Recent Must Reads: A Weekly Roundup

In the mid-1990’s, when I worked at NELCWIT, an agency that assists women in transition, all employees were mandated to attend a weekend workshop on “Undoing Racism” presented by The People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond. NELCWIT had originated at a kitchen table in a small town in Western MA, by a couple of white women, who saw the need for sheltering battered women. As the agency grew, and more clients using services were women of color, the employee pool began to reflect the same diversity. However, a lot of white principles were still being applied to people from many different cultures.

That’s when the agency director called in The People’s Institute and required full staff participation in understanding the roots of racism and its over-arching impact. In fact, employees were required to apply Undoing Racism tactics in their work, or they were forced to leave the agency. Some white women left. But those of us who stayed, who made the commitment to “undoing racism”, were given a great gift by the facilitators from The People’s Institute. All of the facilitators were people of color, and the knowledge they shared about the roots of slavery and racism in the U.S. opened our hearts and minds. It was the most challenging and rewarding work I have ever been involved with, and it offered me a background, a foundation, to begin implementing the principles in my daily life.

When I began teaching at the college level in Columbus, OH in September 2001, the majority of my students were people of color, aged 16 to 70. Scared though I was, and flawed and inexperienced, I brought the practices I’d learned about Undoing Racism into my classroom. When I wrote the term “white privilege” on the board, I heard some gasps. When I turned around to view the class, the white kids looked scared and the kids of color were smiling. Some white students walked out of class. I remember one young white woman approaching me as the class and I discussed the meaning of the term on the board. She tried to interrupt me…I heard her say, “I can’t listen to this,’ in a whispered voice. I ignored her and asked the class: “How many students of color in this room feel they could stand up and interrupt the professor? How many of you feel “privileged” to do that?” The room shook with laughter and mumbles of ‘No Way’. The woman left and the rest of the class had an open discussion about race. It may have been a simple/naïve discussion, it certainly was just a beginning, but the students of color in that room told me it was their first in a college setting.

Having learned to be aware of not placing pressure and expectation on people of color to “explain” racism to whites, I also refused to not let these young people speak. They were dying to tell their stories. They were eager for their white classmates and for me to understand the hardships they’d endured simply because of the color of their skin. These conversations became increasingly more difficult when I approached classrooms in Western MA where the students were predominantly white. But I leaned through this practice to move through fear, to be willing to make mistakes, of which I have made countless, and to not back off, even if I’m the only one in the room who can see the inequality of the situation being discussed. I have a lot more work to do. I need to continue educating myself on race, continue reading about race, and continue disrupting racial inequality when I see it. We live in challenging times, and for white people this necessitates taking action to “undo racism” whenever we see it.

As you’ll see, I have a lot of articles posted this week in my Roundup. The first several deal with the events in Charlottesville last weekend. I’ve tried to find articles that approach white supremacist actions in various ways. Beyond that, I’ve included articles regarding abortion laws in Texas and Oregon; trans bathroom rights in Texas; and a piece on Civil Disobedience in Durham, NC, where many people showed up to be arrested for toppling a Confederate Statue.

So for these stories and more, READ ON! Your comments are always welcome!


  1. For all the handwringing summed up in the #ThisIsNotUS hashtag, all the shock and surprise many white people expressed after James Alex Fields, Jr., ran down and killed Heather Heyer, America has always been a nation built on white supremacy and misogyny. They are remarkably persistent. Hence the outrage over the removal of monuments to the Confederacy, the stated reason for the Charlottesville rally in the first place. We shouldn’t forget that the Confederacy was a machine of oppression along both racial and gender lines. The rape of Black women was one of its key components. Just ask Thomas Jefferson, a revered founding father whose statue still stands in Charlottesville.
“Charlottesville’s Race Riot United Bigotry with Misogyny”/ by Kate Tuttle/ Dame/ August 15, 2017

 


 

2. Jhaya, 17, says the events at UVA have taught her a lot about racism in the country. She’s from New York and views moving to Charlottesville as being an important personal experience. “Once it is over, and once I finish college, I can say to my children and grandchildren, ‘I went through this and it made me stronger, but it also made me realize there is real hatred out in America,’” she says. “Before this, I feel like I could’ve kept living my life and felt like this [kind of hate] was not really happening to me. And I feel like that’s the case with a lot of people. It never matters to them, until it’s them.”
“How It Feels to Be a New Student of Color Going to College In Charlottesville”/ by Katie Van Syckle/ The Cut/ August 17, 2017

