Racism Diary-Stories About White Privilege and “Whiteness”

I’ve worked in the anti-racism field for about twenty years as a co-facilitator and/or presenter.  The following stories are situations in which I’ve found myself, stories that other people have told me, or were told in a group setting (not mentioning names of course to preserve confidentiality).  

The crux of the stories is to show how powerful “whiteness” is, and how it’s seen (or unnoticed) as one of the realities in our culture (of which most whites are unaware), and then to attempt to see the systemic (the whole sum of the way things work in a given area) aspects of White Privilege, and its impact on ourselves and the culture at large.  Feedback is always appreciated; simply send a message to: sunbear.com@gmail.com.

Christopher Bear-Beam

August 20, 2017

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August 20, 2017

Shock at Dad’s Racism

Dad was a returning Navy man from World War II; he, like everyone else was swept up with the economic surge & boom that added to the GNP (Gross National Product) of the nation, and the almost unconscious, scrambling craving for material goods, status, and prestige that many Americans had at that time:  another way to say this is that they wanted, bling, a home in the Burbs, and their kids in the best schools, and the proverbial membership in the country club of their choice, etc.

Dad was both an introvert and an extrovert, depending on the social context; he didn’t share his feelings with me, his son, however.  As a result, there, there were many expressions, attributes, skills, and feelings, that I simply didn’t know about.

The one thing I was at least a little certain about, and this was because he was a highly, seriously, a religious man-to the “nth” degree; as an adolescent, I could only see and think that he was trying to force his “perfectionism” onto me-being a natural non-conventionist, I rebelled and pushed back on him.

In fact, this feeling of being imprisoned in some kind “perfectionism” was totally outside of the way I wanted to be as a human being, was the primary reason that I left home around seventeen years old.

Having the earmark of his religiosity, his ethics, his concern with government getting into the issues of spirituality & religion, and his own personal map for spirituality.  I always felt that when push came to shove, due to the type of person he was, he would do the “right” thing.

Years later, while visiting dad & mom, as a middle-aged man with three children, we sat on the back, screened-in porch having a nice, leisurely breakfast together; as I recall, it was just me and him.

As our conversation went on, we stopped along the way and talked about politics in Chicago, as we usually did-it was then a hot-topic, because Chicago had an African-American mayor, Harold Washington, so it appeared that the notion of race was the focus of conflict in Chicago politics, and creating many wrinkles.

Usually, we talked about “King Richard” Daley, and the Democratic “machine” that surrounded him.  Daley, of course, was the Democratic Demagogue in many people’s eyes, especially after his handling of demonstrations & protesters at the 1968 Democratic Convention, held in Chicago that year.  If nothing else, talking about Daley often gave us some good laughs!

Dad said to me, in so many words, “These people (code for African-Americans) don’t have the leadership abilities, or the “know how” to run a city like Chicago.”  As he said this to me, I read his non-verbal meaning as “disdain” for African-Americans.

Immediately after he said this to me, I felt like the wind had been knocked out of me, like used to happen playing football sometimes, but now I just felt like I was laying on the grass with a bunch of rival players yelling invectives and swearing in my face.  I knew without a doubt they all hated my guts.

The gap between the expectations I had about dad’s behaviors, philosophies, and spirituality-now this searing shot of racism & bias on dad’s part blew me away!  I was speechless for several minutes after he spoke.

I’m sure dad knew my own take on this topic; I don’t even recall what I said, and I guess I wasn’t proud of myself for my own answer; I knew I probably have said more to counter his biased statements, but I wasn’t exactly clear-thinking at that point.  Feeling this guilt & shame seems to be an integral part of a white person “getting it.”  Guilt & shame simply are just not productive in any way, in my view; efforts need to be made to integrate any shame & guilt into our reservoir of experience, and some form of action or behavior makes this a tangible & doable reality.

Copyright: Christopher Bear-Beam August 20, 2017

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August 17, 2017

The White Aristocrats

My white, grandparents lived first in the City of Louisville, Kentucky, later moving to a small town, Anchorage, just outside of Louisville.  As a boy, I was always extremely sensitive & perceptive to the emotional climate of a family or a group of people; I picked up on the vibe of “aristocracy,” in terms of my own grandparents and others in the extended family; this was communicated often in subtle, non-verbal ways, and by outward behaviors that could be viewed by others.

My granddad, (Poppy as we called him) had been a decorated soldier and leader in WWI; his family was one of means, and after returning from the War, he went into Banking & Investments.

As assets increased, so did his image among other, more wealthy whites.  He began accumulated the talismans of White Privilege-eventually a big house on land in the country, a membership & distinction in the Louisville Country Club, golf on the weekends, swimming with grandchildren at the Club’s pool, and going to gala parties at the Club; there were opportunities for his three daughters to attend the prestigious Louisville Country Day School, and all of them came out as debutantes.

They employed African-American women as maids in their home; I noticed even as a boy, how my grandmother, who, if she chose to be could cut a person down to size with a quick, witty or intelligent retort or response. Silver-tongued.  

As a boy, as mentioned earlier, I felt things very deeply, even if I couldn’t find the words or thoughts for it; I felt this kind of aura of superiority from my grandmother.  At the time, I guess I chalked all of this up to her having such high intelligence-which was a stereotype I had for whites-now, I see there was more of her than met the eye.

Mary Lou and her daughter, Katherine, were the domestics who were employed by my grandparents.  They did the cooking, cleaning, and other work around the house.  They were there the most consistently and regularly of any other African-American domestic-laborers.

