White Privilege in the LDS Church: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack

On August 15, the Church issued a revised statement about racism in response to the terrorism in Charlottesville. Its initial statement was too general; it left too much room for misinterpretation. The second statement states that “white supremacist attitudes are morally wrong and sinful.”

Amen.

Also, finally.

Finally, a statement about racism from the Church. I’m hoping for even more. Continue reading “White Privilege in the LDS Church: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack”

Black Lives Matter

We are not fighting for integration, nor are we fighting for separation. We are fighting for recognition as human beings…We are fighting for…human rights. – Malcolm X

I’ve been sitting at my computer for the last five nights, staring at the screen. I need to write about recent events. I have a lot to say and yet I don’t know what to say. I haven’t been able to think of anything else, yet somehow, I can’t organize my thoughts or find the words to express my emotions. And so I’ve been up until 2 am every morning, staring at my screen, typing, deleting, typing, deleting, typing, deleting.

Look at these names.

Sean Bell
Sandra Bland
Michael Brown
Philando Castile
Kenneth Chamberlain
John Crawford III
Jordan Davis
Amadou Diallo
Sam Dubose
Eric Garner
Oscar Grant
David Joseph
Trayvon Martin
LaQuan McDonald
Kajieme Powell
Tamir Rice
Walter Scott
Alton Sterling

Look at these names and say them aloud. Do you know their stories? Do you know their lives? Do you know how they died? Can you imagine their final moments? Can you think of their loved ones? Can you picture their parents, their spouses, their children? Can you hear their friends and co-workers? Can you sense the ripples in their communities? Can you feel the grief, the heartbreak, the agony, the devastation, the anger? I know I will never comprehend it, but I’ve been trying. 

This is but a miniscule fraction of names that should be included on this list. It is a tiny sliver of the countless human lives – with stories of love and pain and fear and hope and laughter – violently, senselessly destroyed at the hands of the police. 

Value of Life

A black man in the United States is:
a) 2.94 times more likely to be shot by police across all US counties than a similarly armed white man
b) Just as likely as a white, armed man to be shot by police if he is unarmed
c) 21 times more likely than his white peers to be killed by police
d) All of the above

It is easy to get lost in statistics. To read numbers so sweeping we can’t translate them into the lived realities of the people they describe. Names become letters on a page, unattached to the unique individuals to whom they belong.

Every person killed by the police represents such a unique individual. Yet, each incident is not isolated. These names are a constellation revealing a predictable and disturbing pattern that underlies every aspect of our society. Connecting their dots outlines systemic racism that privileges and oppresses, honors and dehumanizes, supports and kills people based on race.

Once you see it, you cannot unsee it.

It is clear that in our nation, the lives of people of color, and especially Black lives, matter less and are valued less than White lives. This devaluing of Black lives is part of our nation’s deeply rooted, institutionalized racism.

Criminalizing Children

The early criminalization of young black boys is illustrated by which of the following:
a) A black boy is 3 times more likely than his white peers to be suspended and expelled
b) In the South, black boys are suspended at rates 5 times their representation in student populations
c) Black children make up 18 percent of the preschool enrollment but 48 percent of       preschoolers receiving more than one out-of-school suspension, and they are twice as likely to be expelled
d) All of the above

If I had a dollar for every person who said something along the lines of “Do you feel safe?” or, “Those kids must be really difficult” or, “Do those kids want to learn?” when he or she found out I taught in an urban community, I would be a rich woman. Questions and comments like these infuriatingly illustrate the deeply ingrained ideas we have about Black and brown children, namely: they don’t care about learning; they are dangerous.

Society unabashedly tells children of color, and Black children in particular, that their lives and futures are not as important as those of White children. Walk through a school that predominantly serves Black and brown youth and compare the differences between schools in mostly White communities. The difference in resources alone is appalling. There is no level playing field, no meritocracy. There is only a see-saw on which the weight of institutionalized racism has been placed squarely on the side of Black and brown children.

