I recently blogged about a book I’m reading called “We Can’t Teach What We Don’t Know”, and you can read my first blog post here. I am beginning my personal journey towards a deep understanding of racial equity and white privilege, and I hope that by doing so on my blog, it will continue to draw others with varying perspectives into the conversation to enhance everyone’s learning.
I was fortunate to receive some thoughtful feedback about my first blog post that I want to share. I learned so much from this single interaction, that I’m confident I have made the right choice to be more vulnerable and public with such a sensitive topic. Below are the responses to my last blog post about Minimal Group Theory. While this individual will remain anonymous, I would like to thank them for taking the time to open my eyes and have this difficult conversation with me.
Note: You really have to read my last blog post to fully appreciate the comments below.
“DISCLAIMER: it’s easier to be candid on this than careful. These may not be the words to express this…and granted, I did not read the chapters or wiki on the topic. I in every way intend for my thoughts to be respectful and exploratory of both of our learning. I am sharing thoughts to challenge our thinking. Please do not take anything personally. I apologize in advance if this is too candid.
It’s ironic that white people in general require a “theory” to conceptualize or understand discrimination. It’s such a foreign concept to us, we need to find a way–any way–to digest it. We’ve held the “discriminator” role for hundreds of years, built the systems and societies to (purposefully in the time) advance ourselves, and then gives ourselves the privilege of attempting to understand it by reading about it; (sarcasm: not nearly as effective as actually experiencing it). The “discrimination” or “in/out” groups experienced by teenagers I am not sure is relevant. It might be a bridge to help white people make some kind of association to understand what discrimination might be like, but it seems ludacris to me.
I’ll give a non-race example that might make sense in white culture (since this is what we do to try to understand)…it’s like me saying to someone: “Describe what it’s like to be a war torture victim” and they respond: “Hmmm, I don’t know exactly what that’s like, but I did get spanked a few times growing up, and that affected me a lot…I know it’s not really the same thing, but I can understand the concept of torture because I know some kids got spanked (out group) while other kids just got yelled at (in group). Your blog didn’t indicate to me that you felt you were discriminated against in any similar way (although many white people feel they have been), however that association seemed far stretched.
I really appreciated the point you made about growing out of the labels. It inferred that the kids of color didn’t ever grow out the these labels–because of their skin color, the “discriminator” made sure to keep these labels intact, and in fact, made sure to increase the associations of these labels with more severe labels as we all grew up together. However, the blog didn’t point this out and I wish it had. The word “theory” implies that it’s not fact. White people can understand “minimal group theory” as a theory because we, in fact, haven’t actually experienced it ourselves. And, to add one more layer to our privilege, we have to remember that white people wrote the dictionary and socialized what is theory and what is fact.
Near the end of the blog you wrote, “In just two small chapters, Mr. Howard was able to impress upon me the ongoing presence of white dominance…” Not meaning to be critical, but you might be giving both of you too much credit. A deep understanding of the presence and permeation of white dominance might take far more than a couple of chapters.”
I now see how easy it is to invoke white privilege, and not even have a clue that I’ve done it. Even in trying to learn so that I might stop perpetuating this, it had the opposite effect, which means I have much more work to do. I learned more about culture, race and white privilege through having an honest discussion than I ever could have reading a book.
Nonetheless, I will continue to read and hopefully have many more discussions like this one.