One time one of my grandparents asked me if I’d like to ride with them when they took Mary Lou & Katherine back home.  As we neared the area of their home, all of the houses in this area looked as though they were old, sharecropper or tenant-farmer cabins-they were hovels, made of word, and all of them were falling apart, with wood decaying and paint peeling off the outside walls; there were objects hanging from some of the small houses that looked as though they needed repair.  I couldn’t believe my eyes!

Something about this picture didn’t fit.  Both of these women, as far as I could tell, were positive and uplifted people.  As I thought about what I’d seen, the best way I can describe the comparison of how I lived to how they lived, I knew in my heart, that I as a white person, lived a lavish life in comparison.

I felt a deep sadness come over me when I thought of this disparity-there was no apparent reason, in my young mind, of why they lived in this kind of poverty; sadly, this was the state of the lives of many African-Americans living in both the north and the south of the nation.

The energy given by this experience, as well as the insight for me, was it seemed as though this issue was unspoken; secondly, it was so unfair and inequitable without any explanation I knew of, and as a boy, I couldn’t wrap my head around the “why” of it.

These dilapidated homes stood as a symbol of inferiority of African-Americans as imposed by the white, dominant class.

When I now think of Mary Lou or Katherine, I think of these, two, beautiful women as survivors, who’d lived their lives in the middle of racism and somehow had managed to develop their own resilience in the process-both Mary Lou & Katherine, in relationship to me, were unconditionally-loving, forgiving and more understanding than anyone I knew.  They probably figured “this white boy’s going to need help!”

To this day, I see them as angels who’re always sitting on my shoulders-no, I actually stand on their shoulders, they were my mentors; they’re always there whispering & encouraging me, as a white person, to do the right thing, say the right things, and believe in human equality in the deepest part of my heart & soul.

Copyright: Christopher Bear-Beam August 21, 2017

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Child Sexual Abuse & the KKK Robes

One of my jobs in the past was working for twenty-two years as a pastoral counselor.  Many people, over the years, came to me with their stories of early, traumatic, childhood abuse, or trauma from some other type of experience.

One man recently came to mind; he was a European-American male, probably in his Thirties, and struck me as having a lot of difficulties with hyper-anxiety-issues in his life.

In one counseling session, he shared, in a deeply emotional manner, the story of his being sexually abused by a male relative.  He now was ready to open up and talk honestly about the abuse, so we proceeded in that direction; as we went along, I felt like we were making pretty good progress in a healing process.

In one session (in this session, I felt the same hyper-emotionality, as I did when he spoke about his abuse), and I write about this because a varied set of traumas may have been experienced by a person, that may trigger the awareness of other traumas he or she’s experienced-they often reinforce and act as change agents as far as symptomology is concerned.

The man went on to tell me that he had been going through  the closets in his home (it was a family home), and in one closet found some old KKK uniforms & robes, as well as KKK paraphernalia-he stood there speechless and nauseated, feeling very wounded.  For him, this was another part of the mental illness & pathology in his own family.

He also told me that it was very painful to have to face and acknowledge this surprise history of his family, but getting confronted like this, with the reality of his own social/mental conditioning.

I’ve wondered since then whether his courage & moxie in dealing with these issues head-on, first facing his own sexual abuse, gave him a greater strength to deal with coming on the KKK robes, and the resultant emotions that followed.  It’s very possible that his first confession of child sexual abuse opened up his mind to deal with the KKK incident.

Copyright: Christopher Bear-Beam August 21, 2017  

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August 21, 2017

The Cross-Burning

Through much of my youth, I lived a lower-to-middle-class life in a neighborhood reflecting our “class” status; I lived in Wilmette, Illinois, a northern suburb of Chicago, that was bordered by Lake Michigan on the east, with huge, opulent, and expensive homes up and down the lake side.

The further north you went, the more affluent were the communities and the more white it got-as one kept moving north, there were Italian and Greek families who lived in some of the far-north suburbs, and for the most part, you could tell that the residents didn’t have nearly the same wealth or means as those who lived farther south-the small villages were more dilapidated, the homes very small and much older because this is where many people-of-color lived on what’s known as the North Shore.

When an African-American family moved into our neighborhood, catty corner from where my family lived, and towards the end of a row of homes on the south side of the street, when they moved in, I could feel an undercurrent of tension in the air and in my body.

During the first week they lived there, one night someone burned a cross on their front lawn; I snuck around later, and the remains hung together in a charcoal-blackened mass, leaving a very singed cross-still standing-I felt scared just catching a quick glance of it.

What happened next, genuinely surprised me.  Dad & mom, I thought, were open-minded, progressive and well-educated people-but that in no way changed their “whiteness” of course.  They responded like many whites I’m sure-in a dull, wordless shadow of silence.

It really surprised me was that they gave me the “silent treatment.”  I at least thought they’d offer me something to deal with this exceptional incident, this crisis; mom could be very verbal (mainly by anything that flew cock-eyed across her path), and both her and dad were well articulated; what was needed, at least for me, was some kind of hope, some kind of encouragement, and maybe a few answers to questions I had. I didn’t get it from them on this occasion.

I wanted to know more about this type of racial incident, and why it felt so damn weird and eerie; I guess I was a gathering-place for the fear my family and friends in the neighborhood were experiencing-I wanted some answers to deal with my fear, shame & guilt-as a white person, from this racist incident; as a young boy, I wanted to know even more so that I was still safe, loved and protected. And I hoped to never be on the “victimized” end, or amidst some kind of violence.

Silence, around any issue, deadens, the atmosphere’s charged with a numbing muteness, and the enemy called hate burrows deeper in the earth, once again escaping responsibility and accountability.

The willingness to open up or talk about the “hard stuff” is the first step, the first catalyst towards personal healing and community wellness.

