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Archive for January, 2007

Anti-racism blog?

When I went to the final session of our anti-racism film and discussion series last night, I discovered that one of the organizers had listed this blog as a resource for further conversation and dialogue among those who participated. I’m not sure that’s what I had in mind, as I didn’t expect this to be an ongoing theme for the blog. But perhaps this is the Holy Spirit’s way of directing where this blog will go; an invitation for us to engage with each other in some ongoing reflection on the work of dismantling racism on every level, personal, social, institutional.

So on a trial basis I’ve created a new category called anti-racism, to see if the posts I put in this category stimulate any conversation – not just among those who attended the sessions – but among any of you who are interested in this work. I welcome any of you who are engaged in the work of dismantling racism to send me reflections, and I’ll use you as guest bloggers to start some discussion. Just e-mail me your reflections, or if you prefer, you can just jump in with your perspective on any of the posts that I do put up here.

Tomorrow, I hope to post a summary of last night’s session and share a little of what really grabbed my attention.

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Well, I’m feeling the stress of the semester right now, and don’t know how I’m going to manage to make my normal 3-4 blog entries this week. If anyone wants to be brave like Kari and send me a reflection, I’ll be glad to feature a “guest blogger.” I do have some things in mind for posts, just no time to think them through and put them into 1’s and 0’s for the web.

I think that what is weighing on me is how to take most of the content of two previous courses, omit what is least relevant, and combine what remains into this one new course. It’s hard to skip material that has been taught in the past, yet there’s no way to “shoe-horn” in the entire combined content of both courses. I knew it wouldn’t be easy, but right now it seems harder than I thought it would be. Lots of false starts, backtracking, figuring out how to explain a new concept without the material I had to skip, etc. It doesn’t help that there aren’t textbooks out there that take this approach…maybe I’ll have to write one once I survive the ordeal of this semester.

Tonight is the last of our 3 sessions on anti-racism, so I suspect I’ll have something for you after that.

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Saints Behaving Badly

This past week, I returned a book to the public library, and as I was passing by the new books shelf, this book with the above title caught my eye. The subtitle of the book is, “the cutthroats, crooks, trollops, con men and devil worshippers who became saints.” A bit sensational, to be sure, and to be quite honest, not particularly scholarly, and at best, (for my tastes, at least) only mildly entertaining.

It discusses the stories (mainly legends that are not likely true) about the lives of several saints before their conversions away from lives that were less than exemplary.

My favorite part of the book is in the introduction, where the author starts with, “Where is Mary Magdelene?” and then goes on to explain that scripture scholars have found no evidence that Mary Magdelene was a notorious sinner, as many of us were taught to “mis”-understand.

But despite my relative lack of enthusiasm for the rest of the book, I like the premise that the saints are not superhuman entities whose virtues are far beyond what any normal human can aspire to. One of the things I love about Roman Catholicism is the notion of the “communion of saints,” meaning all who have gone before us in death and who are now with God, cheering us on as we try to grow in wisdom and integrity. These “saints” are not just the big names the Church has recognized by canonizing them, but also regular folks like you and I who just did the best they could, and who at times missed the mark. A saint like that is someone I can identify with…

How about you? Do you have a favorite “naughty” saint?

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The following list is taken from an essay by Peggy McIntosh called “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack.”

I invite you to consider the following statements, answering true or false, and then if you are white, think about how you’d have to answer if you were a black American…

1. I can if I wish arrange to be in the company of people of my race most of the time.

2. I can avoid spending time with people whom I was trained to mistrust and who have learned to mistrust my kind or me.

3. If I should need to move, I can be pretty sure of renting or purchasing housing in an area which I can afford and in which I would want to live.

4. I can be pretty sure that my neighbors in such a location will be neutral or pleasant to me.

5. I can go shopping alone most of the time, pretty well assured that I will not be followed or harassed.

6. I can turn on the television or open to the front page of the paper and see people of my race widely represented.

7. When I am told about our national heritage or about “civilization,” I am shown that people of my color made it what it is.

8. I can be sure that my children will be given curricular materials that testify to the existence of their race.

9. If I want to, I can be pretty sure of finding a publisher for this piece on white privilege.

10. I can be pretty sure of having my voice heard in a group in which I am the only member of my race.

11. I can be casual about whether or not to listen to another person’s voice in a group in which s/he is the only member of his/her race.

