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A Letter to White America

October 1st, 2016 | Posted by David Whitfield in Racial Justice

Dear White America:
How frightening!
“We didn’t have racism until Obama was elected”?
“Blacks hate Whites because Whites are successful and Blacks are not.”?
“If you’re black and haven’t succeeded in the past 50 years, it’s your fault.
You’ve had every opportunity.”?
“Black communities are in worse shape than ever, ever, ever!”?
Wow! Why are we hearing this line of deficit thinking from educated Whites
after 246 years of slavery and more than 100 years of Jim Crow? I believe most
Whites do not understand slavery; ergo, most do not know what racism feels like,
looks like, taste like, and sounds like. Of course, there are exceptions.

At the age of seven, I experienced what racism looked like, sounded like, felt
like, etc., by watching my very pregnant mother being pushed to the ground and
spat at by a tobacco-chewing, Mississippi cotton plantation row walker. And as she
lay holding her belly, moaning in pain, tears dropping into the Mississippi mud, he
spat at her; had she not moved her head he would have spat in her face, tobacco
spit. I stood gazing, not knowing what to do. That moment of racial violence
against my pregnant mother still replays in my heads over and over. I still hear the
sound of his mean, hateful, racist voice as he yelled the N-word. Racism is
remarkably destructive.

Think about it. Almost daily an unarmed Black is shot dead with impunity.
And how many shots does it take to kill a man? Laquan McDonald was shot 16
times as he lay dying; Amadou Diallo was shot 41 times; Walter Scott, shot 8 times
as he ran. Why so many shots in one man’s body? Is it racial hatred? Is it anger?
And though the kill list is long, we must engage this destructive and deadly
phenomenon: Racism.

Why don’t we engage it, talk about it, and cry about it? I believe there are
four reasons we don’t engage it: first, it is very hard and we don’t have the
courage. We are afraid we’ll have to give up power, privilege, and image. Second,
our ignorance about it will show. Ignorance, by the way, is among all of us, some
more than others. Third, most don’t have the language/grammar to talk about it.
Can we discuss physics without knowing the language and the associated
grammar? Try it. Fourth, I believe most Whites, not all, do not want to share: a)
cultural space, b) community space, c) educational space, d) occupational space, e)
political space, d) fiscal space, plus. The list extends; point is, I believe most Whites
do not want to share this beautiful country and all its glory with nonwhites, though
we all help build it. Not wanting to share comes from deficit thinking which results
from ignorance.

We can ameliorate ignorance by gaining knowledge, building vocabulary by
reviewing literature on slavery, Jim Crow, Civil Rights Acts, Voting Rights Acts, etc.
In my view, most Whites know very little about slavery; some think it wasn’t that
bad. Both Bill O’Reilly of Fox News and Former Governor Barbour of Mississippi
stated, “Slavery wasn’t that bad.” Well, I want you to think about this: Imagine
your penis being whacked off and you’re made to chew on it until you lose
consciousness. How bad do you think that was? How about an iron yoke around
your neck as a collar? One more: Babies of slaves were used for alligator bait!
These are just a very few atrocities against slaves. Whites have created and
participated in something they don’t understand. Many don’t understand that
slavery was a business decision with concomitant atrocities; it was a decision of
dominance, White supremacy, control, greed; that list too extends. I believe most
Whites don’t see how slavery relates to hatred, violence, and racism; how it relates
to denial of space sharing as mentioned above. The few Whites who want to
equitably share this country are perhaps afraid of taking sides. We can overcome
that with dialogue.

Dialogue is not about siding; it’s about listening to each other which we do
very poorly, if at all; it’s about putting our judgments on hold which is challenging
for most, but not impossible. Dialogue will help us build capacity for new behaviors;
gain language and grammar to listen to each other’s stories about racism and its
consequences; understand what racism feels like, taste like, smells like, sounds
like, and looks like. Given how destructive racism is, has been, and will be, I
believe dialoguing about it will help ameliorate it, enrich our human relations, and
improve the survivability of this great nation.
It is high time we come to the table and start the dialogue!
David Whitfield,

U. S. Veteran (Viet Nam—68’-69’)

Global Citizen

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37 Responses

  • Madelyn Harvey says:

    I guess we will have to conclude that those “educated Americans”, have not been properly educated. I never experienced anything like you have described David, but I can imagine what you must have felt having to watch your mother being tortured. I don’t know about anyone else, but I believe racism has been forever present in this country, but has been more evident since we have had a Black president. There are several Whites, with an attitude of supremacy, who have had difficulty excepting a Black president. I believe a Black president has aroused and stimulated many who were able to suppress or disguise their feelings up until now.

