Whiteness (articles from the Assoc. of Black Anthropologists)

traa - Cover

The latest issue of Transforming Anthropology features part one of a two part series which examines the racialized structural inequalities that continue to exist in America. Included within the series are carefully selected articles that explore how racial and class privileges shaped the past, and the lasting effects on the United States’ political and social environment.

Click on the links below for FREE access to the articles in this compelling series.

as the following essays demonstrate, a failure to critically engage the so-called unmarked status of whiteness, accepting the ostensible transparency of a privileged “white” positionality, creates even greater problems in terms of the asymmetry of power relations within our discipline, even as it perpetuates methodological blindness in our fieldwork practice. Further, it is imperative that anthropology continue to lead the way to a more complex, nuanced, and culturally situated analysis of racism, in general, and of whiteness (and its slippage into and out of other identificatory trajectories), in particular, because of the relationship between assumptions about whiteness and defenses of racist discourse and practice.

About Transforming Anthropology As the chief publication of the Association of Black Anthropologists, Transforming Anthropology interrogates the contemporary and historical construction of social inequities based on race, ethnicity, class, gender, sexuality, nationality and other invidious distinctions. Published semiannually, Transforming Anthropology reflects the dynamic, transnational, and contested conditions of the social worlds.

Practical steps for racial awareness (2): Not so fast?

See previous post for introduction and:

1. Be honest: admit personal bias & assume systemic injustice

2. Be teachable: educate yourself and then others

TODAY:

3. Become aware: don’t do anything at first; observe, reflect, pray, and become; then become active.

Once we have begun to see that there is a racial problem, we will probably to want to jump into action and fix it right away. We may want to “wipe away the pain that race causes” or look for a quick fixes to rid ourselves of guilt.[1] Church historian Mark Noll says (with special reference to Evangelicals) that Americans tend to be “activistic, populist, pragmatic and utilitarian.” We value action more than careful thought and therefore get caught up in the urgencies of the moment and leave little room for “broader or deeper intellectual effort.”[2] N.K. Clifford is a little more biting in his criticism of evangelicals,

The Evangelical Protestant mind has never relished complexity. Indeed its crusading genius, whether in religion or politics, has always tended toward an over-simplification of issues and the substitution of inspiration and zeal for critical analysis and serious reflection.[3]

If racialization is something steeped in our unconscious worldview, it will take time to begin reorienting ourselves. Like the Old Testament wisdom writers, we will need to observe the world around us and seek God’s wisdom. We will need to ask, what are the problems? Where are we heading? How do class, growing diversity, the economy and politics impact the racial landscape? How do different ethnic groups look at the same issues?[4] We will need to examine where we live, work, study, socialize, relax, and worship and ask how racial injustice has shaped our world. Where is it obvious? Where is it more subtle? How is it reflected in our own thoughts and attitudes? How is it reflected in the structures and organizations in which we participate? What are the values, assumptions, perceptions and patterns of interaction?[5] How might we personally benefit from racial injustice? Are there any economic interests we might subtly be trying to protect? We will need to be thoughtful so that our actions are not paternalistic and do not simply reinforce racial stereotypes or unjust systems.

On the other hand, while we need to begin by observing and learning, we will eventually need to move towards being activist and practical. We must avoid putting off too long by saying, “We really need to acquire more information, read another book, attend one more conference, hold further conversations, in order to ‘clarify the issues.’ Then we’ll act.” [6] We need to be committed to action. There should always be an ongoing relationship between thinking and acting – a hermeneutic spiral – but in the end, we must act. “Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.”[7]

If you are neutral in a situation of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. “If an elephant has his foot on the tail of the mouse, and you say you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.” – South African Anglican Bishop Desmond Tutu[8]

All wisdom comes from God, who has given us his Holy Spirit to guide us. In order to effectively promote racial justice, we will also need to seek God through prayer.

——————————————————————————–

[1] Spencer Perkins and Chris Rice. More than Equals: Continue reading

Preparing ourselves for becoming agents of racial justice (esp. important for cross-cultural ministry).

