it in context.

There are dozens of Tim Wise videos on YouTube. Just type in his name and you'll have your choice of numerous hours of his lectures. But I'm linking to one really timely one here (and it's only a bit more than three minutes):

How Trump Uses Race to Divide and Conquer

Certainly these people, along with Ms. Olsson, are great allies in the fight against racism, because we desperately need white people who know and understand these issues to speak to other white people. That's why I specifically wanted to explore Ms. Olsson's essay, as she is a white person doing exactly that. We could always use a few more knowledgeable white people when it comes to issues surrounding race and who hopefully are willing to talk about it with others.

Previous thinkposts in this series:

1. Day One - I'm Colorblind
2. Day Two - Bootstrap Theory
3. Day Three - Reverse Racism
4. Day Four - Blame The Victim
5. Day Five - The White Knight
6. Day Six - Lighten Up
7. Day Seven - Don't Blame Me
8. Day Eight - BWAME
9. Day Nine - We Have Overcome
10. Day Ten - The End Run
11. Day Eleven - Due Process
12. Day Twelve - By Association
13. Day Thirteen - The Penitent
14. Day Fourteen - White Wash
15. Day Fifteen - Not Here

XX. Intermission

16. Day Sixteen - Former Life
17. Day 17 - Straightening Up
18. Day 18 - The Isolationist
19. Day 19 - Blackwards
20. Day 20 - Teach Me
21. Day 21 - White on White
22. Day 22 - Smoke and Mirrors
23. Day 23 - Personal Work


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