Wednesday, November 23, 2005

brick by brick

Jessi left an interesting comment on my post about the media's response to the murder wave here in KC. A lot of really tough questions.
But how do we begin to tear down the walls? How do you start a movement that people are running away from before it's even begun?

I felt sort of like a schmuck when I read it. I think I come off sounding high and mighty when I try to tackle such a difficult and complicated issue in a little blog post.

And I know I'm a pretty easy target for Tony's criticism that I blame everyone but the blacks who are actually commiting the crimes. I'm probably guilty of painting blacks as victims, and that carries its own set of dangers.

Truth is, there probably is no viable solution. Not in an immediate global sense. This is probably as obvious here in Kansas City as it is anywhere in the country, considering our epic failures at integration.

It's important to remember, though, who these words are coming from, and who they're directed toward.

I'm a white, middle-class American, and my comments are aimed at me and my kind. More specifically, with regards to the post Jessi was commenting on, I feel compelled -- perhaps foolishly -- to challenge myself as a journalist, and other journalists like me, to rethink our assumptions about stories with an obvious racial component. And to consider how these assumptions perpetuate the injustice of the status quo.

There are quite a few books I've read which have really shaped my thinking on this subject. One of the best is Dismantling Racism, by Joseph Barndt. In it he writes:
To study racism is to study walls. We have looked at barriers and fences, restraints and limitations, ghettos and prisons. The prison of racism confines us all, people of color and white people alike. It shackles the victimizer as well as the victim…

But we have also seen that the walls of racism can be dismantled. We are not condemned to an inexorable fate, but are offered the vision and possibility of freedom. Brick by brick, stone by stone, the prison of individual, institutional, and cultural racism can be destroyed. You and I are urgently called to join the efforts of those who know it is time to tear down, once and for all, the walls of racism.

In the book, Barndt (a white man) argues that the first step whites need to take is to realize that there are privileges we're afforded because of the color of our skin, and the class we were born into, and all the history that has carved out our position in the world. And these privileges are made possible in part by others' lack of privilege. We also need to understand, as he says in the passage above, that racial separation hurts us, too.

So the obvious next step is to try to eliminate the separation.

That's where it can get really tough.

I'm reading a great book right now by Samuel G. Freedman called Upon This Rock, about a black church in Brooklyn. In it, the main character, Pastor Johnny Ray Youngblood, tells a group of white seminary students:
"The white person who ministers in the slum better not do it because you feel sorry for poor people or because you think it's the Christian thing to do or you need to feel some leftover liberal guilt. That will get your ass killed...

"We don't need any more Great White Fathers or Great White Mothers."

Good advice, if a bit discouraging. But then he says:
"Don't do for us. Do with us. Don't believe what others tell you about us. Ask us."

And this is where, on the other hand, it can get really easy, and fun, and cool, and rewarding. Like, it feels great to break out of the white ghetto. It didn't take long trying before much of my perspective on things did a complete 180, and my life feels much, much richer.


Jackson, Novice Debater said...

Hey Joe,
I just read your book, Cross-X, and it took me two months to finish it. You challenged all my beleifs on racism and you also broke down the initial thought of racism. Firstly, I would like to thank you for an amazing read. Secondly, I have a question: Your book created a beutiful message, but how can we get people to understand that to demolish racism, we must take it upon ourselves? Most people will just think 'oh, racism's still around? Well, it's only cause those ________ act that way that people treat them difrently. I guess what I'm really asking is:
1. Is this the conclusion you were aiming at?
2. Is writing a book really going to inspire individuals to take it upon themselves to end something they've been avoiding for years?

Anonymous said...

Hi! i'm a high school varsity debator, and I have read your book. It was absolutely inspiring and amazing. I am currently at debate camp looking for the "brick by brick" quote. I first heard it in your book. Thank you so much for the inspiration.