 


3. Last year before the election, a young woman Turner described as one of her best friends casually mentioned she hoped for a Trump victory so that he might “do away with some of these African American people.” She quickly clarified that she wasn’t referring to Turner’s “type,” but when Turner sharply asked her what she meant, she couldn’t answer. Another friend assured her that it would be okay if Trump won the election because she would convince her parents to purchase Turner’s family as their new slaves. In a place where a few large plantation-style houses remain scattered through the county, the “joke” feels a lot like a threat.
“We Just Feel Like We Don’t Belong Here Anymore”/ by Becca Andrews/ Mother Jones/ August 16, 2017

 


4. Yet, while American racism has extremely deep and tenacious historical roots, without which the events in Virginia on Saturday cannot be properly understood, some large things have changed for the better over the past 60 or so years. Equal rights have been enforced. Equality has been embraced. America has elected a black president. It would be difficult to imagine any US president of this more recent period, of whatever party, who would not have responded to the neo-Nazis and white supremacists in Charlottesville with anything except explicit condemnation and disgust. Any president, that is, until this one.
“Donald Trump Under Fire After Failing to Denounce Virginia White Supremacists”/ by Ben Jacobs and Warren Murray/ The Guardian/ August 13, 2017

 


5. Her language choice is revealing — Ivanka decries belief systems but not the people who subscribe to them, who advocate for them and who carry out their violent ends. And yet white supremacists work in her father’s office at the highest levels. They are writing the president’s speeches and shaping the president’s policies, right alongside her. There’s no way she still believes she’s working as a bulwark against their influence, so what exactly is she doing if not benefiting from their efforts?
“White People Calling For “Unity”: Your Good Intentions Aren’t Enough”/ by Erin Keane/ Salon/ August 15, 2017

 


6. Inclusion could potentially mean the difference between one or two ballerinas of color in a dance company and a company of dancers from many different backgrounds.
“Why Striving For Inclusion Is More Necessary Than Diversity” by Shae Collins/ The Establishment/ August 12, 2017

 


7. “In the face of relentless rollbacks and attacks at the federal level, Oregonians are showing the rest of the country what it means to be resilient and visionary,” Amy Casso, director of the Gender Justice Program for Western States, said in a statement. “There is still work to be done, but today we celebrate that more Oregonians have the freedom to decide if and when they have children based on what’s best for them and their family’s circumstances.”
“Oregon Approves Sweeping Bill Expanding Abortion Access”/ by Sandhya Somashekhar/ Washington Post/ August 15, 2017

 


8. The museum, called “From Enslavement to Mass Incarceration,” will be in the headquarters of the Equal Justice Initiative, a site in downtown Montgomery that was once a slave warehouse.
“Memorial in Alabama Will Honor Victims of Lynching”/ by Campbell Robertson/ New York Times/ August 15, 2017

 


9. It’s important to remember that white supremacy is not just people in hoods, nor can it be reduced to only people who are poor, rural and white. White supremacy is a web of violent and abusive behaviors bolstered by white nationalists, racist elected officials, violent police and law enforcement, corporate money, and you. Yes, you. And me, too. White supremacy is an insidious spectrum ideology, so most of us perpetuate it even if we don’t mean to.
“What Black Lives Matter Organizers Are Doing To Fight White Supremacy At Every Level”/ by Shanelle Matthews/ Bustle/ August 15, 2017

 


10. In one case, 20-year-old Deandre Harris was brutally beaten by a mob of white supremacists holding metal poles. Harris told HuffPost on Tuesday that he is currently recovering from the severe injuries he sustained, which include head gashes, a broken wrist and a chipped tooth. He also said that he is currently looking to hire a lawyer.
“Black Men Assaulted By White Supremacists Speak Out To Denounce America’s Racism”/ by Lilly Workneh/ Huffington Post/ August 15, 2017

 


11. Imagine this: What if the white right-wing thugs in Charlottesville had instead been African-American or Hispanic?
“White privilege turned deadly in Charlottesville: How would police have reacted if a mob of angry black people had gathered there?”/ by Chauncey DeVega/ Salon/ August 16, 2017

