Opinion: ‘Racist’ rant calls for more training

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On Tuesday, July 17th, Wellness Services INC hosted a dinner and lecture on the topic of Decolonizing Health Care. Our agency invited community partners to participate in this all-important conversation, and were fortunate to be joined by representatives from multiple agencies whove dedicated themselves to bettering the lives of people across the various communities they serve.

The participants were provided dinner while our Director of Programing, Teresa Springer, delivered a powerful message about the various ways in which the history of white supremacy has and continues to produce disproportionately disastrous outcomes in the lives of Black and Brown peopleand women in particular.  While several of our guests thanked Ms. Springer profusely for her research and deliverystating that they were deeply moved, there was at least one guest who apparently took issue with what Ms. Springer had to say.

Rather than ask questions, voice concerns, or offer an alternate view of the content, Mr. Paul Robinson of Sacred Heart, took to his Facebook page to air his grievances with the general public.

While the content of Mr. Robinsons post was unequivocally problematic, it also highlights a litany of the very issues that many white Americans are currently, and often publicly grappling with, ignoring, or outright denouncing as left-wing propaganda.  His post gives someone like myself, an opportunity to address these pervasive issues head-on, and for that, I suppose, I am grateful.

Mr. Robinson begins his post with the phrase, This statement might sound racist…”

Indeed, it is.

He notes going to the dinner/lecture on Decolonizing Healthcare,and that 99.9%was about the racist society we live in.Indeed, it was. So far, so good.

However, things take an ominous turn as grammar is eschewed and an all-caps, comma-free, run-on paragraph ensues

Mr. Robinson seems genuinely surprised that Decolonizing Healthcarefocuses so heavily on white supremacy.  Even for the woefully ahistorical, I assumed colonization was widely understood to be a largely Westernimposed phenomenon driven by capitalism and justified by white supremacy.  

Apparently, Ms. Springers lecture was one lecture too many.  Mr. Robinson states he is DONE WITH FLINTand DONE WORKING IN THE FIELDbecause all he ever hears is HOW THE WHITE MAN SUPPRESSED THE BLACKS AND ALL THE PROBLEMS BLACKS HAVE ARE BECAUSE OF RACISM.”  

With the above statement, Mr. Robinson highlights both the privilege and guilt that comes up for him and so many other white Americans when engaging with this information. While Mr. Robinson has the option to be DONEwith Flint, many of its citizens cannot. For many, this is home by choice and/or chance. While Mr. Robinson has the option to be DONEwith this work, the rest of us, cannot. For many, this is not simply a job, but literally a matter of life and death. Privilege is the choice to walk away whenever you encounter information you find disagreeable. For those without such privilege, being upset cant translate into being done.”  

To that point, Ms. Springer was not presenting on how Black and Brown are done with the health care system. Trust me when I say, Black and Brown folks WISH we could be done with the institutions that disproportionately harm so many of usfrom criminal justice, to mass media, to healthcare, to housing, to education.  

But where would we go?

When confronted with the realities of white supremacy, Mr. Robinson does what cognitive dissonance demands so many to do in such situations; he pivots toward a laundry list of what abouts.”  I took the liberty to quote each of his questionsand pair them to a quote offering a brief explanation for the social phenomenon he points to

Note how these quotes come from people who live the experience, study the experience, and dedicated their lives to changing the experience. Note how they all point back to white supremacy:

WHAT ABOUT THE BLACK CHURCHES THAT PREACH HATRED TOWARD GAYS AND SUPPRESS THE GAY BLACKS INTO BEING ON THE DOWN LOW.”  

*Ms. Springer, and other participants (including myself), referenced multiple instances in which a combination of internalized racism and classism work to keep Black communities in-fighting.  In fact, we stated throughout the conversation that the next topic is titled: Stigma-ta: White Supremacy, Homophobia, Transphobia, and the Black Churcha conversation detailing the very in-fighting Mr. Robinson referred to.  