As part of the wind-down this week, I’m going to publish a few brief of posts to people like myself – whites interested in being racially aware and instruments of reconciliation and justice. These will include some important postures for any “whites” involved in cross-cultural settings.

Going in, we need to be aware that we are in for embarrassment, pain, and shame. If we truly are going to be agents of healing and reconciliation, our deepest faults are going to get exposed – even in those of us that are most well-meaning.

Racial injustice at the personal level seeks to distort our identities and harm our relationships. The process of understanding the roles we play in a racialized society and changing our thoughts and behaviors is Continue reading

American evangelicals and race 1: pre-civil rights

Many whites express fatigue with the subject of race and feel like everything has been rectified with the legal changes wrought by civil rights. Now that Obama has been elected President, many feel like they can rest their case. Unfortunately, we’ve still got a long, long ways to go.  Years ago, Spencer Perkins wrote that given that America has been working on racializing society and oppressing blacks for three hundred years, we should not expect everything to be rectified in thirty? (Spencer Perkins and Chris Rice. More than Equals: Racial Healing for the Sake of the Gospel. Rev ed. InterVarsity, 2000, 96.)

Looking at how the American church has responded to racial injustice over the years can be very instructive for our blindness to the present. emerson-divided-by-faithMichael Emerson and Christian Smith do exactly this type of analysis in Divided by Faith: Evangelical Religion and the Problem of Race in America (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000, 22ff) Before the start of the eighteenth century, only Quakers and a few others opposed slavery. Once they saw its economic advantages, most Anglos began to feel like slavery was necessary for survival. Initially when slaves became Christians, they were freed. But when economic ramifications were realized, the church quickly modified its beliefs and liturgy to insure that they would not be considered as equal –i.e. “free” – brothers and sisters (p. 23).This same concern for economic success led George Whitfield, of the Great Awakening, to lobby Parliament for the introduction of slavery into America’s newest colony, Georgia, where slavery was initially forbidden (26). Eventually, an abolition movement arose – partially due to Continue reading

Band-Aids, doll babies, and racial shades of beauty

Since almost all my daughters’ friends are various shades of brown and black, I’m frequently struck by the prominent shades of Band-Aids (or plasters as they are called here) and dolls. I remember walking into a drug store in N.E. Washington, DC and being unable to find a dark shade of Band-Aid for the kids I was working with. I thought about it for a minute and realized that, in this predominantly African-American part of the city, I was probably the only white guy who was going to be in that drugstore that day. Still, all the Band-Aids blended much better with my pink skin than they did with just about every other customer. Since then, I have seen some darker shades, and clear ones help, but check out the Band-Aid selection next time you are in a store. All the Band-Aids for kids in our house are now flashy kid colors – blue, yellow, red, green, purple, etc.

Finding multiple shades of dolls is another problem. Sadly, even when Christi does find black dolls for all the girls to play with, Kiara and Leila’s African friends (from all over the continent) still prefer the white-looking  dolls; white dolls are “more beautiful” they argue (even when they are identical except for color). Do we need any more evidence of the powerful impact of popular imagery (TV)? Christi’s had to do a lot of work building the self image of these young girls as black, brown, and beautiful.

Reconciliation blog brings attention to the culture clash over dolls and quotes a comment under a post by  Noble Mother that talks about her conflicted feelings over Bratz dolls – they like the color, but does not like the materialistic diva image.

Until the Bratz dolls came on the market, my daughter [black dad; white mom] just wasn’t really interested in dolls of any kind. She and I have lots of conversations about ‘what she is’…and she’s decided she’s not white, she’s not black, she’s brown. She’s often asked why there are never any brown babies in the stores? There are white and there are black, but not brown. And I’m sure she’s not been the only little girl asking this question.

The Bratz dolls, while I have major issues with many other factors about them, have given my daughter a sense of validation of her color. Now, there are dolls on the store shelves that look just like her. She no longer has to decide whether she wants a white doll or a black doll…she can get one that looks just like her.

