More white people sitting around saying all of the right things. I work with that type. They’re well-meaningish…

Warm-Up: Do the people who advocate for cultural responsiveness really practice it? Share your experiences below.say-something-pic

When I got an invitation to view a screening of I’m Not a Racist Am I?, I scoffed. More white people sitting around saying all of the right things. I work with that type. They’re well-meaningish. When the discussion of racism moves from theoretical to their actual and quite current racist actions, there’s a shut down. They hide behind their progressive jargon, they cite past work, they name drop the Black people who will vouch for them. They deny. I understand. I would like to deny too. I’m ashamed every time I smile when I don’t want to.  I’m ashamed at the times I bite my tongue because I need a contract or a contact or some leverage from the white world that will help me do better for me and mine. This year I’m practicing authenticity, an unapologetic Blackness. I’m daring to believe that being my true self will take me further then the artificially sweetened version. The screening gave me an opportunity to practice.

I’m Not a Racist Am I? was good. It chronicles teenagers from all over New York City and different backgrounds who come together to explore race. The age of the participants provided a slicing starkness that included a simple and encompassing definition of racism: individual meanness and systematic. Individual meanness is what we discuss the most, and ranges from offensive ignorance to blatant disrespect—the don’t touch my hair, n-word type of stuff. Systematic racism is the ways in which government systems like housing, health care, education, and criminal justice oppress Black people.

The discussion afterwards was typical. There were a couple of white folks who seemed to really get it, more who wanted to, and others who thought they did, but had no idea. I spoke freely, pointing out the examples of racism in the very discussion of racism that we were having. It felt good, but then I left and wondered what had I really done. I spoke the truth in the safe confines of the D&C’s 1st Amendment room. Would I speak the truth when it matters? When it jeopardizes my own self-interest?

I thought back to the RCSD release of Superintendent Barbara Deane-Williams’ 100 Day plans. It was a public forum which included absolutely no voice from the public; not even a question and answer period. This while reports like School Climate were presented and cited the theoretical framework of Dr. Joy DeGruy, (a world renowned race expert and leader that the RCSD paid top dollar to help mitigate its own racism) to recommend a focus on creating positive relationships—the most important school controlled factor in student achievement. These positive relationships can only be built when culturally responsive practices are employed. How ironic. The forum’s design thinking was certainly not culturally responsive, nor did it build relationship. See, anti-racist rhetoric is easy. Living it is what matters.

(P.S. A version of this ran in my hometown newspaper. I wish they hadn’t chosen that picture )


  1. Denise Speicher says:

    I read your article in the paper today. I went to I’m Not a Racist Am I?. I read Dr DeGruy’s book, Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome and saw her speak Friday night. What has happened to people of African descent is incredibly unjust and sad and horrifying. I have become aware of white privilege in the past years and I think it is unjust and only rarely recognized. I only learned about redlining in the past 10 years. I read Isabel Wilkerson’s book, Warmth of Other Suns. But what can I do? I’m a 64 year old white woman. I work with toddlers at RIT. I don’t have much energy left for social justice work, but can do some and am planning to volunteer at a city school when I retire. I can’t imagine the pain and sorrow families must have when they look at their precious children and think of the unjust world they have to live in.
    African Americans have every right to be angry, but don’t push away white liberals who want to work to change things. Teach us what will help.

    • Thank you for your comment and your commitment to dismantling racism. Its important that you share what you have learned and are learning with the white people in your sphere of influence. My intention is not to push white liberals away, but rather not to sacrifice my authenticity to make them/you comfortable enough to continue in the work. My best energy and efforts are needed for my people and community.

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