I write about racism in America because it affects my life and the lives of those I care about. Because it has shaped how I experience and see the world and myself, so by understanding racism I understand myself and the world better. It has little to do with trying to make whites look bad or making some kind of appeal to them.
My mother brought me up to be colour-blind. She meant well but she was a kumbayah anti-racist. That sent me into a strange land without a map. And so I have had to learn the hard way what was on that map, piece by piece.
Some say, “You see racism in everything. You see what you expect.” Wrong: I was so unprepared I have been surprised over and over again at how deeply white racism ran.
At first I was surprised when they called me names. Then I was surprised at how different the black and white parts of New York were. Then I was surprised at the police, who were not merely bad but evil to the bone. Then I went across the country and was surprised at how the Sioux Indians were even worse off, at how they had many of the very same issues as blacks – even though they lived hundreds of miles away and came from a completely different history.
And on and on.
Then I started this blog and I was surprised yet again. Not that whites are racist – I already knew that – but how deep and twisted their racism ran. It was not merely a matter of them not knowing any better, of living in nice, lily-white suburbs and believing everything they saw on television. No, it was way worse than that – even among Otherwise Intelligent White People. And so I was surprised yet again.
Dr Beverly Tatum says there is a five-stage cycle to growing up black in America:
- pre-encounter – you know you are black (by age five) but it is no big deal.
- encounter – you experience racism in an unmistakable way, repeatedly.
- immersion/emersion – you learn everything you can about being black because it helps you to understand your experience.
- internalization – what you learned becomes part of your identity, who you are, which helps to undo the internalized racism you have unknowingly learned. You become less angry, more hopeful.
- internalization-commitment – now you can move beyond race.
Most blacks reach the last stage at about age 25 to 30 and then go back to the first stage to go round again at a higher level of understanding.
So for me New York provided the first encounter stage, this blog (and some other events in my life) the second. In the earlier posts on this blog you can see me still in my second pre-encounter stage, in utter innocence of what was about to hit.
So now I am in the immersion stage for the second time in my life and consumed once again with the subject.