12. I can go into a music shop and count on finding the music of my race represented, into a supermarket and find the staple foods which fit with my cultural traditions, into a hairdresser’s shop and find someone who can cut my hair.

13. Whether I use checks, credit cards or cash, I can count on my skin color not to work against the appearance of financial reliability.

14. I can arrange to protect my children most of the time from people who might not like them.

15. I do not have to educate my children to be aware of systemic racism for their own daily physical protection.

16. I can be pretty sure that my children’s teachers and employers will tolerate them if they fit school and workplace norms; my chief worries about them do not concern others’ attitudes toward their race.

17. I can talk with my mouth full and not have people put this down to my color.

18. I can swear, or dress in second hand clothes, or not answer letters, without having people attribute these choices to the bad morals, the poverty or the illiteracy of my race.

19. I can speak in public to a powerful male group without putting my race on trial.

20. I can do well in a challenging situation without being called a credit to my race.

21. I am never asked to speak for all the people of my racial group.

22. I can remain oblivious of the language and customs of persons of color who constitute the world’s majority without feeling in my culture any penalty for such oblivion.

23. I can criticize our government and talk about how much I fear its policies and behavior without being seen as a cultural outsider.

24. I can be pretty sure that if I ask to talk to the “person in charge”, I will be facing a person of my race.

25. If a traffic cop pulls me over or if the IRS audits my tax return, I can be sure I haven’t been singled out because of my race.

26. I can easily buy posters, post-cards, picture books, greeting cards, dolls, toys and children’s magazines featuring people of my race.

27. I can go home from most meetings of organizations I belong to feeling somewhat tied in, rather than isolated, out-of-place, outnumbered, unheard, held at a distance or feared.

28. I can be pretty sure that an argument with a colleague of another race is more likely to jeopardize her/his chances for advancement than to jeopardize mine.

29. I can be pretty sure that if I argue for the promotion of a person of another race, or a program centering on race, this is not likely to cost me heavily within my present setting, even if my colleagues disagree with me.

30. If I declare there is a racial issue at hand, or there isn’t a racial issue at hand, my race will lend me more credibility for either position than a person of color will have.

31. I can choose to ignore developments in minority writing and minority activist programs, or disparage them, or learn from them, but in any case, I can find ways to be more or less protected from negative consequences of any of these choices.

32. My culture gives me little fear about ignoring the perspectives and powers of people of other races.

33. I am not made acutely aware that my shape, bearing or body odor will be taken as a reflection on my race.

34. I can worry about racism without being seen as self-interested or self-seeking.

35. I can take a job with an affirmative action employer without having my co-workers on the job suspect that I got it because of my race.

36. If my day, week or year is going badly, I need not ask of each negative episode or situation whether it had racial overtones.

37. I can be pretty sure of finding people who would be willing to talk with me and advise me about my next steps, professionally.

38. I can think over many options, social, political, imaginative or professional, without asking whether a person of my race would be accepted or allowed to do what I want to do.

39. I can be late to a meeting without having the lateness reflect on my race.

40. I can choose public accommodation without fearing that people of my race cannot get in or will be mistreated in the places I have chosen.

41. I can be sure that if I need legal or medical help, my race will not work against me.

42. I can arrange my activities so that I will never have to experience feelings of rejection owing to my race.

43. If I have low credibility as a leader I can be sure that my race is not the problem.

44. I can easily find academic courses and institutions which give attention only to people of my race.

45. I can expect figurative language and imagery in all of the arts to testify to experiences of my race.

46. I can chose blemish cover or bandages in “flesh” color and have them more or less match my skin.

47. I can travel alone or with my spouse without expecting embarrassment or hostility in those who deal with us.

48. I have no difficulty finding neighborhoods where people approve of our household.

49. My children are given texts and classes which implicitly support our kind of family unit and do not turn them against my choice of domestic partnership.

50. I will feel welcomed and “normal” in the usual walks of public life, institutional and social.

Peggy McIntosh is associate director of the Wellesley Collage Center for Research on Women. This essay is excerpted from Working Paper 189. “White Privilege and Male Privilege: A Personal Account of Coming To See Correspondences through Work in Women’s Studies” (1988), by Peggy McIntosh; available for $4.00 from the Wellesley College Center for Research on Women, Wellesley MA 02181 The working paper contains a longer list of privileges.