 


12. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) signed a bill Tuesday afternoon, approved by the Senate over the weekend, that would prohibit all insurance companies from covering non-life threatening abortion care in standard health plans. Women, trans, and non-binary people will need to pay an additional insurance premium if they want their health plan to cover abortions performed outside medical emergencies; there will be no exceptions for instances of rape or incest. Opponents of the bill are calling it “rape insurance.”
“Texas Governor Signs Controversial ‘Rape Insurance’ Abortion Coverage Into Law”/ by Amanda Michelle Gomez/ Think Progress/ August 15, 2017

 


13. Swift’s response succinctly articulates a truth that shouldn’t need saying: When a man assaults a woman, any consequences he faces are a result of his own actions. Women don’t need to feel bad about that.
“Taylor Swift’s sexual assault testimony calls out one of today’s most persistent sexist myths” by Sarah Todd/ Quartz/ August 11, 2017

 


14. “It is absolutely abhorrent behavior that you’re shackling pregnant women, or shackling women that are undergoing procedures,” Booker tells Bustle. “What does that do their unborn child, that kind of stress, that kind of trauma?”
“Pregnant Inmates Are Still Being Shackled, Handcuffed, & Restrained During Childbirth”/ by Katherine Speller/ Bustle/ August 10, 2017

 


15. Confederate monuments like the Jackson statue were never intended as benign symbols. Rather, they were the clearly articulated artwork of white supremacy. Among many examples, we can see this plainly if we look at the dedication of a Confederate statue at the University of North Carolina, in which a speaker proclaimed that the Confederate soldier “saved the very life of the Anglo-Saxon race in the South.” Disturbingly, he went on to recount a tale of performing the “pleasing duty” of “horse whipping” a black woman in front of federal soldiers. All over the South, this grotesque message is conveyed by similar monuments. As importantly, this message is clear to today’s avowed white supremacists.
“The Monuments Must Go”/ by Jack Christian and Warren Christian/ Slate/ August 16, 2017

 


16. Tuesday I commute to the office. That cuts down on the dog count, from seven to three, since I am not at home much of the day. The subway is packed, I am touched a million times but not with intent so, nothing counts. There are shoulder bumps and brushing hands and full strange bodies pressing against mine, nearly head to toe, but no. A woman flips her hair and hits me on the side of my face a couple of times. I spend an entire ride with a man jiggling his thigh against my thigh, and it’s hard for me to believe it is not on purpose. I move my thigh a millimeter away, his follows. Maybe that should count. No one touched me at the office. Mohammed the doorman handed me a stack of boxes when I got home and they tipped and he grabbed them and tapped my hand to say, “There you go.”
“How Many Times Am I Touched In A Week? A Study”/ by Stephanie Gangi/ LitHub/ August 15, 2017

 


17. “Everyone who was there—the people did the right thing,” she said. “The people will continue to keep making the right choices until every Confederate statue is gone, until white supremacy is gone. That statue is where it belongs. It needs to be in the garbage. … That statue glorifies the conditions that oppressed people live in and it had to go.”
“Crowds of Residents Line up to Turn Themselves In After Activists Remove Confederate Statue”/ by Melanie Schmitz/ Think Progress/ August 17, 2017

 


18. Transgender women, men and children from across Texas descended on the Capitol to testify about how the proposal — which would ban local policies that ensured transgender individuals’ right to use public and school restrooms that match their gender identity — could endanger their lives. The business community rallied against the legislation too, giving House Speaker Joe Straus cover as he refused to negotiate with Patrick on bathroom restrictions.

“After Months of Controversy, Texas Bathroom Bill Dies Quietly”/ by Alexa Ura/ Texas Tribune/ August 16, 2017

 

 


Joyce Hayden left her university teaching job two years ago in order to pursue her own artistic work. An assemblage artist, painter, and writer, Joyce is currently in the process of acquiring an agent to represent her memoir, The Out of Body Girl, which describes her 8 year relationship with a charismatic gambler and the dangerous road that eventually led to her freedom. Her chapbook of poems, Lost Handprint, is forthcoming from Dandelion Review. A freelance editor and writing coach, Joyce’s writing services and a selection of her artwork can be found at her website joycehayden.com. Joyce is available for commission art work, including celebration shrines for loved ones and pets.

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