White Folks Facing Race: Fear Stands In Our Way
Happy Spring! I hope you’re all enjoying the re-emergence of life and nature into our surroundings and finding new ways to recognize and be in solidarity with our planet and each other.
I touched on the role of fear in my Scarcity and Hoarding post in January and I wanted to elaborate on this a bit more. There are so many current examples, from elected officials creating laws to prevent schools from making White children (or their parents) uncomfortable, to resistance to common sense changes that would make our society more equitable.
Our country’s culture puts great emphasis on individual liberties and rights, which comes with individual responsibility for success and failure, the American Dream of pulling oneself up by one’s bootstraps, that hard work = success. This approach can mean that a person’s choices are the sole determinants of whether they achieve their goals in life or fail miserably.
While this perspective allows people to remain blind to or deny the existence of structural discrimination, it also locks them into a fearful mentality, that they can only blame themselves if things go sideways and that they may not be able to depend on others to show them mercy or kindness because others will be similarly looking out for themselves. This is a depressing, isolating way to see a land of such promise and opportunity.
Individual fear becomes collective fear when a scarcity mentality is at the root. Instead of finding community with others, we compete and undermine and hoard and focus on getting “the best” for ourselves, often more than we need, denying others the basics of survival. Collective fear leads to the whitewashing of history instruction at public schools, denial of historical facts, loss of critical thinking skills, the inability to evaluate whether something is true or not, unmoored from any context of what is happening and why.
A loss of control, especially during the pandemic, has led to a backlash, a frenzied search for control of something, often centered around protecting children from perceived dangers (to say nothing about the actual dangers they face). Seeing their children struggle to learn during virtual education led many families to feel helpless and alone and desperate for control in a time of crisis.
Some families have responded to this experience, especially those with an expectation of having their needs met and their voices heard, by using their fear to force instant (harmful) change. We must find a way to acknowledge how these families are feeling without banning books or retreating from the progress that has already been made. The legacies of their methods are steeped in white supremacy and cannot stand, even as we acknowledge their fear and pain and humanity.
A few things are happening here:
- our education system no longer emphasizes the teaching of civics or an understanding of the fundamental connection between public education and democracy;
- most White people are not educated about the truth of our history, putting us at a disadvantage when uncomfortable topics are discussed, leading to denial or entrenchment;
- politics and corporate pressure have an outsized role in determining our national trajectory and our individual choices, leading to a feeling of helplessness; and,
- critical thinking skills and the ability to understand complexity are suffering, allowing dis/misinformation to spread and to lead to damaging laws and policies based on falsehoods.
Stephen Sawchuk wrote “Revising America’s Racist Past” (EdWeek, 1/18/22) about these issues. He says, “Social studies and civics have been neglected for decades. That’s led to less teaching of the discipline overall, which has led to a weaker grasp of the value of civic disagreement, which has led to greater arguments over standards, which were difficult to write in the first place.” He goes on to say, “For Walters-Rauenhorst, the Louisiana teacher-educator, nothing less than the foundations of democracy are at stake. What happens, she said, if students never hear ideas that challenge their own, if they never are taught the tools to respectfully debate, or are never encouraged to look at a historical event from somebody else’s perspective?”
We must rally behind public education, even when we are frustrated by the faults of a racist system. We must rally behind teachers, who have suffered along with our students during a very challenging time and who were undervalued even before the pandemic. We must demand curriculums that are honest about our country’s history and that are inclusive of the diversity of our students and their families and interrogate whatever uncomfortable feelings we have about doing so.
The hateful efforts to damage and threaten school boards and classrooms must be actively countered. We cannot take the education of our children for granted. We must speak up for what we value and that we will not give in to fear or bullying, even as we recognize the pain behind them. The way forward is through — through the pain, through the fear, through compassion even when we disagree, through shared humanity and solidarity.
Listen. Amplify. Follow. In Solidarity.