Racism, Whiteness, and Evolving

Today, our guest is Fanshen Cox DiGiovanni, who works in film and entertainment as both a creative and a gamechanger in the world of representational diversity. We talk about whiteness and white supremacy, race and racism, forgiving ourselves and others, call-out culture, and the importance of emotional stamina.

This was a deep and vulnerable conversation where Fanshen and I dialogued and worked through important conversations. I really appreciate where we went with this interview

Fanshen is an award-winning playwright, actor, producer and educator, as well as Head of Strategic Outreach at Pearl Street Films. In this role, she advises Pearl Street’s owners, Matt Damon and Ben Affleck, on taking specific steps towards inclusive representation in the entertainment industry. One of her first initiatives on the job was to co-author the Inclusion Rider, and she was recently named one of 12 ‘Hollywood Disruptors’ by The Wrap. She frequently performs her one-woman show, One Drop of Love, across the country.

She served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Cape Verde, West Africa, and has designed curricula for and taught English as a Second Language to students from all over the world.

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The NFL’s Protest Ban is Status Quo Racism

The NFL’s protest ban is merely a status quo upholding of our implicit societal racism and the white supremacy we refuse to relinquish.  It is a quoting of the, “Shut up and get back to work,” legacy of slavery our country is founded upon.  Events like this just bring it to the surface with an even greater cadence.  It is a reminder that this historic repression is as much a part of whiteness as privilege is. 

Our racism shows itself in our refusal to truly ask ourselves and then find the readily available answers to “What are Black players protesting? What might motivate them to risk their careers to take this stand?”

What compounds the situation, is that even while deploying arguments and actions that uphold racism, we are convinced that we are in fact, not racist. Maybe we’re not the ones grabbing a tiki torch (though many do), or running protesters over with a car, rather our racism manifests itself in silence and business as usual. 

The NFL player’s protests feels upsetting to those of us who are white because it is deeply personal.  Our racial identity is so integrated with the maintaining of supremacy, that any challenge to it will always illicit a visceral reaction.  

Silencing Black voices from protesting police violence, racism, and white supremacy, is as sacred to our whiteness as football on Sunday.  White men in power, creating systems that penalize Black people for challenging their authority, is a revered ritual in America.  

But of course, what I’m saying is all just BS right? I’ve swallowed the PC culture Kool-Aid. None of this has anything to do with racism, you just want "those damn [Black] players to shut up, be grateful for what they have, and play.”

Sounds nothing like, “Shut up (racial slur), and entertain me.” 

A Muslim's reflection on conversations with Trump Supporters.

I keep getting asked: why are you Muslim when Islam hates women and is intolerant of other religions?  It’s a question I’m asked quite often by Trump Supporters.  It baffles me, hearing a Trump supporter ask, "how can you support a movement that demonizes other religions and treats women so horrible?” Because that is my question for them, How can you support a person and a movement that is bigoted towards other religions and sexist towards women?

When I step back and reflect upon it, it blows my mind.  We are both looking at each other asking the same exact question.

I clearly feel like I am right and that they are wrong. I believe people are misinformed about my religion. That they take out of context quotes, or misquotes, or misinformation and form an inaccurate picture about my religion. I feel that people take all of this wrong information and use it to stereotype my entire religion.

And then I hear the same feelings echoed back to me from the other person. They feel that my opinion on Trump comes from out of context quotes, or misinformation, and etc. They share with me that yes, there are extremists who support Trump, but that the everyday Trump supporter is a good person.

The mirror reflection of the conversation just stuns me.

I understand the difference of where we stand in regards to privilege and power. I'm defending my religious identity rather than my political opinion.  Trump is the president of the U.S. and has all the power that goes with that.  Whereas, Islam, in the context of the U.S., does not have systemic power or privilege.

As an individual, I feel massive amounts of fear because of Islamophobia.  The question is heavy on my mind, what will it mean to be a Muslim in a Trump nation? Already I have seen the consequences: People having their hijabs torn off, Muslims being yelled at and attacked in the streets, a man was planning a massive shooting on the Mosque/Masjid I attend, and threats of forced registration.  I feel this fear everyday.  And it must be said, I am an extremely privileged Muslim.  I walk around everyday and people have no idea I’m Muslim.  I can’t even begin to imagine the fraction of what someone feels who is visibly assumed to be Muslim.