    Institutional racism has always been a problem in the United States; however, I am still trying to figure out why we are seeing so much blatant discrimination among police officers. I can only assume that it is being filtered from an administration that is biased and that wants to perpetuate stereotypes of Blacks, especially Black males. Whatever the reason, it is apparent that there is still a great deal of work to be done in this country. Several years of hatred and racism will fester as long as generations continue to pass negative attitudes and behaviors onto their progenies. When teaching students about cultural diversity, I try to stress the importance of taking courses in African American Studies and to learn as much about other cultures so that they gain a better understanding of those they will service as professionals.

    I agree with you David, education about slavery is imperative and will help change the perception of those who have been brainwashed. Black history should be mandatory for every college student and for anyone in civil service, especially police officers.

    I really enjoyed reading “A Letter to White America”. Thank you for sharing your thoughts!

    • Madelyn,
      Thank you very much! When I heard the first quote, I was hurt; and then the other quotes too, are devastating to me. We Blacks care screwed in my thinking because if that’s how most Whites feel, there’s little or no hope.

      OMG! How lame of me; for some reason I didn’t see all of your response/post–I am so very sorry. I agree! Obama woke the Race Bear who had been hibernating for quite some time. And many say he is the cause and that to me is very triggering. He didn’t divide the country in my view. You mentioned the police: as the FBI reported a few years ago that here are many hate group members such as the KKK and other White supremacy groups who are members of police departments. The issue is that their badge and gun give them carte Blanche to go after those they hate with impunity. Again, institutional racism, as you mentioned, is alive and well; there are jobs, neighborhoods, and other situations where you and I cannot access without some negative consequences.

      Black history, slavery, ethnic groups, all should be part of the curriculum k-12 and on up. For example, most do not or did not know that slave babies were used for alligator bait. I won’t go into other unbelievable atrocities I am finding in the literature.

      Madelyn, I thank you from the bottom of my heart for chiming in and sharing your thoughts on such a sore, complicated, and sensitive subject.
      Please, let’s stay in touch.

  • Erika Whitfield says:

    This is awesomely, honest. This social racism that exists among people is happening so inherently. It’s engraved in their everyday lives, and quite honestly it’s their normal. They, too have experiences that led them to this place. How would we know? No one is talking about it. Open, honest dialogue helps everyone.

  • Erika,
    I thank you very much! I love the way you write. And yes, it is a normal or a norm, sadly. And you’re right; no one wants to talk about it. And I hope to start a dialogue because I believe in it.
    Thank you again, Erika!

  • Tom Whalen says:

    Excellent letter David. Racism is a systemic evil that has always been present throughout our country, not just in the former Confederacy. Here in Massachusetts, my students like to think the evil is elsewhere. I showed them video from the 1974 Boston Busing Riots. I was heartened that most wanted to confront the racism inherent in our society. Unfortunately, I had a few that felt I was the source of evil by suggesting that their sainted grandparents, parents, uncles and aunts could ever be racist.

    Trump’s “Make America White Again” campaign is bringing the fringe racists to the fore. Dog whistles aren’t even necessary anymore, the racist message is being presented for all the world to see. My hope is that this generation will see the evil for what it is and change what our generation has so far failed to change.

    • Tom, I admire what you’re doing in class; I miss the classroom!. How enlightening that some or your students want to engage it or confront it; others want to push back and deny it. And that’s where in my view, the challenge is: finding a graceful way to inform, share, explain or however that happens. It’s a very difficult topic to discuss and I think because it pinches nerves; it holds up a mirror and we don’t like what we see. I too am counting on this generation; if it doesn’t see the evil and respond constructively, I think USA will suffer.

      I recall the Boston Busing Riots; the people’s behavior spoke volumes.
      Thank you again, Tom! I am grateful for your responses!

  • Rae says:

    It took me a couple of hours to consider and compose a response. Feedback is welcome.

