Lots Of Talking About White Privilege

The conversation of white privilege is becoming more commonly discussed. Even Bill O’Reilly has addressed the topic. On the one hand, this is good news. If we are to dismantle white privilege we certainly need to know what it is. However, there’s another side to how these conversations are happening that perhaps isn’t as beneficial as it could be. There were two recent articles about discussing white privilege in private schools that illustrate the positive and negative aspects to how we go about engaging in this discussion.

From the NYTimes


from Salon

Reading both I can’t help but think about how human nature will have us deal with our problems, yet not really transform it. We sometimes create elaborate ways to avoid taking actions around our issues. Often at first attempt we will deny the issue. We’re all familiar with denial and how well that works out (please read the sarcasm). Then perhaps we’ll be comfortable enough with it to talk about it and we may even make jokes about it. This is a bit like ironic racism. You may have noticed this happening at the 2015 Oscars. Finally, one of our last efforts at looking at our problems while refusing to do anything about it is through deep analysis. We become absolute experts on our problems. We have diagnosed the problem, we may even know the complicated vocabulary around it, and we sound very intelligent about our problems. Still, there are no actions taken in terms of eradicating the problem. I’m hoping the beginning discussions around white privilege will convert to actionable problem solving in the near future.

Without Borders



(This poem will be featured in the performance of Eye D by Christine Toy Johnson on March 13th, 6pm @ Hunter College)487809_469265349805565_1006970948_n


Without Borders

If there was a word made flesh

I’d call upon it now

Some vibration in sound

Tripping over the softness of my tongue

Angling around the hardness of my teeth


To touch

Pads of fingers

Imprinting my presence

Upon your person

Trying to leave my mark

Dark ink on pale paper

Looking for something deeper

And so I grope

For more

Fingers now claw

Tearing you to feel

Don’t worry the scars will heal

Desperate devouring

Turning skin inside out

Flesh feaverishly warm

With the heat of invasion

And in that possession

Holy intimate interaction

You suddenly see right through my eyes

Soft brown lenses inverting pictures of my experience

You see a child somehow devalued by apperance

Born into grown people problems

Lynched by an inherited hang up

Now turn toward the flicker of some made up life

Light up a card board house

In some mountain town

Tall blonde Novella stars

Tease an ideal out of thin air

Look down

And use my sight to take in this new

Skin you never imagined belonged to you

It does now

And I burrow deeper

To where I un-define demarcations of where I end and you begin

I want to get under your skin

Make your blood boil

Froth with the agitation

Of acknowledging another

Now co-habiting your borders

I settle and snuggle next to your heart

Beating my own rhythm into yours

You feel my stories and make them ours

This shared evolutionary journey

Of have and have nots

Winners and losers

Lost and found muses

Dreams and disillusions


Privledged and poor fuses

To become

Just shades

Of the same

In the Cypher, Deliberately: A Response from Wow Café Theater

The show started well before the lights went down. I walked in (late to staff) and the black box theatre was set up like a poetry bar where the watermelon vodka was 3 dollars and the pretzels were free. It was hard to tell who the actors were and who was there to watch; who was staffing and who was part of the show. A slam contest that loses prize money as the artistic stakes get higher, this is a show that feels like a night in a bar; that hints at spiritual transcendence; and that, rather than simply telling a story, creates a conversation that includes everybody there. If I saw this in a bar I doubt I would have known that the play is scripted. Watching five poets uncover within themselves a mix of uncertainty, rage, and pride – and do so with an unflinching grace – was inspiring, and made this play inherently personal.

Along with some other folks from the Wow Café Theater, I attended a workshop the week before the show called “Undoing Racism.” The workshop was designed for two things: reflection and to provide the tools with which to organize collectively against racism. I had a dream that night, somebody told me I had something on my arm – and I looked down to discover that my elbow was rotting, the skin pulling away from the muscle, crawling, festering. When I was asked to report back to Wow about the workshop, I froze up completely. The thing In the Cypher and the Undoing Racism Workshop had in common is a cypher – a group of people who are each giving voice to their own ideas, and supporting each other. In the audience at In the Cypher I was very self-conscious. I started to more deeply understand how much damage silence has caused me and everybody I know; I have started to think that you can’t break a silence until you can hear it, and you can’t hear it unless there’s somebody else listening too.

By Emma DeGrand

***A huge shout out to WOW Cafe Theater and all of their members who volunteered to staff our show during our March three day run. Thank you for supporting In The Cypher. 

In The Cypher In Philly A Great Success!

A huge thank you to the Walter D. Palmer Leadership Preparatory Academy! Especially to Dr. DeGisi’s 12th graders who we had the pleasure of spending 3 days with. You were wonderful and we learned a lot. I’m still mulling over the adventure. Check back on this blog, as I expect much more to be written about our that impressionable experience.

On an interesting note, on our last day the school. There seemed to be an issue between the students and a nearby and larger public school. A violent school rivalry resulted in instances of students getting jumped from both schools. The irony of the situation had not escaped me. Here we were bringing anti-racist education and theater to a predominantly black and brown High School, where many students were dealing with issues of foster care, imprisoned family members and poverty, and they were locked in a violent conflict with another school of similar demographics, because one kid said something to another kid on the train. It reminded me of a quote from Frantz Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth, a book much admired by Philly’s own Mumia Abu Jamal, and spoken of by him on his reports from Prison Radio.

