Becoming an Anti-Racist, Part One
This week, Dan is joined by his friend and member of The Allender Center Teaching Staff, Wendell Moss, to begin a two-part conversation about the implications of the phrase “I am not a racist” and what it means to instead become an “anti-racist.” We invite you to join us and ask: Are we willing to acknowledge what is held in our own bodies and hearts in regards to racism?
To open the conversation, Dan acknowledges that there is no way to accomplish all he wishes to on this topic, and that he is stepping into a “deeply complex, and at times, contentious,” realm. Dan’s guiding assumption is that “no person can escape the reality that there is a racism that they need to acknowledge within their own heart.”
Sharing stories of his own experience, Wendell reveals the way statements made about race, are felt in his mind and body. In a sense, he feels the defensiveness in their statement, that he must protect them, and that they are not willing to enter the conversation around racism or be reflective about its impact. There is no escape from racial trauma in our country, however, because it is all around us. The important question, Wendell states, is can we enter the conversation?
Dan asks Wendell what he feels about the phrase “colorblindness’” as it relates to race.
Wendell: “I hear its intent, but that term so much reflects the erasing of face, the erasing of uniqueness, it erases Psalm 139, it erases that I’m fearfully and wonderfully made, I’m uniquely made and my color is good, my uniqueness is good. So when I hear that statement I feel invited to erase all of that. In fact, it also kind of promotes this difference is divisive—and that’s just not true.”
Dan: We’ve got a number of people of color that are central to our founding. So often you and others have been able to name it as if you don’t actually believe that trauma plays itself out generations upon generations when I know I teach it, you taught it, and yet the reality is your family’s history – it’s formed in trauma.”
Wendell: “When my father told me of instances of when he experienced racism and racial words thrown at him, I saw my father’s face. I saw my father’s body, and I saw his tears looking at his little black boy, and his little black boy took that in. And so, of course, my ancestors stories, my father’s stories—they’re in my body.”
Dan mentions a book he read recently called How to be an Anti-Racist. One of the things that stood out to him was all the ways assimilation is a form of racism. He remembers a question Wendell asked of him a few years ago, which was: “Are you aware you have a racial identity?” It’s these kinds of questions that begin to open the door to true, honest conversations about racism that go beyond the defensive statement, “I am not a racist.”
Dan asks Wendell: “What have you had to deal with as you’re engaging people who want to make the statement ‘I’m not a racist,’ but don’t actually want to look at their own racism?”
Wendell answers: “I often feel the intent is a kind request, but actually when I get that kind of [question], in that moment, I feel like I have to take care, that I have to educate.”
He goes on to explain that this question often puts him in a bind because he understands the intent, but also that it is not his job to alleviate someone else’s guilt.
Dan challenges us all to read and educate ourselves about the history of racism. Though we may not wish to be part of the structure of racism in our country, many of us have benefited from it, and in light of that, we can’t look to others for exoneration or education.
If you are interested in learning more about the intersection of trauma and race:
- Read Wendell’s recent blog, Collective Trauma.
- Listen to our three-part podcast series, Race & Trauma, from 2017 featuring members of The Allender Center Teaching Staff.