For every White person in Waco: Five Things to Do
By Ashley Bean Thornton
After attending two Juneteenth celebrations and the terrific mural celebration party at the East Waco Library, I have seen far more Black people in the last month than I have seen in the 24 months before that combined.
Does that last sentence make you cringe a little? It made me cringe a little to write it. Do I sound like I’m bragging about being the cool White person who hangs out with Black people? Am I supposed to say “Black” or should I say “African-American?” Was I intruding? Would the Black people have liked it better if no White People had come? Should I write a post that focuses only on Black/White racial relationships? How will that make people of other races and ethnicities feel?
When it comes to race, I second guess myself coming and going. That’s OK though. If Waco is going to be a great place to live for every person of every level of income, more of us have got to wade into the sometimes fun, sometimes fascinating, often uncomfortable waters of learning more about other races and ethnic groups. I think Maya Angelou’s advice applies here, “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” With that in mind here are five things I’ve done in the last few years that I feel like have helped me “know better.” I recommend them to you, my fellow White people.
1. Shop for kids’ books – Go to Barnes & Noble and try to find a baby book or a kids’ book with an other-than-white person on the cover. I did, and it was shocking to me how few choices I had. Once this opened my eyes I started noticing Black/White differences in all kinds of advertising, especially local advertising. Books and advertising influence our thinking, especially if we don’t notice that they are slanted.
2. Read Some of my Best Friends are Black by Tanner Colby and The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander – The Colby book is an easy read by a white man who grew up in the South. It’s a very accessible, somewhat irreverent, look at some of our foundational institutions – education, housing, church – and how they have contributed to our current race relations (or lack thereof). The New Jim Crow is a challenging read. I didn’t agree with every word of it, but it broke open my thinking about crime and race. Everyone should read this book.
3. Watch “Race the Power of an Illusion” – This is a 3-Part documentary about race in society, science and history. It’s a little hard to find, but they have it at the Baylor library. (The Waco-McLennan County Libraries have ordered a copy. It should arrive sometime July 2013.) The information on the science of race and the section on housing were the most interesting to me. It shares a historical perspective that I bet most White people don’t know, but should.
4. Attend a Community Race Relations Coalition (CRRC) meeting – Waco is lucky to have a thriving group of people who care about promoting good conversations about race. I recommend their regular “Dinner and a Movie” meetings as a good way to ease into the conversation. Last Valentine’s Day, for example, they had a full house to watch “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?” Steve and Kathy Reid, of Truett Seminary and the Family Abuse Center respectively, led an honest, thought-provoking conversation about bi-racial marriage.
5. Attend a Black church…more than once — A few years ago the CRRC organized a “Church Swap.” Black people went to White churches and White people went to Black churches for three months. Attending a Black church for several Sundays gave us time to get past the initial shock-factor of a completely different worship style, to meet a few people, to learn some of the songs and to get to the point where we were actually worshipping instead of just observing. That experience did more to make me comfortable with being “the only white person in the room” than anything else I have ever done. I highly recommend it.
That’s my list of five? What are yours?