Showing Up White – My ‘After’ the YWCA Racial Justice Summit

The YWCA Racial Justice Summit started off with the presentation of the Race to Equity Report that showed mind blowing statistics of how bad it is for Blacks vs Whites in Dane County compared to the United States. We all know that racism is out there. And that is the thing, I have always thought of racism as being ‘out there’ and not in my own heart or even in my own bi-racial home. The report glaringly shows that it is certainly in my backyard and that something is terribly wrong in Dane County. The confusing part is that it doesn’t match up with the perception of Madison. I walk around in love with Madison yet in this instant I’m all of a sudden so embarrassed for Madison. And ashamed.

How is it that Madison is constantly on all the ‘Best Of’ lists for great places to live in the United States? Perhaps this could be about the marketing and media that creates a perception that doesn’t match up with reality. I’m not going there. As I sat through the report presentation my leg was bouncing and I was impatient. I wanted to jump into fixing it but they kept going with horrible stats.

More than 74% of Dane County’s black children were poor, compared to 5.5% of White children. And in the United States 39% of Black children live in poverty compared to 14% of Whites.

Yet as I sat there my anxiety and desire to fix the problem turned into a desire to understand how we got here. It doesn’t make sense. And I also became aware of my own internal belief that I could fix the problem. Was that determination or a sense of entitlement? My own White superiority that this issue needed me to swoop in and help make it right. That I could come up with the answers or a plan that would right all the wrongs in our community? I noticed it and let it go.

Black babies are more likely to grow up in poverty than not. They aren’t reading by 3rd grade like White children are.

48% of Black 3rd graders are not proficient at reading compared to 11% of White 3rd graders.

So it doesn’t surprise many that 50% of Black students are NOT graduating from high school, compared to 16% of White students.

Dane County arrest rates were 6.1 times as high for Black juveniles as for White juveniles; compared to the nationwide number of 2.1 times as high. Wow. For more perspective:

Juvenile arrest rates, per 1,000 juveniles:
469 Black arrests compared to 77 White arrests in Dane County.
71 Black arrests compared to 33 White arrests in the U.S.

Read it again if you need to. I did. The numbers were getting blurred together and I really just couldn’t believe it.

The cradle to career. Making sure that Black babies grow up in a financially stable environment, get a good education, go to college and thrive in a career they love. When that doesn’t happen it is called the School to Prison Pipeline. And the numbers show it.

After the report is presented they send a loud and clear message:

We need to fix this
We can fix this
We will fix this

It was optimism and hope that I was filled with as they wrapped up the presentation, and a gnawing discomfort that I wasn’t even sure how to contemplate the bigger question…how did we end up here?

But the day wasn’t about how we got here. The rest of the day we spent in break-out sessions specific to the different categories: employment, families, neighborhoods, education and the justice system.

And then we ended the day with a presentation from Dr. Eddie Moore Jr. that rocked me to the core. After a day of intense conversation and passion around ‘fixing’ these horrible problems in our community it ended with the concept that there is nothing to fix because the system is working as it was intended to work. White men founded this country to protect and improve the lives of their fellow White men. And based on the numbers we see in the report, they succeeded. The system is working as it was intended to work.

I learned about White supremacy and White privilege. I soaked in the injustices that people of color face every day in a way I hadn’t before. And not just from the statistics but from a place of real emotion. One mother spoke of her child and how he is forced to prove everyone wrong as part of his daily experience. As a small child. She painted the picture of her son sitting in a new class and before the teacher even knows his name there is an assumption, because he is black, that he lives in poverty and comes from a broken home. Throughout the school system he has to prove that he is smart instead of being assumed smart. He has to prove that his is innocent instead of being assumed innocent. He has to prove that he is just a kid, having fun, because the assumption is that he is a trouble maker.

As she painted this real story through her words I could see this boy in high school sick and tired of having to prove himself to everyone and then it happens, sometimes slowly, sometimes quickly, he throws in the towel. He is exhausted and he gives up. The Prison Pipeline.

