BONDFIRES

A movement to eradicate racism together

Un-packing Racism an interview with Rev. David Billings, D.Div.

As a black woman, it has taken me a while to began to understand that de-constructing and eradicating racism does not solely rest on the shoulders of black people. I know this might seem obvious to many people, but, for me I have been living with the impact of racism for so long it has been very difficult to step out of “reactive” mode and embrace anti-racist work that is being done by “like-minded” people from other cultures, including white people.

Recently, I had the opportunity to chat with Rev. David Billings, D. Div.,  a “white” anti-racist trainer,  and learn about the work being done  at The Peoples Institute for Survival and Beyond.  This organization is committed to de-constructing racism by educating people, both white and black, on the negative impact of racism in American society.

At this time, I would like to share some of my conversation with Rev. Billings with you…

When did you lose your culture as a white man or when did you discover it? (Izzie J)

I never lost my culture. I have always been acutely aware that I was white given the circumstances of my birth and the particular era in which I grew up which was the 1950’s and 60’s, all in the southern U.S. and in Mississippi and Arkansas in particular. It was an extremely race-conscious period. I was reared in the tenets of white supremacy some of which was subtle and much of which was overt. White supremacy was a given, rarely questioned, and rarely officially discussed. It was not until the 1980’s that I began to study the nature of “whiteness”—what it was and when and how, it was created. White culture thus was the way of life of a race-constructed society. White was taught as normal, universal and even transcendent. From what were deemed the classics of literature and fine arts to the depiction of Jesus as being European in appearance were all a part of white culture—the underpinnings of  a white supremacist way of life. None of this required bigotry or individual acts of meanness (although often it did, of course). It was life as I knew it. White was dominant, supreme, ordained, and made into law.

Why is it important for white people to unpack racism? (Izzie J)

Racism robs white people of their humanity. A mentor of mine said “To the degree one sees another as anything less than a full human being, to that degree one is out of touch with what it means to be human.” Thus whites are disconnected from an understanding and knowledge of self. It creates barriers between ourselves and 90% of the world’s population. If whites don’t know how we became white and what white means then all else we think we know is superficial, shallow and as Neely Fuller says, “only tends to confuse you”. Because whites are not required to face our racial nature, our attempts to develop real relationships with people of color are destined to fail. Racism can be “unpacked”. If something was done, it can be undone. Race is inherently specious, false, but it has power in a race-constructed world order.

What is the price that people of color pay for assimilation in America? (Izzie J)

This is not for me to say as a white person. I will say that the first racial constructionists, white meant the absence of black. All others, under certain circumstances, might mix across racial lines. Not white and black. This is the famous “one-drop rule”. Any “black blood” made one “Black”. White and Black were the twin pillars of racism/white supremacy.

Do you think “white” America,  owes “black” America (and Native America) something? Reparation?  (Izzie J)

In one sense white people owe black people and Native Americans everything. The wealth of the nation was created by the combination of free Black labor and the seizure of lands from the indigenous. The wealth accumulation was staggering beyond calculation. The United States is the wealthiest Nation in the world has thus far known even if you combined all the wealth of all other nations heretofore. The politics of this “debt” are just as daunting. It is hard to fathom. I would say most white Americans feel that Blacks have been “given” too much already.  As heartless, even as ludicrous, as this might sound, this is the nature of white supremacist thinking and worldview.

How does one develop an anti-racist framework? (Izzie J)

The Peoples Institute for Survival and Beyond, of which I am a part, believes that racism can be “undone”.  It takes a collective approach. It involves organizing, discipline and study. It requires a study of the racist framework that has governed us for so long and its replacement even conceptually at first with anti-racist framework. Professor Y.N. Kly authored a small text titled “The Anti-Social Contract” which lays it out pretty clear. This nation could develop such an arrangement. To say it will neither be easy or quick, however is a vast understatement.

Is there such a thing as “White Culture”? (Izzie J)

Certainly.  If culture is a way of life then there is a white culture. It is not based on ethnicity or geography or biology, but on “race”. It is made manifest through the institutions “sanctioned by the state” historically speaking to this day. White culture is taught in the schools, embedded in the judicial system, health care, finance, and dominant-culture religion. It has trademarks or a value-system. White culture prizes individualism, dichotomous logic, the self as the center of consciousness and many other dynamics that can be delineated over time. Any person of color with street smarts or a Masters/Ph. D. knows what white culture is. Such knowledge is necessary to survive or succeed in this country. The only persons who are discouraged from recognizing white culture are white people. This is another tenet of white supremacy. With work and commitment whites can identify white culture. It is just difficult for us at first.

Describe ways that racism masquerades as something else? (Izzie J)

Systemic outcomes are one way. There are no institutional outcomes in this society that do not conform to the racial pecking order. These can be predicted from afar. The educational system, criminal justice, employment, home ownership are all examples of how race manifests itself in society. Whites can be in denial about this because the institutions speak for us. Because of individualism, whites don’t have to be self-critical about race. It often makes us appear disingenuous when in discussion with people of color. Of course, political discourse is fraught with racial code-words and innuendo—calling the President the Welfare President, in questioning his birth records, in his re-election sparking a cessation movement. There are more subtle ways that Whites are given to changing the subject when race is put forward. You can see this in college curriculum  Race never stands alone—it is usually race, class, and gender or race and an all other oppression’s  These are distinct phenomena, but when grouped together, race will fade into the background as a rule.