In schools, Black children are suspended and expelled at alarmingly disproportionate rates to White children. White children are disciplined differently for similar behaviors; White students are more likely to be referred to treatment, while Black children are suspended, expelled and arrested. The criminalization of Black and brown children begins at a young age.

Five-year old Michael Davis’s hands and feet were restrained with zip ties when his school called the police to scare away his “behavioral problems”. Police arrested and handcuffed six-year old Salecia Johnson when her school called the police to deal with what they described as her “temper tantrum”. Seven-year old Wilson Reyes was handcuffed and interrogated for ten hours over a playground dispute over five dollars that he didn’t steal.

These are small children.

I am no longer surprised when I read disturbing news like this. These are not freak, isolated incidents. Add them to the aforementioned constellation and they reinforce the predictable pattern of systemic racism at the root of our nation’s institutions.

Caging Humanity

Injustice in our criminal justice system is illustrated by which of the following:
a) A Black driver is 31 percent more likely to be pulled over than a White driver
b) Whites use drugs at 5 times the rate of Blacks, but Blacks are imprisoned for drug offenses at 10 times the rate of Whites
c) Sentences imposed on Black men in the federal system are 20 percent longer than sentences imposed on White men convicted of similar crimes
d) All of the above

IMG_2860Last year, several colleagues, Andy (and Carter!) and I took three students, all Black, on an outdoor ed trip to Zion National Park. We drove in two cars: three students and one teacher in the minivan; another teacher, Andy, Carter and myself in a sedan.

Around midnight on our 12-hour drive home, red and blue lights flashed behind my car and pulled us over. When the officer approached, he asked Lawrence, a light-skinned Latino man and former Marine if it was his car. Lawrence informed him it was a rental. The officer ran his license and came back noticeably friendlier (we suspect it is because Big L’s ID pulled up his Marine background). He told us that our car scanned as a stolen vehicle when we drove by. We showed him rental papers and he let us go.

Meanwhile, students in the other car were blowing up my phone in a flurry of worried, anxious texts.

It was not lost on anyone in our group that if the student van had been pulled over, or if our car carried more students instead of a White man and an Asian woman with a baby, or if Lawrence was not light-skinned and a former Marine, our midnight run in with the police might have ended very differently. Scarily, terrifyingly differently.

The criminal justice system doesn’t start at the courts and end with prisons. It starts with the funneling process that feeds people into the system. Unsurprisingly, this funneling process targets Black men more than any other demographic; Black men are pulled over, stopped and frisked, and arrested at disproportional rates without correlation to crimes committed. Once stopped, they are also more likely to be given tickets, searched, and it seems, murdered. The stories my students shared with me are harrowing and horrifying. What happens in neighborhoods of color at the hands of the police simply doesn’t happen in White communities.

Once caught up, Black people are more likely to be imprisoned and typically receive significantly longer sentences than White people accused of similar crimes. For example, though Whites and Blacks use marijuana at the same rates, Blacks are 3.7 times more likely to be arrested and imprisoned for possession. See also, “Brock Turner” and “Brian Banks”.

Once someone becomes part of the system, it maintains a form of invisible punishment long after he or she is released. We make it nearly impossible for formerly incarcerated people to get jobs, housing, education, or public benefits. They cannot vote or serve on juries for a period of time that may span from years to a lifetime. Thus shackled, many people end up behind bars again.

It is much easier to cage humanity when the lives and communities destroyed have already been devalued and dehumanized in our national consciousness. This is one example of our system of racial oppression at work. Housing, health care, media, the workplace and entertainment also follow the same predictable, racially oppressive patterns. They are the constellation outlined by the names and stories above.

When viewed as a whole, this constellation unequivocally states: Black lives do not matter here.

So, with society’s signs pointing in the opposite direction, it becomes abundantly necessary to declare that Black Lives Matter.

