Being white as violence

Yesterday’s blog post, Violence/Nonviolence, was prompted by something I read recently. I hadn’t necessarily made the connections between a number of things such as suppressing voting rights, attacking the free press, etc. and violence. But I came to see that any injustice is an act of violence. And no justice means no peace.

An online discussion occurred when someone said white people are engaging in violence simply by living in a white supremacist society, such as the United States. Yesterday’s post was a chance for me to review what I have learned and believe about violence and nonviolence.

Nonviolence has been such an important part of me my whole life. I was born into a rural Iowa Quaker community, and attended Scattergood Friends School.  Became a draft resister and community organizer.

So I was surprised by the idea that despite all of that, my life as a white person in a white supremacist society meant I was participating in violence.

I have been frustrated by my attempts to get white people to even begin to understand systemic racism. No matter how carefully I try to frame it, as soon as racism or white supremacy is mentioned, the self-protective walls go up.

This reminds me of the trouble I’ve had over the past forty years to convince people to give up their personal automobiles, to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. I don’t think I’ve convinced one other person to give up their car. But that doesn’t mean I should have gone ahead and gotten a personal automobile. We are often unaware of changes certain individuals may have made as a result of our example. But I do often wonder if there wasn’t something else I could have done that would have resulted in less cars on the road. I also remind myself that what seems obvious to me might not be what God intends.

I think a lot about the phrase “you don’t know what it is that you don’t know.” As a teacher it was my responsibility to teach students what they don’t know. I needed to know what the students should know by the end of the course. Testing and/or interviews should establish what each student knows when the course begins. Then teaching is supposed to fill in the gaps of what the student did not yet know.

Key to the learning process is the student must be engaged. The problem in trying to teach most white people about racism is they immediately disengage as soon as something uncomfortable, to them, comes up. They feel threatened, and don’t want to believe anything related to racism applies to them.

Somehow we need to make a white person open to the idea that there are things they don’t know yet, and that is not a failing on their part.

The idea that simply being white is violence caught my attention and I began to wonder if this concept might be a way to get other white people to begin to understand white supremacy. This should be especially effective for people who believe in the concepts of nonviolence. Like Quakers.

This is a way to take the focus off of themselves as individuals. Which might allow white people to get past the usual barriers, so they can engage and learn. So they can begin to heal themselves and society.

If you are a white person, can you move yourself into the concept that there are things you don’t know about a lot of things? Can you put yourself back into school mode? Despite what we usually say, I think many of us enjoy opportunities to learn. I hope you can, but I want to leave you with one thought, one mistake to avoid. Do not look to those who are oppressed and wronged to teach you. It just adds insult to injury to expect a Black person to teach you as a White person about racism. To expect an Indigenous person to teach you how to stop abusing Mother Earth.

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