catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 7, Num 20 :: 2008.11.07 — 2008.11.21


Eyes to see

Why would anyone want to be blind?

I was spending the evening with friends, when their parents asked after my welfare-how was work going? what kinds of things was I doing in my spare time?  I began to share a story or two. I am an Anti-Racism Community Organizer.

during the course of the conversation, my friends’ family members stated that they were not racist, and that they had tried to live much of their lives intentionally “colorblind” and they wished more people could be like them. did colored people still experience the kinds of discrimination rallied against in the Civil Rights movement anyway?

why would anyone want to be blind?  does white society really desire to be blind?  a willingness to be blind is tantamount to an affront to the Creator who gave us our sense of sight. God gave the good gift of sight. the One who heals gives sight to the blind-to see is good, to be blind is not good. a willingness to be blind is to deny the import of shape, texture, depth, perspective, shade and color. to say you want to be colorblind is to say you refuse to see us: our shapes, our textures, our depths, our perspectives, our shades, our races, our ethnicities, our culture. to refuse to see is to willingly ignore all that value.

the outcome of this willingness to be blind is deafness. the outcome of white society saying, “We want to be blind to the reality of race” is a refusal to “hear” the voices of people of color. if white society refuses to “see” what is plainly obvious, then persons of color must speak louder to overcome the lack of sight.

Colorblind really means “race-blind.” but race is my reality. it is my life experience. it is the life experience of every person of color in this country. race is real, and the refusal of some in white society to accept the realities of race does not make the impact of those realities any less real in the lives of people of color.

choosing blindness diminishes white society as a whole and the individuals within white society. white society harms itself by choosing to be blind. selective blindness diminishes humanity, does not work and is not a long-term option that produces community wellness. white society is missing nuances and wisdom gained by vision. white society is blind to its own need and the need of its children. the long-term implications of colorblindness are killing white society now.


“We can’t see you in the dark anyway.”

my office is in the basement of the building. I was down there finishing some last-minute preparations for a class I was leading that evening. one of the participants arrived for the evening, and seeing the light in the descending stairway on, turned it off, not realizing I was in the basement office and would need the light to come up for our class.

when I entered the classroom for the evening I made a “light” comment about someone turning the lights off on me-keeping me in the dark. the culprit confessed, but, having realized I was still in the basement when first entering the classroom, they turned on a light in another stairwell, thinking I might use it to come up to the class.

attempting to be amusing, a third party chimed in, “What does it matter, we can’t see you in the dark anyway?”

the point was not my being visible to others, but my being able to see. white society has a self-centered perspective. it’s all about them. the third party placed themselves and their interests at the center around which everything else was to revolve.

it matters because I could not see. I am the person for whom the light was on. my skin color does not make me invisible. who is the “we” in the offending comment? most of the other participants that evening were white.

I don’t get to be ignored because you choose not to see. I should not be penalized or marginalized because there is no benefit to you for having the light on.


“Why can’t you be normal?”

I was out for the evening, meeting a close friend and her date for dinner and some late night jazz. when I arrived at the upscale bistro, I joined them mid-meal. my friend’s date, a personable fellow, welcomed me to the table with a hug. we began what for both he and I was an enjoyable and comfortable conversation surrounding our families and jobs and the events of our week. he seemed genuinely interested in my community organizing efforts. our conversation was high touch and high energy.

after several minutes of lively conversation, my very close friend looked at me imploringly, “Why must you be ‘anti-?’ Why can’t you just be normal? Why can’t you have a normal conversation?”

what’s normal?  by what comparison is “normal” judged? the normal of white society is killing us. the data is plentiful and clear, so I need not recount it here. the standards of beauty, wealth and success of white society leads to death and destruction. children and young people are making themselves literally sick or simply killing others, trying to live into the expectations of “normal.”

I do not want to be normal. I want to live a life of intentional purpose and good. I want to be all the Creator designed me to be. I want to bring joy, hope and grace into the world. I want to be a part of the greater good of community. I want to teach greatly, I want to learn intensely, I want to love deeply, I want to share abundantly; and I want to be a part of a community that does these things together. I want to be a good friend. I do not want to be normal.

and why is the prefix “anti-” problematic for white society? if you go to the doctor and she prescribes an anti-biotic, you do not argue over its usefulness or efficacy. the world is full of positive anti-s; anti-oxidant, anti-perspirant, anti-bacterials, anti-virals, anti-trust, anti-septic, anti-violence, just to name a few.

when I say I am an anti-racism organizer, I affirm a philosophy against racism. racism in any of it ideals, forms or definitions, is not good. racism is a lie historically designed to provide power and privilege for white society. the outcome of racism in this country is white supremacy.

when I say I am an anti-racism organizer, I affirm racism is not good. I’m not saying people are not good, but that the structures, systems and institutions that perpetuate racism’ s outcomes need to be dismantled and re-designed so that racism is eliminated.

when I say I am an anti-racism organizer, I affirm what I stand for; I communicate my belief in accountable responsible relationships. I tell you what I do. I am in the business of redesigning and restructuring in a way that is preventative.

for example, anti-oxidants are good because oxidants are not good. Oxidants damage our bodies; anti-oxidants repair and prevent the damage that would be caused by them. likewise, racism destroys individuals, institutions, communities and cultures; anti-racism repairs and prevents the destructive outcomes of racism.


Collaborate and cooperate.

claiming an identity as an anti-racism organizer is not about guilt, blame or shame. it is not about making any one individual feel badly or guilty. you were not around when the systems and structure of our society were created. it is not about intent, but it is about outcomes. I am not saying white people are to blame; I am saying we all have a responsibility to restructure policy and processes to create equitable outcomes.

creatively organizing together in transparent ways encouragingly enables everyone to bring what they have to offer. this values everyone, fully affirming and acknowledging the worth and value of all persons.

when I say I am an anti-racism organizer, I affirm that I am a Truth-teller. racism says there are some people who are better than others. racism says some people are more deserving of access and control. racism says there are not enough resources to provide for all of creation. racism is a liar.

as anti-racism organizers, we seek to speak truth. we speak all people’s truth.  we speak the truth of Native-americans and Indigenous peoples.  we speak the truth of Asian-americans.  we speak the truth of Hispanic and Latin-americans.  we speak the truth of African-americans. people speak for themselves.  people know their histories, their truth, their realities.  being an anti-racism organizer seeks to reclaim the Truth that will make us free.

in 1857, Frederick Douglass penned these words:

If there is no struggle, there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom and yet depreciate agitation want crops without plowing up the ground; they want rain without thunder and lighting; they want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters. Power concedes nothings without a demand. It never did, it never will.

to claim an identity as an anti-racism organizer is to claim the identity of an agitator. an agitator helps gets things cleaned up. our society needs agitating conversations. agitation is an act of love.

your comments

comments powered by Disqus