How do you walk in your whiteness and be true to the Civil Rights Movement? (Izzie J)

It is the only way to be in the Movement. People of color can easily spot those of us who are in denial or who are confused by our racial identities. Whites don’t have to be perfect. We need to be vulnerable to what race has done to all of us. Self-knowledge chops away at the savior complex. In a deeper sense whites in the movement are expected to work with other whites around the “un-packing” of racism. This is the hardest work of all. Many of us want to live vicariously through people of color, but the real challenge is to learn how to work with other white people. This is what will ultimately “undo” racism.

Thank you for visiting BONDFIRES!

ps. Some Comments are being posted to the wrong post (check out aururawatcherak comment and my reply). To comment about this post “Un-packing Racism and interview with Rev. Billings” please click on the black comment box beside the post. Thanks-IJ

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23 thoughts on “Un-packing Racism an interview with Rev. David Billings, D.Div.

  1. Reblogged this on Failure to Listen and commented:
    Another outstanding article by IzziJ BondFires. Here she interviews Rev. David Billings, a white anti-racist trainer. Great questions with great reponses by Rev. Billings. Quote….”I began to study the nature of “whiteness”—what it was and when and how, it was created. White culture thus was the way of life of a race-constructed society. White was taught as normal, universal and even transcendent.”

    • Hi Angela,
      You are true to your word!
      Thank you for taking the time to read Rev. Billings interview. It was a wonderful experience to dialogue with this amazing man. He really helped me to gain some insights about the whole construct of racism. He inspired me with hope that many white Americans are working very hard to eradicate racism!
      I managed to post a journal entry. I’m using the journal page to help me work through any vicarious trauma and offer visitors some insights about my own challenges in doing this work. Oh, and i’m working on the Part 2 of Cultural Healing. I had the wonderful opportunity of interviewing Suzanne Smoke of the Aboriginal First Nation Community on Georgina Island. Suzanne has been honored to work with aboriginal youth and to instruct them on “The Teaching of the Elders”.
      The oppression of the red race in North America is very similar to the oppression of African-American people. And, there is a very interesting connection to the construct of racism in North America and the construct of the Apartheid system in South Africa. I hope you also enjoy that post.
      Thank you for your insights, comments and support! I’m so happy you re-blogged the articles!-Izzie J

  2. infomediaman on said:

    Reblogged this on Infomediaman's Blog and commented:
    “The future is not a gift: it is an achievement. Every generation helps make its own future. This is the essential challenge of the present.” Robert Kennedy, August 7, 1962.

  3. I totally agree with Rev. Billing’s analysis of race as something constructed. And I’d add the concept of race have been and continues to be used to create and justify the oppressive reality within which people of color are forced to live. Race may only be a concept but slavery and poverty are all too real.
    Recently I read and reviewed Drawing the Color Line, a book about how white people around the world worked together to “prove” they were superior and that therefore non-whites should be excluded and kept from power. You might find it interesting.
    As a white person who grew up in Oklahoma I also share some of Rev. Billing’s experience where “white supremacy” was taken for granted and unchallenged. Yes we must continue to work to heal the wounds that idea has created.

    • Thank you so much for your honesty and commitment to the cause of eradicating racism. Raising awareness about issues of racism, oppression and white privilege is key to understanding how deep the roots of racism run in our society, and the role that “White America” needs to shoulder in order to truly began to heal the wounds of the past. From the depths of my heart I thank you for sharing your truths! You encourage and inspire me to stay the course and continue to chip away at this scourge of racism knowing that some folks in White America really “get it” and will step outside their comfort zone to speak out against racism and be allies in this cause!-Izzie J
      Ps.-I’m off to the bookstore to get Drawing the Color Line this week! Thanks again and please continue your excellent book reviews!-IJ

  4. I did appreciate the interview. We need to have more dialogues with white people, the less comfortable the better!

  5. Do you suspect that this white person is most likely a racist? If yes, what does that mean to you?

    I found it interesting that the most important aspect to the rev., regarding being honest about the global system of white supremacy (I assume that is what is meant by “unpacking racism”) is that it “robs white people of their humanity”. This assumes that white people had “humanity” in any collective sence, to begin with- which there is no evidence of- rather there is much evidence to the contrary.
    It seems to me that the ones who have had their humanity robbed is the non white people of the planet, and white people are the thieves, collectively. If the rev. was really being honest, he would publicly take his gripes up with the creator because it seems like white people were collectively created with a deficit of humanity, which is how they are able to systematically destroy us and the planet itself.
    Also the part where he says that black people know more about white culture than white people do -I’m paraphrasing- but seriously, that’s like saying that fishes know more about flying than birds do. He didn’t even elaborate, he just made this illogical statement and we bear witness to it and he gets a pass because we all have had the “white perfection” beaten into our rears, our ears, our psyches, our eyes through media.
    Our circumstances will change when we as non whites realize what it means to be a white person in a global system of white supremacy, thats the way I see it. I don’t invest any hope in suspected racists.

