Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Making Connections: White Privilege in the LGBT Sports Advocacy Community

Last week I just happened to turn on CNN at the exact moment that President Obama walked into the White House press conference to make a surprise statement in the aftermath of the Trayvon Martin Murder trial outcome.  I almost never watch TV during the day, but it was blazing hot and wicked humid out and I was stuck in the house enjoying the AC. A little bored, I turned on the TV just in time to hear the president make his extraordinary personal statement placing the reactions of many African-American people to the Zimmerman acquittal in the larger context of race and racism in the United States.  

As someone who considers myself a white ally on issues of race and racism, I was impressed by Obama’s statement and his intentional injection of race and racism into the conversation about the Zimmerman trial. I am so sick of hearing white people proclaim that racism is over and that this particular incident had nothing to do with race.  I am outraged that John Roberts and the majority of the Supreme Court believe that it is no longer necessary to monitor individual states’ efforts to make it difficult or impossible for poor people and people of color to vote because racism is over according to their white privileged world view.

I am angry that when African-Americans or other people of color point out how race and racism are still prevalent and relevant in the United States these efforts are attacked by white people as divisive attempts to revive racial tensions of the past or dismissed as “biased” or “too sensitive.” That is exactly what happened when Obama spoke out yesterday.  The twitter world lit up with white conservative politicians and pundits dismissing and criticizing his heartfelt statement.

The problem is not calling attention to race and racism and demanding that we address the on-going institutional manifestations of it. The problem is our inability as a nation and as individual citizens to acknowledge that racism is still deeply embedded in the fabric of our culture and ourselves.  It is NOT calling attention to the on-going significance of race and racism that is divisive; it is the refusal to consider the effects of racism that is divisive. It is the dismissal and erasure of the perspectives of people of color about their experiences in a white-dominated culture that are problematic.

I do not expect blatant white racists to change their perspectives any time soon. Neither do I expect the white conservative pundits who claim that we live in a post-racial society to understand the complacent naiveté of the white privilege embedded in their smug pronouncements.  What I do expect is that white allies, me and white people like me who claim to abhor racism, will stand up and speak out alongside our friends and colleagues of color about the disturbing dismissal of race and racism in our national and personal conversations about justice, both legal and social. 

It is simplistic and not productive to think that it is enough to see oneself as a “good” white person who does not participate in or condone overt acts of racism. This perspective places white people outside of racism looking in. It separates white people from the need to engage in self-reflection or action. This perspective enables “good” white people to stand on the sidelines without confronting our own ignorance, fear, guilt and privilege when it comes to difficult conversations about racism and the ways we good white people are complicit in perpetuating it.  The truth is that white people, all white people, benefit from racism. Those of us who claim to believe in social justice need to confront this uncomfortable reality.  Conversations about racism among white people are often complicated by our guilt, fear and ignorance. Avoiding conversations about racism because we feel guilty, afraid or uninformed is unacceptable. It is the nature of privilege that it is difficult for those who have it to see it.  Becoming aware of one’s privilege can be a painful, yet liberating process. It is a process white people who claim to be allies must engage in.  President Obama called this process soul searching. Unless “good” white people are willing to take on this challenge (and the choice to refuse the challenge grows out of our privilege), we will never effectively achieve racial justice and never understand our roles in either perpetuating or eliminating racism.

Time Out.  

If you are wondering why, in an LGBT sports blog, I am talking about racism, then you are exactly who I would like to engage in this conversation.  A national conversation among white people about white privilege and our roles in perpetuating racism, consciously or unconsciously, is not only about the larger cultural issues of racism and legal justice, voting rights, gun violence or poverty.  We need to integrate these conversations into our everyday lives including our LGBT sports advocacy, education and research. 

To the extent that we unconsciously think of whiteness as the “default” when we are talking about LGBT inclusion and discrimination in sports, we are guilty of privileging white people and ignoring the experiences of LGBT people of color. 

Every time we plan an LGBT educational panel, conference program, research project, course syllabus or workshop and fail to talk about race and racism or include the voices of people of color, we perpetuate racism.

When we sit silently at LGBT sports educational or advocacy events that do not include people of color or don’t even notice this lack of representation, we are perpetuating racism.

When we leave it up to colleagues or friends of color to speak out about racism or to remind us to include voices of color, we are enjoying our white privilege.

When we discount the perspectives of people of color as “too sensitive” or “seeing racism everywhere,” we privilege our own perspectives and experiences over theirs.

When we congratulate ourselves for including a few people of color in our programs without challenging our white privilege, we are perpetuating racism. 

If, when challenged about our ignorance, fear or lack of action about racism, we let our discomfort or hurt feelings silence us, we are retreating into our privilege.

If we claim to be white allies, but have not really taken on the challenge of educating ourselves about racism and the white privilege racism enables, then we are not really engaged in the kind of soul searching that is required to reach our goal of full LGBT inclusion in sports.

One of the keys to social change is identifying our spheres of influence and taking action to address social injustice in those spheres.  We must start with ourselves and talk to other white people about white privilege and racism and then work with people of color to challenge racism with the individuals and organizations we are a part of. 

That would be one way that we in the LGBT sports advocacy world can challenge the white lie that race no longer matters and that racism is no longer a problem in or out of sports.  I am in. Are you?


Never Stop said...

Thank you for writing this important article.

Wyman Stewart said...

