Summer of Learning (2018) #4 Michael Bennett. Things that make white people uncomfortable @mosesbread72
I’ve liked the saying that “change isn’t hard, it’s uncomfortable….” and a lot of what Michael Bennett says emphasizes the point of “conversation” both talking AND listening….and if anything, “active listening” (where you confirm that what you think you heard is what the other person is wanting you to hear).
In my opinion, Michael Bennett’s book is mistitled. It should be “Things that make white people change”…..becasuse it’s a conversation that leads to better understanding. It isn’t about “one person/story being right and everything else wrong” – it’s not a condemnation of “all” white people….it’s about sharing a story to provide greater understanding. It’s about when you reflect on what your history classes taught “us” about the evolution of North America….not a lot about non-white/european “development” even though there were a LOT of other ’colours’ involved over the centuries. And if you don’t think people need to change…well we have seen that not all white people think & do the same….kinda like every racial group – there is no “one type” or “common behaviour”. There are powerful leaders and evil racists in all size shape and colour.
I know (and agree with Michael) that life can’t just be about escape (community home etc) but about facilitating change – acknowledging that which would rather be overlooked (eg how Manifest Destiny impacted Africans and North Americans) – especially of you are part of a group that needs “superhero’s” to look towards for inspiration.
What is “uncomfortable”? Incidents such as what happened to Malcolm Butler at college (when his student ID not being easy-to-see-enough led to a confrontation at university: http://www.espn.com/blog/tennessee-titans/post/_/id/26447/malcolm-butler-refuses-to-be-defined-by-his-super-bowl-moments ) I know that I never had to worry about something like this…
What is “uncomfortable” is the power of words (and not just the “unmentionable words”) but mindset words as black athletes relationships with “owners” – and the power of sports magnates reframing their terminology to C.E.O. (or other designation) – and Michael suggests (as a way to begin some empathy) going to work and referring to your boss as “your owner” if it seems ridiculous…..that’s the point. The use of words in a way that shows not just a misunderstanding (which is fine and fair on an ongoing learning journey) but a dismissal of wanting to learn how people grew up …. again as I say: kids do what they see. And as much as I’ve never been a fan of affirmative action (and I believe the opportunities I have had in hiring decisions reflect my willingness to look beyond the face at the other side of the interview table) I have to be aware (and this is the uncomfortable part of what is referred to as ‘white privilege’) that not everybody has the same mindset….and sometimes it’s a stereotype that gets in the way….and there is a need for “affirmative action” (or native ancestry or ….. ) to help change up the cycles of misunderstanding and have a realistic variety of “leaders to look up to” for kids in school and throughout the community.
Disagree but understand his attitude towards drugs like marijuana- as a pain reliever over regular use I can support – but again ideally with medical awareness rather than self-prescription. I won’t use Demerol for a Friday night no matter how it feels. I would hope that anyone using marijuana does so with their medical doctor & pharmacist knowing so that they can help be prepared for any side effects (ie anxiety + paranoia from drug use = bad after-effects)
But….the bigger picture of uncomfortableness:
Such as: sometimes you don’t know you’re on a chain until you try to move…..
And: are we authentically aware of how some words (you know the ones) are used to de-humanize other humans so that inhuman things can be done to them. It’s more than hurtful….and unfortunately that when a group uses the words themselves, it confuses matters because does it then mean that the sports teams in Washington DC, Cleveland, Edmonton, Atlanta et al are “okay-ish….? Because “we” would like those names to not be as hurtful as they likely are…
Is the most uncomfortable part about this book coming to an understanding that more understanding is needed – and in the US while there is Black History Month, it doesn’t mean the lack of a “white history month” is an insult, but an acknowledgement that too often, we haven’t/don’t get chances to know more….especially in history where those who don’t learn from it are doomed to repeat it…..and in Canada, that’s the role of our Truth and Reconciliation process for our First Peoples whose history has been avoided…..and only recently been seen as being very “local” – as in there can’t be “a” textbook because each nation is so unique and too often we want to to take one cultural piece (ie totem poles) and attribute it to “everyone”…. and much as white groups don’t always like being mixed up (especially during the World Cup!) “we” (as white people) need to be uncomfortable by being aware that while there are no “universal truths” (not all white folk had things easy) it’s also not a competition either…..and whether or not anyone wants to admit it, the concept of “white privilege” does exist – and we often cringe when we see it applied blatantly, but “we” need to be uncomfortable that it also exists in ways many of us can’t see (biggest example is the feeling you get when pulled over – do you think “what did I do wrong” or “how bad is this going to be…”).
I have taken “white privilege quizzes” and thought that I’d be further “ahead” than I ended up being (because being a white male is not always an advantage…) on the”step forward/back quiz, but I was also mindful that there were many much further back….and I’m also mindful that there may have also been advantages that I wasn’t aware of – and again, communication matters! I grew up in a community dominated by two skin colours and misunderstandings were the key reason to many conflicts and confrontations between people. I was lucky that my dad had to overcome preconceived judgements so that skin colour & cultural backgrounds were secondary (or thirdly or never) considerations behind the actions of individuals; your actions spoke louder than words…though certain words would definitely raise alarm bells…..
I appreciate Michael Bennett’s skills on the football field. I even more appreciate his willingness to be a social advocate in a time where there is pressure for “athletes to just be athletes” yet a time where athletes have more power for possible changes to/with society than ever before we need people like Michael to share his stories and experiences, because through understanding the experiences of individuals, “we” better understand that no one social/cultural group is monolithic….and understanding is what leads to change….as uncomfortable as that may be to some.