On Change

The widespread and mistaken belief that racial animus is necessary for the creation and maintenance of racialized systems of social control is the most important reason that we, as a nation, have remained in deep denial. – Michelle Alexander

This morning as I drove to work, I heard a woman interviewed on NPR. She was out protesting police brutality and cop-killing, but in the same breath that she stammered through tears, Things need to change, this must stop, she also said something amounting to I’m tired of people talking about race. I don’t think about him as a black man, I think about him as a human being. If we keep talking about race we will never get to the root of these problems. This isn’t about race, it’s about individuals filled with hate. I don’t want to go back to the sixties.

To me, this brief interview captures the complexity of fighting for change. In the same breath that this good-hearted woman protested the violent loss of innocent lives – Black citizens, Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, and officers Brent Thompson, Patrick Zamarripa, Michael Krol, Michael Smith, Lorne Ahrens – she also upheld the systemic racism that is the root cause of every symptom leading to their deaths.

News flash: racism did not end with the Civil Rights movement, the Black vote or anti-discrimination measures. It went underground and became more insidious as people began to believe we have moved “beyond race” into a “colorblind” society. The truth is, not enough has changed.

The Black Lives Matter movement is about more than the extrajudicial killings of black men by police. And, despite the false dichotomy blaring across our screens, it is not anti-police. It is about more than gun control. It is about segregated schools and communities, and the school-to-prison pipeline. It’s about the prison industrial complex in which people get rich by putting other humans in cages. It is the War on Drugs, the New Jim Crow, the political propaganda about welfare queens and drug dealers. It is about infant mortality rates, access to healthy food, inequitable health care. It’s about the death of affirmative action and the perpetuation of college legacies. It’s about Old Boy Networks and implicit bias, like-me bias, glass ceilings and discriminatory hiring practices. It’s about access to safe housing, the inability to book an Airbnb room, and gentrification. It’s Tuskegee, poisoned Flint water and chemical plants in communities of color. It is the teaching of history from a White male re-writing, an erasure of the perspectives and people of color. It is Hollywood and the media.  It is about the hierarchical systems and institutions that devalue, oppress, shame and blame people based on race.

We may not have laid the roots of our racially oppressive system. But we uphold it in our ignorance, blindness, denial, complicity, apathy, and silence. Good, moral people perpetuate racist systems and institutions.

We live in a system of racial privilege and oppression. This system is a constellation of names, stories, brothers and sisters, friends, neighbors, ancestors and children. We are the system. We connect the dots, but we can change the dots. We can break old patterns and create new ones.

I’ve been inspired by the number of people posting on Facebook – people who used to tell me I was too sensitive about race, people who’ve never posted about racial issues – suddenly coming to heightened awareness and calling for change. There is hope.

We can learn about the issues and educate ourselves – in this age of information, there is no excuse for ignorance. We can do our own, internal anti-racist analysis and personal work; it is a never-ending journey of growth and empowerment. We can listen with humility. We can be critical of bias in the media and view all things with a critically conscious lens. We can vote for lawmakers who will work for social justice. We can write our government representatives. We can donate to activist organizations that push for change. We can choose professions that focus on social justice. We can push back when people consciously or unconsciously promote a racist agenda. We can speak up about our own opinions and experiences. We can teach our children through our words and actions.

What are we afraid of? Losing friends, being judged, offending others?

People are losing their lives.

It is time to step up.


Answers: All d

Featured image credit: By Spartan7W

I Am Asian. See Me.

One afternoon, early in my teaching career, I was out on lunch duty with one of my school administrators, a white man. We were tentatively broaching the subject of race when he turned to me, smiling, and said, “I don’t see you as Chinese. I see you as white.”

Um. Continue reading “I Am Asian. See Me.”

Not In My Backyard (NIMBY) Syndrome

Reset has struggled for over two years to find a property for our campus in (around, adjacent to, somewhere, anywhere!) near the Bay Area. Promising properties have fallen through over and over again and thus far, we are still homeless. Our entire team has been thrown into a never ending hurricane of uncertainty about our jobs, our organization, and our ability to do the work we set out to do.
For me, the most jarring part of this property hunt so far has been an email that a potential neighbor sent to a member of our team after a community meeting. Essentially, she was against Reset moving to the property and she had emailed over fifty people to share her sentiments. And oh, by the way, she believes in the work that we do. She just didn’t want us there.

