Sunday, August 9, 2015

Thoughts on Being White | Ferguson A Year Later: A Look Back and a Hope Forward

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One year ago, the murder of Michael Brown set off a wave of political, social, and racial consciousness and protest that our generation has never witnessed. 

Despite the overwhelming state-sponsored violence against black, Latino, Latina, and native Americans that has has been captured via social media, white Americans are still hiding behind the rhetorics of color-blindness, post-racial America, victim blaming, and self-willed ignorance.

April 9, 2014, changed my life and my attitude in very important ways. After the acquittal of George Zimmerman I was in disbelief but after the murder of Michael Brown I became angry. Not just at the murder of an unarmed citizen but at the reaction of the media and many of my friends - friends I have known personally and respected for years and friends that are virtual acquaintances. 

The language used and characterizations of both Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown (and the many victims since) have been disgusting, vulgar, and blatantly-overtly-explicitly racist. Not just racist in the sense of "I'm not a racist or anything, but want to hear a joke" but in a violent and evil spirited way. 

As I watched social media and news reports discuss the "thug" Michael Brown while his body laid in the street for hours, I decided that my scholarship and my personal life would be dedicated to teaching about the history and continued significance of white violence against and oppression of Black Americans and other global citizens and Americans designated as "non-white." 

I changed my dissertation (which I was a year away from finishing and graduating) to analyze how and why white Americans refuse to acknowledge and deal with our racist past and present. 

The more I read about, discuss, and explore the systems of oppression laid down by the founding generation and perpetuated and protected by elite and ordinary whites, the more upset and energized I become. 

The fact is, race is a concept that was created. It was created to justify the brutal colonization of Africa, America, and Asia and the slave trade that enabled the production of wealth for Western European nations, the United States, and their citizens that were and are designated as white. 

“From the beginning, European and European American dominion and expansion took the form of oppression, genocide, and slavery. The central reality of the new country was economic exploitation of Native Americans, African Americans, and (later) other Americans of color in order to generate prosperity, wealth, and statues for generations of European Americans.

The centuries long theft of Native American lands and of African American labor by European Americans constituted the economic foundation of the new nation, and the unjust enrichment stemming from that theft generated not only in income, assets, and wealth for white families directly involved, but soon an extensive capitalistic economy benefiting most whites. 

This economy was substantially centered in the slavery system and its associated farms and commercial enterprises and later evolved into closely related forms of racial exploitation such as legal and de facto segregation. 
Over centuries, this color-coded economic exploitation has greatly facilitated the economic mobility and substantially enhanced the assets and socioeconomic status of white Americans.” 
- Joe Feagin (2006) Systemic Racism: A Theory of Oppression. Pg. 9, 10
The fact that race was constructed means that it can be deconstructed and we can create new understandings of humanity and justice that expand our capacity for peace, love, equality, and freedom. Not freedom in the American, white, conservative, gun toting, rebel flag waving, Christian, corporate sense but freedom as a concept that celebrates and protects the dignity of individuals, groups, and cultures because of their inherent value as fellow inhabiters of this earth on this journey we call life. 

Inequality and racial oppression are not a given. They are not a fact of human nature. They are representative of the pursuit of white profit and prestige and the expense of those who have been othered. 

This is not the best society or the best life that we can experience. 

We can be better, live better, and love better. 

Let's stop ignoring the realities of American racism and global exploitation and violence. The control of oil production is not our highest value as humans. The hoarding of wealth is not our highest goal as humans. 

We are more than economic units existing only as numbers on supply and demand charts. 

We are more than employees and employers. 

We are more than our promotions, neighborhoods, clothes, and vacations. 

We are mothers, fathers, sons, and daughters, friends, lovers, caretakers, and needers of care. We are emotional beings that don't live our lives to rationally calculate how to maximize our economic utility. 

We are in need of human connection and love. 

More importantly, we are beings that need to give love.

I am aware that my constant posting about these matters may annoy many of my friends and family but I am at a loss for what else to do. Racial justice matters. It matters not just to those deemed to be "minorities" but also to all citizens of the American republic and all citizens of the worlds. We are a better democracy, better citizens, better Christians, better parents, better teachers, and better individuals when we pursue a society and a world characterized by more justice, more equality, more compassion, and more love.

We cannot continue to pursue this racist system of oppression. We can not continue to pursue global domination. We can not continue to pursue personal interest and profit. 

We MUST pursue love,

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