I attended the performance of Whitewashed: The Racism Project at the Opalka Gallery in Albany on February 1. The performance presented racism from a historical context through modern-day personal experiences, including personal experiences of the performers. The latter half, which focused on the modern-day experiences was especially moving to me. Afterwards, there was a talk-back session where the audience expressed appreciation and the performers gave more details about the production, their own lives, and how these intersect.
At Whitewashed, I learned something that I somehow hadn’t quite understood clearly until then. The point of this performance and other antiracist efforts is in large part to win hearts and minds rather than to further any particular action. I had already understood (1) the value in attending antiracist events in order to better educate myself as a white person and (2) the value of publicly supporting these activities so that they are recognized as popular by the press and are financially supported. However, I was still unsure about what to do next; I asked myself what steps besides watching should I do to actually fight racism?
I am thinking that a big part of what I need to do is (3) encourage other white people to deeply understand racism with their hearts and minds. This is why. Structural racism has survived centuries, changing form from slavery, to legal discrimination under Jim Crow, and to mass incarceration that is just as effective at racism though in the guise of fighting crime — and the problem is that racism will find new forms into the future even as we dismantle the old forms. Stamping out the current incarnation of structural racism is a matter of life and death to the affected people and communities, but also exceedingly important is winning over the hearts and minds of us relatively unaffected whites, so that structural racism does not reincarnate itself. That is, unless the majority of Americans deeply understand, heart and mind, how severe, pervasive, and current racism is, the efforts to dismantle the current incarnations of racism will meet with temporary success at best.
So, here I am urging white people to deeply educate themselves about racism. More importantly, I implore you to join me in urging others. How might you do that? — glad you asked!
- Whitewashed: The Racism Project will be at Albany UU on March 13, but unfortunately it is now sold out. If you didn’t get a ticket, I recommend looking for an upcoming performance; they will be announced at https://www.creativeactionunlimited.com/projects-in-process.
- To learn about how mass incarceration is akin to Jim Crow, I urge you to read The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness (10th Anniversary Edition) by Michelle Alexander. The preface to the tenth-anniversary edition is an incredibly strong overview of the problem and is accessible to those without much spare time. Beyond that, I found Chapter 6 to be especially enlightening. It explores what civil rights advocacy can do to fight the newest forms of racism.
- Read White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism by Robin DiAngelo, which is written by a white person for white people. This New York Times best-selling book explores the counterproductive reactions white people can have when their assumptions about race are challenged, and how these reactions maintain racial inequality.
-Lee Newberg, Inclusivity Chair