Uprooting racism How white people can work for racial justice

Paul Kivel

Book - 2017

"There's a long tradition of white people opposing racism--but there are also many excuses we give for not getting involved. Now in a fully updated 4th edition, Uprooting Racism is the supportive, practical go-to guide for helping white people work with others for equal opportunity, democracy, and justice in these divisive and angry times."--

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2nd Floor 305.8/Kivel Checked In
Gabriola, BC, Canada : New Society Publishers [2017]
Main Author
Paul Kivel (author)
4th revised & updated edition
Physical Description
xxx, 417 pages : illustrations ; 23 cm
Includes bibliographical references (pages 361-399) and index.
  • Acknowledgments
  • Preface to Previous Editions
  • Preface to the Fourth Edition
  • A Note on Language
  • Introduction: "Only Justice Can Put Out the Fire"
  • Part I. What Color is White?
  • Let's Talk
  • "I'm Not White"
  • "I'm Not Racist"
  • What Is Racism?
  • What Is Whiteness?
  • Words and Pictures
  • White Benefits, Middle-Class Privilege
  • White Benefits? A Personal Assessment
  • The Economic Pyramid
  • The Costs of Racism to People of Color
  • The Culture of Power
  • Entitlement
  • Cultural Appropriation
  • The Costs of Racism to White People
  • Retaining Benefits, Avoiding Responsibility
  • White Fragility and White Power
  • "Thank You for Being Angry"
  • It's Good to Talk about Racism
  • Who Is a Victim?
  • Part II. The Dynamics of Racism
  • The Enemy Within
  • Fear and Danger
  • The Geography of Fear
  • Exotic and Erotic
  • The Myth of the Happy Family
  • Beyond Black and White
  • What's in a Name?
  • Separatism
  • Part III. Being Allies
  • Mutual Interest
  • What Does an Ally Do?
  • Showing Up as a Strong White Ally
  • An Ally Is Not a Hero or Savior
  • Basic Tactics
  • Getting Involved
  • Allies Leverage Their Resources
  • An Ally Educates, Mobilizes, and Organizes Other White People
  • An Ally Makes a Commitment
  • I Would Be a Perfect Ally if
  • It's Not Just a Joke
  • Talking and Working with White People
  • What about Friends and Family Members?
  • Tips for Talking with White People about Racism
  • Allies, Collaborators, and Agents
  • A Web of Control
  • Part IV. The Effects of History
  • Histories of Racism
  • People of Mixed Heritage
  • Native Americans
  • African Americans
  • Asian Americans
  • Latinx
  • Arab Americans
  • Muslims
  • Jewish People
  • Recent Immigrants
  • We All Stand to Gain
  • Part V. Fighting Institutional Racism
  • Institutional Racism
  • Land and Housing
  • Public Policy
  • Reparations
  • Voting
  • Affirmative Action
  • At Work
  • At School
  • Health Care
  • The Police
  • The Criminal/legal System
  • Religion
  • Foreign Policy
  • Environmental Justice
  • Part VI. Democratic, Anti-Racist Multiculturalism
  • Democratic, Anti-Racist Multiculturalism
  • Multicultural Competence
  • Anti-Racism
  • Integration and Tokenism
  • Organizational Change and Accountability
  • Home and Family
  • For the Long Haul
  • Conclusion
  • Afterword
  • Notes
  • Bibliography
  • Other Resources
  • Index
  • About the Author
  • About New Society Publishers