Gilbreath asks:

Does Barbie represent an increasingly outdated notion of what “normal” mainstream culture looks like, while the Bratz signify a more multiethnic (or urban) aesthetic that is underrepresented among children’s dolls today? Even millionaire celeb Angelina Jolie, who adopted an African daughter, spoke up on this recently saying,

“and I look for a Barbie that’s African, and the African Barbie has straight hair! And you know, why has Disney never made a film with an African-American princess?”

Technorati Tags: ,,,

The importance of positive images (race & society)

Images in popular culture are powerful. When Christi and I first saw David Palmer on 24, long before Obama ever burst onto the scene, I remember saying to her, “This is great for America! It will help get a lot of people more comfortable with images of a very good president who is also very black.”   Earlier this week, Edward Gilbreath, pointed out a short article on UrbanFaith.com about the “Huxtable Effect.” “This is the notion that the middle-class African American family portrayed in Bill Cosby’s famous ’80s sitcom, The Cosby Show, had an impact on the way Americans voted in last month’s presidential election.”

I don’t want to take anything away from Obama’s brilliant campaign, but I suspect these positive images did help him pick up a few votes – especially from some of those who might otherwise harbor fearful emotions of one kind or another (and I certainly heard plenty of those).

Regarding the Huxtable effect, UrbanFaith article adds a qualification that makes an important point.

Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez, the columnist who coined the term “Huxtable Effect,” has since claimed the media misinterpreted what she was saying. “What I actually posited was much more complex than that,” she clarified. “I said that the social norms of a population are generally formed through its popular culture.” [emphasis mine]. In other words, our entertainment actually sets the standard for the public perception of what is socially and politically acceptable over time.

Gilbreath notes that Tiger Woods may have helped, and one of the comments on his Reconciliation blog post says: “I think Colin Powell and Condelezza Rice should be given some credit, too. We saw Bryant Gumbel on the morning news every day for several years. It all works together. Shirley Chisholm. Barbara Jordan. Andrew Young.”

Who would you add to this list? What popular images have shaped some of your perceptions? What does this about the importance images on TV, in popular fiction? What can we do about this?

Next: Who do I see when I hear “African-American” – the personal images.

Coming next week: Thinking about images of Africa: On one of my “most favoritest” blogs, What an African Woman Thinks, Rombo reflects on the implications of popular imagery for our dreams of Africa. (I have a few posts on that subject in the pipeline.)

Technorati Tags: ,

Something dramatic just happened in America’s moral economy

In the last couple of days, I’ve been touched by reading articles and posts by African Americans that have been deeply moved by Barak Obama’s election. As you already know, I was moved for many of the same reasons, but obviously, I can never feel it as deeply as they feel it (nor can the younger generations feel it like the older generations). My challenge to my white friends is to read some of these reflections and try to absorb some of the history and emotion. This is a very teachable moment, and it may help us begin to change the way we think about certain things. (These examples just happen to be from sites I regularly peruse; I’m sure there are many more.)

Eugene Robinson – (Washington post): Morning in America

Henry Louis Gates, Jr. In our Lifetime (the Root): “From toiling as White House slaves to President-elect Barack Obama, we have crossed the ultimate color line.”

Alice Walker – an Open Letter to Obama (The Root)

Edward Gilbreath – What Obama, Tchaikovsky, and Dante Have in Common (Reconciliation Blog)

Todd Burkes – I wish you could have been here. (Follow)

Kevin Merida: A Day of Transformation: America’s History Gives Way to It’s Future (Washington Post)

. . . Presidential elections often reveal something about the nation’s character, its temperament and state of mind. Many who are wondering how it happened that Barack Obama was elected president this season are also wondering what else they may be missing in their cities and towns and neighborhoods. Transformation rarely announces itself with trumpets. It usually happens gradually, over time, and then — clang!— a singular moment chimes the news. From its founding, the United States has seen itself as a special place, an example to other nations, a “city on the hill.” With the election of its first black president, it can now begin to erase one of the stains on that reputation, one that repeatedly shamed us in front of other countries. . .

Ta-Nehisi Coates: The Man of Tomorrow (Washington Post) – sort of a side note.