    I understand the thesis of this blog as “Why do most whites not understand slavery?” I would answer this question with Hirschmann’s three elements of social construction: ideology, discourse, and materialization.
    Ideology: The people in power (white males) want to remain in power so they have leveraged the public discourse through the media and writing history books for schools to “whitewash” American history. Here’s an interesting article on how that’s done in education: http://www.vox.com/first-person/2016/9/30/13090100/confederacy-myths-lost-cause

    Discourse: Even many people of color have bought into the white ideology which argues that white people are more beautiful, smarter, and “better” in every way. The white supremacy ideology is embedded in the discourse of every community White, Black, Latino, etc.

    Materialization: We experience the world in the way we describe it… we become the discourse.
    From my research and anecdotal experiences I believe white people’s socially constructed attitudes toward people of color are a result of four interrelated characteristics of materialization (how we physically, emotionally, and intellectually experience society):

    1. Ignorance: Either willful ignorance, people kind of know about the cruelty and suffering from slavery but don’t want to admit it; or they are basically ignorant from being privileged which leads to entitlement.

    2. Fear: of losing one’s place of privilege or assuming responsibility (guilt?) for the cruelty of slavery and continued oppression of people of color.

    3. The Economy: When more of the economic pie is being shared people are less fearful of losing the little bit that they have. They see the economy as a win/win. However, with the loss of manufacturing (which will NEVER substantively come back due to technology) white people are more resistant to sharing the pieces of the economic pie that are eroding for the white population with no college degree. Which actually leads back to the element of fear.

    4. Segregation: Which leads to a lack of opportunities for people of color but also exacerbates ignorance and fear. Acceptance of the LGBT community occurred only after significant populations of people came out. When one’s son or daughter comes out as LGBT then fear dissipates, stigma is erased and acceptance and opportunity begin to flourish. The interesting aspect of the increasing acceptance of the LGBT community is that heterosexuals still don’t empathize with the stigma, ostracism, and oppression (sometimes violent) of LGBT people. But White people don’t miraculously have Black or Latino babies so color segregation is harder to overcome. It does work though. I read a story about a Southern white pro-KKK guy whose daughter had a mixed race baby. The KKK guy wanted to find and kill the daughter’s boyfriend but didn’t. In time though, the KKK guy fell in love with the baby and eventually adopted two Black boys and cherishes his sons. Integration works. But even though we’ve known that for decades our society continues to become more, not less segregated.

    White ideology and discourse are ever so slowly (too slowly) breaking down in large part because of social media. People of color are beginning to build their own communities without relying on the resources of the white population. Regardless of color people want to become involved in thriving communities. This may be the best (only) path toward a reduction in fear, violence, reconciliation, and integration. Then maybe Whites may acquire some understanding of the true level of cruelty and evil of slavery.

    • Rae! Wow!
      Thank you! I hope you are well. I never thought I’d receive such responses! Jim Rough, a Dynamic Facilitator and friend, also commented on your post. Please take a look. I like your comments in that you ask the same question I’ve wondered about; that is: Why don’t Whites understand slavery? Your response is very substantive, practical, informative. And I believe if everyone understood what Stephen O. Douglas (Lincoln-Douglas Debates) said and how it’s still perpetuated, plus understand slavery, we would make solid tracks. Here’s what Douglas said:

      “I am free to say to you that, in my opinion this government of ours is founded on the white basis. It was made by the white man, for the benefit of the white man, to be administered by white men, in such a manner as they should determine.” Stephen A. Douglas (1813-1861).

      To me, that’s a Why; and I believe we can deal with a How. it partly explains why White supremacy, privilege, etc. exist/persist. When Whites wrote the history books, as you’ve stated, “whitewash” was there. And they wrote with deficit thinking, which led to deficit narratives, resulting in deficit policies, structures, etc. That is still happening. Today, it’s about, as you stated “Materialization.I believe if we engaged the four characteristics (with a willing audience) using dialogue: thinking together, building capacity for new behaviors, etc. perhaps we could make tracks toward racial healing. I believe it’s doable; I refuse to believe otherwise. And perhaps I am too optimistic.
      I am forever grateful for your exciting and enlightening comments! I am preparing a syllabus for a workshop for Head Start Staff/Faculty on Racial Equity. I have much material and just need to choose the “right stuff.” I thank you again, Rae. And if you have any suggestions ideas, I am open. Hope I didn’t ramble too much.
      I miss the classroom!
      Take care of you.