Let's Talk I am talking to you as one white person to another. I am Jewish, and I will talk about that later in this book. You also may have an ethnic identity you are proud of. You likely have a religious background, a culture, a country of origin, and a history. Whatever your other identities, you may not be used to being addressed as white. Other people are African American, Asian American, Pacific Islanders, Native American, Latinx, or Muslims. Other people have countries of origin and primary languages that are not English. White people generally assume people are white unless otherwise noted, much as humans can assume people and animals are male. Read the following lines: This new sitcom is about a middle-aged, middle-class couple and their three teenage children. They won a medal on the Special Olympics swim team. He did well in school but was just a typical all-American kid. They didn't know if they would get into the college of their choice. My grandmother lived on a farm all her life. Are all these people white? Read the sentences again and imagine the people referred to are Chinese Americans or Native Americans. How does that change the meanings of these sentences? If you are of Christian background, what happens when you imagine the subjects as Muslim or Jewish? White people assume we are white without stating it because it is "obvious." Yet there is something about stating this obvious fact that makes white people feel uneasy, marked. What's the point of saying "I'm white?" White people have been led to believe racism is a question of particular acts of discrimination or violence. Calling someone a name, denying someone a job, excluding someone from a neighborhood - that is racism. These certainly are acts of racial discrimination. But what about working in an organization where people of color are paid less, have more menial work or fewer opportunities for advancement? What about shopping in a store where you are treated respectfully, but people of color are followed around or treated with suspicion? People of color know this racism intimately. They know that where they live, work, and walk; whom they talk with and how; what they read, listen to, or watch on TV - their past experiences and future possibilities are all influenced by racism. For the next few days, carry your whiteness with you. During the day, in each new situation, remind yourself that you are white. How does it feel? Notice how rarely you see or hear the words white, Caucasian or Euro-American. Where is it implied but not stated specifically? Who is around you? Are they white or people of color? What difference does it make? Write down what you notice. Discuss it with a friend. Particularly notice whenever you are somewhere there are only white people. How did it come to be that no people of color are present? If you ask about their absence, what kinds of explanations/rationalizations do people give? Are they really not there, or are they only invisible? Did they grow some of the food, originally own the land, build the buildings, or clean and maintain the place where you are? -------------------------------- "I'm Not White" I was once doing a workshop on racism in which we divided the group into a caucus of people of color and a caucus of white people to elicit more in-depth discussion. Immediately some of the white people said, "But I'm not white." I was somewhat taken aback because although these people looked white, they were clearly distressed about being labeled white. A white Christian woman stood up and said, "I'm not really white because I'm not part of the white male power structure that perpetuates racism." Next a white gay man stood up and said, "You have to be straight to have the privileges of being white." A white, straight, working-class man from a poor family then said, "I've got it just as hard as any person of color." Finally, a straight, white, middle-class man said, "I'm not white, I'm Italian." My African American coworker turned to me and asked, "Where are all the white people who were here just a minute ago?" I replied, "Don't ask me. I'm not white, I'm Jewish!" Those of us who are middle-class are more likely to take it for granted that we are white without having to emphasize the point, and to feel guilty when it is noticed or brought up. Those of us who are poor or working-class are more likely to have had to assert our whiteness against the effects of economic discrimination and the presence of other racial groups. Although we share benefits of being white, we don't share the economic privileges of being middle-class, and so we are more likely to feel angry and less likely to feel guilty than our middle-class counterparts. In the US it has always been dangerous even to talk about racism. "N***** lover," "Indian lover," and "race traitor" are labels that have carried severe consequences for white people. You may know the names of white civil rights workers Goodman, Schwerner, and Luizzo who were killed for their actions. Many of us have been isolated from friends or family because of disagreements over racism. A lot of us have been called "racist." I want to begin here - with this denial of our whiteness - because racism keeps people of color in the limelight and makes whiteness invisible. Whiteness is a concept, an ideology, which holds tremendous power over our lives and, in turn, over the lives of people of color. Our challenge as white people will be to keep whiteness center stage. Every time our attention begins to wander off toward people of color or other issues, we must learn to notice and refocus. We must not try to escape our white identity. What parts of your identity does it feel like you lose when you say aloud the phrase "I'm white?" When they arrived in the North America, what did members of your family have to do to be accepted as white? What did they have to give up? Has that identification or pride ever allowed you or your family to tolerate poverty, economic exploitation, or poor living conditions because you could say, "At least we're not colored?" I realize there are differences between the streets of New York and Minneapolis, Vancouver, and Winnipeg, and between different neighborhoods within each city. But in US and Canadian society, there is a broad and pervasive division between those of us who are treated as white people and those of us who are treated as people of color. If, when you move down the streets of major cities, other people assume, based on skin color, dress, physical appearance, or total impression that you are white, then in US society that counts for being white. Several studies have shown that young people between the ages of two and four notice differences of skin color, eye color, hair, dress, and speech and the significance adults give to those differences.1 This is true even if parents are liberal or progressive. The training is too pervasive within our society for anyone to escape. Anthropology and sociology professor Annie Barnes recounts the following interview with a parent who noticed how early in their lives white children learn racism. I experienced it [racism] through my three-year- old daughter. One day at preschool, the students had a "show and tell." All the students had brought their toys to school. My daughter forgot her toys, so I had to go home and get them. My daughter told me specifically what to bring. She wanted her pretty black Barbie doll with the white dress. She loved this doll and thought that it was pretty and often said, "When I grow up, I want to look just like my Barbie." All the other children were white. While my daughter brought out her Barbie during show and tell, they screwed up their faces and said, "Yuck. That's not Barbie. She's ugly."