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Local Voices: Seeing White As Normal

By Shedrick Byrd

Recently San Francisco’s Quarterback Colin Kaepernick refused to stand for the playing of the National Anthem. There was a white media frenzy and demonstrations throughout the country by some whites to the point of burning Kaepernick’s football jerseys in effigy, showing their supremacy and dislike for his behavior. Some of those same people will “stand up” for the flag but will not “stand for” the flag.

Some of the demonstrators probably avoided the military service so they wouldn’t have to fight for the flag and Kaepernick’s right to not stand for the National Anthem. This amazes me because whites will fight to no end to exercise and to protect their First Amendment Rights, but when Blacks uses the First Amendment to complain about unfair justice or any other expressions of unhappiness, it brings about a cry of foul play by white folk and the white media.

Instead of the media querying Kaepernick about why he refuses to stand for the playing of the National Anthem, they cried foul play and persecuted him. He may even lose his job because of the pressure from angry whites. I read an article in the July 20, 2016 biweekly issue of “The Christian Century” magazine entitled “Seeing Whiteness.” The article was written by Reggie Williams, who teaches at the McCormick Theological Seminary in Chicago. He wrote about two exercises he conducts on understanding race. One exercise was called “the Privilege Walk” and another called “Cross the Line.” Both workshops offered participants an opportunity to reflect critically on some aspects of racial diversity.

After three years Mr. Williams said he felt the exercises were not confronting the real issues of race. But what he did discover through the participation of whites in the exercises was that “seeing white as ‘normal’ is part of the ideology of white supremacy.” He said that whiteness functions as a social-political organizing norm, arranging all of humanity according to proximity to the template of ideal white human. Yet it remains invisible to most white people.

In one of the exercises he asked white participants to give their interpretation of different ethnic groups. They associated Blacks with “music,” “dancing” “prison” “athletes” and “angry.” When asked for interpretation of whites the answers were “normal” “non-ethnic” and “no race.” Many problems with racism today are the result of most whites growing up in a privileged society forming their idea of superiority. The average Blacks grew up struggling mentally and socially just to survive. Whites wrote laws and regulations for their well being without including positive consideration for Blacks. Black people were expected to abide by the rules of white people.

We know why racism exists but have a problem understanding how to get rid of it. It is almost impossible to challenge white racist ideology. Whatever we try to do to get rid of racist behaviors or beliefs, the white backlash is strong. Mr. Williams was right on point when he described whites as seeing whiteness as the norm. This presidential campaign reveals much of what Mr. Williams conveyed in his article “seeing whiteness as the normal.” This is one of the most overtly racist campaigns I have witnessed. The candidates are trying to use Black voters to their benefit. Black people are being bounced around like a rubber ball by both candidates, but Donald Trump degrades Black people in his campaign speeches and gets cheers from his audiences. What a sad commentary!

David Duke, the past grand Dragon of the Ku Klux Klan, openly supports Donald Trump. You got Black pastor Mark Burns (I don’t know who he is or where he came from), painting Hillary Clinton in Blackface and accusing her of pandering to Blacks for their votes. He would have been more accurate to paint Donald Trump in Black face. The behaviors of the campaigns and/or their supporters are unacceptable to most Black people. In taking actions against such practices by speaking out Blacks are taking the risk of being confronted with hateful resistance, similar to the treatment Kaepernick is experiencing.

Often Blacks are persecuted when they act out against the white norm exhibited by the whites and some Blacks that I call Uncle Tom Blacks. What can Blacks do to make whites and some Black Americans understand racism? Is the white belief that their ideology is so strong until it’s unmovable? At some point they are going to have to accept that there are cultural differences between Black and white and seeing white is not the normal, it’s just different.

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Some people say we are more alike than different. I disagree with that statement. To me we have very little in common. If we were so similar there would be no racism. We don’t even worship God together. Kaepernick is one Black man who seems to be fed up with white racism. Let a Kaepernick movement begin so we will be protected against hatred when we choose to use our First Amendment rights!
Shedrick Byrd is a frequent contributor to the New Journal and Guide, retired Navy and former Deputy Equal Employment Opportunity Officer at the Naval Supply Center, Norfolk.

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