Welcome to the Poverty + Racial Injustice Stories Project. Our nation is experiencing an awakening, and for some, an introduction to the injustices that Black people have been facing in this country for decades.
We are dedicating this project to the stories of AmeriCorps VISTA members whose work goes beyond the VISTA mission to eradicate poverty. These stories will show how their work in tackling this mission intersects with combatting racial injustices in the communities they serve.
Our hope is that 1. VISTA members will be seen and celebrated for their work, 2. The stories will provide a blueprint for others to follow, and 3. By sharing stories from areas including housing, literacy, and nutrition, readers will get a glimpse into just how far reaching the effects of racial injustice can be.
Kurtis Edwards can’t recall how he found the AmeriCorps VISTA program, but after almost two years of service, he feels lucky that he did. In addition to serving in communities and combating poverty, Kurtis joined AmeriCorps because he wanted to build his management and leadership skills. As a “white person, who is also male, who is also gay,” he wanted to have legitimacy in the mission he felt called to: to talk to other white people about the systemic racism steeped in this country.
As a Navy brat, born on a Hawaiian base, and having lived in a number of different places, these experiences informed Kurtis’ desire for a career in antiracism, working in interracial dialogue, specifically speaking to white people about white power structures. As he completes his second year of service, he is even more resolute in his determination to “work tirelessly at a career in human service and community building.”
Kurtis Edwards Washtenaw Literacy Ypsilanti, Michigan. Position: Program Coordinator from Aug 2018 – Aug 2020
This is a short piece on the main characteristics of white supremacy culture. Below there are 15 characteristics, but I want to talk about perfectionism, sense of urgency, individualism, objectivity, either/or thinking, power hoarding, progress means bigger, and fear of open conflict. This is not a narrative on white culture or identity. Anyone or any one group that utilizes these characteristics to value or compare another person or group is also acting through the components of white supremacy culture.
Perfectionism has less to do with being precise and exact and more to do with the value you place on things that you consider less-perfect. I know on a personal level, the constant anxiety to be perfect or ‘ideal’ is exhausting. Imagine being an employee that has a manager who is a perfectionist. My gut tells me to run from that employment because those who always demand perfection never seem to be satisfied. I’m no Ph.D., but that screams to me that perfection isn’t real. Not to mention, I am always going to be a lousy employee because I can’t produce something unreal. I am a musician, and much of my experience creating music has been in search of perfection. I’m one of those types who often think the more simple the song is, the harder it becomes because the sound must be perfect. Maybe that’s true, but it takes so much time to get things perfect that there is little energy to spend on the emotion and performance of it all. A lot of lessons learned in realizing music is all about the emotion and performance and little to do with the perfection of sound. Maybe that’s why there isn’t a #1 single to my name.
In White Fragility, Robin DiAngelo uses her exhaustive experience running diversity-training and cultural-competency sessions to explicate why white people have a hard time discussing racism. Her argument focuses on the system of white supremacy and how it has by design, insulated the white individual from racial discomfort. DiAngelo (2018) defines white fragility as “a state in which even a minimum amount of racial stress becomes intolerable, triggering a range of defensive moves.” DiAngelo continues to argue that these reactions amount to a gaslighting that works to reinforce the entire system of racial protection that significantly benefits white people.
She brings her argument to life describing how individual behaviors reinforce and perpetuate white supremacy. This is where her work is at its most controversial yet most profound. Backing her argument up with cold hard facts and data, she takes on the full spectrum of white fragility and connects it to white supremacy. Everything from proclaiming to be ‘colorblind’ to the argument that affirmative action is meant to harm white people is open for critique. She is not tribal in her words covering everyone from diehard conservatives to progressive liberals, who she claims are often the most insulated and fragile. It goes without saying that she implies ‘staying in your lane’ means white people need to be uncomfortable enough to notice racism and their place in that system, and even more uncomfortable to stand up against white supremacy.
It is worth noting that Robin DiAngelo is white and a progressive liberal, but that even she admits that she contributes to reinforcing the system of oppression that founded our country. She is not saying all white people are KKK members, and that white supremacy is not a matter of good and bad people, but instead, all white people encompass a place on the spectrum of white supremacy. We should work to move along the spectrum by listening, not personalizing, getting educated, and thinking before we speak. White Fragility is a compelling read for any American who wishes to understand on a personal level the history of racial oppression in the US.