11 comments on “Another Response to “Being White In Philly”

  1. An emotional minefield. I agree with what you say, but it takes years living side by side to develop the conversation and the understanding you would like to see. Twenty years of living as a minority in a black community, and I still walk in privilege. I was born into privilege, and short of becoming St. Francis of Assisi, that will never change. (In your eyes. In mine, it isn’t an issue. i am just a middle class white girl.). However, your comments about the black community having the brainpower and the answers? Most definitely you do. If you want to join hands in this battle, however, and I am assuming you would as you are a Christian and our bonds surpass the color of our skin, then writing critiques about how white people still see themselves as the Great White Hope is unhelpful. How do you propose to be heard? How can we ever undo what has been done to the black community so that you will feel vindicated? We cannot fix it, the answer has to come from you. How do the Germans get past Hitler? They cannot. We will not let them. You do have the ability, but you need help.

    So we content ourselves with assuaging our guilt by doing what we can to help, or we just walk away because it is too hurtful and explosive to talk about. You can be sure of this: Whatever we choose to do, it will be wrong. I for one choose to make friends, break down every stereotype I can, and live as one human being to another. I choose to serve. And yes, I go home to a nice house.

  2. Thanks Cheryl for your comments. Reconciliation is a difficult process and one that is not solely in the hands of those in a dominant position. I commend the fact that you have lived among minorities for the time you have. If the attitude of “Great White Hope” fits then it is appropriate as a descriptive. If we walk down the road of mutual reconciliation then it requires saying some tough things that are true. The reality is that I know the condescending of many who attempt to fix black problems. I believe that it is important to actually understand the extent of the problem–it involves systemic oppression as well as prejudgments made about others. The reason that this issue continues to arise is that we have not become a post-racial nation (e.g., Trayvon Martin Case). Vindication is not the goal (in God’s hands) and this is not something that you (or white people) can fix. Jew should never forget the holocaust and blacks should never forget 400 years of slavery and added years of Jim Crow and systemic oppression. I would add that this does not mean that we can’t experience genuine fellowship and peace under the cross of Christ–I am for that, but not at the expense of omitting past history and ignoring very real current pain. Continue to do what you do…whether you believe it will be perceived as being wrong is something that you have to live with. Continue to make friends, serve and go home to a nice home–my hope is that you experience ‘real’ reconciliation.

  3. Kyle, the notion of this “conversation about race” that we’re supposed to have is mentioned in both the original article and your critique. Assuming you believe there could be such a thing as a productive, fruitful dialogue about race, what do you think that conversation would look like (or, more properly, “sound like”)?

  4. Sergius- great question. A precursor to any conversation about race would require some pre-education. Let me explain – I have operated as a member of the subdominant culture all of my life (e.g., public school, college, seminary, corporate world, etc.) I am familiar with the dominant culture in most respect but without the privilege that most within the dominant culture enjoy. In my opinion, I believe that any serious conversation about race must address privilege and accept it as a reality. I would add that they should also acknowledge the need to understand and at time at least empathize with the realities of life for those within the sub-dominant culture. I think at least a working knowledge of black life (or minority life) in North America is important. I believe in mutual respect and the need for genuine community and that we need to approach others who disagree with love. I would also add that conversation need to happen ‘one-on-one’ within intentional relationships as well as on a communal level. I think churches would be a great place to start these conversations. Difficult- yes, impossible – no. There is much more that I can say but I just wanted to briefly respond with some important preconditions.

  5. Thanks for that quick response, Kyle. I’m with you so far. I’m curious as to where you’d propose we go from there, but I do realize that you have many more pressing concerns than responding to questions on your blog. If it any point you find time to add to this, I would be eager to learn what more you have to say on the matter.

    SMG

  6. Sergius – I think a great place to start would be an intentional induction into another person’s context. If you are a Christian perhaps you commit to attending a church with a black pastor for a long period of time and learn by ‘being’ in a unique place where you will hear and see things that are outside of your ‘norm’. I would add that it is extremely important to approach with an attitude to learn. Although I use, “conversation” concerning race I wonder if its important to add that conversation is only the starting point. Any conversation about race is going to be painful–there is no way around that and you will walk away offended – if you’re having a real conversation.

  7. Kyle, again, thanks for continuing this. You point out that if you’re having a real conversation, you’re going to walk away offended. I agree — inasmuch as I think I understand what you’re getting at.

    But there’s another necessary aspect to any real conversation, and that is that a real conversation is just that — a conversation. And it is this necessary aspect of the “conversation on race” that has made a lot of us — both black and white — somewhat cynical about whether such a conversation could actually take place and be fruitful. That is to say: are we really talking about a conversation? Or are we talking about something more like a lecture?

    I think John McWhorter said it best, when being interviewed by Bill Moyers on PBS. Unfortunately, I can’t quote him directly; rather I can only paraphrase him (though I think the video is available on line). McWhorter said that when academics and cultural critics talk about this conversation about race, what they really mean is that black people have something to teach white people if white people would only listen (again, that’s a paraphrase, but I think it’s pretty close his actual words).

    So, two more questions for you (1) What do you think of McWhorter’s statement?

    and

    (2) assuming that we genuinely want a real conversation, what is it that black people need to learn from white people — or at least hear from white people — in order to make this a real conversation, and one which will further interracial understanding and harmony?

    I know that’s potentially a lot, and again, I understand you are probably a busy man with more important things to do than just answer my questions!

    Thanks,

    SMG

  8. Sergius – now we get to the nitty gritty of the matter. I will be frank with you–I’ve read much of McWhorter and do not agree with much of what he says but I wouldn’t ‘throw the baby out with the bathwater’. He has some stuff I would listen to but by and large he doesn’t represent me or my interest. So if we are looking to have a conversation we are really not talking about two individuals sitting down and talking to one another over lunch. When we use the phrase ‘let’s have a conversation’ what we really mean is let’s get down to the real problem and try to figure out a real solution – if any. As I stated in my initial response to you that I have been a member of the sub-dominant culture all of my life- in other words I have been listening, observing and in many cases I’ve had to fulfill the dominant cultures expectations or make them feel comfortable. So for me and many African Americans it has been a one sided conversation for years because we’ve had to exist within institutions dominated by White males. I have learned about white life all of my life. I’ve simply had to exist in a ‘white world’–I know the culture well. This is not inherently evil but it just explains the flow of influence.

    So Black cultural critics and academics have been calling for this conversation about race but they have been marginalized as radicals and relegated to the status of ‘race baiters’–that’s fine. Of course, I can’t speak for all black people but I will tell you that most know white culture very well and not just the stereotypical culture put forth by the media and other outlets. I just wonder how many whites can understand or explain the ‘why’ and ‘how’ of black culture? For example, why would most blacks feel that injustice was committed in the Trayvon Martin case? There were a lot of white folks (not all) who couldn’t understand or empathize with the response to what they described as ‘real justice’. There are no quick answers but I appreciate your questions because they seem to suggest that you are interested in understanding black life. (I think) If I were to answer your second question I would posit that white folks can learn our (black) story because in learning the black narrative in America it would at least provide some perspective on the many issues that we are facing as a community often labeled as the, “other”. (e.g., history of colonialism, slavery, Jim Crow, institutional racism, privilege, micro-aggression, etc.) Not sure this satisfies your questions but….

  9. Thanks, Kyle. I’m going to let that marinate and perhaps I will have follow-up questions or comments later.

  10. Thanx for the above conversation – it was most helpful to me. I plan on attending a black church around the corner for the foreseeable future and have committed myself to listen in order to learn.

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