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racethefb.jpgThat’s the title of the second segment of a three-part video series called, “RACE – The power of an Illusion”. The Gesu anti-racism team is conducting some dialogue sessions with some of us Gesu folks and folks from some predominantly (dare I say overwhelmingly?) white suburban parishes using this film series.

I’ve known for some time that the history I learned in school was biased toward the dominant class, but last night I learned just how ugly our past is when it comes to the treatment of people who are different from the “ruling class”.

Here’s an excerpt from the press release describing this episode:

Ironically, it was not slavery but freedom – the revolutionary new idea of liberty and the natural rights of man – that led to the ideology of white supremacy.

Robin Kelley, Chair of the History Department at New York University, raises the conundrum haunting our Founders: “The problem that they had to figure out is how can we promote liberty, freedom, democracy on the one hand, and a system of slavery and exploitation of people who are non-white on the other?”

James Horton illuminates the story that helped reconcile that contradiction: “And the way you do that is to say, ‘Yeah, but you know there is something different about these people. This whole business of inalienable rights, that’s fine, but it only applies to certain people.'” It was not a coincidence that Thomas Jefferson, the apostle of freedom and a slaveholder, was the first American public figure to articulate a theory speculating upon the “natural” inferiority of Africans.

Similar logic rationalized the taking of Indian lands. When the “civilized” Cherokee were forcibly removed from their homes in Georgia to west of the Mississippi in 1838, one in four died in what became known as “The Trail of Tears.” President Andrew Jackson defended Indian removal. It wasn’t greed causing the Indians to “disappear,” but the inevitable fate of an inferior people established “in the midst of a superior race.”

A provocative film, no? I found myself feeling shame over how I have benefitted from the misguided evil views of our predecessors that have found their way not only into poor social policy, but into the very psyche of every American who grows up steeped in this (please excuse my crassness) CRAP!

The sad thing is that we still have these ideas with us today. Perhaps they are not aired so openly as before, but believe me, they are there and affecting the ability of people of color to make a decent life for themselves. The insanity has to stop, and NOW!!

Perhaps the first step to dismantling racism is to acknowlege the reality of “white privilege.” My next post will address that concept.

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This is what stuck with me after our celebration of the Eucharist today. Our presider, Fr. Bob Scullin, SJ, talked about how some translations of the phrase from Nehemiah (Neh. 8:10) use “joy of the Lord” rather than “rejoicing in the Lord.” I have to admit, I love the idea of letting God’s joy be my strength, as well as the idea of God delighting in me. And, Bob invited us to consider the other translation because it suggests more of a response from us, less passivity. It reminds me of some oft-repeated words of wisdom to newcomers at 12-step tables… “Bring the body and the mind will follow.”

Indeed, the very act of rejoicing in God can help to bring about an experience of the joy of God. It’s like I become an active participant in God’s joy, rather than soaking it up like a sponge. At Gesu, it’s my sense that this rejoicing in God business really IS a strength of this faith community, and that was reflected in our celebration today… I know, you’re probably sick of hearing about these “Gesu moments,” but I have to tell you that today was pretty special. And I’m glad Natty was able to be there to experience it. She’s on her way back to Grand Rapids, hopefully smooth sailing despite a bit of sleet that was starting to fall. It will be interesting to see if she has anything to say about her visit to Gesu on her blog.

Well, after 2 weeks of class, I’m at the point where I don’t have my preparation done for two of the three classes I have to teach tomorrow, so I have channel my rejoicing into Zener diodes and regulated DC power supplies…

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I had a nice visit today from Natty, a fellow blogster on the SisterBloggers blog ring. She had an appointment in the Detroit area, so we were able to get together for lunch and conversation. She’s also going to meet me at Gesu tomorrow. The picture is a candid (not!) shot of us mugging for the camera…

Me and Natty

We were talking about the experience of blogging, and Natty shared something that I hadn’t thought of…that for younger people who are discerning a call to religious life, the internet IS an important means of connecting with a peer group, that communities in cyberspace are real and essential for them.

Those of us who grew up without many of today’s advanced communication technologies may not always appreciate that they are very real ways of bringing people together. I sigh every time I hear someone in my generation (or sometimes even younger) make a disparaging remark about those who find community online. Why do some posit the theory that online community is a relationship substitute? I prefer to think of it as a relationship enhancer… Of course, I know it is partly a function of aging that makes us yearn for the “good old days”…

Well, I hope that Natty will experience a “Gesu moment” tomorrow before she heads back across the state. And I hope you all are having a great weekend!

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