November 25, 2013

Race Education at Your Front Door

Rww (1)By Rachelle Winkle-Wagner
University of Wisconsin - Madison 
Assistant Professor, Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis

After a devastating report about racial stratification in Madison, Wisconsin, the city in which I live, I am thinking a lot about social stratification and the way in which we keep reenacting it. In the report in Madison, the findings maintained that although the city is outwardly progressive, with a major university and many self-proclaimed White liberals, it way may also be one of the “racist cities in America” in terms of racial stratification; over three-quarters of the city’s Black population live in poverty, and there are persistent racial disparities in educational outcomes.

As a White scholar of race in education, I am particularly interested in the “education” that people are getting about race, not just in our formal brick-and-mortar institutions, but in everyday life.  Recently, a woman in a suburb of Detroit, Renisha McBride, had a car accident in the middle of the night. Unarmed, and needing help, she knocked on a door of a suburban White homeowner, and she was shot in the head. Since then, the homeowner has made a claim that the shooting was “justified” because he feared for his safety. While the homeowner is facing murder and manslaughter charges, his case is likely to rest on whether he was “reasonable” to shoot an unarmed Black woman in the face.  

Why aren’t people screaming about this? To be sure, some people definitely are screaming, but why aren’t people who look like me screaming about it?  Why are we, as a larger society, leaving it up to communities of color to have to scream all the time? 

This incident seems to rest on a so-called “fear response,” because the woman came in the middle of the night. But, let’s be honest about this. Would she have been shot dead had she not had dark skin?

Similar instances in recent months suggest that the fact that Renisha McBride was a Black woman absolutely played a role in the “fear response,” and in some people’s acceptance of this shooting as “justified.”  Had McBride been a White woman what would be the reaction?

One lesson we can take from this is that it is scary for many people to encounter a person of color in this country.  Some people have been driven to literally shooting Black people dead, even in situations where these people are in desperate need of our collective care. We are teaching our children that they cannot ask for help, they cannot turn to their neighbor. This also has serious consequences for social mobility and educational attainment; we have known for quite a while now that students who feel alienated are less likely to go as far in education. 

As a White woman, I have been taught in subtle and overt ways that I am supposed to fear Black men. Of course, this lesson hasn’t worked on me for a lot of reasons, ranging from my interpersonal relationships to international travel to my own scholarship.  And I should say upfront that as a White woman who mostly researches issues related to Black women, it is not the Black communities from which I have felt excluded or fearful. Rather, it is mostly the White communities that have questioned my work and whether I should do it. 

Still I am a White woman and I know, anecdotally and from sociologist Eduardo Bonilla-Silva’s empirical research, the lessons that White children get in this country when it comes to race; they are taught to fear people who have darker skin than them, particularly men. But, sometimes we may be ignoring that way in which Black women are treated a villains too. At a certain point, we must actively work to unlearn these lessons, and if we don’t, it hurts us all.

I fear that each and every time that something like these doorstep shootings occur, it sends a signal to communities of color that they are less safe in this country. I recently had a conversation with a scholar of color who said that he was afraid to walk his dog too early in the morning for fear of getting shot. We have created an environment where peoples’ everyday freedoms are in question because of their skin color.  All this is amidst a so-called “post-racial” society.   

For White people, the ways in which this environment is hurtful is in countless missed opportunities. Fear responses keep us from having meaningful interactions, acquaintances, and friendships. And fear responses certainly keep White people from being able to help all of their neighbors, to model to their children what it means to be a part of a larger community. 

Children are quick to learn if there are some members of the “larger community” that their parents won’t help. And they will perpetuate that behavior.If the moral imperative of simply being a better nation and community is not enough, there are serious economic consequences to these kinds of fear responses because it limits participation in educational and social institutions.

How do we move beyond the fear response?Race is an interaction; we re-enact racial stratification and racial scripts in our daily interactions, on doorsteps, sidewalks, and classrooms. But, the interaction also is not just interpersonal; it is between oneself and the larger society. In other words, for many people of color, they may look out into a society that continually interacts with them as deviants, problems, and something to be feared.

If we can rethink the interaction, we might be able to begin to rethink the outcomes of race. But, this theoretical idea may not work in the moment when fear takes over. Angela Locks, Sylvia Hurtado, and others demonstrate the shift of people’s perceptions of race after they have interactions of diverse others (those who are not like them).