... She cried for hours and never carried her doll to school again, I couldn't believe those little children's actions. That was racism by babies, so to speak.2 Say "I am white" to yourself a couple of times. What are the "buts" that immediately come to mind? Do you try to minimize the importance of whiteness ("We're all part of the human race")? White people are understandably uncomfortable with the label white. Being white is an arbitrary category that overrides our individual personalities, devalues us, deprives us of the richness of our other identities, stereotypes us, and yet has no scientific basis. However, in our society being white is just as real and governs our day-to- day lives just as much as categories and labels confine people of color. To acknowledge this reality is the first step to uprooting racism. When I'm in an all-white setting and a person of color walks in, I notice. I am slightly surprised to see a person of color, and I look again to confirm who they are and wonder to myself why they're there. I try to do this as naturally and smoothly as possible because I wouldn't want anyone to think that I was racist. Actually what I'm surprised at is not that they are there, but that they are there as an equal. All of my opening explanations for their presence will assume they are not. "They must be a server or delivery person," I might tell myself. I think most white people notice skin color all the time, but we don't notice race unless our sense of the proper racial hierarchy is upset. Since I was taught to relate differently to people who are African American, Latinx, Asian, or Arab American, I may need more information than appearance gives me about what kind of person of color I am with. I have some standard questions to fish for more information, such as: "That's an interesting name. I've never heard it before. Where's it from?" "Your accent sounds familiar, but I can't place it." "You don't look American. Where are you from?" And the all-too- common follow-up "No, I mean where are you really from?" It took me a long time to realize that despite my benign intention, these kinds of questions, regularly asked of people of color by white people, are harsh reminders that white people see people of color as outsiders. Sometimes I ask these questions of white Americans who have unusual names or unfamiliar accents. But I have noticed that most often I use these questions to clarify who is white and who isn't and, secondarily, what kind of person of color I am dealing with. Occasionally I hear white people say, "I don't care whether a person is black, brown, orange, or green." Human beings don't come in orange or green. Those whose skin color is darker are treated differently in general, and white people, in particular, respond differently to them. As part of growing up white and learning racial stereotypes, most of us have been trained to stiffen up and be more cautious, fearful, and hesitant around people of color. We can notice these physiological and psychological responses in ourselves and see them in other white people.3 These responses belie our verbal assurances that we don't notice racial differences. There's absolutely nothing wrong with being white or with noticing the differences that color makes. You are not responsible for having white skin or for being raised in a white-dominated, racist society in which you have been trained to have particular responses to people of color. However, you are responsible for how you respond to racism (which is what this book is about), and you can only do so consciously and effectively if you begin by realizing it makes a crucial difference that you are perceived to be and treated as white. ----------------------------------- "I'm Not Racist" Whether it is easy or difficult to say we're white, the phrase we often want to say next is "But I'm not racist." There are lots of ways we have learned to phrase this denial: I don't belong to the Klan. I have friends who are people of color. I do anti-racism work. Uprooting Racism is not about whether you are racist or not, or whether all white people are racist or not. We are not conducting a moral inventory of ourselves, nor creating a moral standard to divide other white people from us. When we say things like "I don't see color," we are trying to maintain a self-image of impartiality and innocence (whiteness). The only way to treat all people with dignity and justice is to recognize that racism has a profound negative effect upon all of our lives. Noticing skin color helps to counteract that effect. Instead of being color-neutral, we need to notice much more acutely and insightfully exactly the difference skin color makes in the way people are treated. Of course you're not a member of the Klan or other extremist groups. Of course you watch what you say and don't make rude racial comments. But dissociating from white people who do is not helpful. You may want to dissociate yourself from their actions, but you still need to challenge their beliefs. You can't challenge them or even speak to them if you have separated yourself, creating some magical line with the racists on one side and you over here. This division leads to an ineffective strategy of trying to convert as many people as possible to your (non-racist and therefore superior) side. Other white people will listen to you better, and be more influenced by your actions, when you identify with them. Then you can explore how to work your way out from the inside of whiteness together. Since racism leads to scapegoating people of color for social and personal problems, all white people are susceptible to scapegoat in times of trouble. Notice the large number of white people who blame African Americans or immigrants of color for economic problems in the US. Visible acts of racism are, at least in part, an indication of the lack of power a white person or group has. More powerful and well-off people can move to segregated neighborhoods or make corporate decisions harder to see and analyze as contributing to racism. Those of us who are middle-class can inadvertently scapegoat poor and working-class white people for being overtly racist. For example, in the 2016 presidential election, those who voted for Trump had a mean income of $72,000 per year and nearly half had college degrees - they were solidly middle-class. Yet many people assume Trump's supporters are uneducated working-class and poor whites who were unable to really see what he stands for.1 We do need to confront racist words and actions because they create an atmosphere of violence in which all of us are unsafe. We also need to understand that most white people are doing the best they can to survive. Overtly racist people are scared and may lack the information and skills to challenge racism. We need to challenge their behavior, not their moral integrity. We also need to be careful we don't end up carrying out an upper-class agenda by blaming poor and working people for being racist when people with wealth control the media, the textbooks, the housing and job markets, and the police. Staying focused on institutions and decision-makers challenges societal racism. Excerpted from Uprooting Racism - 4th Edition: How White People Can Work for Racial Justice by Paul Kivel All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.