Copyright: Christopher Bear-Beam August 19, 2017

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August 22, 2017

We Know the Code

One day, in the mid-2000s, I was at a hospital in Galveston, Texas.  After many years I don’t even remember what I was doing there.

I was finished with my business, so I headed back to the parking garage.  Feeling some hunger-pains, I went into a vending area to get a snack, before I tried to find my car in the lot.

As I walked into the vending area, I felt a strange kind of tension, as a felt-body-sensation; there appeared to be some kind of commotion by the machine.  Looking over, there was a small clump of people, who seemed like spectators of what was taking place.

I walked up behind this fist-full of people; then, I walked around to get closer so I could see what was going down.

There, in front of one of the machines, was a short, dark-skinned, elderly woman, somewhat bent over; she was putting coins into the machine, only to hear them clink in the bottom tray of the machine, without anything coming out.  I glanced quickly around the room, and no one else was saying or doing anything, but you could tell there was an air of impatience doing a fly-by.

Were they not doing anything because they stereotyped the woman at the machine as a “dumb” “retarded” “black” person?  I was itching to ask them all if they liked the show, I guess, trying to ride it out, but everyone was waiting on this woman to finish so someone else could use the machine.

A white woman, in the line of my eye-range, looked at me, and lifted her eyes, as if to say, “This dumb, disabled nigger!  Don’t they know anything at all?!”  It was one of the loudest non-verbal messages I’ve ever gotten.

This incident dramatizes & demonstrates how embedded and repeating our white “code” is, and the complete arrogance contained in these notions of “whiteness.”  By sending me her non-verbal disdain for the disabled woman at the machine, the white woman was most likely seeking an alliance with another white person, because by then she was no doubt experiencing some real anxiety & impatience.   Probably, too, she didn’t want anyone else to think she was prejudiced or racist.

A visceral & kinetic message: “We’re the superior ones here; it’s our job to judge and evaluate them-it’s our inherent right!”  Rules, the notion being:

We know the score

We’re better than those people

They’re all dumb idiots!

After all, “white is right”

We can’t let them accidentally overtake us

We can’t let them take “majority” from us

We can’t give up our privilege, just because they want their rights/resources

We can’t change the color of our skin, but we can change the shape we’re in-the condition

our condition’s in

Copyright: Christopher Bear-Beam August 20, 2017

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August 21, 2017

Interrupting Racism

I was at my favorite coffee shop in Galveston, Texas.  I was sitting outside at a table, and there were a number of other people at tables as well.  

Galveston had its own unique racial problems, so it wasn’t that much different from many communities around the country.  What makes Galveston a unique community is that it’s an island; when you live on an island, it doesn’t take much to become isolated; Galveston had a huge difference within its demographics and in terms of racial dominance and “one-down-ness.”  The two extremes are those who live in poverty or in public housing, and the wealthy elites who retired there or are still trying to exploit more wealth from the disadvantaged class.

When we first arrived in Galveston in 2005, one of the first conversations I had was with a small group of five white, homeless dudes.  I was asking them some questions about Galveston in order to get to know the community better.  Their conversation, “at me” contained remarks about the “niggers,” and other biased statements; what they said to me was what they felt & thought, in no uncertain terms; they had no use for African-Americans or other people of color.

So, as I was sitting at an outside table, I heard a man talking loudly, and calling a Mexican woman he knew a “bitch” and venting displeasure at this particular woman-of-color, in an amplified conversation with a friend at the table.

The more I heard his revilings, the angrier I became, and eventually was so “steamed” I didn’t how much more I could take of it!  The man using all the invectives was, needless to say, a white male, probably in his Sixties.

After a while, I really couldn’t take it anymore, so I went over to his table, and I told the man that he was in a ‘public domain space’ so why was he speaking so loudly, and intrusively getting into our air space with his racism (I don’t think I actually used those last words, but I definitely felt them).

He responded to me by getting extremely angry, but I was intent on getting my point across to the man.  I wouldn’t back down-eventually after giving me all the choice words he could think of I suppose, he backed off, or he may have left the coffee house because he was so angry and pumped-up.

If I had a chance to rewind this event, I may have done it very differently; my interruption was more confrontive, thus it raised more anger & defensiveness in him.

Basically, interrupting racism means that you’re aware of some racist action or behavior or words, and you try to interrupt it by showing the parties, how and perhaps why, they’re doing what they’re doing is devisive, aggressive, hurtful, race-driven, is unproductive, and won’t help solve the conflict.  Sometimes it may be that your friend is associating with people who’re racist, and can’t see the harm in that.

The use of timing, judgment, knowing how to match the expression with the context so that the conditions for listening to what you’re saying is really heard; expect resistance, denial or defensiveness, so when it comes it won’t throw you; perhaps this is the first time that the other party has heard anything like what you’re saying, so there will probably be a wall of cognitive dissonance (cognitive dissonance occurs when we receive new information that we find hard to comprehend or understand: it usually creates a “fight-or-flight” response on our parts, but a learning process begins when we want to understand something new or unfamiliar).

So we may first have to pass over this mote of cognitive dissonance as we enter, and then some content in the interruption and the reason for it.

This has been hard for me, because my anger & impulsivity easily gets the best of me.  My work is now.  Try not to let our mistakes shut us down-embrace them and use them to change & grow; don’t let mistakes keep you silent, because you feel awkward or embarrassed or fearful, so that you never say or do anything.

Remember that silence has the potential to rob us of our own healing-it keeps us sick & stuck, right where we are.  Each of us must use our own voice, through our individual personalities and identities-all of us are unique and unrepeatable.  The simplest guideline may be to attempt to match appropriately the personalities involved and the context in which you’re communicating.

