Readers Forum Summer 2010
When I read Roberto Vargas’ article “Everyday Conversations to Heal Racism,” I immediately emailed my best friend, a black woman living on the other side of the country, to start such a conversation (I myself am white).
I asked a bunch of questions but really just wanted her to talk openly about her experiences. The first thing she did was thank me for asking. What followed was a series of stories that broke my heart. Even as children, attending the same private Catholic school as I did, she and her brother experienced threats of violence, indifference from teachers, and a complete lack of unity with classmates.
What was even more shocking was that, in our more than a decade of friendship, I have also said racist things to her without realizing it. These things hurt her but she never risked revealing them to me until now, until I asked her about her experiences. I was ashamed, to say the least; but now I can grow and do something greater: Take her stories with me wherever I go. I have been involved with our local human rights organization for the last year; perhaps this is my opportunity to create a project dedicated to race and cultural awareness.
The point of this letter is to say thank you for an entire issue dedicated to race. Thank you for having the guts to say, on the cover, “What White People Fear.”
—Nicole Tripp, Bend, OR
(White) power shift
As a fellow white male wishing to “claim my full humanity,” I am moved to extend Robert Jensen’s analysis in “What White People Fear.”
I join him in the “struggle to eliminate hierarchy in all forms” and concur that the power dynamics between whites and non-whites must shift, but neither of these visions is possible within the context of “institutions defined by the values and practices rooted in white Europe.” These institutions are the vehicles through which the dominant culture derives the bulk of its support. Though white males are ceding a tiny portion of the top of our institutions to others, the “top” will not go away, and the power dynamics (and associated oppressions) will not fundamentally shift unless and until these structures are displaced by very different, community-based alternatives.
Though perhaps a bit more radical, this proposed extension is, I believe, much more realistic and achievable than attempting to force our pyramidal institutions to become something they cannot, because of their essence, become.
—Jim Tull, Providence, RI
Losing the Enlightenment?
Multiculturalism is a good thing—it broadens awareness, reduces racism, and shows us the world through new eyes. But there is danger in it, and this is what your multiculturalism issue missed.
Contrary to the essay on what whites fear, what this white liberal fears losing is not domination but the culture of the West, the Enlightenment. The ideas that balance out the horrors of slavery, colonialism and militarism are great ideas. Equality before the law; equality between sexes, races, and religions; a free press and free speech; freedom of religion; the right to petition for redress of grievances; the separation of church and state—these are ideals we do not always live up to, but they are our shared foundation. They—not our wealth or technology—made America great. With them we have the abolitionists, the Marshall Plan, the civil rights movement, the environmental movement, women’s suffrage, the public defender, and the right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure.
In pursuit of accommodating other cultures, we may lose the best of our own. This is why it is so important immigrants learn both English and our foundational political ideas—so they can understand and participate in our democracy.
—Joel Gallob, Rock Springs, WY
How to fix the world
Yoram Bauman’s review of the film The Yes Men Fix the World stated, “We can’t tackle climate change, for example, by nationalizing the oil industry ... does anybody really want the government drilling for oil?” My answer to Bauman? A resounding YES!
If the industry is nationalized, it then becomes a democratic institution, which answers directly to the citizens of the United States—we control who decides what, and how the profits get spent. The profits go directly into public programs that benefit everyone.
Private oil corporations answer only to the wealthy investors who hold large shares of their companies. The whole point of cap-and-trade systems and carbon taxes is to exert indirect control over oil corporations and hope that they don’t find a loophole around it. What’s so unreasonable about exerting direct, democratic control over them—ensuring that they change—AND giving U.S. citizens billions of dollars in public funding that could be spent on education, health care, etc., instead of purchasing yachts and country club memberships for oil executives?
—Jesse Taylor, Sandpoint, ID
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