But in the meantime:

Patricia Hill-Collins argues that contemporary gender / [sexual] discrimination is partially an internal response to years of racial oppression (107).  She notes that in this historical context, many Black Churches “preached a politics of respectability, especially regarding marriage and sexuality because they recognized how claims of Black promiscuity and immorality fueled racism” (108).

WHAT ABOUT THE COULORISM (read: colorism) AMONGST THE BLACKS

“…it was they [Europeans] who created the image of Africa that was projected abroad. And they projected Africa and the people of Africa in a negative image, a hateful image.

Those who oppress know that you cant make a person hate the root without making them hate the tree. You cant hate your own and not end up hating yourself. And since we all originated in Africa, you cant make us hate Africa without making us hate ourselves. And they did this very skillfully. And what was the result?

They ended up with 22 million Black people here in America who hated everything about us that was African. We hated the African characteristics. We hated our hair. We hated our nose, the shape of our nose, and the shape of our lips, the color of our skin.Malcolm X, 1965

WHAT ABOUT ALL THESE BLACK ORGANIZATIONS TRYING TO BEAUTIFY THE HOOD JUST TO BE DESTROYED BY FELLOW BLACKS.

It would have been better to have left the plate glass as it had been and the goods lying in the stores.  It would have been better, but(and here is the key thing) it would also have been intolerable, for Harlem had needed something to smash. To smash something is the ghettos chronic need. Most of the time it is members of the ghetto who smash each other, and themselves. But as long as the ghetto walls are standing there will always come a moment when these outlets do not work.– James Baldwin

Mr. Robinson then reassures us that he indeed understands white privledge(read privilege), by noting his apparent Homo sapien-specific, retinal restriction that doesnt allow him to see color when it comes to people.”  While we are truly sorry for his human-specific condition, we would be remiss not to note that understanding white privilege starts with recognizing the role color plays in our society.  Being unable (read unwilling) to see color, would thus greatly interfere with ones ability to understandit. We therefore wish Mr. Robinson the speediest of recoveries.

Mr. Robinson closes by supposing this oft-recited line from any of us whove ever wrestled with a savior complex: I just need to stop trying to help people (and get robbed or hurt) get out of this field and move to a place WHERE ALL LIVES MATTER………”  

Perhaps you should Mr. Robinson.

For the artist, activist, and academic, Lila Watson said it far better than I could: If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.”  

We ALL risk a lot every time we step into this work.  The only risk Mr. Robinson takes that differs from the rest of us, is the risk that he might be served a free meal and made to sit uncomfortably through a lecture about white supremacy, while so many others in the room (of various races-including white) seem right at home in the conversation.  

If Mr. Robinson, and others of his persuasion, truly felt that ALL lives mattered, they would be outraged that so many innocent people who seek health care are dying. Such a philosophy would demand it. They would inherently understand that sitting through a steak dinner for an hour is indeed a privilegeparticularly compared to someone losing their life at the hands of the very institutions designed to save them.  They would read their own discomfort as a red flagan emotion antithetical to their philosophy.  They would lean in, ask questions, name their anger and frustration, and work through itprecisely because so any lives are at stake, and all of them matter.

One of my mentors says that theres a time and place for everything.  There are times for recognizing the whole and times for examining the parts.  One does not compete with the other.  For instance, most of us would never consider running into a funeral, insisting that the ceremony focuses too much on one person and thus invalidates the lives of everyone else.  Nor would we, in our discomfort at their recognition, shame the recently deceased. Well, grandma wouldnt stop smoking Camels and eating baconeven on Sabbath! We’re Jewish, for himls sake!  What about that affair she had with Saul!?!  And that tattoo on her forearm?  She deserves whatever comes next!

One could consider the topic of Decolonizing Healthcarea mass-funeral, wherein countless Black and Brown bodies are dying. One could consider treating the topic with the same respect for the deceased you would in any other instance. However, this rarely happens within the all lives mattercommunity because, ALL livesis a pivota way to say, your conversation about white supremacy makes me uncomfortable. I feel attacked, and even though Im very safe and alive, and you are dying, Id prefer you to be silent on these issues.