  • Marie Poland says:

    I’m grateful for your sharing here not only to begin creating dialogue but also for providing additional information about slavery and one of your traumatic experiences as a child, as this honestly has educated me to begin to see another level of the depth in which racism and slavery have severed.

    I agree wholeheartedly with the four reasons you state for the lack of engagement of these topics, the concepts Rae brings up in response and see a couple others that likely could be added.

    I especially relate to being ignorant and in addition to this, feeling embarrassment about my ignorance. I’ve also experienced a lack of comfort in having to “own my privilege” and thus responsibility in assisting to perpetuate the problem through my silence. In other words, I’ve had the “luxury” of turning the other direction.

    Ive also busied myself in working through my own traumas without looking around to assess those in pain around me to determine if and how I could be there for them.

    It is through this that I do feel more capable of sitting in the discomfort.

    May this dialogue and understanding continue to expand. Thank you David!

    • Marie, Thank you so very much for sharing your thoughts! I love it when we can admit not knowing; to me, it’s liberating in a sense to say, “I don’t know.” I learn long ago in the classroom to say that, especially if I didn’t know. What comes to mind is that when we say I am ignorant of such and such, that’s awesome because it opens the door for new information, a teachable/learnable moment–and I am rambling. Anyway, I hope all who respond will read and comment points from each other; that way, we all can slowly improve our thinking, language, etc. Thank you, Marie, from deep inside me.

  • Gigi Vega says:

    Oh My!! Uncle David, to hear what happened to my Grandmother is heart wrenching and extremely disturbing. Sadly, all of the facts you mention were just that…..’FACTS’. Here’s another fact to add …. as you mentioned Things have not changed and I’m not sure when, or if change will come.
    I was burned when I was 16 years old with extremely hot cooking oil.. (30 years ago, give or take)…I was being driven to the hospital slowly by my 70+ year old grandfather. We pulled up next to a police car while he was taking a cigarette break at the intersection of Stony Island and 79th in Chicago. Hard to compose myself from crying and screaming as the pain was unbearable, I asked the police officer, if he could please drive me into Hyde Park to the nearest hospital? He looked me over from his car window as he rested his elbow on the window shaft, Unfazed. I, holding my arm in the air, out the window (burned hand, arm & chest) crying my eyeballs out… I begged him to take me in his car and race me to the nearest hospital. (30 Seconds later, which is felt like 5 minutes) While waiting on a response, he took a drag on his cigarette, pushed it from his fingertips out onto the street from his car window and said, “Sorry that’s out of my district.” And he drove away. Sadly Nothing has changed, I’m just pleased, he didn’t draw a gun. but I’m sure…WE all have a story. I love you Uncle David, keep doing what you’re doing!!!

    • Gigi, Wow! Thank you for sharing! At times I wonder where our head is, or our brain, our heart, our empathy, sympathy, humanity. I am confused about how we treat each other, especially when they/we differ from us or we differ from them. There’s almost always otherizing: if you don’t look like me, or think like me, share my values, I otherize you and you don’t count. What kind of thinking is that? And then we’re supposed to be a Christian nation. Go figure! Thank you so very much for responding/participating, Gigi! I love you and am sending you a big hug.

  • Rusty says:

    Hi David,

    Thanks for your post and earnest attempts at dialogue. As a white middle class male, I can intellectually comprehend the evils of slavery, the broken families, the torture, the vileness of the journey, the inhuman-ness of being auctioned as chattel. I can recall back to elementary and middle school being taught about both slavery and Nazism and comprehending the evilness of both systems.

    As a child of the late 20th century, it can be hard to understand how anyone would own another human being. Modern slavery, at least in my area, seems to be a more hidden phenomenon. Likewise, as someone who believes strongly in authentic dialogue, a mostly benevolent service-oriented leadership, and a win-win pie expanding style of engagement, I strongly favor opportunities to engage, reconcile, and to build a better future. I guess for me, it’s more challenging to empathize more than at a surface level. It feels distant, abstract almost, and yet for the last 15 or more years, there’s been what’s felt like a constant bombardment of race issues within the media, and so there’s also a fatigue that has set in. I can only deign imagine what that fatigue might feel like for a person of color — not the privileged fatigue of I am tired of hearing about this, let me get back to . . . x . . . but the fatigue of my ancestors and I have endured this torture, this otherness, this marginalization, this de/sub-humanizing for generations upon generations — when will it cease . . .

