Some thoughts on Kelsey Blackwell’s post on A Marvelous Crumb

Some thoughts on Kelsey Blackwell’s post on A Marvelous Crumb, “Why People of Color Need Spaces Without White People”:

racisim handsRacism permeated our childhood,
A muddy stream constant through our lives,
Crying out to our innocence with its painfulness
Interfering with our friendships
Seen clearly in our child-eyes
as the wrong it was

Murdering the purity of our souls.
        by Connie Pwll Walck Tyler, December 1985

Kelsey Blackwell says, “People of color need their own spaces. Black people need their own spaces. We need places in which we can gather and be free from the mainstream stereotypes and marginalization that permeate every other societal space we occupy. We need spaces where we can be our authentic selves without white people’s judgment and insecurity muzzling that expression. We need spaces where we can simply be—where we can get off the treadmill of making white people comfortable and finally realize just how tired we are.”

She has faced criticism for saying this, even being accused of being a “racist” herself.

The first thing I felt when I read Kelsey’s article was sadness. A deep well of sadness – not hurt. I understand why Kelsey feels unsafe around white people. Racism is so embedded in our white culture that when we open our mouths and something comes popping out, we often can’t even see how racist it is. Why wouldn’t a person of color feel unsafe when, at any moment, something hurtful might pop out of the mouth of the white person next to them? Why wouldn’t they want some places in their lives where they don’t have to worry about being a person of color in a racist society?

We all of us have been in situations where someone says something general that zings like an arrow right into our most tender spot. Imagine this happening ten times, fifty times – I don’t know how many more times as much.

So, yes, I understand why Kelsey might feel the need for some “spaces without white people.” But when I read Kelsey’s article I was sad – not for Kelsey, but for me.

Years ago I wrote in my book Dancing the Deep Hum: “[Racist] things will pop into our minds, sometimes almost like another voice in our head – something I find astounding. Where did that come from? I think.”

I wrote that in 2007. I thought I knew a lot about the racism embedded in me. I thought I would always recognize it when it emerged into my consciousness. Now, eleven years later I know so much more about racism – and I know that there are racist concepts I still don’t see.

It’s hard knowing that I only recognize some racist things as racist. How much more is there for me to learn? Will I learn it all in my lifetime or will I die with my subconscious mind still enslaved by my racist culture?

Last year I had one of those momentary flashes of deep understanding. I was attending a White Awareness class in which all the people were white – by design. Not a bad thing but an attempt to keep people of color from being hurt by hearing again about the racism in our culture.

One Sunday, right before the class meeting, I went to a special event to memorialize the internment of the Japanese during World War II. The group was amazingly diverse. There were, of course, people of Japanese descent and European descent, but also Latinos and black people, and … who knows? There were children and elders, and people with different abilities. It was an InterPlay event so we danced, we sang, and we listened to the experiences of people who had been interned.

I felt so happy – sad and angry at what had happened to the Japanese, but happy to be in this group – and safe. I wanted to be there with those people forever.

As I drove to my White Awareness class I felt angry that I had to leave. I thought, “I don’t want to ever be in a room with only white people again.”

Most of my life I have been uncomfortable – really have felt unsafe – in groups of people. Most of my life the groups I’ve been in have been all white or white dominated. I’ve never felt like I fit into the white middle class culture I grew up in. I’ve always felt different. I wasn’t interested in the same things – clothes, make up, even the boys I had a crush on made my girl friends laugh and look at me strangely. I felt like I wasn’t “like” them.

I think a lot of people feel this way. Maybe we are individuated beings who are also part of a greater whole — the universe? or … And perhaps the very thing that makes us see ourselves as separate beings – is what also makes us feel lonely and like we are different from everyone else.

But white people might also consider the idea that by separating ourselves off as the dominant culture – the white culture – an elitist group – we are setting ourselves up to include only those who are like us in other ways so that the group divides again and again with one group “better” than the next one. Sororities and fraternities, exclusive clubs etc., or just an informal group that nevertheless includes and excludes others. And each time we do this the group becomes more homogeneous and more critical of those who are different, and therefore less safe.

Research has told us that this homogeneity is bad for us. The more diversity in a group, the more new, creative ways of looking at problems emerge. If we celebrate our diversity, welcome it, delight in our differences, we will feel safer – and as a bonus, we will be more creative, productive, and exciting.

But until our culture really embraces diversity, until there is no longer one dominant group with power over the rest, there will be a need for the “outcast” groups to find ‘space’, as Kelsey says, without members of the dominant culture – space where they can breathe freely and without fear of some hidden racist, ableist, misogynist, homophobic, etc. words popping out of someone’s mouth.

Read Kelsey’s blog post:
Listen to Ade Anifowose interview Kelsey about her blog post:

In my book, The Earth Woman Tree Woman Quartet, the protagonists, who have shape shifted to the form of one of their Tla Twein (see former post “Exploring Our Tla Twein”), are trying to bring humans back into the sacred Dance of Life, the Tsin Twei.  The Tsin Twei is in danger from many directions, but they all lead back to one place — corporate malfeasance.

You can order print versions from Powell’s Books or your local independent bookstore, or purchase print and ebook versions at Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

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