Respectful Dialogue Is the Best Tool for Eliminating Racial Inequities

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  • Your son Andrew suggested I email you after I commented on your column via Twitter. In response, I referenced, as you did, Martin Luther King Jr’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail, in which King expressed his disappointment with White moderates. I would draw your attention particularly to this paragraph:

    “I must make two honest confessions to you, my Christian and Jewish brothers. First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Councilor or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.” Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.”
    I am curious if you consulted with any people of colour who are engaged in anti-racism work, or what you have read by writers of colour on anti-racism in preparing your column. What work have you done to have a deeper understanding of the racialized experience of people of colour and how White folks can best participate in allyship?
    Response from Bill Black:
    I am very familiar with the entire letter.
    The clergy to whom he was writing had been, as your quote says, arguing for “order.” In other words, stop creating a fuss.
    King’s real audience in his very public reply was to earn the active support of a broad spectrum of whites by explaining to them the real injustices, and the unsuccessful efforts to right them through the courts. It worked, in great measure because of King’s tone.
    I am not arguing for order instead of justice. I am recommending to racialized activists that they will have greater success by emulating King and Mandela. I particularly feel that it is unwise for activists to shut down white people who want to help.
    Yes I did consult people of colour in writing this article.

    Drew’s response:-
    Thanks for the response, Bill.
    I wonder then who you are speaking for, and who you are speaking to. Have your recommendations as to how to engage in anti-racist work been solicited by activists who belong to racialized groups? Regarding the case of Masuma Khan, in particular, in what way do you feel she has “shut down white people who want to help”?

    Bill’s second response:–
    Masuma’s tone and use of vulgarities do not invite a thoughtful interaction.

    As with any article I am speaking for myself only.

    I am speaking to those activists who want to be effective in achieving positive change. Secondarily I am trying to have non-racialized observers consider that the cause for which some people have been needlessly offensive may nevertheless be a just one.

    No, my recommendations were not solicited. I have probably written over 400 columns. No more than a handful of them were solicited by anyone. That is what it means to be an opinion columnist.

    Drew M | November 5, 2017 | Reply

  • Mr. Black, it is always a pleasure to read your columns because of their construction and clarity. I am not, however, always persuaded by your positions – which is not surprising given the range of topics to which you’ve given some thought.

    Your November 4 column I found both amusing in its positioning and a bit offensive. I have just sent the column to a colleague whose parents fled South Africa because of their support for ending apartheid for her thoughts. Her parents are white South Africans.

    I grew up in Kentville. As a graduate student in US I was on the Madison, Wisconsin campus during the Vietnam student demonstrations – and the bombing of a building where research funded for military purposes was being done. I’ve been privileged to be a supporter of the recent women’s marches in several countries. My work in health care has provided ample opportunities to observe and be a recipient of the sometimes appalling power games sometimes gender related, sometimes race related, sometimes related to position/job differences. I have been part of many ‎situations in which we have worked to bring about or to support social change.

    The amusing part of – the column you might see yourself if you look at page E4 with a white guy, former CEO of Maritime Life in the heading (and a young non-white Canadian woman ‎in the photo) making the comment “…one might reasonably wonder whether the outcome would have been the same had the words been the same but the skin colours reversed.” Do you really think that most white people living in NS during your lifetime and mine deserve respectful dialogue from people of colour? I certainly felt awful when a woman who cared for me as a child and who later became active in the Black movement and Chicago riots refused to speak to me any longer. I also understood why when I stopped to think.

    What I found a bit offensive was a person – whom I see as likely having a reasonable ‎amount of opportunity to become successful and influential without the often silent barriers of race and gender – who failed to be polite enough to acknowledge that he has no idea of what it’s like to walk in their shoes.
    Response from Bill Black:–
    Joy thanks for this. I doubt that any of my readers agree with all of my columns.

    I should say first that the choice to include the photo was the Herald’s not mine. I would not have recommended it, in part because of the juxtaposition you mention.

    Secondly, yes, I fully deserve an accusation of being privileged in the opportunities I have had. That said, I did more with them than many similarly placed people.

    Perhaps it would have been better to acknowledge that difference. But I have no quarrel with what most of the activists are seeking, at least when they are not trying to just shut down the conversation.

    I am recommending to radicalized activists that they will have greater success by emulating King and Mandela. It is not a question of white people “deserving” that. It is a question of what will achieve the activists’ goals.

    Joy Calkin | November 5, 2017 | Reply

  • It’s very seldom I care enough to send a reply to a column I have read. I do not understand why someone as immature as Masuma Khan is getting so much face time in this paper and on TV. I have heard over and over for years, how a university provides an education in critical thinking. In her case it appears that she has taken the word critical far beyond it’s meaning. Frankly I think she is a young inexperienced twit who is an attention seeker. I certainly didn’t appreciate Dalhousie University, an institution that sucks back a lot of taxpayer coin, turning its back on Canada 150.

    Harold | November 5, 2017 | Reply

    • Harold, it is OK to vigorously disagree with Masuma or anyone else says. But there is no need to be personally abusive. Doing so undermines the very point you are trying to make.

      Bill B

      Bill | November 6, 2017 | Reply

  • Well said! A philosopher I admire once said that racism is the ugliest form of collectivism – the treatment of people not as individuals but as members of a group whether defined by race, colour, gender, nationality, etc. As such, the stereotyping involved is not only intellectually lazy but profoundly unjust. It judges not on the basis of chosen actions but on characteristics people are born with. It is a modern version of original sin – the idea that you are guilty not because of what you have done but due to your origin i.e. you have been guilty since birth. This is “non-ethics”. Martin Luther King was right when he said he hoped to see the day when his children were judged not by the colour of their skin but by the content of their character. This should be a general principle regardless of skin colour.

    Steve Chipman | November 3, 2017 | Reply

  • This is an issue where idealistic solutions are very easy to visualize; realistic ones , not so much. There are numerous indications that the younger current generation and those to follow, are likely to achieve greater success than those of us who have preceeded them and thats a good thing..

    Bob MacKenzie | November 3, 2017 | Reply