I’ve shared this with many Trump supporters over the past few weeks.  And then they tell me, well that’s the way they feel about Islam.  That they live in constant fear of terrorist attacks, or their rights being taken away by sharia law, or of ISIS, and that its unsafe to be a Christian in this world.

I tell them that’s crazy.  All of those things are exaggerated and fear mongered by the media and politicians.  ISIS has nothing to do with Islam.  And then they tell me that I’m crazy.  That I’ve been brainwashed by the media and fear mongers and that all the things I’ve heard about Trump are lies.

This leaves me reflecting, what next? Where do we go from here? What is an effective way forward? When we both are staring at each other feeling the exact same way: "I’m right, you’re wrong. My people suffer because you’re people are crazy.  I am justified in my feelings and correct in my facts."

My intention of this post is to share these thoughts that have been bouncing in my head and then listen. And so I’ll conclude with, what are your thoughts?  What does this mirror conversation mean?  What comes next?

I was a white man with dread locks...

For 9 years I was a white man with dread locks.  To clarify, I still am I white man. But I no longer have the dread locks.  For 7 of those nine years my self-awareness of what that meant was limited to my immediate circle.  Excluding my Dad, the general consensus was: Tom your hair is awesome.  And with no other feedback around, I kept moving confidently in the direction of Tom Earl with dread locks.  And so they grew all the way down to my waist.

Flash-forward to the year 2013, 7 years into it, I learned that it’s not all about me.   But this post isn’t the story of why I cut my hair. This is about a time I was deeply invested and committed to a belief and came to realize I was wrong.  As right as it felt, I was in fact participating in institutional racism.

If you can imagine, this wasn’t just an abstract belief.  I had invested years of time and energy into it.  It was a part of my identity.

And what shifted it all, what really made me look in the mirror and ask myself is it worth it, was one question.

“Do my feelings matter more than the lives of those my actions impact?”

I asked myself - ‘are my feelings more important than someone else’s life?’ - over and over and over and over again.  I had every excuse in the book to answer it in a way that didn’t equate to me having to change.

Eventually, unless I was to remain in denial, I had to recognize: Yes, I was putting my feelings over an entire group of people.  So, I cut it.  Like I said, long story short.

Why bring this up? I share this because I keep asking myself this question regarding this year’s election.

I hear Trump voters saying they aren’t racist or sexist or homophobic.  They voted Trump because they felt he was the right choice.  And I ask, do your feelings matter more than the lives of People of Color, or people who are LGBTQ, or women, or Muslims or Jews?

Folks keep telling me, Hillary controls the media and they brainwashed you into thinking Trump spreads hatred and bigotry.  My friend, that sentence right there should be an insight into how insulated one’s circle of friends are. 

I don’t hear from the media about Trump’s actions, I hear from people I know. Real life people, who have been assaulted, intimidated or screamed at by someone who concluded with, “And now that Trumps here, we are kicking you out of our country.”  That’s not from the “liberal news.”  That’s from real life.

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m not saying you should have voted Hillary.  I am asking myself this same question about my vote for Hillary.  Do my feelings matter more than the lives of those affected by war and other actions of Hillary’s?

And that is the real question I’d love to be discussing.  How was it that neither presidential candidate was someone we could say was truly anti-oppression and anti-discrimination?  

This is bigger than just a presidential election or politics.  It is about how many people are desperately trying to hold on to what they feel is right and true.  But what does it mean when one’s truth creates a world that is unsafe for others to be in?  When one’s beliefs erase another person’s identity?  When my feelings of what is right overlooks the consequence of my actions?  

It was my hope that I might offer a tool of reflection for self-awareness. This question has now become my guide, “Where in my life am I putting my feelings over others?”   

As someone who has privilege in almost every aspect of my identity, rarely, am I ever able to answer that accurately by myself.   Which is why I value dialogue much more than mono.  And so with that, I’m going to switch to listening.

Peace and Blessings.