"Uprooting Racism": Join the conversation about racial justice in our communities, our schools, and our country
“No matter what our initial conversations might have been, once they hire me, I'll be called in to represent the culture of African-Americans,” Williams said.
“In a succession of ‘special’ events with catchy titles like ‘Passport to the World,’ ‘Multicultural Menagerie’ and ‘Diversity Safari,’ I'll be asked to share a bit of the dance, dress, and/or music, of ‘my culture.’ I'll be nestled in among the Japanese kimonos, Turkish baklava, ‘Indian tomahawks,’ and Mexican mariachis. But although I'll be perceived as a representative of all African-Americans, almost never will I be asked to talk about the full range of issues that are critical to our lives. Almost never will I be asked to address race and racial hierarchy. Neither will anyone else.”
In Williams’ experience, most schools deftly dance around and downplay the problems associated with social difference. Stereotyping, bias and discriminatory behavior rarely are mentioned, and structural discrimination is almost never even considered. Most notably, schools routinely avoid talking about the root causes of racial hierarchy, preferring instead to focus on the ways in which we all are “alike.”
But Williams quickly adds: “It’s impossible to understand the American social landscape without knowing the history of race and the role it has played - and continues to play - in the shaping of our country. Race is not an addendum, an adjunct or a side issue. Instead, it lies at the heart of the formation of nearly all of our institutions and our collective way of life. Until Americans become ‘fluent’ in race-related matters, we will never be able to take responsibility for undoing the damages racism has caused.
“Unfortunately, very few of us are capable of talking constructively - with depth, honesty, and clarity - about this critical subject. The mainstream media offer little more than the most emotion-laden, juvenile and inflammatory treatment of the issues involved. We suffer from a dearth of conversations that leave us feeling inspired and motivated to seek more information about this crucial part of our society.
“Americans desperately need to establish settings where we safely can engage the matter of race.”
Beginning on Feb. 25, Williams and other members of the Interfaith Council for Peace and Justice hope to provide a new forum for constructive conversation. Their Racial and Economic Justice Task Force is starting a book study group designed to help those who want - in earnest and with good will - to tackle the challenge of working to dismantle the structures of Racism.
The group’s first choice for study is Paul Kivel’s 1993 book: Uprooting Racism: How White People Can Work for Racial Justice.
Says Williams: “Kivel’s book reflects the tenor with which we want to approach these conversations. Although it specifies that it is a book written by a white person for white people dealing with racial issues, it is one of the best introductory books I've encountered for helping anyone to begin to think more deeply about the subject.
“The feeling you have while reading "Uprooting Racism" is that you're receiving good advice from a longstanding and well-trusted friend. With skill and clarity, Kivel talks about racism without rhetoric or attack. He gently yet firmly helps the reader to move beyond the crippling emotions of anger, shame, guilt and blame to acquire the tools necessary to take an analytical rather than purely descriptive approach to Race’s role in American society.
“Kivel redirects the common perception of race as a biological quality attached only to people of color and of “racism” as the hardships lived by people of color because they are the color(s) they are. He opens with the statement: 'This is a book about racism for white people' and goes on to explain what it means to be white in a society which institutionalizes oppression and social injustice based on a normative definition of ‘whiteness.’ ‘Invisible’ privilege, unthought-of benefits and tactics whites employ to minimize, deny and avoid responsibility for racism are all discussed succinctly and directly.
“For years, the Ann Arbor Schools have been making a pointed attempt to address the racial ‘achievement gap.’ We want to help their effort by allowing them another opportunity to discuss - in depth, and without relent - the many issues associated not simply with culture, but with the arrangements of race.”
WHAT: Racial Justice Book Group: Uprooting Racism by Paul Kivel.
WHEN: 7 p.m. Feb. 25.
WHERE: St. Aidan’s Episcopal Church, 1679 Broadway St., Ann Arbor.
Please support your local, independent booksellers.
Chuck Warpehoski is co-director of the Interfaith Council for Peace and Justice.
La’Ron Williams is a nationally-acclaimed and multiple-award-winning storyteller. Drawing inspiration from the lessons of struggle, perseverance, and survival of Africans in the Western Hemisphere, La’Ron shares multicultural stories that are educational, musical, and highly participatory for audiences of all kinds.