    So, I guess I don’t really know . . . and I don’t really know what or how to feel. I’d love to see us all put in the hard work and the foresight needed to leave something better for the future. Thank you for your transparency and sharing.

    • Rusty,
      Thank you! You’re one of the few to mention being exposed to this phenomenon in your formative (?) years, or earlier years in school. Not sure if most or some were exposed to this part of our history; or they were exposed and forgot. The quotes at the beginning of the letter, however, were stated by educated people: a civic leader, a congressman, presidential candidate, etc. Our school systems are ill; they need different medications, different prescriptions.
      Thank you for your honesty—not knowing how to feel; am sure many others are in the boat of not knowing. The fatigue you mentioned too, is a challenge because when we’re tired of something, that something becomes less concerning, gets less attention, and either see-saws or dies out. I too, often wonder what and how to think about racism or any of the other isms.
      I believe racism will not die out because of the dynamics among different ethnic groups in general and groups of color in particular are too compelling. And that’s because, in my view, we don’t deal with or relate to difference very well; and those groups won’t go away quietly. I strongly believe we as a people/nation need to come to the table, sort it out and start a Crucial Conversation (Dialogue) and not it linger any longer
      What do we need to say now? Or what else should be said next?
      If you had the power, what would you do? How would you proceed to make it different/not let it linger?
      Thank you, Rusty,

      • Rusty says:

        I guess I’d say that we need many ideas and strategies, but my two cents are: 1. we need a way to make sure white folks experience, at least once, preferably more, what it’s like to be experience being a racial and/or cultural minority. My first time was watching Amistad on a date in 1997. I had no expectation of this happening, but I was one of only a few white persons in the entire theatre (and this was western Washington). It was really eye-opening, especially given the terribly difficult subject matter. For others, traveling to a country where they are a minority is also really eye opening and could lead to more willingness to embrace the other at home.

        2. We need interracial/intercultural dialogue groups, or even town halls on tv that let folks clear the air and try to gain some understandings. These are great for small groups, but to really impact the mass consciousness of this country, it needs to be somehow bigger and more projected.

        I won’t be able to respond further for a while. I am headed to Ecuador tomorrow morning for another one of my much beloved intercultural experiences. Your intercultural course at Gonzaga was wonderful. I hope the dialogue continues.

        • Rusty,
          Thank you! I love your ideas, suggestions especially interracial/intercultural dialogue groups and town hall meetings. I agree we need to get critical mass, with more than 300 million people; it would be quite a chore. I think of this every day and have since I was seven. I will keep chipping at it, not knowing where or how it will result. Have fun in Ecuador! Am glad the intercultural leadership class was a help; I received a note from another former student saying that that class helped him significantly with his dissertation and in his personal life. Comments such as yours and his make my day.
          Thank you very, very much, Rusty!

  • Rae says:

    People responding to this blog have beautifully expressed experiences that range from sympathy, to empathy, to the real experience of racial hate. As I read through the posts, including my own, I began to wonder, if we’re all so concerned about racial ignorance & injustice what are we doing about it? How are we, as individuals, actively working to change the ideology, discourse, and materialized experiences of people of color? I’m not implying that we have to change our lives to address this specific issue but we can all do something. David has begun this discourse and initiates discussions of social justice in his classes, as does the other educator who posted. But as I reflect on what I have done as an educator and researcher I have to ask myself, what more could/should I actively/proactively do?

    I suspect David has these very thoughts in his own mind but has allowed us to get to this place in our own way and time. ; )

    • Rae says:

      I said in my previous post, “How are we, as individuals, actively working to change the ideology, discourse, and materialized experiences of people of color?” I should have included a question on how we’re also actively working to change the ideology, discourse, and materialized experiences of white people to then also change the relationships among the white population with the rest of society?

    • Your comment above is completely consistent with my thinking. And that’s why I started this. I too, for years thought primarily about the social injustice part of this equation; then I started talking and reading more about it and realized that many people don’t know; they don’t know what they don’t know; and worse yet, many don’t know THAT they don’t know and to me that’s a killer ignorance. Ignorance, in my view, is our number one ignorance. But when we don’t know that we don’t know, that’s much harder to deal with. Ergo, your questions are timely, notable.

