Wednesday, July 17, 2013

"Understanding the Dynamics of Whiteness" as Quoted from Sue & Sue.

What is written below is a direct quote from the book Counseling the Culturally Diverse: Theory and Practice by Sue and Sue. I wanted to post it mostly because I frequently want to quote it (especially lately), and I have misplaced my book. So as long as I'm writing it down from the copy on Google Books, I thought I would share it with anyone who will read. It is deeply thought provoking, and I simply ask that you read it with an open mind. Some of it is targeted specifically at counselors and other helping professionals, but I believe it is fully relevant to all of us, including those who go on mission trips, volunteer, and serve in multicultural communities. It has had a profound effect on me and captures much of my own process in the development of my cultural identity. All italics have been added (by me) for emphasis.

Feel free to comment, but please keep in mind the feelings of those who may happen to read your words.

"Our analysis of the responses from both Whites and persons of color leads us to the inevitable conclusion that part of the problem of race relations (and by inference multicultural counseling and therapy) lies in the different worldviews of both groups. It goes without saying that the racial reality of Whites is radically different from that of people of color (D. W. Sue, 2010). Which group, however, has the more accurate assessment related to this topic? The answer seems to be contained in the following series of questions: If you want to understand oppression, should you ask the oppressor or the oppressed? If you want to learn about sexism, do you ask men or women? If you want to understand homophobia, do you ask straights or gays? If you want to learn about racism, do you ask Whites or persons of color? It appears that the most accurate assessment of bias comes not from those who enjoy the privilege of power, but from those who are most disempowered (Hanna, Talley, & Guindon, 2000; Neville, Worthington, & Spanierman, 2001). Taking this position, the following assumptions are made about the dynamics of Whiteness.

"First, it is clear that most Whites perceive themselves as unbiased individuals who do not harbor racist thoughts and feelings; they see themselves as working toward social justice and possessing a conscious desire to better the life circumstances of those less fortunate than they. Although admirable qualities, this self-image serves as a major barrier to recognizing and taking responsibility for admitting and dealing with one's own prejudices and biases. To admit to being racist, sexist, or homophobic requires people to recognize that the self-images they hold so dear are based on false notions of the self.

"Second, being a White person in this society means chronic exposure to ethnocentric monoculturalism as manifested in White supremacy (Zetzer, 2011). It is difficult, if not impossible, for anyone to avoid inheriting the racial biases, prejudices, misinformation, deficit portrayals, and stereotypes of their forebears (Cokley, 2006). To believe that one is somehow immune from inheriting such aspects of White supremacy is to be naive or to engage in self-deception. Such a statement is not intended to assail the integrity of Whites but to suggest that they also have been victimized. It is clear to us that no one was born wanting to be racist, sexist, or homophobic. Misinformation is not acquired by free choice but is imposed upon White people through a painful process of cultural conditioning. In general, lacking awareness of their biases and preconceived notions, counselors may function in a therapeutically ineffective manner.

"Third, if White helping professionals are ever able to become effective multicultural counselors or therapists, they must free themselves from the cultural conditioning of their past and move toward the development of a nonracist White identity. Unfortunately, many White Euro-Americans seldom consider what it means to be White in our society. Such a question is vexing to them because they seldom think of race as belonging to them - nor of the privileges that come their way by virtue of their white skin (Foster, 2011; Furman, 2011). Katz (1985) points out a major barrier blocking the process of White Euro-Americans investigating their own cultural identity and worldview:
     Because White culture is the dominant cultural norm in the United States, it acts as an invisible veil that limits many people from seeing it as a cultural system.... Often, it is easier for many Whites to identify and acknowledge the different cultures of minorities than accept their own racial identity.... The difficulty of accepting such a view is that White culture is omnipresent. It is so interwoven in the fabric of everyday living that Whites cannot step outside and see their beliefs, values, and behaviors as creating a distinct cultural group. (pp. 616-617)
As we witnessed in Chapter 6, the invisible veil allows for racial, gender, and sexual orientation microaggressions to be delivered outside the level of awareness of perpetrators (D. W. Sue, 2010). Ridley (1995) asserts that this invisible veil can be unintentionally manifested in therapy with harmful consequences to minortiy clients:
     Unintentional behavior is perhaps the most insidious form of racism. Unintentional racists are unaware of the harmful consequences of their behavior. They may be well-intentioned, and on the surface, their behavior may appear to be responsible. Because individuals, groups, or institutions that engage in unintentional racism do not wish to do harm, it is difficult to get them to see themselves as racists. They are more likely to deny their racism. (p. 38)