Copyright: Christopher Bear Beam August 21, 2017

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August 21, 2017

The Only Entrance is the Front Door

My family traveled twice a year to visit my grandparents; we lived in Chicago, and they lived first in Louisville, later moving to a more rural setting in Anchorage, Kentucky.

Louisville was a fair-sized city, but, especially during the Civil Rights Era, it had its own home-grown racism.

My white grandparents lived on the “have” side of town; my grandfather, known as Hoppy, or Poppy, to his family & friends; one of the reasons he took Hoppy as a nick name was due to his silver hair-he looked a lot like Hoppalong Cassidy, a TV star, so he picked up a similar name; he was a well-known banker in the city.

They lived their lives directed by conventional, white society’s norms and unwritten codes.  That meant that they often had African-American workers, maids, service-workers, gardeners, etc.

The neighbors next door to Hoppy & Grammy (my grandmother’s nick name) had an African-American handyman, often coming to their home to repair or build things.  He’d often bring his grandson to work with him; he was about my age, we had good chemistry, so afterwhile, whenever he came, we’d play together.

He’d seldom come inside my grandmother’s house (don’t know if his grandfather taught him this, or if he just picked up on it himself), but when he did, he would always use the back door that led into the kitchen.  I think I was too unaware at the time to ask any questions about it, or to wonder to myself, “I wonder why he only uses the back door to come in the house?”

Imagine how this young, African-American boy felt about this: maybe he was already highly aware the the Courts had decided that all people were equal, had to have fair & well-resourced opportunities and materials for education.  To have to enter the house through the back door shouts, “We’re better than you!  We whites have the power and all you got is a messed-up self-hatred.”

In individual states, though, Jim Crow laws were enacted to keep African-Americans enslaved in the colonization of their minds, to keep them down, to stifle their efforts to improve their lives, and to abridge & stultify the very laws that were purposed to give them freedom, opportunity, and better chances to increase employment possibilities for themselves & family.

Even before this, Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation to abolish slavery, African-Americans who were imprisoned, were released as “free labor” for whites economic enrichment.  Jim Crow canceled out, in many instances, the victory for Equal Rights and full-freedom-for-African-Americans.

What about whites who could use the front door?  This would be an incremental way to reinforce white superiority and self-conceived idea of intellectual abilities and intelligence as being genetically “better than” African-Americans or any other people-group of color.

In other words, having to use the back door effects an African-American in a psychologically-damaging way; so, too, the oppressors are impacted.  Living in a white-embellished bubble of illusionary White Privilege, and the energy needed to keep the game going, take their toll as well; the difference is that whites are usually “ignorantly” unaware of their human need & blindness, we never have to think about the disparities=they don’t have to!

Copyright: Christopher Bear-Beam August 21, 2017

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August 21, 2017

He Tried to ‘Give Me the Finger!’

It happened when I was in elementary school.  Who would’ve guessed that one morning my “supposed-to-be” sub was the janitor of the school.

It was in the morning before school began that day, before classes, and I was at my locker (you know the ones that shrink each time you go back and look at them); the janitor was in the hallway nearby, when he motioned for me to come over-he wanted to show me something.

He told me he’d found a “nigger’s cut-off finger” by the railroad tracks that morning. Dude, he had me going!

Then he showed me a small, white, jewelry box with a small top.  He opened the top to show me the contents; inside the box lay a layer of cotton, and on top of the cotton was a black finger.  He had me going, I tell you what, I thought it was real.

As he showed me the contents, he laughed a laugh, kinda chuckled, and the message came across loud and clear: “Hey, we’re white, right, we got white fingers-why would a black, amputated finger be down by the tracks anyway?  Must have been doing something bad or wrong,” when he said this, he laughed the “knowing” laugh again, turned on his heels and walked away.

Due to our fears, misunderstandings, and feelings of weakness, disempowerment or isolation, whites will often use inaccurate, stereotypical images, bias & hyperbolic (rather than facts, to stand up for other whites, or to defend themselves to African-Americans); as this is our modus operandi, i.e., using fairy tales, comic books, TV re-runs, fantasies, inferences, and assumptions that are “false-to-fact” data  perpetuating racism, and they’re usually proud of it.

Because white people engage in “baiting” others into their own brand of racism, they can find myriads of ways to try to get others to be just like them & to feel like them, too.  They want allies for their racism: racism is a feeling, a pathology and an ideology, finding fertile ground in which to grow, in an “misery loves company” mind-set.  A sick person often wants others to be sick, too.  It’s not fair that I’m sick and you’re well!  After a while of believing the lie, they do really believe that they’re well-it’s the rest of the world that’s sick.

Copyright: Christopher Bear-Beam August 23, 2017

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August 21, 2017

“C’mon, Slap That Change Down!”

At an anti-racism training, I met a European-American man who was passionate about dismantling racism.

After doing some training together, I didn’t see him for quite a while; when our training group gathered again, he reported an interesting incident and wrote a poem about it.

He’d gone to a gas station or convenient store to get gas and a snack; he walked in the place, and there was one person ahead of him-he noticed the customer was African-American.

The female clerk was giving this customer change, and in an exaggerated way, she slapped the change down on the counter, as if to say, “OK, you’re done-now get the hell out of here-you stink anyway!”

Now, it was my friend’s turn: when he gave her the money for his purchases, she gave him change back, but in a very different way than she did to the African-American customer.  There was no slapping it down on the counter, no malignant, non-verbal messages with it-only his change back in a nice, kind way.

After he left, he felt such shame, being treated so differently & politely, simply because he was white, and the other, and with the person of color, of the disinterested, almost abusive, way she comparatively treated both he and the other person that he wrote a poem about it.  It made a very deep & significant impact on his life.