NIMBY. Not In My BackYard.


Shortly after this community meeting, there was a sudden reversal of zoning in which an obscure legality resurfaced to dismantle Reset’s ability to run our program from the site. We don’t want you here.

Juxtaposed with the Google Impact grant – won through public vote –  this experience gives me a discordant reminder of the reality of creating change in our society. It seems so many of us are willing to support inspiring causes, good work and social change when it can be done from behind computer screens in the safety of our own homes. But, should the work actually require a change in our lives, a commitment, an action toward professed beliefs, resistance is immediate and swift. We are good people who believe in good things, but very few of us want to examine our deeply ingrained and subconscious beliefs about other human beings. It’s easier to say we want change than it is to live it.

 The Racism Train

There’s a problem when we champion change, then hide from it when it really counts. Like it or not, white superiority is well defended and protected. It may be unintentional. It’s likely unconscious. Without more introspection and sincere interaction, the racism train keeps rolling – George Sachs

In a system that is built firmly on the perception that white is normal and good, that black is dangerous and criminal and that everything else is foreign, unnatural and barbaric, it seems that unless people are willing to recognize racism as it exists, we will be forever hopelessly skewed toward inequity. We have a society built on racism with people who are unwilling to believe they are racist.

The most insidious misunderstanding of racism is the belief that all racists are like Nazis or the Ku Klux Klan: overtly murderous and hateful toward their victims. Too much of this certainly exists. However, in its most basic form, racism is prejudice plus power. For better or worse, we are socialized to develop prejudices about others. However, as Peggy McIntosh writes, white people carry an invisible knapsack of privilege that most do not even realize they possess. These privileges are attached to great power. Conversely, people of color are acutely aware of the prejudice they face and the privileges and power that are withheld from them. The systems created by this combination of prejudice and power have been solidified and compounded throughout history and over generations. They are unquestioned because they are woven so imperceptibly, so normally, into our structures, institutions and beliefs. But, once you see this racism, it cannot be unseen. It is everywhere.

And, I might add, one could argue the same thing for gender, ethnic, able-bodied, religious and sexual privilege and power.

Very few people want to perpetuate racism and its attendant inequities, injustices and frankly, destruction and death. However, the reality is that we are. We all are.

A Few Questions

When we look squarely at injustice and get involved, we actually feel less pain, not more, because we overcome the gnawing guilt and despair that festers under our numbness. We clean the wound – our own and others’ – and it can finally heal  – Desmond Tutu

Unless we are willing to ask ourselves hard questions and look inward at our subconscious beliefs, we will continue to perpetuate a status quo in which everyone loses in the long run. We all have implicit biases (learn more about yours here) that have been ingrained through the messages we receive from the world around us. Our subconscious beliefs don’t always match our professed beliefs, even if we want them to. But, we can work on our own awareness and then, over a lifetime, continue to work on change.

Do I live in a neighborhood that is mostly white? Is it because the schools are better? Am I okay with the fact that schools in some neighborhoods are better than others? Am I okay with the fact that not all students have access to the same quality of education and resources? That too many students of color students attend schools that I feel uncomfortable walking through, let alone sending my children to? Am I willing to integrate schools so that all students have the same access to resources that I’d want for my children? Am I willing to push for a reallocation and increase of resources that would enable us to create a system of education that is enriching, innovative and equitable for all young people? If not, then what am I afraid of and am I willing to look inside at the real beliefs I have about people who do or do not look like me?

How familiar am I with the history and institutions that created and maintain the segregated neighborhoods in which we live? How familiar am I with the history of any people of color in our country? Is it okay that the stories and truths of entire populations have been erased from our dominant narratives? Am I working to teach my child(ren) a more authentic narrative that includes multiple perspectives, people and events? Am I asking for the same from school curriculum? If not, why not? Am I willing to ask myself whose reality I believe to be more important and why?