Here is the deal; I don’t see myself working in the system that is failing. My career is in Real Estate and my husband and I have created our own inclusive environment. We do a lot to assist the Hispanic community in getting honest, expert advice in home ownership. Our company values are strongly embedded in our everyday work. Yes, the majority of our clients are White. However, the percentage of non-White’s that we serve is probably higher that other real estate companies per number of transactions. As a Woman and Hispanic owned company we love supporting vendors and working with clients that are female and/or Hispanic. It is what we lean towards. No surprise there. In my world I was not contributing to the problem. I don’t even see myself as working anywhere near the problem. Therefore I am automatically excused from being part of the problem.

Except that I am. We all are. And it is time for me to learn more about it.

In a video we watched, the police officer talked about the immediate assumptions that happen when he sees a Black teenager in an expensive car and he assumes “drug dealer.” When he sees the same car being driven by a White teenager he assumes “spoiled rich kid.” The White kid doesn’t get pulled over because the cop doesn’t want the kid’s big shot lawyer dad on his case. The Black kid gets pulled over. He didn’t do anything wrong and now his name is in the system. The School to Prison Pipeline.

This is when I start to feel differently. This is when my insides start cracking open. This is when the strong toxicity of White privilege stings and my eyes literally water. Not from tears of sadness, but from a place of ignorance. Not as an adult, but as that White kid that skated through life with doors wide open, with helping hands pushing me along, with free passes falling all around me as I was escorted from cradle to career without ever breaking a sweat.

I have been focused on the oppression and not the privilege. If I have brown skin I learn all about how oppressed I am and I listen to the tips and advice on how to make it through the system, the unfair system, to reach success. There are years of proving myself, staying out of trouble, keeping my head down, putting up with injustice and unfair treatment and the broken systems that make it so difficult for a person of color to create a successful life. There is no easy way in. It doesn’t matter who I know or what my grades are. What matters is that I can keep it together and out of trouble long enough to push a door open. And I have to push that door open with a lot of force. It isn’t open already. It doesn’t swing open with ease. These are the stories I listened to.

But I’m white and I’m not a teacher and I’m not a police officer. What can I really do to start to turn these numbers around?

It dawns on me that even if I were a teacher or a cop I couldn’t just go to work and be different after a conference like that. That is working on the outside. That is working in the classroom, on the streets. And as much work that needs to be done in those areas, I know that I need to do the work on the inside first.

This is how it comes together for me. I know the numbers are bad. I don’t know how we got here. I don’t know how we can change it at a systematic level. But today I know that as open minded and all loving as I am, I have internal, White privilege shit to deal with. My work is this:

– Look deeply at my life living in white privilege, growing up white and walking in this world with white skin. What is it like? What was it like growing up? Where can I see the distinct differences of what my experience was like and how it would have been different if I had brown skin? I’m going to tell that story. I don’t know if I’ll be brave enough to tell it all, but I’ll do my best.

– Look deeply at my assumptions, my biases, and be honest with myself when it has happened. That will only help me call myself out when it happens today. I’m going to write them all down.

– Examine who and what I’ve learned to separate myself from. I will look at what I’ve learned to hate. I know in some families Whites were taught that they were better than Blacks. That wasn’t the case for me. I grew up being ashamed of White people. I grew up disliking Republicans. If I really examine what I learned to hate what will I find? What else will I find as I do this internal work?

I came home from the YWCA Racial Justice Summit completely exhausted. It was like I had been drained of all energy. As I regained energy over the next couple of days I decided a couple of things.
I can’t fix the problem.
I can be part of the solution.
I can acknowledge where I’ve been part of the problem.
I can commit to doing the internal work.
I can’t pretend that it will all work itself out and we are going in the right direction.
I can commit to being courageous and honest about my story, my experience.
I can engage in uncomfortable conversations with my friends and family.

I can love. I can love myself for who I am. I can love the opportunity to grow, to learn and to share. I can continue to love everyone I meet. I can be bolder in telling people I love them.

I’ll challenge myself internally in a loving and accepting way and I’ll go out into the world radiating love all around me. Starting now.


4 thoughts on “Showing Up White – My ‘After’ the YWCA Racial Justice Summit”

  1. Jill says:

    This is absolutely beautiful and insightful. Thanks for sharing your journey. xoxo

  2. Reghan says:

    Wow–I wish I had been there too, but your insights will get me thinking about this conundrum. I tell people I love being in Madison because it is progressive, but this makes me think again–progessive for me maybe, but what about those around me. Thanks for this post!

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