(When I get a copy of Steve’s poem, I’ll put it up on the net on “Racism Diary”)

Copyright: Christopher Bear-Beam August 23, 2017

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August 21, 2017

Cherry & I Go to Grand Rapids, Michigan For a Workshop

Cherry Steinwender is one of the Co-Executive Directors of the Center for the Healing of Racism, Houston, Texas.  She’s an African-American woman married to a white, Austrian man; she often says, ‘I go to work all day and come home to sleep with a white man.’

I consider Cherry my soulmate & mentor who helped me change my thinking and behaviors around into an anti-racism mind-set; I spent many hours with Cherry, in one-on-one sessions, as she taught me about racism and the role of whites in our Cultural Racism.  Her questions to me were thought-provoking and aimed at me to go deeper so I could discover what I really understood as a white man and about white racism.  I found that most whites just ‘go along to get along,’ and never use critical thinking skills to analyse White Privilege and other dynamics of the White Supremacist Structural System. She went on to tell me that our cultural and social conditioning has created massive denial & ignorance on the parts of most whites, who’re Americans.

I had the chance to go with Cherry, as part of a pair-team, to many trainings around the nation; we were then preparing to go to Grand Rapids as training presenters; she’d already explained some helpful things to remember as we did our training.  She mentioned that we probably would do some radio interviews, prepping me that many white journalists, in the case where one person was white, and the other a person of color, usually the questions were asked of the white person, and not of the person of color-this notion was based on many whites feeling that the white person should know more, and be more articulate than people of color.

She told me a story about a white woman saying to her one time, “Wow-you’re so articulate for an African-American!”  Racism is based on and perpetuated by stereotypes, of which this is one.

True to what she said, we did do some radio & press interviews, and white media folks tended to “place” me as the lead expert-because I’m white-and directed their talking to me, the European-American male.

Cherry’s been around the block a few times knew how to step in, and enter the conversation in a tactful way, and as a woman in her own right.  More than that, as an African-American, she’d experienced most of the biased and racist experiences that many African-Americans share in common; therefore, after many years of doing this work, she could engage with others and give them the content to answer their questions, or better see the many faces of racism.

Some social science researchers and academics have used the term microaggression, in reference to the many, daily, racially-wrapped comments on behaviors of white or others; as a white person, I struggle with putting myself in the shoes of people on the receiving end of the microaggressions.  What must it feel like for a person of color to experience these kinds of hateful stimuli all the time-it never stops because your skin never changes color?

If it were me, I would probably always be in a state of hyper-arousal and hyper-vigilant, finger-nail-biting, just getting ready for the next barrage of recriminations.

One African-American related to my wife that she’s experienced white people who don’t even want to stand next to you, because they think they’ll catch some sort of racial-virus from them.  This reasoning comes from an old-school-wive’s-tale that used to be much more common than in our contemporary times.  Needless to say, there’s no factual nor scientific basis for this, and it stems from whites’ fear and separateness from persons of color-and these elements add to misunderstanding and miscommunication about differences and race in general.

Copyright: Christopher Bear-Beam August 23, 2017

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August 23, 2017

White-Christian Privilege

I learned about this specific kind of privilege from Cherry Steinwender, Co-Executive Director, Center for the Healing of Racism; I’d never really had given it much thought until then.

With the present Administration taking reactionary measures and communicating racist comments towards Muslims, it behooves us to understand more about our own, Christian Privilege.  Anti-Islamic sentiments have been building and may have come to a boiling point.

I had a slightly different experience with Christianity than most people; I attended a small, church-sponosred, Liberal Arts college in Southern California.  There were about fifteen-hundred students who attended; many overseas churches sponsored people from other countries who wanted to attend; as a result, the college had a kind of international “flavor” to its culture. but the biggest numbers of students were whites, either from outside the U.S. or from the nation.

Even though the college was known as a Liberal Arts college, the real purpose of the college was preparatory education & religious basis for the training of ministers and their wives for the church denomination.

This meant that the dominant group in the college demographics were whites, and those usually had a fairly distinct European ancestry & background.

The leadership of both church and college was almost exclusively white; the leader of the church was white, as well.  All of these factors lent to the creation of a kind of “Christian Privilege.”

As a young college-person, falling into this privilege was like rolling off a greased log in the water.  We’d already been conditioned, even if we weren’t aware of it, to White Privilege.  It didn’t really matter, though, it’s all good-it all tasted like the sweetest chocolates, melting in your mouth-all you want is more!

Among the lay people in the denomination, and in the congregations, too, there was almost a freakish kind of idolization or adoration for students who attended the college; this also swung to the other side, since the students had been put up on this fantasized obstacle, that it made it easier to take advantage of the same, very sychophanted people, who’d lifted up the students in their own images of people in the chuch-a kind of approval-addiction.

The people could be some of the best people you could ever meet; one white couple I knew left California and settled in another western state-this all happened during a “split” of the church over creeds & doctrines-so, this couple was nervous & insecure about the future-whether they would remain as employees of the church or not.  The leader of the denomination called them on the phone, and was insistent they they remain in the church-they could stay where they were, and he offered to pay all of their expenses for a year if they committed to remaining in the church’s employ.

Perhaps this is an extreme example of Christian White Privilege.  Perhaps it’s just the way this man (or denomination) did business in America; maybe it’s an example that can be held up alongside other examples of Christian White Privilege?

The philosophical foundation for White Privilege or Christian White Privilege; it’s the unearned privilege that is attached to white skin, as opposed to any other hue of skin; with privilege comes advantage in all areas of our lives.  Most white people have their heads on autopilot, blinded by ignorance & denial.