    • Hi melaninbrain!
      2 very …interesting questions.
      When I set out to get a white person’s perspective about racism I realized it could be a challenge for me to hear their “truth’s” and accept that some white people would think differently about race/racism than I do. For me, it is more important to have a dialogue about “race”, share viewpoints and gain some insights and understanding of how/when/why “race” impacts all people and to work with people who are committed to eradicating racism.
      All that being said, I would ask you the same questions? Why is it important to you to know if Rev. Billing’s is a racist? What does that mean to you? I encourage you to continue to comment and “speak your truth”!
      Thank you for visiting BONDFIRES!-Izzie J

  6. ghanastar82 on said:

    Great post and good to get views from other cultures. At times we tend to see racism as a ‘black persons burden’ when it does impact people of all races. Great to see someone tackling the issue head on, thats the only way we will be able to change viewpoints and ideologies 🙂

  7. Hilda Steyn on said:

    Stunning blog! It resonates in my heart.

  8. Leanora Erica Mims on said:

    Tommy, thank you for your beautifully written comment. I am so moved by how you eloquently expressed by your writing your view of the evilness of racism and how you intertwined your experience of growing up in the segregated Jim Crow South. As I learn more and more about the effects of racism on people, communities and the world, it becomes more important to interrupt it. I too am a prisoner of hope. But in being a prisoner, I plan to fight –challenge and to interrupt this terrible scourge as much as I can. Yours in peace –Leanora Erica Mims

  9. Reblogged this on digger666 and commented:
    Definitely worth a read…and a follow.

    • I am honored. Thank you!-Izzie J

    • I would love to say healthcre for all but unuantfrotely thats not true in thie country as of yet. I wish it was. Well, other than that, I appreciate being able have the power to choice to earn a living how ever I want. If I want to be self employed I can do that at anytime. If i want a job I can apply for whatever job I choose to and not be told where I have to work. Those are freedoms I guess more than dreams, but I do attribute those things as part of the American Dream. I am a native American but I do realize in other countrys they cannot have those some freedoms as we do. So all those things I mentioned are considered American dreams.

  10. Tommy Miller on said:

    I am mindful of something that I read that still resonates with me: we do not learn from experience, but rather by our willingness to experience. Within thar context, I am thankful that Bondfires blog is a venue for “us” to experience collectively.
    As a person of color( African American & Native american), I welcome opportunities to engage in thought provoking & mutually respectful dialogues about racism & other related topics. Kudos to Literary Artist, Izzie J, for given birth to this blog. We need venues to reason together as a people, to share, to cry, to celebrate, to encourage, to hold each-other accountable. I am hopeful that as we continue to acknowledge the diversity of the human family we will take advantage of the blog’s opportunity to perform our humanity -embarking on the journey of disrobing racism & eradicating it.
    I am thankful to Dr. Billings for his generosity in sharing his thoughts,reflections, etc. As a direct recipient of Jim Crow, growing up in the deep south( Mississippi) & experiencing Jim Crow in the north, I was taught the beauty of having DNA stock that compels me to walk in my beautiful blackness & embrace a spirit that refuse to be denied- ah the dignity of the human spirit! As I reflect on all the comments on this blog & ponder the evilness of racism, I go deep in my soul and remember that I stand on the shoulders of heroes who paved the way for me & you! To that end, I welcome the opportunities to dialogue…….

    A Prisoner of Hope- Tommy Miller

  11. Thank you for this beautiful interview! Seems a great companion piece to this letter from James Baldwin to his nephew, where he writes:

    Please try to be clear, dear James, through the storm which rages about your youthful head today, about the reality which lies behind the words “acceptance” and “integration.” There is no reason for you to try to become like white men and there is no basis whatever for their impertinent assumption that they must accept you. The really terrible thing, old buddy, is that you must accept them, and I mean that very seriously. You must accept them and accept them with love, for these innocent people have no other hope. They are in effect still trapped in a history which they do not understand and until they understand it, they cannot be released from it. They have had to believe for many years, and for innumerable reasons, that black men are inferior to white men.

    Many of them indeed know better, but as you will discover, people find it very difficult to act on what they know. To act is to be committed and to be committed is to be in danger. In this case the danger in the minds and hearts of most white Americans is the loss of their identity. Try to imagine how you would feel if you woke up one morning to find the sun shivering and all the stars aflame. You would be frightened because it is out of the order of nature. Any upheaval in the universe is terrifying because it so profoundly attacks one’s sense of one’s own reality. Well, the black man has functioned in the white man’s world as a fixed star, as an immovable pillar, and as he moves out of his place, heaven and earth are shaken to their foundations.

  12. Anonymous on said:

    i thought the article was extremely well written. i enjoyed the question of whether whites owe blacks and natives. it is accurate that some (maybe to many) folks feel blacks and natives have already been given to much, this is sad and set up self imposed blockage for whites and removes any possibility of feeling grateful.
    tziporah

  13. Thank you Rev. Billings for contributing to BONDFIRES. You have given us a lot to think about.-Izzie J

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