Mr Robinson, and his supporters, took time out of their busy lives  to use their voice to trample, and trudge over and through an ever-growing labyrinth of Black and Brown bodies. A winding, labyrinth of pastel-colored gowns, bloated, seeping, nameless, corpses piled high like cordwood. Bodies disproportionately created by yet another institution sworn to save our lives.

The Mr. Robinsons of the world will never attempt to halt the labyrinths growth.  They will instead continue to climb over and aroundscramble and squirm through the bodies.  They will pretend not to see them even as the ever-dripping pools of blood begin to impair their vision. They will not say their nameseven though doing so would be their salvation.  They will close their eyes, pinch their nose and desensitize themselves to the carnage as much as possiblecontinuously crushing craniums underfoot, crying in their discomfort and contradictory conviction that all lives matter.

Mr. Robinson, I say this with all sincerity

You need a training.

9 Comments
  1. Tim Galbraith says

    Great piece.

  2. Delma Jackson III says

    Lila Watson actually credited her entire community for the quote so-often ascribed to her. She thought it was important to give credit to the entire aboriginal community and now that I know, so do I. Thanks to a dear friend of mine for pointing that out.

  3. Kristy Sanders says

    White privilege and white supremacist really? Because I live in Flint and I am White as you call us, but there are always two sides of this thing you call racism! I have been treated like I was shit because of my lack of color here in Flint! I have watched my grandchildren be treated like dirt because of the lack of color in a predominately black school! When you are a minority of any color in a society you have to deal with the hatred of the people who claim not to be racist! If you think racism only occurs in whites, well your wrong! Dead Wrong! I have been treated wrong by people of many different colors ,sizes, backgrounds, religions! I drank the same water went to the same stores, and lived in this community and like other I am tired of the racism of anyone of any color or their lack of! But to say that only people of black or brown skin encounters racism only shows how much racism there truly is in all people of all colors! Racism is a thing that brews in all races! Not just with people who lack color!

  4. Marilyn says

    Mr Delma,
    Though I applaud your dedication to your race. I grew up in Detroit with no father ( I am white). As a little girl, I was jumped (by black kids) going to the store on Kercheval. That incident still creates fear in me (I’m 63). My mother worked for Kresge. I went to college on grants because I was poor and on SS. This and more is offered to the black community. I took advantage of it. Maybe your time would better spent educating the black community of their advantages rather than their disadvantages. My son was valdictorian of his high school and wait listed at U of M (Ann Arbor) because he was causation. He worked his ass off to achieve that status! Are you open-minded enough to see why perhaps I may be angry? I don’t mean to attack, but to enlighten you. When you attacked Mr Robinson, you knew nothing of his struggles, but were blinded by your own predjudice.

    1. Marilyn says

      As for white supremacy, vote it out of office in 2020!

  5. Marilyn says

    As for white supremacy, vote it out of office in 2020!

  6. Jebu says

    He is expressing a very valid point and reflects the sentiment of a whole lot of people right now. Accusations of racism seem to happen whenever certain people dont get their way,even after more than equal opportunities. This name calling of innocent and reasonable people is what drove people to vote for a guy they probably dont like. I’m mixed and absolutely sick of hearing about how my white Grandfather,Father and uncle are guilty of feeding evil. This has gone too far and theres already been repairations in the form of affirmative action. We’re sick of giving special treatment and still being told we’re not giving enough. Black on black crime kills more young black men than any other race combination and no amount of mental gymnastics will convince me its anyone else’s fault. Certain people dont want racism to ho away because their careers not only depend on it, but thrive with the increase in its intensity. A great number of us are “Done” so to speak.

  7. Matthew R says

    So many white people need to really read this article from a less defensive point of view. It’s wonderful writing and very true. I know it’s hard not to feel embarrassed by how awful the truth of this article is but that’s way less important than fixing the problem. More peace in the world will only benefit everyone.

    1. Marilyn says

      I would love to hear your opinion on the Tyler Wingate attack and murder Mr Delma Jackson.

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