Copyright: Christopher Bear-Beam August 23, 2017

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August 23, 2017

John the Greek

John went to our High School.  John was a Greek.  His pops was very wealthy, lived in one of the mansions on Sheridan Road, “the row of rich houses,” and he owned a brewery and beer brand.

I think I was jealous of John-he was one of those rich kids that didn’t have the same problems as the rest of us.  John had that good-looking, swarthy look of the exotic, his family was rich (whereas mine wasn’t in the same class), so he was considered “cool” by many students in school. So, in terms of peers, John had a lot going in his favor.

He didn’t exactly fit in with the dudes I hung out with, so he was kind of in that neutral place; he was cool, and “good enough” to get the babes-until that one night in winter.

We stuffed a car full of dudes-well, overstuffed it-that night, we were cruising, looking for a party to crash, and if my memory serves me correctly, I don’t know if we ever found one-so we went to Plan B.

Plan B consisted of accessing my fake IDs, go some place where we could get some beer, most likely Evanston, which was “wet,” and our village was “dry.”

We bought a case of beer to split up, and about an hour later, each of us was bombed out of our minds.  I don’t think John drank that much, if any, that night.

We drove around Winnetka, where I lived; we drove to the center of the village, into a bank parking lot, where we were close to invisible to any passing cars.

When we stopped, we sat there for a while and finished off the case.

Something triggered one of the dudes to bully and intimidate John; dudes were calling him “John the Greek,” and raggin’ on him bad-dudes were dissing him bad.  As this bullying intensified, kept going & growing, some of us dragged him out of the car-I remember being one of those dudes.

When we got him outside of the car, the snow on the pavement all around us, we threw him down, and started kicking him and beating him up with our fists, until we’d vented our internalized hatred, this “macho” shit & alcoholic rage-”you fucking Greek!”

I don’t know exactly why we beat up John that night, but I’ve got an inkling; I know I felt like shit the next day, after it hit me what we’d done to John the Greek.

“Isms” are strange animals-whoever is the dominant group has to keep their “one-up” position by some fear or perceived strength, over those in the “one-down” position, within the system of White Privilege; many times violence is used as a maneuver of control over others.

For us, for me, John the Greek was a natural target for our immature, vitriolic, adolescent identities; he was the “other,” the one on the margins, even if he was rich, and the one over which we could assert our strength of white dominance; youth with hate on, superior dominance & privilege doing crazy-making shit in our heads; we acted so no one would think we were weak, or that we couldn’t take care of business.

Copyright: Christopher Bear-Beam August 24, 2017

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August 23, 2017

Whites Get Hooked on the “Exotic”-the Freak Show of Skin”

Many whites get hung-up in our individual-love or liking for the ethnicity of others-because we see and think of persons of color as being “exotic.”

I think I first became aware of my love for the exotic when I took a long trip, from Minneapolis, Minnesota to the Florida Keys; I rode along for the ride with a cool friend who owned a bad-ass, bodacious, yellow truck; he’d fixed the truck up to be a rolling-home on wheels, equipped with a nice sleeping area in the back of the truck.

Along the way, leaving behind the frigidity and snow mounds of Minnesota and headed towards tropical Florida, we’d pick up hitch hikers on the road.

On one occasion, we stopped and picked up a young, black, Muslim, migrant worker field-worker; he’d been working fields all over the south; to sit and watch his piercing, darting eyes as he told us about his life & beliefs, as a Muslim thrilled me to no end-I felt completely absorbed & entranced by his absolute sincere manner of telling his story-his difference from me was great, being a young, white male.

I also entered an awareness that what intrigued me the most, was his mystical exoticism; he was a single, young, black man, completely on his own out in the world, an independent spirit who moved freely from farm-to-farm doing migrant picking of fruits & vegetables.  I definitely respected him for his moxie of how he lived his life.

I conjecture that many whites may feel similar feelings about persons of color, and we may feel so rocked, because we feel the strong, magnetic attraction to darker-hued people, because we think they’re much more exotic than us sallow-faced whites.

The spin-off, however, is that this cognitive mind-set casts a person of color as not really being human, who may happen to be very distinctive from us in our white skins, “the boring, ordinary whites;”  if the person of color knows we feel this way about her or him, how might that person feel about it?  

This may also be a “set-up” for the other person to be seen in our “I don’t see color” mentality; I look at a person of color’s perspective, or try to-thinking they’re exotic doesn’t validate them as a “one-of-a-kind” individual who happens to have a different skin-color than I do, a distinctive and dignified human being, a radically-separate person from all others on the planet, not as some exotic freak-of-nature.  Our common denominator is our humanity!

Copyright: Christopher Bear-Beam August 24, 2017

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August 23, 2017

George: The Neo-Nazi

During my adolescence, for a period of approximately six months to a year, memory as foggy as the San Fran Bay, I spent at a group home in Ypsilanti, Michigan; as I recall now, I didn’t feel the oppression & rigidity I had at some other, similar-kinds of places; I guess what I’m saying, it didn’t feel like a prison.

One of the counselors was always there; the peers each saw the psychiatrist, Dr. Arnold Kambly, usually on a once-a-week basis; two counselors were on duty all night to insure safety at the home.

I met George, and we began spending more & more time together; George was highly intelligent/who knows?  Maybe a genius, and by the looks of his room, he loved to read, but not necessarily “neat” reading, more like “tore up” reading.  Initially, I had no idea what kind of books he loved to read-not until later.

When George and I got closer, I think when he felt he could trust me, I suppose, he told me he was a Neo-Nazi.  I starred back at him when he said this, “A neo what?” I asked. He didn’t really answer but kept going on and on about Neo-Nazism.

