white like me {chapter 1}

Remember when I used to do online book clubs here on the blog?

That was fun.

Maybe I’ll do one again someday (I have a whole list of book ideas) but, for now, I’m thrilled that my dear friend, Jolie, is hosting a read-along of the book, White Like Me, on her blog for the next 10 weeks.

Part of me feels like I just don’t have time to add this to my plate right now, but I’m going to anyway, because this issue (racism/racial injustice/racial reconciliation) is super important to me. (and because Pastor Rich brought me a copy of the book all the way to Cambodia)

I’ll add some additional background from my ongoing journey to understanding racism in subsequent posts.

I would LOVE for some of you to join me in reading the book. Even if you don’t “officially” join the book club. This whole issue of white privilege is just so, so important for so many reasons. (And if you aren’t familiar with the term “white privilege,” I beg you to read the book.)

For every dear, sweet person who has ever said to me (in real life, in a comment, in a private message or email), “I reeeeeally want to learn more about what it feels like to be black. I want to understand. I want to have black friends. I want to engage in discussions. But I’m sooooo afraid I’ll say something ignorant or stupid or hurtful. Help me!” PLEASE READ THIS BOOK.

I’m not going to summarize the chapter. (Jolie does that beautifully here.) And I’m not even going to add my own commentary much. One chapter in, and I’ve already marked up this book like crazy. I’m going to let Tim Wise’s words stand pretty much on their own this go-round. I’ll share some quotes (some as is, some paraphrased), and if you have questions, I’ll get to them as I have time.

Thoughts from the Introduction & Preface:

–When Barack Obama was elected President in 2008, folks quickly rushed to pronounce the United States “post-racial.” “How can there be white privilege if a man of color can be elected President?” But Wise suggests that, “in some ways, Obama’s victory was evidence of white privilege, rather than a refutation of it.” Such strange thing to say, eh? And I completely agree with him. (p. vi-vii)

–Concerning the emergence of the Tea Party movement: “Needless to say, if black or Latino activists (or Arab American or Muslim activists angered by racial and religious profiling, post-9/11) were to surround lawmakers and scream at them like petulant children, one can only imagine how it would be perceived by the public. They would be seen as insurrectionaries, as terrorists, as thugs; but when older whites do it, they are viewed as patriots exercising their First Amendment rights.” (p. vii) This one is very (very) hard to argue.

–“Only by coming to realize how thoroughly racialized our white lives are can we begin to see the problem as ours, and begin to take action to help solve it. By remaining oblivious to our racialization we remain oblivious to the injustice that stems from it, and we remain paralyzed when it comes to responding to it in a constructive manner.” (p. ix)

–“Although white Americans often think we’ve had few first-hand experiences with race, because most of us are so isolated from people of color in our day-to-day lives, the reality is that this isolation is our experience with race.” (p. xii)

Thoughts from Chapter 1: (Born to Belonging):

“What does it mean to be white in a nation created for the benefit of people like you?” (p. 2)

–“We are, unlike people of color, born to belonging, and have rarely had to prove ourselves deserving of our presence here.” (p. 3)

–“Our [white] ancestors had the luxury of believing those things… about life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Several decades later, whites still believe it, while people of color have little reason to so uncritically join the celebration, knowing as they do that there is still a vast gulf between who we say we are as a nation and people, and who we really are.” (p. 4)

–Wise’s own great-grandfather, Jacob, an Eastern European Jew, experienced injustice as a result of his nationality. Just days before his boat arrived in New York City’s harbor, President McKinley was assassinated by a man of similar heritage. Jacob was immediately sent back home, “turned away in the shadow of Lady Liberty by a wave of jingoistic panic, anti-immigrant nativism, hysteria born of bigotry, and a well-nurtured, carefully cultivated skill at scapegoating those who differed from the Anglo-Saxon norm.” (p. 16). Sadly, this reminds me so much of recent comments by a well-known Christian leader who declared that, since Islamic terrorists are persecuting Christians in the Middle East, no Muslims should be allowed into the U.S. Hysteria born of bigotry indeed.

–Wise goes on to say that, six long years later, his great-grandfather was given a second chance to come to America and make a life for himself. Within a decade, Jacob had become a successful shop owner and one of his sons had gone on to graduate from one of the country’s finest colleges. Very, very few black people could claim such success, even though, “by the time [his great-grandfather] had arrived in America, there had been millions of black folks with work ethics as least as good as his.” (p. 18) Pulling yourself up by your bootstraps is a lovely idea, but it’s fraught with inequality and has everything to do with the color of the feet inside the boots. 

–Please read Jolie’s post for an explanation of how we “love to accept things we didn’t earn, such as inheritance, but we have a problem taking responsibility for the the things that have benefited us while harming others.” [slavery, racial injustice, white privilege] (p. 24)

Last Big Idea:

“But in the end, the past isn’t really the biggest issue. Putting aside the historic crime of slavery, the only slightly lesser crime of segregation, the genocide of indigenous persons, and the generations-long head start for whites, we would still need to deal with the issue of racism and white privilege because discrimination and privilege today, irrespective of the past, are big enough problems to require our immediate concern.” (p. 25)

Let’s not ignore this any more friends, okay? Feeling unsure? Afraid? I’m here to hold your hand. I mean it.

(And, Mr. Wise, forgive me for such excessive quoting of your book. Friends, buy the book to make me feel better.)

See you next week!

4 thoughts on “white like me {chapter 1}

  1. Pingback: white like me {chapters 3/4} | Marla Taviano

  2. Pingback: white like me {chapter 2} | Marla Taviano

  3. Pingback: White Like Me Book Club, Chapter 2 | becoming jolie

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