So, one recommendation is that we facilitate these interactions within all levels of our educational system. We also need to work on the fear response and what this means for our social world. If people really are moved to kill one another out of fear, based on skin color, we have to teach people about “racism” and “structural inequality” again. We may need to contend with the idea of a “racist America” as Joe Feagin puts it in the title of his book. We need to say these things loudly and we need to be saying them in and outside of formal educational institutions. And it can’t just come from people who identify as people of color. It needs to come from those of us who identify as White too. Race is already at our front door – we need to educate people about it.


"One lesson we can take from this is that it is scary for many people to encounter a person of color in this country."

No, professor, that is not a legitimate conclusion to draw from the case you discuss. To conform to that case, you'd have to show that the man who shot Ms. McBride acts similarly whenever he encounters black people, say, on a busy street in the early afternoon as he's walking to lunch. The fact that she came to his door in the middle of the night (and who knows how she behaved as she sought his attention, or once he indicated he was not willing to let her in the house or to come out of the house to help her) makes all the difference here.

But don't let's let details and facts get in the way of blanket claims about how horribly racist whites are.

I too also have to disagree the validity of the statement, "one lesson we can take from this is that it is scary for many people to encounter a person of color in this country", you mentioned subtle ways in society that you were approached with an ill informed or expressed sentiment. Comments like that aren't even subtle but they can carry the same effect. That and where did you get your information?

It is difficult to admit that these situations occur more than would like to hear. Educating people on diversity and inclusion should begin in the classroom when young student are capable of comprehending the idea of diversity. As mentioned in the article, white women are taught to fear a black person, but that could be altered through interpersonal relationships and work experiences.

This article also brought me back to the issue of Trayvon Martin who was killed by Zimmerman, a white man who was “suspicious” of him being in his neighborhood. I fear that each and every time that something like these doorstep shootings occur, it sends a message that our colored community question their freedom because of the color of their skin.

I particularly like the recommendation where we can facilitate these interactions within all levels of our educational system. We also can work on the fear response and what this means for our social world. If people really are moved to kill one another out of fear, based on skin color, we can teach people about “racism” and “structural inequality” again.

SWK 318: Human Diversity - KMGomez

We should teach people about racism because some will be discriminated based on their races,or colors and thus may create superiority and this may encourage people to have fear and hatred of others.

Please let me explain what I look like and give some of my background info so you can create a picture of me in your mind.
I am a professional man (I work in a office as a supervisor of over 50 people), (I speak with intelligence), (I am somewhat educated), (I am a former Marine). I am 37 years of age. I am 5’7. I weigh 230lbs (slightly heavy and well-muscled). I wear a close cropped cut hair (no style) and a short trimmed beard / mustache. At work I wear Dockers and polo shirts and at home I wear cargo shorts or jeans and plane colored or sci-fi themed t-shirts or plane colored polo shirts (I do not wear giant oversized clothing). I don’t have any tattoos. I love working in my yard and fishing on my boat. I spend all of my time with my family working or doing family activities.

My family and I frequent amusement parks and family friendly activities (Sea World, Six Flags, Bush Gardens, Universal Studio’s, Gatorland, Disney, Ice Capades, Magic shows, Acrobatic Plays, est.). When we go to these family friendly activities people always steer clear of me and usually give me a nice four foot radius of space and try not to make eye contact with me. When my family walks into a theme park we usually don’t get asked would we like our picture taken so that we can purchase our family photo on the way out. My family is rarely harassed by the theme park time share sales people. Waiters at times seem inattentive to my wants even though they work for tips.

At this point you’re probably asking yourself why anyone would treat this normal sounding man this way. The reason I am treated this way is I am a American Black Man. For some reason my skin color makes many White Americans scared. I have to try and break away from the many conversations that I have with foreigners. Most foreigners seem to go out of their way to meet me. American Black people are about 13% of our American public it’s not strange to understand that many foreigners might never have met an actual Black American and would like to meet one. What is strange is that many of the White Americans who may not have a lot of contact with Black Americans seem to be scared or seem to think that I don’t have the finances to afford things. If it wasn’t so sad it would be comical. I cleared out a nice section of a pool last week at a semi high end resort (Lowes Royal Pacific, Orlando FL) just by getting in the pool with my family. My wife who is American White and our two bi-racial girls had White Americans and foreigners comfortably spaced around them when I made it down to the pool people visibly moved away (accept for the foreigner’s lol). As we left the pool the area we were in and around filled in nicely.

I could go on and on about why I think many White Americans have a certain perception of Black American Men and why many Black American Men need to step outside the labels and roles that have become part of how the world views us but I will start with “Why do many American Whites seem to be so scared (hold misconceptions) of American Black Men”

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