What do I do when a black boy, like Trayvon Martin, Michael BrownJordan Davis, or Tamir Rice is senselessly murdered? Or when a black girl is attacked sitting at her classroom desk by a school security officer? Or when a black people are arrested for entering their homes, as in the not-so-isolated cases of Harvard professor, Henry Louis Gates Jr. and businesswoman Fay Wells? Or when innumerable black men, like Oscar Grant, Eric Garner, Sam Dubose, Kenneth ChamberlainJohn Crawford III, Sean Bell, or Amadou Diallojust to name a few, die at the hands of the police with no believable reason? Do I have the luxury of turning off the TV and forgetting the event? Do I think these events are isolated and new? Did I get more incensed about the murder of a lion than I did about the murder of a human being? Do I entertain the possibility that the children did something to provoke their own murders or attacks from adults who were supposed to protect them? Do I justify the deaths and blame the victims for their own murders? Would I entertain that possibility if the child or person in question was white?

When thousands of people are regularly senselessly and innocently killed around the world, do I mourn with all of them? Do I stand with every man, woman and child who endures violence and death? Did I feel more outrage and sadness about Paris than Beirut? Than Nigeria or Syria? Did I stand with Paris on my Facebook wall? What did I do to show solidarity with people who suffer at the hands of terror everywhere? Do I even know about events that are destroying the lives of people around the world? What am I doing about it?

If I really believe all people are equal, what am I doing to ensure that we don’t replicate systems that maintain an unjust and inequitable status quo? No. That maintain an inhumane and genocidal status quo around the world?

I can answer some of these questions satisfactorily to my soul; but most…most and more haunt me everyday. There is so much work to do.

Our Responsibility

All the beautiful sentiments in the world weigh less than a single lovely action -James Russell Lowell

A man filled with the love of God, is not content with blessing his family alone, but ranges through the whole world, anxious to bless the whole human race – Joseph Smith

What is our responsibility? Whose responsibility is it, if it is not ours?

There is much I do not know, but I do know that our responsibility is great. We have a responsibility to our families and our communities. We also have a responsibility beyond. It is not enough to profess support of good causes or solidarity with those who suffer. That is only a first step. We need to act. We need to change. We need to create change.

At least, we need to try.

Our Backyard Garden

If we could but recognize our common humanity, that we do belong together, that our destinies are bound up in one another’s, that we can be free only together, that we can survive only together, that we can be human only together, then a glorious world would come into being where all of us lived harmoniously together as members of one family, the human family – Desmond Tutu

We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

If you have come to help me, you are wasting your time. If you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together – Lilla Watson, Aboriginal Activists Group, Queensland

 I believe that most people are good people. Well-intentioned people. People with good hearts who love deeply and care for others. We protect those with whom we share a connection. We tend to our small plots in the expansive garden of the world.

We say – and truly believe – we want everyone to have their own sustaining and plentiful plots, but we are less inclined to see the realities around us. We are less inclined, even resistant, to observe that the lush plots of some are built inside enclosed, barbed-wired, electrical fences. Some plots operate with a redirected water supply that nourishes only their plants. Some plots are built on the backs of the people tending other plots.

Parts of the garden have become deserts for want of water and shade. The pesticides used to protect plants in some plots are killing their neighbors’ plants. Some people are straight up destroying other peoples’ plots for their own gain.

At some point we must realize that the entire garden is our garden. East Palo Alto, Richmond, South Central, Hunter’s Point are our garden. Syria is our garden, Nigeria is our garden, Mexico and China are our gardens. When we look up and remove the shades that are blocking our vision, we will realize that our actions and inactions, our penchant to look out myopically for our own affects the entire garden, and thus, actually harms us and those we love. We lose our collective humanity.

If the world is our backyard – our garden – then we cannot push the responsibility away. We are sisters and we are brothers. We should be connected with love. Our liberation, our freedom and our humanity are bound together. We cannot abide by the NIMBY syndrome; it is a sickness we must eradicate. We must seek out and welcome our responsibility. Our souls and our hearts as a people depend on our willingness to act with love. We must recognize that the entire garden can become even more fruitful, lush and generative when we care for it together. The world and its people are our garden to tend.