"The conclusion drawn from this understanding is that White counselors and therapists may be unintentional racists: (a) They are unaware of their biases, prejudices, and discriminatory behaviors; (b) they often perceive themselves as moral, good, and decent human beings and find it difficult to see themselves as racist; (c) they do not have a sense of what their Whiteness means to them; and (d) their therapeutic approaches to multicultural populations are likely to be more harmful (unintentionally) than helpful. These conclusions are often difficult for White helping professionals to accept because of the defensiveness and feelings of blame they are likely to engender. Nonetheless, we ask that White therapists and students not be turned off by the message and lessons of this chapter. We ask that you continue your multicultural journey in this chapter as we explore the question, 'What does it mean to be White?'" (p. 239-241).

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Dear Trayvon Martin: A Letter of Apology for My Role in Your Death.

Dear Trayvon Martin,

I have wept so many tears over your tragic death, and I know they cannot begin to compare to the tears shed by those who knew and loved you for your 17 brief years. They knew what music you liked, what made you laugh, what you were passionate about, who you loved, and a million other things that made you uniquely you. I am heartbroken at the end of your young life. And I want to write this letter to apologize to you for my role in your death.

Yes, I had a role in your death. I am part of the problem.

I am part of the majority culture. I get called ma'am, am treated respectfully, and get warnings instead of tickets when policemen pull me over (which isn't often). People don't cross the sidewalk when I'm walking toward them. In fact, people look me in the eyes and smile at me because they don't see me as a threat. I'm assumed to be the most educated or most experienced candidate for most jobs for which I apply. I get the jobs for which I apply. I choose whether or not to examine my cultural identity. I choose whether to learn about other cultures or remain immersed in my own. Sometimes they don't take my ticket on the train because I look just like everyone else. I blend in, and when people notice me, they presume that I am kind and innocent. Part of being a minority in the United States, and especially being a young Black man, means that none of those things were true for you. And some of those privileges I have, if you had them, would have saved your life.

I have sat silently and watched my country belittle your humanity as a young Black man. I have listened to people label you as a problem child without considering a) whether or not it is true and b) whether or not the problems our society has created for you may have contributed to any of your alleged behaviors. They dismiss your humanity, and they dismiss your context. They do not understand the fear you must have felt when you were targeted as a criminal, whether or not you were one (which I whole-heartedly do not believe you were). They don't understand the necessity of fighting to save your life, which you knew was in danger, whether or not the man who killed you had yet brandished his gun. They don't think about the impact of being told by an entire society - explicitly and implicitly - that you are a criminal.

They minimize your experience by saying that everything is equal now and that racism no longer exists, demanding that you swallow the party line or be branded a criminal. If you do swallow the party line, you are considered an "exception" to your culture, which simultaneously robs you of your cultural heritage and demonizes everyone that looks like you. But somehow, that's not considered racist. After all, some of their best friends are Black. And everyone knows that if you have a Black friend, you can't be called a racist. Just like a misogynistic man can't hate women if he has a female friend. Oh wait...

But let me come back to the way that I have failed you, my brother in human dignity. My role is perhaps the worst of all, because I have remained silent. I know the truth. I know tiny pieces of the massive racism that still undergirds our country's policies and politics. I feel the bile in the back of my throat and the heat in my face and chest when people spurt out words about an entire group of people that "aren't racist" even though they would have at least thought twice about saying them if my skin weren't the same color as theirs. I hate when they make me a co-conspirator with their statements of hatred, assuming that I agree because I look like them.

But I have done nothing. I stew silently. Sometimes I literally run away from it. And this, this is why I must apologize to you. You deserved more than my dumb and fearful silence.

For whatever reason, God has chosen to make me White. When I asked friends in South Africa what I should do to even begin to address the atrocities that my people have committed, generational sins whose weight rests also upon my shoulders, they said that I must use my voice. My voice will reach ears that would not listen to their voices, who would brand them as "reverse racists." I have unmerited and undeserved privilege as a result of being born from English and Irish families in middle class America. I have failed to use that privilege to fight for you and the millions like you, Trayvon.

My good intentions don't matter. Yours didn't, either.

I have used my words too sparsely and too carefully. I am ashamed, and I am sorry. Can you ever forgive me? I didn't pull the trigger, but I function within a system that allows the trigger to be pulled every. single. day. against young men who don't deserve to die. If I am not working to change it, I am supporting it.

I will fight for you, Trayvon, and the beautiful faces of so many others like you, who have suffered the loss of their dignity and humanity. You bear the image of God just like I do. You are not the face of crime. You are the face of innocence. And I will fight for you.

Your sister in Christ,