Tears We Cannot Stop
"It has been striking, too, to observe whites for whom their
whiteness isn't a passport to riches, whites for whom whiteness offers
no material reward. But there is a psychological and social advantage
in not being thought of as black; poor whites seem to say, 'At least
there's a nigger beneath me.' And it's a way for poor whites to be of
value to richer whites, especially when poor whites agree that black
folks are the source of their trouble--not the corporate behavior of
wealthier whites who hurt black and white folk alike. It's a way to
bond beyond class. It's a way for working class whites to experience
momentary prestige in the eyes of richer whites. And there are a lot
of privileges that white folks get that don't depend on cash. The
greatest one may be getting stopped by a cop and living to tell about
Michael Eric Dyson's Tears We Cannot Stop: A Sermon To White
America (source of the above quote) is a must read for everyone who
counters "Black lives matter" with "All lives matter" (as in a certain
Maine governor) or insists that white privilege is a myth. Dyson, a
college professor and ordained minister, has dealt with all the racial
hurts and dangers of twenty-first century America--from his daughter
being verbally abused at a skating party at the tender age of six to
enduring terrifying traffic stops conducted by racist cops. He's
heard all the convoluted rationales concocted to justify a white sense
of superiority. Amazingly he hasn't given up on us. Somehow he is
able to believe we can become part of the solution rather than the
problem if we accept some painful truths.
One thing we must realize is that whiteness exists not as an
inborn genetic trait, but as a cultural construct.
"Race has no meaning outside of the cultures we live in and the
worlds we fashion out of its force and energy. Whiteness is an
advantage and a privilege because you have made it so, not because the
universe demands it."
Although "white" people came from various nations, their
assimilation involved swapping out ethnicity for a generic whiteness.
It's an artificial identity infused with privilege and power, so much
so that it considers normative and American to be synonyms. American
history is largely a record of white acts and values.
To get to a place where black and white really don't matter we
have to understand the real ugly truth. Most of us are in big time
denial. Rather than really listening and trying to understand we are
too quick with the "All lives matter" quip Dyson must hear much too
often. We must authentically listen. We must learn. And we must not
Tears We Cannot Stop takes the form of a religious service from
call to worship through scripture and sermon to benediction. As I
read the book I kept wanting to jump up and yell "Amen! Preach it
On a personal note, one of my most poignant epiphanies on what white
privilege means happened when my one and only son was in high school.
He was late coming home. I knew he'd return with a snack and a story
to share. I realized this very age typical lateness, losing track of
time, would be the source of fear for so many black mothers. I didn't
have to worry about my son being arrested or shot by police for
something as innocuous as going to a convenience store for a soda or
just being out and about after sunset. No mother should have to fear
for her son's life because of the color of his skin.
A great big shout out goes out to all who are working to change this.
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