Editor’s note: This is an email exchange between two white Women’s Center employees, our Programming Coordinator Margaret Murray and Director Lisa Rismiller who were talking about Baltimore, injustice, and the role of white people. It started with a comment on Facebook and led to questions, which led to a series of e-mails between the two. One of those questions was “should we?” Should we post a series of e-mails on our blog? Our director initially thought “no” but pulled out our mission statement and saw “agents of positive change, social and gender justice, inclusive, diversity, community-building…” and decided “yes.”
On Wed, Apr 29, 2015 at 9:41 AM, Margaret Murray <firstname.lastname@example.org> wrote:
Here is a comment (which includes my own voice and edits) that I thought summed everything up pretty well for white people:
We [white folks] have to look into our hearts and consciences and determine what exactly are our perceptions of people or color, and specifically, black people. We really need to analyze and critique our own behavior as white people, including those who consider themselves to be “white allies” in all of this.
Let’s be honest with ourselves and answer these questions: Do we see black people as equal in every way to ourselves? Do we treat them the same way we treat our (presumably white) family and friends? Do we love our black neighbors as we love ourselves? Or, do we see, label, or perceive black people as gangsters, murderers, thugs, drug addicts, or criminals? Do we avoid them when we walk down the street? Do we fear them?
The way society views the different groups within it determines the way these groups and individuals within it act and how they view themselves. If we view black people as thugs and criminals, we will not work to make the places they live better, with jobs, education, and other resources that will help them lift themselves out of poverty. Instead, many believe that they “deserve this” and “brought it on themselves.” If this is truly the case, it didn’t happen without indifference and complicity from the rest of society.
When “riots” broke out in Ferguson and now in Baltimore, I was disturbed by the number of white people, including those who considered themselves “white allies,” who condemned the actions of those whose lives and opportunities have been suppressed for centuries. The sense of powerlessness and suppressed anger can be volatile and explosive when finally released. At the end of the day, can you really blame some of their reactions? Really put yourself in their shoes and imagine how you would react.
People of color are fed up. I’ve heard people say, “We’re not going to take it anymore.” Frankly, they should have never had to “take it.” They are supposed to be treated as equals in society. But because of decades of misunderstanding and teaching of hate and fear of black people, the white majority has developed perceptions of them that are not only false, but have become a self-fulfilling prophecy for people who have black skin.
On Wed, Apr 29, 2015 at 10:24 AM, Lisa Rismiller <email@example.com> wrote:
Insightful….and heartfelt, for sure. I’m especially struck by “The way a society views the different groups within it determines the way the group and individuals in it act, and how they view themselves…” and how white people in this immigrant nation seem to have totally forgotten that most of our ancestors were at one time “different” from the majority and seen as “thugs,” “drunks” (Irish), or members of religious cults (Catholics). Because of our white skin, over several generations, we’ve been able to largely erase, or at least hide, those distinguishing characteristics and so have been able to be absorbed into the U.S. mainstream. Not so for our black and brown fellow citizens……they have never been able to effectively erase their otherness, so they remain seen (and treated) as different and less…..Like every US social movement before it, until those in power (vs. the majority, which is rapidly changing) become part of the protests pushing for solutions on behalf of their fellow citizens, we’ll get nowhere as a nation.