I also liked this quote about where Obama stands (and differs) with other civil rights leaders – some perspective: “He ran the last leg of a 60-year tag race . . . The wall is down now. Barack must build the bridge for the next generation.” He leapt the tallest barrier. What does it mean for Black America? (Washington Post)

BONUS: Here is a looong New Yorker article that I highly recommend: The Joshua Generation: Race and the Campaign of Barack Obama

As white Americans (especially white evangelicals), we need to come to grips with the reality that something deeply significant just happened in the moral economy of our nation. Let’s put our political reservations aside for a minute and wholeheartedly celebrate what this means within the moral paradoxes of our nation’s history.

Disclaimers: This is only a beginning, and the harsh political realities will emerge soon enough. As far as I recall, none of these writers is saying that Obama is the messiah; this is bigger than any one individual. Also, I do make a distinction between celebrating this moral milestone and Obamamania. Some people (worldwide) might as well be cheering for their favorite sports team; it almost cheapens it for the rest of us.

I cried, and Liam stole my snack

I didn’t stay up to watch the election results; I got a good night’s sleep. I woke up this morning and turned on BBC radio just in time to hear McCain’s concession speech. Christi and I went downstairs in the apartment of our Sudanese neighbors to watch Obama’s victory speech (we don’t have a TV.) Liam (my 2 year old son) had fallen down on his way to school; he walked back to be comforted and joined the festivities.

The speech was vintage Obama, but I’m not big on hype or political rhetoric; I remember Bush saying many of the same things when he was first elected (obviously not as eloquently).

But when the speech was over and Michelle Obama walked out onto the stage, the tears suddenly came (for Christi too). The symbolic importance of this moment for America and the world cannot be overestimated. I know it’s not perfect, and the real work is just beginning, but a critical threshold has just been crossed. That this barrier has been broken means a lot to me, and it makes me feel real good right now.

In the meantime Liam, rummaging through my backpack, takes out my banana bread snack, adds it to his own, zips up his backpack, and – with a smirk on his face – trudges off to school ;-).

Other random thoughts:

  • I’m really glad the campaign is over.
  • Will all the lobbyist have to learn how to play basketball now? (Reflecting on Obama’s election day activity.)
  • Christi on seeing Joe Biden on stage: “Joe Biden just got a free ride. He must be thinking, ‘boy was that easy.'”
  • I appreciated McCain’s concession speech, but we haven’t arrived with regards to race; we’ve still got a long way to go – on Main Street as it were.
  • It’s all downhill from here (once the realities of Washington strike); wait, we still have the inauguration. I’m counting the the First Lady to help the president keep it real.

With apologies to all my really conservative friends, I’m going to enjoy this moment.

Why does the black guy always have to be the one explaining race and racism?

I normally avoid commenting on the American election, and I certainly don’t have anything to add about Obama’s speech (full CQ transcript here) that you haven’t already heard or read. I do, however, feel compelled to make one comment about the “event” itself.

What we are witnessing is a clear example of “white privilege.” When are we going to hear this kind of full discourse on race from Clinton or Obama? Probably never. It’s too incendiary a topic and they can always retreat to their safer majority white worlds. Why risk it? Obama doesn’t have that privilege; he has to face the subject every day.

So here’s my challenge to my white brothers and sisters, regardless of your political leanings or candidate preference. Educate yourself on the legacy of racism and incarnate yourself into the black world for a while. Study the systems that perpetuate our racialized world. As you begin to “get it” (and this will take a long time and a lot of painful effort) start speaking up, so your black brothers and sisters don’t always have to carry the burden.

—–

While you are here check out this post from Frank Schaeffer. (Thanks to Jim West of my previous post.)

Frank Schaeffer: Obama’s Minister Committed “Treason” But When My Father Said the Same Thing He Was a Republican Hero

When Senator Obama’s preacher thundered about racism and injustice Obama suffered smear-by-association. But when my late father — Religious Right leader Francis Schaeffer — denounced America and even called for the violent overthrow of the US government, he was invited to lunch with presidents Ford, Reagan and Bush, Sr.