      I am still struggling with how to approach this, ameliorate, lessen, minimize it, etc., this condition, phenomenon, destroyer of human relations. I am working on looking at it differently because I believe what Dyer said, “If we change the way we look at things, the things we look at change.” I believe that and have tested it in many other areas. When I read your post above, I starting thinking maybe, just maybe if we thought of this differently, we could co-create more plausible approaches toward racial harmony, a more racially healthy society.
      Thank you again, Rae

  • Jim Rough says:

    In 2008 I invited two friends to talk about the issue of “Racism and it’s Damage” on my TV show, David Whitfield and Don Miller, one white and one black. Each had grown up in 1950’s Mississippi about a hundred miles from the other. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ObhzzCLf_E0. Also David later helped me articulate my solution strategy to institutional racism in 2008 at “Transcending Racism” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TXjxgmkIZPU&feature=youtu.be.

    Thank you for your thoughtful response Rae … In broader terms consistent with your points, I think not seeing the issue of slavery is largely about our current “system of thinking” which is structured into our society. Our current thinking process is based on what I call “decision-making” as opposed to “choice-creating.” That is, it’s about “select the best and discard the rest” vs. “all inclusive co-creativity toward win/win solutions.” So this pretty much assures that there will be an elite group of people afraid to lose their elite status. … who are in denial about past wrongs. My focus is on how to transform this system of thinking. I think it’s the only way to really solve the issue of racism, the L-curve distribution of wealth, our fundamental separation from one another and nature, plus lots more seemingly unsolvable issues. Since 2002 I’ve been articulating a strategy for how to “shift the system of thinking”. See http://www.wisedemocracy.org/page11/page18/styled-30/index.html.

    • Jim,
      Thank you for commenting. I recall 2008 very well. For me, it was therapeutic. I just watched the video where we discuss, my brother and me, plus the White farmer’s wife. I grabbed a phrase worthy of thought: “Shift in the heart.” If we could attain a national shift in the heart, I think that would be an indicator of having reached a milestone. As i listened, I had another thought–we the races, as opposed to we the people–just something to think about. I think I’ll start using the term: We the Races–Of course I need to think about it.

      We need to, as you said, change our current system of thinking; it is poorly structured. I prefer choice-creating and co-creating. I think your approach is applicable to changing our system of thinking. I will study your videos closely. And will be in touch. Meanwhile if you have any other thoughts, please share.
      Thank you very, very much, Jim

  • Roja says:

    I am a middle eastern woman. so racism for me has been an everyday life experience both in my country of origin as a woman and in the west as a middle eastern (and woman). I agree with you in having dialogue. But dialogue needs a common shared language. How is it possible to create a dialogue between two sides when the language is the language of the one in power? How is it possible to have that dialogue when the place of dialogue is occupied and owned by the one in power? I believe that there is a phenomena which is more powerful than dialogue in understanding each others’ concerns and interests, which is the practice of everyday life as the field of resistance and exchange at the same time.

    • Roja (Am I addressing you properly?):
      I love your response and wanted to hear more because what you say makes solid sense: dialogue needs common shared language and shared space. Using the language of the one in power to create a dialogue makes it more difficult. Same applies to space; again, I so agree with you. In the letter “Dear White America,” I stated that Whites do not want to share space (housing, economic, occupational, etc.). Your comment is consistent with that (if I understand you correctly), with a slightly different twist(?).
      I would love for you, if you would be so kind, to expand on your ideas about language and space. Correct me if I am off here; my thinking is even if we all speak English, it doesn’t mean we are speaking similarly enough to understand and be understood. Please tell me more. Is that what you have in mind?
      Thank you! And I look forward to hearing from you.

      • Roja Tafaroji says:

        Yes, I definitely agree with what you mentioned about shared language and space. And yes, by language, I do not only mean ethnic language, but also the discourse of power. Well then I have to say that experiencing the daily life of an ‘other’ (as an immigrant coming from a third world country with a different culture and language) in the place of local, I experienced a lack of shared language in terms of both mentioned interpretations of language.
        Having said that, I agree with you that White (as a metaphor of power) does not have that will to learn about the language of the ‘other’, let it alone to share the space of discourse with the ‘other’. To give an example, the media and particularly TV is known as the language of power. It has most of the resources to echo the voice of those who hold the power in the society, middle-upper class white middle-aged (male?) citizens. The ‘other’ who is framed within working class, non-white/immigrant, and non-male not only has no voice in majority of TV programmes, but also has to (re)shape him/herself to the expectations of the dominant society, so then one day he/she may be survived to be seen as accepted by the ones in the power. So, at the end of the day, the non-white, non-male person attempts to be seen as white and male.
        My pessimist attitude goes back to one-way dialogue between white and non-white. And in my opinion, this is not only a fault of ‘white’, but also it comes from the nagging attitude of the ‘non-whites’ and their reliance on consuming the white ideology and knowledge. I think the creation of shared language and space needs non-whites’ recognition of themselves and their language.
        Thank you for providing this chance to discuss this important thing for the contemporary urban society.
        I look forward to read your opinion on my comment.


