We at ConSpirita Consulting Network are committed to improving leadership, especially ecclesial leadership. These times of a global pandemic and a global awakening about racism cry out for courageous and humble leaders. This series of blogs invite you to come along with us as we humbly, courageously, and consistently undertake the work of self-education about racism in the United States, in the Catholic Church and in our own white, privileged lives.
In our quest to educate ourselves by attending webinars, reading books like How to be an Anti-Racist and White Fragility, and enrolling in racism/justice programs like JustFaith, I have come across similar themes in White behavior that are explained by different authors and presenters. Each is a tad different, but similar enough to be grouped together.
Sometimes it’s hard to recognize racial behaviors. They can be very subtle. Let’s look at several White behavior themes that various authors have addressed that fall into that “hard to see” category.
Distancing is when the speaker uses expressions to essentially deny their identity as being part of the group. They will deflect any responsibility to society at large, or the organization at large or a family member. But it’s never their position they are speaking of. It may sound like they are trying to include others not in the group, but it’s really a way to deny responsibility for what’s going on in the group. They will say things like “What about all the people who aren’t here today who should be?” Or “My family member…” thus placing themselves out of the sphere of responsibility.
Checking out is seen in behaviors that ignore what is going on in a meeting, such as checking email, having side conversations, going out to answer a phone call…and not coming back.
Dominating the discussion – someone in the meeting or gathering is refusing to give up the floor for other viewpoints of the topic. They drown out or talk over others in the group. This happens in order to stifle the voices of people of color by simply never yielding the floor. The agenda can also be set so the concerns of people of color are not at the top or on there at all so that the meeting “never has time” to hear from our black/brown colleagues.
And the last one I’ll discuss today, (there are more than just these) is:
Expecting people of color to teach white people about race. It’s just so tempting to ask your Black friend(s), presuming you have one or more, to help you understand, to give you examples, to show you what this is like for them. In other words, it’s so easy to place responsibility for your own education and enlightenment on Black people. And frankly, I am learning, they are exhausted from trying to help we Whites see and understand. AND it’s not their responsibility to see that we “get it.”
Yes, thankfully, throughout US history we had had authors, poets, journalists, podcasters and even YouTubers who have and are sharing their stories with us. That is their contribution to the need to educate. But I am learning, and learning again and again that racism is not a “Black” problem. It is a White problem and since it is my problem, I am responsible for doing the work to become an anti-racist. I must work to overcome my prejudices, to work against systemic injustice, to learn to both advocate for and ally with people of color…to become an anti-racist. And therefore, I and other Whites must stop expecting people of color to teach me about race.
And so I pray: Creator God, you have made humankind in your image: diverse, beautiful, and charged with your grandeur. Grant me eyes to see, ears to hear, a heart open to your glory shining in all humankind, and hands willing to work for a more just world. I ask this in the name of Jesus, Himself a man of color, an advocate, an ally…our savior. Amen.
Prayer courtesy of Deborah Stollery