“While the settler or police has the right the live long day to strike the native, to insult him, to make him crawl to him, you’ll see the native reaching for his knife at the slightest hostile or aggressive glance cast on him by another native. For the last result of the native is to defend his personality vis-a-vis his brother. It is as if plunging into a fraternal bloodbath allows him to ignore the obstacle, and to put off till later the choice, nevertheless inevitable…”

Wealth Gap Between Minorities and White Americans Doubles After Housing Crisis, Recession

A new study of U.S. census data reveals that wealth gaps between whites and minorities in the United States have grown to their widest levels in decades. Once again, an ongoing problem that has been consistently ignored comes back to haunt us. We cannot expect real progress to ever occur through band-aide legislation that does nothing but suppress the problems. Rather, we need to honestly face the roots of aged old thinking, and truly work towards healing.

Below is a link to an interview from Democracy Now about this recent revelation. It’s not a great interview, but relevant enough to inspire further investigation. A great book addressing this issue is The Color of Wealth: The Story Behind the US Wealth Divide by Meizhu Lui.   


Racial Resentment Vs. White Privilege

Recently I read an article with a term that I had never heard of before, “a complex idea called racial resentment”. What is that you ask? “…it’s the idea that the reason why blacks don’t get ahead in society is because they don’t work hard enough,” said Daniel Byrd, research director at the Greenlining Institute. The article goes on to explain that that may be the reason why many Americans are not willing to support Obama’s healthcare reform. I wonder if those Americans who harbor racial resentment understand what white privilege is. The article entitled, “Surprising Way Race Colors Attitudes To Health Care Reform”, can be read here: www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/03/08/race-health-care-reform_n_832783.html

“I Want To Ask You About Slavery, Sir”

Recently Chris Matthews interviewed Sal Russo, Co-Founder of the Tea Party Express, in regards to a speech that Michelle Bachmann (R-Minn) made, where she makes reference to the history of slavery in the US. Bachmann was asked to represent the Tea Party Express in responding to the President’s State of the Union speech. The exchange is fascinating, and revealing on many levels. Some choice moments of the video are when Chris Matthews says, “slavery and race is the San Andreas Fault of American history”. Also, after Matthews repeatedly tries to ask Sal Russo, “what’s the history of slavery in America?” Russo finally responds, “your question is irrelevant to what the issue is of the day”.

In The News: Around the world, beauty has a color

Recently two articles came out regarding the politics of beauty from opposites sides of the globe. There is a sad commonality between India and Colombia as it pertains to the media’s recognition of what constitutes ideal feminine attributes, namely skin color.   
Bollywood Actress Furious At Elle Magazine

Dueling Beauty Pageants

If It Takes A Village To Raise A Child, Who Will Raise The Village?

If It Takes A Village To Raise A Child, Who Will Raise The Village?

An African-American who grew up in an urban ghetto speaks with a fellow from
a Long Island suburb that was born into a cop family. Yes, there were obvious
disparities in the way the Police are viewed, based on different experiential
perspectives. Yet being both kind and thoughtful, educated and perhaps most
important, artists; a conversation could be had and thoughts could be heard. Being a
Police Officer is a tough job that most people would never want to do. Agreed. Police
aren’t paid nearly enough. Agreed. There are split second decisions and difficult
situations that would challenge the smartest and most well adjusted amongst
us. Completely agreed. And yet, Houston we have a problem. Statistics regarding
profiling, criminal justice, and rates of incarceration are thought provoking. As well
as simply the jarring disconnect in the status of Police PR, depending on the color
of your skin. The fact is when a cop walks his/her beat, they walk with a uniform,
a badge, a weapon, academy training, perhaps a good amount of professional
experience and their entire personal history. Where they were raised. Who raised
them. What their relationships and experiences were with police growing up. What
their relationships and experiences were with persons in authority. The list goes on
and on. The village that raised the child will always be a part of that child in some
fashion. Then, what happens when the village teachings are flawed, incomplete
or insufficient in some way? Here’s another question, when should learning end?
Does it? Should it ever? Whether you like it/ acknowledge it or not, the community
will always be an effective instructor, regardless of the quality of instruction. It is
time we accepted our collective responsibility and took conscious control of our
environments. As always we must be the change we want to see in the world. It is
never too late.

Check out Malcolm Gladwell’s thoughts here: Video

Strange Suits

As a new New Yorker I walked down Wall Street and other busy business avenues and was forced to think about the business streets of my former home of Texas. I must say, there is a contrast that got me thinking… This is what I came up with.

“Strange Suits”

Southern streets bare a strange suit
Tailored men, success is their route

Monochromatic melodies of the heel to toe variety.
The bass of their shoes bellow upon the pavement like that of a tree newly uprooted.
A rare breed indeed.
The city boys of the darker district,
complete with thrilling threads to match their outstretched
obsidian hand contrasting the now so reachable sky.
This russet face filling with assurance as the phrase,
“Black goes with everything” shows validity.
In this Texas heat, they possess a swagger so hot it’s cool.

Black bodies marching in the southern breeze.
These strange suits walking proud publically

Earth tones amidst the deceptively devilish concrete
The bold shadows, like ethereal ancestors, still seem to glide and rise.
Their limbs, silk lined and gargantuan,
boasting in their grey Gucci garments,
they walk about the pavement and oppose the opposition.
They sport cufflinks instead of cuffs linked.
With a tie to help keep the head held up,
They march amidst a historical background of pale opportunity.

This is a suit for the town to mock
For the dream to shatter, for the hate to flock

Full folds of green pocketed in pin striped aisles of textiles.
These lines delineate not confinement, but a signification release.
Black skin, emerging from three regions of the worn symbol
Establish a motif of sensational prosperity.
The sun, reddening and yellowing their skins undercoat,
Create an aura like a coronal loop.
And like the star, these figures do not blend in these streets.
They radiate, giving color to a corporately blank palate.
Out here, these black sheep bare a strange suit, but

Here is a proud and joyous cry.