    • Rae says:

      Brilliant point Roja. Privilege is defined as a special right, advantage, or immunity granted or available only to a particular person or group of people. I think this definition is lacking a critical element of being privileged which is an ignorance of one’s privilege. There is willful ignorance, a determined effort not to believe facts, and ignorance as a consequence of lack of experience.

      When the dominant and privileged group doesn’t believe they are privileged, due to either willful ignorance or inexperience, they are unwilling to consider, much less have a dialogue about, the harm their privilege causes others or that others don’t share in their privilege resulting in conceptions of people of color as being lazy, dumb, violent, etc..

      I agree with you too that resistance combined with exchange can begin to break down barriers. In order to have exchange, however, there has to be opportunities for the dominant and oppressed groups to be in contact with one another. That is a major barrier for people of color who are increasingly segregated and ostracized. I see many approaches to resistance, particularly in the form of reducing dependence on the dominant group.

      Like David, I appreciate your powerful commentary. Rae

  • Rebekah Rogers says:


    I cannot imagine how hard it was for you to watch your mother treated like that when you were seven years old. I can only imagine seeing something as horrific as that never escapes your memory, as you said. As a result of the immense change in technology and the emergence of social media, we are seeing a new vehicle for bringing to light the injustices that many people are facing today. There does need to be more dialogue about it. People need to become educated about how to talk about it, though, in an appropriate way. I also think that most, if not all, Americans have been affected by racism—whether indirectly or directly. We are all shaped by the society and culture we live in, even if that just means hearing and watching stories of it on the news. I’m not sure what it will take for people to become more educated about how to have a mature conversation about problems with racism in this country. Violence is not the answer, but sadly, it does get people’s attention. Violence does not solve any problems, it only exacerbates it. I don’t believe people are taught how to engage in dialogue in this country any more—knowing how to truly listen to one another withholding judgment for just a second. I completely agree with you that learning how to engage in dialogue with one another is the only safe method to ameliorate the perpetual cycle of racism in this country.

    All my best to you, David. Thank you for this dialogue.


    • Rebekah,
      I love your comments. And I agree with your idea about change in technology. Before, technology was spread few-to-few—it was monopolized by a few; now it is many-to-many—ubiquitous—spread by and for many-to-many. And that’s very encouraging especially as a way to get us mobilized to engage/participate in movements. Your idea about violence is true; it is not the answer—I have always hated violence. That said, I still grapple with (and am working on it) how to start turning the wheels or which button to push to get a movement started. I have been asked to prepare a presentation on Racial Equity; perhaps that will be a plausible way to start turning the wheels—there are so many to turn— toward a movement.

      Education is a must. Ignorance is our top enemy of racial equity, harmony. I believe if we could figure what exactly is impeding human/racial harmony, or as Nietzsche says if we can find or discern a Why, we can deal with any How. I will keep trying as long as I am alive. Am always open for ideas/suggestions.
      Thank you very much, Rebekah!

  • Rae Rawley says:

    I deeply admire the love in your heart and your efforts at engaging in the process for changing the culture.
    Warmly… Rae

  • Dave Houglum says:

    Thank you for your letter. It was very well-done. I think that this letter is a call to critical consciousness for all of us, especially white-america. Many of the points that you mentioned were difficult to read, as they should be – many people in white america have violated and are violating the inherent worth and dignity of particular groups of people, and in doing so the oppressors also dehumanizing themselves. I relate your discussion to the idea espoused by Robert Greenleaf of the servant leadership literature who said that we want our leaders sharply awake and reasonably disturbed. I think that this letter is an awakening for our individual and collective ignorance and disturbing that is hopefully a catalyst for action.

