Today’s new piece is in regards to a few lessons I have learned from my thesis. Some have read it and noted they felt I was biased. After re-reading the work myself, I am inclined to agree. That said, being biased did not make the work wrong or right. More so it made it difficult at times for people to listen to.
Further, I felt I may have scared folks away from participating in this discussion with me. I want to make it very clear that was not my purpose, goal, or hope. This is a subject that everyone needs to engage in for us to find progress and resolution.
All that said, I would like to leave you with four lessons I took away from the process of, the writing of, and the defending of my thesis in the time since. These are lessons that have led me to be so passionate about the topics of racism and privilege, and I would like to share them with you.
- I have learned the importance of listening more than speaking.
What exactly do I mean by this? I think this may be one of the more obvious lessons. As a White man, I cannot speak first-hand to the Black experience in the US. I can refer to those things shared by others, I can create a dialogue based on research, I can even do some of that research myself. If, however, I am not focusing my work on that listening idea, I am failing at adequately discussing the topic.
2) I have learned the importance of educating more than asking.
So this piece also ties into my last statement. Educating ones self is more important that asking someone else to educate you. There are plenty of resources, reading materials, research studies, opinion pieces, and videos out there to help you educate yourself. You Black friend is not responsible for educating you. It is not someone else’s responsibility to speak for an entire race and remove your ignorance on a subject.
There are plenty of resources available if only you look. Take some time to read. Educate yourself. Education leads to understanding. This may lead to questions. If it does, GREAT! Those questions can be answered by, you guessed it, other writing.
Now if you have a friend who is patient enough and willing to have those discussions with you, they have that right. But do not get upset if they disengage or remove themselves from that role of answer giver when you are the one learning. It negates their pain and experience by placing your curiosity and at times need to prove a point above their personal suffering (an action that is racist).
3) I have learned the importance of persistence more than patience.
This was probably one of the biggest lessons for me and why I have become so vocal on the subject. Martin Luther King Jr. said
The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.
It is a great quote. It comes based on a longer quote from Theodore Parker:
“I do not pretend to understand the moral universe; the arc is a long one, my eye reaches but little ways; I cannot calculate the curve and complete the figure by the experience of sight; I can divine it by conscience. And from what I see I am sure it bends towards justice.”
The question of course becomes how long is too long. I talk about the importance of persistence when it comes to our students. Note how students believe they must take action because that moral arc sometimes needs a bit of help. That is true, and it always seems to be, for the most part, the younger generations who realize this. We look back fondly on history, commemorating Martin Luther King with a day of celebration. Remember, however, that even his actions, praised today as the epitome of protest by large portions of White America, was hated when he did what he did. No one could understand why it was necessary.
4) We can all do things that perpetuate racist systems.
This particular lesson really struck home with me one day during a conversation with my thesis advisor. We were discussing how students were interpreting the term White Privilege. In my paper, I noted that students did not feel that it existed. After some poking, prodding, and pushing, my advisor helped me stumble on a big point. I was discussing White students. of course having grown up with White privilege, I had never realized I was discussing anyone other than students.
That is the thing about systemic racism, we view it as ordinary. When “that is just how life is”, those little things that perpetuate it are allowed to float in the breeze. We, as a race, take in subliminal messages far more easily than we care to admit, meaning these little “slips” or natural tendencies, create a society where it is, in fact, seen as natural.
(feel free to read said thesis here.)