One day, George had three or four books in his hands, and said, “Hey, dude, just cleaned out my cubby-you want these?”  “Sure,” I replied, with little hesitation-one of them was Mein Kampf translated into English.

I tried to read it, George, I really did; it was so heavy and ponderous, it wasn’t working for me, with all the determination I could squeeze out-it was just too dense for me that I found it hard to wrap my mind around it=no comprendo.

As intelligent as George was, I don’t think he got what I was saying to him, do you? Several voices to the side, started to chide, let’s get this show on the road, God dammit! You be a buck short, and a dollar late=no way will we let our hood be run by drug lords, pimps, and pops, can you dig it, pops?  It’s as sure as the shops on the chops.

Why? Bling Bling Bling

Didn’t be ours it stick

What was my trick?  George struck it, but not rich, the people’s trickiness must always be taken into account…

One night, I think it was on a weekend, George finagled a bottle of fermented spirits-this was home-made, so they’s no telling how much proof it was-it’s gotta be in some other dimension, not here, not this place-(she’s dying, my man, Aerth that is, but she desires that people come visit her and bring forms of life with them, to give as their offering.

We got smashed on our asses!  I mean, I just about reached the “fall down drunk” stage; you know the kind, when you wake up the next morning, and it feels like everything you can remember floats in a fuzzy, slow-moving, dry-iced dream-Buddha’s laughing and Jesus is crying!-what a day!

We were so drunk, one of us got the idea of graffiting a synagogue in town.  So, we ran to the store, bought some spray paint, grabbed a phone book, searching for a synagogue; we found one and left, and when we got the paint, we squirreled our way onto a bus.

We got off near the synagogue, made our way there, and spray-painted the outer walls with swastikas, and some angry, anti-semitic words, so there would be no doubt as to our mission that night.  We never asked ourselves-”Why are we against the Jews?”

When we were through, we jumped back on the bus, returning to our group home.  Once there, we were met by the two African-American counselors, and we began arguing with them; the opposition grew until we began to physically try to fight them.  It was a set-up: these two dudes were mammoths-must have recruited them from a basketball team.  Of course, these were a couple of my stereotypes about African-Americans-they were all big, and all good at sports-wrong-buzzer!

They must have restrained us somehow, maybe gave us a shot or something to tranquilize us. The next day we heard about what we’d stirred up-as far as I know, though,  no one found out it was us that spray-pointed the synagogue.

When I think back, now, about this period of my life, my mind feels blown!  I tried to read some more of George’s Neo-Nazi materials, but I never connected with this shit when I could think in my right mind.  My life took other turns, thankfully, and this was one of them I could view through the rearview mirror.

I wondered if George got into this shit because he wanted some kind of identity-it’s one of the big issues during adolescence;  the more grandiosity & narcissism that came with creating your own identity, the better.  It brings you all kinds of attention, much of which you get ‘sick and tired of, being sick and tired.’  I am not sure about the motives of why George fell for the hook.  Hopefully, he, too, didn’t stay on that path.  Someone who chooses this path is someone suffering!

Copyright: Christopher Bear-Beam August 23, 2017

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August 23, 2017

“Those Crazy Women Drivers!”

Dad modeled sexism for me in a very experiential way.  It wasn’t a sit-down & lecture me relationship, except if it was needed and appropriate at the time.

He modeled it-and even as a young boy, though I couldn’t always edit his example, what he did, and what he said, it was stored in non-verbal ways in my frontal lobe cortex.  He modeled it with empirical & behavioral action-dudes, this helped me learn sexism so well-I owe all to dad-well, the initiation, that is.  Thanks dad!

The very best place, in my humble opinion, to learn is on the highways around the Chicago-land area; plus, oh god, the illustrious cabbies (our mentors); they’re “cutting & weaving” like loose electric wires, from lane-to-lane, going off-the-chain, dudes.

They’ve waxed it, polished it, and fast refined moves to its most extravagant price.  Look at them dazzle the sun!

Anyway, where was I?  Oh, yeah, dad’s sexism, how could I forget, on wheels.  A woman driver might slow him down, and he twists like a cabbie, veers into the next lane, and that’s when he yells, for all of the family to hear, “Those crazy women drivers!”  Dad didn’t cuss, so that would be it-he toyed with the idea of sneaking behind the altar, putting all the money in a cloth bag, and …

Years later, as a middle-aged adult, dad’s modeling came back to haunt me.  I was driving in Galveston, Texas, and, yes you guessed it, following a woman driver.  We got to a stop sign, and the woman driver stopped, and then just sat there, like she’s waiting in the doctor’s waiting room; this went on for several minutes, and my impatience, frustration and impulsivity were all ignited-I said to myself, “These crazy women drivers!”

I was instantly aware that these words were dad’s words, and I repeated them back to myself in their exact form.  Though this may seem like an insignificant incident, the power of conditioning for my own sexism, was impactful on me like an incoming hurricane.

For me, this demonstrates how deep and wide our social conditioning effects us, and it may be years later that it emerges to blow us away.  The key, I think, is that our awareness can stop us in our tracks, and then we can change it to something more healthy & positive.

Copyright: Christopher Bear-Beam August 25, 2017

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August 24, 2017

The Fan at the Cubbie’s Game

Growing up in Chicago, it was natural to be a Cub’s or Sox’s fan.  We’d go to a lot of games at Wrigley’s field of ivy.  It was at one of these games that I learned more about my own unaware racism.

One of the aspects of racism for whites is the unfamiliarity of any demonstration of the “other’s” words or behavior; it makes us squirm and feel very uncomfortable, so it’s natural we would try to avoid it.

