Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Institutionalized Blindness

I live in Northern Idaho. I love it here, it's beautiful and peaceful.
For me at least.
A few weeks ago, Rachel Dolezlal, an art teacher at the local college (North Idaho Community College) found a noose on here porch. Dolezal is mixed race and a human rights advocate. She is strong and not quite about her work here.
And she has become a target for hate groups. The community response here was typical, people were outraged. Angry that that kind of thing still happens in this area.
And its terrible. And people should be outraged.

But we are missing something. I couldn't put my finger on it for a long time. Everyone is supportive. Everyone is committed to driving hate and racism out of this area. But something felt wrong.

And then I went to the Action Against Hate benefit dinner (through Gonzaga University). It was a great event, and, don't get me wrong, the organization behind it is doing good stuff.

But, it epitomized the problem, in my mind.

Every speaker, every person honored (minus one) was white. There were few colored people in the audience. There were none up on the stage. It was a bunch of well meaning white men(mostly men) talking about all the great work they had done.

And, yes admitting there was a lot more work to be done.

But, the irony was irresistible. And no one talked about it. No one brought it up. Not a single speaker recognized their innate inability to truly feel what someone of color feels.

I'm white. I don't know what it's like to be discriminated against (I'm also a man, so I've got a lot going for me). So, how can I, a white male, really 'get' what it's like to be black? Or native American? Or Asian? Or any of the other of a multitude of marginalized groups?

In my mind that is the problem currently. People are doing wonderful work. People are strongly against racism. Against hate. Discrimination. All of that. But, the institutions, the processes that surround the good work being done, are fundamentally flawed. They are fundamentally discriminatory. And people don't want to, or simply can't reflect on the institutions they are caught up in.

And, like I said, I'm white. So everything I observe, everything I think is colored (bad pun) by this. And quite possibly everything I've said isn't true, possibly I'm full of it and don't know what I'm talking about. Hopefully, however, I have the humility to recognize this and defer to the knowledge and life experience of someone who has actually been discriminated against, who has actually been hated for something as ridiculous as the color of their skin.

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