Welcome back! Wondered if you would ever find your computer keyboard.

When Presidents speak, politics factors into the topic. Is true of all; be it Obama, Bush, Clinton, etc. I accept this, as I listen to a President.

I saw Obama speak too. Wasn't what he said that disturbs me. Was what he didn't say, that disturbs me. This revealed the politics.

I may return to explain. I feel Obama dampened chances for a real, national, racial discussion, by what he didn't say.

Not a perfect post, but I prefer this self-declared perfect knowledge. You make many sincere points. Some I agree with; some I don't. Others, a nuanced reality exists, that is hard to overcome.

Racism is not confined to Whites. Blacks have their racists and racism to overcome too. This is a complex topic. (True of all races, probably.)

There are varying degrees of White Privilege. Still, there is a HUGE NEED for a DISCUSSION about race to take place.

Forgive the generalist nature of my comments.

I welcome your post. This isn't an attack. Emotions and points spring forth demanding to speak.

I appreciate your courage in trying to make an honest, intelligent post, without ranting too much. Not easy. Not easy at all. Rants are running rampant all over the internet, including professional writers, who should know better.

Will re-read. Hope many, many people offer considered opinions, while doing their best not to rant. This beats posts about Psychotic Coaches, who are a dime a dozen in sports.

I hear a personal fan blowing over ice cools the face. Icebergs, where are they when you really need one? Nowhere to be found.

Wyman Stewart said...

OOPS! Correcting an error: "I prefer this (to) self-declared perfect knowledge."

Wyman Stewart said...

"Wasn't what he said that disturbs me. Was what he didn't say, that disturbs me. This revealed the politics."

Allow me to return and explain the above words from my original comment. I would have had President Obama to address the Zimmerman trial and Zimmerman more directly, rather than obliquely, in his comments.

Also, I would have had President Obama as President of ALL Hispanic Americans, address the Media's constant reference to Zimmerman as a "White-Hispanic" as race-baiting and divisive, when the fact is, in a united country, we don't divide Hispanics into White, Black, and Brown Hispanics, as though each is totally separate and different from each other.

Let me ask, you you divide Lesbians and Gays into White, Black, Brown, Hispanic, Latino, etc. groupings and send them out to campaign for a set of rights for each? If so, I haven't noticed that, so define Zimmerman as a White-Hispanic, without President Obama calling the Media out for this race-baiting bias is disingenuous to his expressed wish of putting an end to racism in America.

Granted, even a President can only say so much. Say too much and people tune you out, then forget what they heard you say. So, I will call President Obama's "personal speech" possibly the best speech he has given, ever! You have to start somewhere and this speech is a starting place.

Let me return to your post. Haven't re-read it yet, but from memory, I like your self-examination approach. I would like to add something to consider in your self-examination approach.

There are extremists on all sides of the LGBT debate. I see as much bias and animosity among you, as a group, toward Straight people, as you see among Straight people. I don't expect this to end soon from either side. Part of it is the process people must go through to arrive on neutral ground.

However, from your point of view, you need to accept Straight people have many genuine concerns, fears, and doubts about the rise of the LGBT community in all areas of society. They should be listened to and understood, otherwise you risk becoming what you accuse Straight people of being for too much of history. Call it sexism bias or whatever, it's very similar to racism. You are forcing Straight people to examine their views, but overall you are refusing to examine your own views toward Staight people.

Whether race or gender, it's so much to try to deal with, I foresee only the usual lurching along from confrontation to crisis events to life as we live it today, far into the future. Chaos combined with political bullying, in other words. Would be better, if not the case. Race relations are a prime example. If race relations were to be solved, many other problems would be on the road to resolution.

Thank you again for your post. I want to hear MORE of what you have to say on this topic. Race is an excellent topic for the discussion of many American problems; including sports. I should know, I've been a White victim of race in sports in the past. I've also seen Black victims. Some is subtle; some obvious. I have no trouble with your post on a sports blog. Makes sense to me.

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Wyman Stewart said...

Although I'll continue to read this blog, comments will be rare. This is a good blogpost to leave on.

Thank you to those who blessed me with your insightful comments on my comments.

Thank you Pat. I do take a contrarian view, at times. You were tolerant. That's all.

Anonymous said...

Rants like yours are just confirmation that political agendas shouldn't be allowed to propagate in academia. The unfortunate truth is that cults like Gender and Race studies have been allowed to fester in academia for so long that somehow true believers like you now believe that your political opinions are facts.

Because too many ideologues like you and your friends have spent your entire adult lives in the alternate reality of the academy you've started to believe your own BS. A disease that I would add our President also suffers from. The unfortunate truth is that your desire to designate everyone in your world to be victims just guarantees they'll never take responsibility for their own outcomes. Others are tired of suffering the consequences of you and your friend's foolishness.

What you are witnessing now in society is the ultimate failure of the progressive agenda in places like Detroit and Chicago. It's the only outcome that can be expected when groups of people collectively are not held to real world standards and outcomes.

Finally try addressing something in the world of athletics. Here's one for you. How about Holdsclaw being convicted of multiple felonies including firing a handgun at her ex-girlfriend and not getting even one day in prison. That covers your lesbian and minority world in one fell swoop. The only injustice there is allowing a black lesbian WNBA star to escape justice because she is a black lesbian.

Anonymous said...

Racism SUCKS!

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