Every Sunday thousands of right wing white preachers (following in my father’s footsteps) rail against America’s sins from tens of thousands of pulpits. They tell us that America is complicit in the “murder of the unborn,” has become “Sodom” by coddling gays, and that our public schools are sinful places full of evolutionists and sex educators hell-bent on corrupting children. They say, as my dad often did, that we are, “under the judgment of God.” They call America evil and warn of immanent destruction. By comparison Obama’s minister’s shouted “controversial” comments were mild. All he said was that God should damn America for our racism and violence and that no one had ever used the N-word about Hillary Clinton

Misconceptions about Africa; Audacity, Ethnicity, Resurrection, etc (Links and Quotes)

Africa: How Wild? There are lots of misconceptions about life in Africa. What are these misconceptions? How did they come about? (A discussion).

Obama’s pastor Jeremiah Wright’s 1990 Sermon – Audacity to Hope (full text) is reposted by Preaching Today.

Reconciliation blog links to Our Jeremiah Why Obama’s Pastor matters.

I understand why the Obama campaign felt they had to distance themselves from Wright’s post 9-11 comments. But I am worried that Obama has missed a chance to talk about the rich and complex tapestry of black religious life
. . . Prophetic Christianity allowed African Americans to retain a sense of humanity in the face of our country’s racism.

Last night, Christi said, “Win or lose, Obama’s candidacy is going to confront a lot of America with its racism and racist roots. There’s a lot of ‘educating’ that is going to have to happen.”

The Enduring Power of Ethnic Nationalism – Jerry Muller Foreign Affairs. A Kenyan comments on it here.

European stability during the Cold War era was in fact due partly to the widespread fulfilment of the ethno-nationalist project. And since the end of the Cold War, ethno-nationalism has continued to reshape European borders.

. . . It is wishful thinking to suppose that (colonial) boundaries will be permanent. As societies in the former colonial world modernise, becoming more urban, literate, and politically mobilised, the forces that gave rise to ethno-nationalism and ethnic disaggregation in Europe are apt to drive events there, too.”He continues: “The fact that in Europe ethnic and state boundaries now largely coincide has meant that there are fewer disputes in Europe.

A Witness to Death (Dr. Jennifer Myhre, Uganda):

When someone dies, the onlookers shake their heads and say “it is God’s will”. But it isn’t, not really. God let his own son die because the death of 7 year old Ugandan children is NOT OK. It is not the way the world is supposed to be. And changing this world requires suffering and sacrifice, the ultimate suffering and sacrifice paid by God Himself. It is a mysterious truth that His people continue to pay.

Pastor M debriefs the conclusion of Msfara – the Tour of Hope (March 17 – several posts).
The continuation of Pastor Ken’s Story. Part one was here – (2nd paragraph.)

‘Counseling 101 never prepared me for this!’ As the rest prayed though, Pst. Kuchio engaged the man in serious conversation about how God not only forgives us but He enables us to forgive others. Then, an amazing thing happened; not only did the man agree to dismantle his revenge mission, but he also decided to turn his life over to Christ.

Michael Kruse is doing a very in-depth review of McLaren’s – Everything Must Change.

Resurrection in the New York Times:

As Christians in most of the world approach the celebration of Jesus’ Resurrection, it is startling to find three distinguished scholars, all known for scrupulous attention to theological tradition and biblical sources, agreeing that the very idea of resurrection is widely and badly misunderstood. [Madigen, Levenson & Wright.]

Misunderstood not just by those whose contemporary sensibilities restrain them from saying much more about resurrection than that it symbolizes some vague (and probably temporary) victory of life over death. But also misunderstood by many devout believers who consider themselves thoroughly faithful to traditional religious teachings.

. . . Resurrection is not a belief that divides an other-worldly Christianity from a this-worldly Judaism. Nor is resurrection something that refers only — or even primarily — to the individual’s survival after death. Instead, both books emphasize that in classic Jewish and Christian teachings, resurrection refers to a collective resurrection of people and renewal of all creation at the end of time.

Resurrection was linked to the expectation of judgment and a final triumph of justice. This was the idea of resurrection that had evolved as Jews returned from exile and struggled under foreign domination in the period before Jesus. It was this idea of resurrection that Christians had in mind when they declared that what occurred on Easter was the “first fruits” of what was to come.

Read the rest of the article here.