    • Dave,
      Thank you very much for your response! I too, like Greenleaf’s notion of reasonably disturbing leaders. I consider myself a global citizen and an unpaid pest, hopefully with grace. I promise not to pester you but if you can think of a way or ways to proliferate this letter, I welcome them and shall be grateful for your ideas and suggestions.
      Thank you again, Dave!

  • The story you tell about the attack on your mother is horrifying. To see your mother, your caregiver, attacked like that would be nothing less than traumatic. It’s a wonder you don’t hate every white person…

    America wasn’t ready, it seems, for a black President. One of the main functions of Obama’s presidency seems to have been to turn over the rocks so the white supremacists could crawl out. As a Canadian, I will never understand the venom and hatred directed towards this amazing man – the embodiment of the “American Dream”.

    There is such systemic racism in the U.S. – the police, it seems, are out of control and corrupt. There would have to be a major overhaul of the police force, with mandated sensitivity training and rigorous standards enforced. And a national school curriculum that was based on values of equality and justice wouldn’t hurt, either. And leaders must lead – they must speak up for the oppressed, not pander to people’s fears.

    Black Lives Matter – I’m white, so I don’t give my opinion on Black Lives Matter. But I follow this movement with interest. And I know that anger like that comes from centuries of oppression, and that that oppression still continues. So white people need to shut up and listen to Black Lives Matter, understand their grievances and feel the heat of their anger.

    Somehow, in Canada, we have never had such overt racism. I think we are so multicultural, that we rub elbows with so many different groups, that we have learned that they are no different from us.

    • About Hate. I have thought about hating; I think it’s too much work to hate; I often wonder what it feel s like to hate someone. I detest ways of people who do such mean things. I wish for a more civil society/world—there’s too much belligerence.

      When it comes to Obama, I feel a pain like no other. Here’s a man who did what Americans like to talk about: pull yourself up, work hard, get educated, etc. And yet, along came Trump to challenge is humanity, his origin, credentials, delegitimize his presidency. And his (Trump) party remained quite silent; there was no robust counter argument. And then for Trump to brag about making Obama show his birth certificate because no one else could. For me it was over the top.

      I totally agree with a major overhaul of the police force. Our school systems could use a major overhaul, too, especially with curricula and instructions. Systemic racism and the police—I have really thought about this in many ways. And I concluded that maybe the police want Blacks and Hispanics to become radicalized, since many Whites want or would like a race war (how dumb!). That, in my view would really start a race war: guerilla tactics are very deadly; I saw it in Viet Nam. Also, many police are members of supremacy/hate groups, KKK, etc. And their badge and gun give them license to attack or kill those they hate. I have a strong desire for Dialogic Civility. Am not sure if we have the courage to come/go to the table and engage such endeavor.

  • debera gray says:

    As an educator, I wish we could make our children began to believe this and take education more seriously

  • Lois Melina says:

    Lois Ruskai Melina

    October 3 at 8:31am

    David, Thank you for starting this dialogue. When my daughter was in fourth grade, she came home and related an incident in which her teacher made an outrageously racist statement to the class. My initial response was disbelief—meaning, I did not believe my daughter. I believed she must have misheard the teacher. I quickly recovered, but I think what happened was that I had what Peter Senge would call a “mental model” about racism—it looks like “this,” and educated people like teachers “are too smart to be racist.” These mental models represent what Edgar Schein called “deeply held assumptions” that are beneath the surface—so entrenched that we aren’t even conscious of them. And they are held in place by institutions/systems that were built around these mental models. This is not an excuse for white America’s racism or privilege, but I think it’s important to recognize that breaking down mental models is difficult, and as hard as individuals work to break down mental models, the system is working to keep it in place, perhaps with a new exterior and new vocabulary (e.g., “All Lives Matter!”) I know people of color are tired of trying to explain this to white people, tired of repeating their experience, tired of the resistance. And I know it is not the responsibility of people of color to break through the mental models from the outside, but the responsibility of white people to break them open from the inside. But I think we all have to stay engaged. White people have to stay engaged with other white people, but the risk is that what we think is a breakthrough is just a shift to a new mental model. People of color and white people have to stay engaged, remain in dialogue, as uncomfortable and messy and frustrating as that may be, until there is that “aha” moment in which the barrier gets cracked open from the inside. (Although perhaps when our colleague Rebecca Schmidt Sarver finishes her research, we will learn something more or different about how those “aha” moments come about.)

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