If we want to know more about our own White Privilege and Whiteness, we’re going to learn to let go of what it feels like to go outside our comfort zones of normality.

We’re going to have to let go and pay attention to the leadership of persons of color, listen with as much empathy & compassion as we can AND use our critical thinking skills to take in what we can, and leave the rest behind.

I experienced an uncomfortability once when I went to a Cub’s baseball game at Wrigley field.

Our family sat in seats that were within close proximity to a group of African-American fans; they were drinking a lot of beer, like there was no tomorrow; the more beer they drank, they louder and more boistrous they became.

As a kid, the first thing that scared me was the difference in their dialect from white’s sophisticated and primo diction & articulation.  It was foreign to my ears, incomprehensible, and a sort of “get in your face” nuance.  As I think of it now, I was probably identifying my stereotypes of “blacks as savage, uncivilized” people.

After a while, one of the African-American men, figured out I was starring  at him, so he began to point his slurred, disparaging dialogue towards me-the scared, white, honkey punk.  This is where the pain entered into my feelings and became reality in my young mind.

Each of us acts so often, with an image in our heads; with strong, powerful, often “darker” emotions, I reacted to the differences I felt in this encounter with an African-American.  This is why stereotypes perpetuate racism.  Rather than choosing to view folks rom a picture-free reservoir in our minds, as real, objective, flesh-and-blood human beings; stereotypical thinking then crafts the fear of difference, and takes control and tries to run our lives.

We forget that in a different environmental set & context, we might view this African-American man in an entirely alternative light; in other words, what if I saw this man laid up in a hospital, in traction, it most likely would elicit other, less painful or negative emotions, such as kindness, compassion, empathy and gentleness-it might draw me closer to a person in suffering & need, rather than a strange-talking African-American who most likely hates my guts.

This kind of difference is perceived as “dangerous difference,” and if we are male, we feel our male ego somehow coming under attack-perhaps this is just a “male” thing, I’m not sure.  It jolts us “off-center” and we feel as though we’re losing our power & control, that we usually don’t feel if everything is going well for us with no ripples of threatening differences knocking on our door.  The best antidote is celebrating all forms of difference!

Copyright: Christopher Bear-Beam August 25, 2017

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August 24, 2017

White Leaders Feared Anti-Racism Training

Starting around 1997, the denomination I’ve written about in other places, realized they had a big problem with racism within the denomination, that crossed all the boundaries of culture, sitting squarely at the denomination’s feet with its accountability tested.

I remember one of the first white leaders I met in the denomination use the “N” word in casual conversation with me.

More specifically, the degree of racism in congregations across the U.S. was gigantic & pervasive; the denomination consisted of people of color, but the vast majority of the membership were whites with European backgrounds; the power-dominance was held exclusively by the white leadership & membership.

During most of this time period, I lived in Houston, Texas, and when this divide really opened up to view, it caused about fifty percent of the worldwide membership to leave, either to join more conservative denominations, other Protestant churches, and new denominations that formed from the disintegrating ashes of the former denomination.  With this change, came a new name, new affiliations, and branding for the former denomination that so many exited.

Our churches in Houston were the first region to create anti-racism trainings, both for leaders and lay members of the denomination; eventually, a separate “reconciliation” office was founded as an integral part of our work, and anti-racism trainings were held in many congregations & regions throughout the international area.

 

I can recall that one of the Houston parishes had a group of whites in leadership roles; I had also heard they were resistant to any kind of anti-racism training-I guess they thought they didn’t need it, or placed the blame for racism on persons of color.

I heard this from their pastor (as a team we were intiating the training & collaboration with other groups with similar purposes or needs), and these white leaders were on another, completely-opposite page\my friend, the pastor, said he’d heard through the grapevine that these leaders thought we were, as they put it, “N _ _ _ _ _ lovers,” since both of us were European-Americans.  I also imagine they felt we were acting on the need for anti-racism training because we were fearful and intimidated by African-Americans within the denomination.  Nothing could have been farther from the truth.

In a situation like this, many whites might reject anti-racism training.  Why?   Due to the fact, that many whites, haven’t yet learned to think in an “anti-racism” mind-set.  Like many whites, they’re stuck in their own fear, ignorance, biased-box of bigotry, and because they want to just keep the status quo in operation; others who don’t feel the same way they do, can see that the anxious group doesn’t see eye-to-eye with other whites who’re willing to take a risk, make themselves vulnerable, and step into this new land of understanding.

At the end of the day, these white leaders chose the “fight” mode of avoidance & escape: they left the denomination altogether.

Could it have been they felt their “pride of their place” within the White Supremacist Systemic Structural System?  In their own eyes, was the reason that white people struggle with giving up power, privilege, possessions and place, simply due to the pain of giving up something able?  Many fight Cognitive Dissonance, give up, and go home with their tails between their legs.

What can one do to help a group like this?  Maybe a lot.  Maybe a little.  For me, as an anti-racism facilitator, I would begin the process by offering smaller, more incremental pieces about the role whites play in racism in our culture, that we wear many faces of racism; I find that often if people can “get” the more sub-servient elements of racism, it may be easier, then, to see the Big Picture of White Racism.

Another helpful tool may be the use of cognitively-related language that could be built into training modules, so people don’t get bogged down in the emotional and psychological dimensions-this isn’t to say that our feelings should be inhibited or minimized at all, they’re important, and part of the fabric of venting our deepest emotions around racism-however, more cognitive language may work faster for insights to appear in one’s life, and it avoids getting hooked emotionally in the nature & process of racism.

Copyright: Christopher Bear-Beam August 25, 2017