And So It Goes Janet Givens’ BlogMore on the Blog's name
And so it goes -- sometimes So it goes -- the lament that permeates Kurt Vonnegut’s classic Slaughterhouse-Five, addresses the notion that certain events are beyond our control. It honors fatalism, resignation, and the inevitability of death (among other things), and the consequent acceptance of our fate.
Just as Vonnegut tried to educate his readers to a greater understanding of the human condition, And So It Goes, the blog, tries to educate readers to a greater understand of the culture that, inevitably and unconsciously, molds us.
We do that by looking at cultures that are different than our own. And we pay special attention to the parts of those cultures that trouble us, that make us gasp, that make us turn away.
Here on my blog, we take the time to take a closer look, to chew on what we’ve been swallowing whole.
Adopting the existential notion that we create our own reality, we understand that that reality is also molded by our environment and perpetuated by our culture.
Following up on last month’s Talking About Race post, we’ll look at two rather different ways to talk about racism: as a problem within an individual and as a problem within the larger society.
Who here is racist? Raise your hand.
No one admits to being racist, of course. But what if we could admit, even just to ourselves, that “everyone’s a little bit racist.”
Here’s a five minute video from Avenue Q, the two-act Broadway show running since March, 2003. I’ll post the lyrics below the video, but the main idea is this: everyone’s a little bit racist.
If we all could Just admit That we are racist A little bit, Even though we all Know that it’s wrong, Maybe it would help Us get along!
Here are the lyrics by John Tartaglia and Laura Marie Duncan
Is this a strange new idea for you? Given my grade-school lesson on prejudice that I wrote about two years ago (we’re all prejudiced; the trick is to be aware of it), I was glad to find this. But in massaging the information I’ve been gathering for this ongoing series on Talking About Race, I discovered how prevalent this binary view of race is. If you are so inclined, you might try this survey from the Understanding Prejudice website.
Nicholas Kristof’s NYTimes article, “Is Donald Trump a Racist?,” (July 24, 2018) underscores how pervasive this racism-as-character-flaw concept is.
And Jona Olsson, writing for Odinsblog.tumblr.com, collected 28 Common Racist Attitudes and Behaviors that offer 28 helpful introductions to a stimulating, if possibly difficult, conversation. I hope you’ll check it out. I’ll be posting to my Facebook page from this list over the next month and hope you’ll participate in that conversation too.
But there’s a second way to look at racism, the one my inner-sociologist is pleased to now introduce.
Perhaps you can identify with some of these statements:
I’m not racist; why can’t we all just get along?
I’m not racist; it’s this focusing on race that’s dividing us.
I’m not racist; I have lots of Black friends.
I’m not racist; I don’t even see color.
Lots of us white folk have been saying these things for a long time. The problem is that when we use these, we take the issue of race off the table for further consideration. These are, to us, the conclusion we’ve drawn. The end of the conversation. Yes?
And, when race is taken off the table, when it’s felt there is nothing more to say on the matter — Let’s just get along — then the underlying, systemic, institutionalized problem of race gets more firmly entrenched.
Robin DiAngelo, the author of White Fragility, has a six-minute video on why “I’m not racist” is only half the story.
When we look at racism in an individualistic, binary (Is she or isn’t she?) way, we arrive at polarizing ideas. No one wants to be thought of mean spirited, ignorant, uneducated! So of course no one is going to admit, even to themselves, that they may be the slightest “little bit racist.”
In DiAngelo’s words, only when we look at racism as an institutional, systemic problem can we begin to tear down these barriers to a world free from oppression and fear. Free from racism.
What are those barriers?
poor education, poorer schools,
forced segregation in housing — look up “red lining”
a criminal justice system that is skewed in favor of white skin
an internalized sense of superiority,
an investment in the existing hierarchy of power
an inordinately out of balance division of wealth
Want more information? Tricia Rose and her graduate student, Samuel Rosen, offer another YouTube presentation on How Structural Racism Works that’s worth taking a look at. It’s an hour long. The first half is the structure — education, housing, jobs, mass media, and the criminal justice system, to name only the most obvious — while the second half runs us through some cases we know of. I hope you’ll take a look. It’s important stuff for our times.
Could this institutional, systemic racism be an easier way — a better way — of talking about race and racism? We’ll return with Part III next month.
How about you? How does the idea of racism make sense to you?