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Like a Vine

Dana Hlusko

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.

I used to have an ivy vine growing up the front of the house.  It was here when I moved in some 30 years ago.  I didn’t need to tend to it, it just grew.  New tendrils would appear attached to the brick and before I knew it, it was near the 2nd floor.  Time for it to go.  It wasn’t easy to detach it and kill the roots, but I did it.

Racism is like that.  The socialization of Whites includes tendrils of racist thoughts, ideologies, actions, and coded language that gets the message across that Blacks are inferior to Whites.

What do I mean by “socialization?”

I’ll be borrowing from Robin DiAngelo’s book, “White Fragility” to explain what this means and what you can see that indicates you are witnessing racism, perhaps in your company, or with relatives and colleagues, or even within yourself.

I thought that socialization is something you do with your young children to teach them to play nicely with others.  I’m partially right.  Webster’s dictionary online defines socialization as:the process beginning during childhood by which individuals acquire the values, habits, and attitudes of a society i.“  Socialization is not always something we consciously acquire, i.e. it’s not taught.  Keeping this definition in mind, I’d like to turn now to Robin DiAngelo’s work that expands the notion of socialization into the world of racism.

In her book, White Fragility, Robin DiAngelo defines socialization by talking about the forces that contribute to racism being socially acceptable.  Individualism is one, the other is Objectivity.  Since I’m still digesting the chapters I’ve read so far, I will concentrate on one, Individualism.  She says, “Individualism is a story line that creates, communicates, reproduces, and reinforces the concept that each of us is a unique individual and that our group memberships, such as race, class, or gender, are irrelevant to our opportunities.  Individualism claims that there are no intrinsic barriers to individual success and that failure is not a consequence of social structures but comes from individual character.”  This is a false story line.  Group membership matters.  And each group has a social meaning to it.  We are taught the social meaning of groups in many ways, from many individuals, and through different media.  Much of this is nonverbal, but the message is clear.  For example, we whites learned who lives on “the other side of the tracks” and to “stay away from there,” “that’s a bad neighborhood, “and we learned that Black English Vernacular is not real English and that the clothing and hair styles particular to the black community communicate negative messages and on and on the messages come.

To me, as I’m learning more about my childhood, I can see the ways in which I was socialized to discriminate against the people of other groups including Blacks, Mexicans (wetbacks), Chinese (Chinks), Jews and, other nonwhite people.

We will not eradicate all the tendrils of the vine of racism…and that means that we will be on the journey toward anti-racism for the rest of our lives, just like we are on the journey to becoming more Christ-like for the rest of our lives…and the two are along the same road.  That means we cannot stop, we cannot settle, we will continuously come up against this evil in one tendril or another, and that the journey of repentance is now ongoing.   Pray for me, won’t you?  Pray for us all on this journey.

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I https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/socialization

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