Saturday, December 21, 2013

Skin Color: The Shame of Silence. Book Review.

Skin color matters.
If you think that in today's society, skin color is no longer an issue, you are probably still being white.
 History matters! At a conference for Christian groups to learn from Indigenous people about moving towards reconciliation and justice, one of the participants—a reverend of a church—later said to me, "I expected to be inspired! I expected to learn something new, something I hadn't heard before. Instead I was made to feel guilty and uncomfortable."
"If it has to be said over and over again, maybe that’s because people like you have yet to take responsibility for your inherited white skin privilege," I wanted to say. "Did you think you would come here not be challenged?" I replied instead.
The poor man was expecting great things of others and very little of himself!

This is an example of why we are nowhere near a just society for all.  It is why we need books such as Skin color: The shame of silence by Conrad P. Pritscher.
White people need white awareness education by white people.White people need to acknowledge their white skin privilege. White people need to be challenged and they need to challenge the deeply ingrained, deeply harmful belief of white supremacy that is ingrained in our culture.
This book helps white people talk to white people about white racism, “since people of color have been talking about these racial matters until they are “blue” in the face and it does not seem to make a dent in the institutionalized racism (white racism) that continues to exist in our society.”(23)

Pritscher defines himself as a recovering racist—‘recovering racist' implying that "although European Americans are often born and acculturated into a racist society, in a position of power and greater wealth because of their ancestry, they can recover from this societally inherited disease if they choose to by actively fighting the racism in themselves, as well as in the larger, institutionally racist society.

Not until we have higher levels of white awareness (by whites) will we have a noticeable reduction in racism.  Education is at the heart of how we can reduce racism and Pritscher’s writing is an offering of how to do so—in and out of school.
So before you protest loudly, “I’m white but I‘m not racist. I don’t need this book,’
I invite you to pause for a moment. If you are living your life blind to your white privilege, you are part of the problem.
Pritscher argues that if as an educator, you are not actively addressing issues of racism, then you are likely perpetuating racism: “If you are actively permitting the status quo, you are permitting racism period. The responsibility is yours to work towards racial justice.” (36).

It does not surprise me when Pritscher postulates that the demand for certainty in our society—to exist in comforting constraints—breeds and upholds attitudes of rigidity and inflexibility of mind.
He argues that currently, schooling provides conditions for the continuation of racism. He points out the connections that have been made between rigid thinking, (“closedness’), conformity and desire for predictability to heightened degrees of racism. He emphasizes that there is a strong link between "dogged and excessive obedience to authority" (which schools often cultivate) and a tendency towards racism.
  “Should we ask what kind of schooling promotes people who are prone to fear and aggression, are resistant to change, and are intolerant of ambiguity?  What continues to foster such high needs to obey authority and to be certain?” Conrad asks (18).

Pritscher explores the pitfalls of traditional schooling (including college and universities), and the idea that it tends to control students minds to the point where students often seek additional control, conforming to the dictations of the 1%.

High Quality Education

Education is not enough. What is required now is a fundamental shifting of how we educate; a high quality education described by Pritscher as comprising of self-direction, “which is thought to help people be more tolerant of ambiguity, be more open to change.”
Quality learners will be less prone to fear and aggression, which is after all the root of racism.
Pritscher explains, “Self-directed education (quality learning rather than ‘training’) fosters freedom and in turn, racism reduction. To self direct your learning is to be open to the unexpected, the surprise and the habitual chaos. It is to be unafraid of ambiguity, uncertainty but nurtures the believe in oneself, not external authority and in turn less suspicion of others.”

Other examples of what white people can do to unlearn racist ways include ‘living room sessions,’—inviting friends and families to share discussions on oppression, contacting school boards, school superintendents, teachers, city council members, and others in positions of power, with phone calls, letters to the editor, e-mails etc. and expressing the view that “we now, as whites, need to be a traitor to whiteness if we are to be loyal to humanity.”

Pritscher covers the roots of white privilege and the contribution of our 'image and idea makers' (experts and researchers in the fields of social sciences, psychiatry, medicine, education) towards perpetuating oppression, when they tell us what is normal, abnormal, deviant) “These images and ideas are used to label, divide and oppress people, often in ways that are difficult to detect.”

But: “There's no one natural category for anything, yet the mostly white value system generally holds that there is.  We too often believe that there is an essential nature of man.  Once this nature is discovered through science, it is used to determine value.  One of these implicit white values was, and continues to be for some whites, that whites are better than African-Americans and other people of color. (38).

Pritscher very kindly takes in to consideration your white feelings:
“This does not mean white people are bad.  It means the way we have taught our young has not changed in over a century.  We, our parents, and grandparents often unconsciously hold that which prevents us from noticeably reducing racism.”(21).

In conclusion, speaking as a person of colour, white people need to take their hurt feelings out of the picture (“Oh I feel so awkward—“me, me this is all about me and my feelings”). They need to stop undermining the experiences of people of colour, ("Some of the nuns are hurt by all this talk about how bad the residential schools. It wasn’t all evil.”). They need to be willing to do this work so that we can have a just society for all people.

With Pritscher, “white people can no longer in good conscience, avoid  dealing with the bigotry and racism that is ingrained in white communities. It is white people’s responsibility to educate themselves on these issues.”

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