Would They Still Have Written If They Knew I Had To Go Home And Tell My Wife?
February 12, 2009 was my five year anniversary for being a social justice and diversity educator. Of course, I had always been an advocate for justice, but five years ago I made it a formal responsibility. I developed several curriculums, posted my website, and printed business cards. I could not remain passive in this struggle and hoped to use my skills and abilities in service to the movement.
In many ways I have been successful and have thoroughly enjoyed conversing with people throughout the U.S. While it has not always been easy, it has been rewarding to be part of the movement. However, the incident that prompted this article was more negative than I had ever previously experienced.
The workshop I am most known for is entitled “White Privilege 101.” The goals are to expose and debunk the various historical and contemporary myths that have garnered Whites undue privilege. This is a tough presentation, one that many people can find personally challenging. But, through conversation and patience, I have seen an incredible potential for growth in people. While it can be difficult, many are willing to grapple with this topic and find ways to deal with their cognitive and affective triggers that impede justice. Like many times in the past, I was recently booked to give this workshop. However, this opportunity brought me a brand-new experience.
Approximately a week prior, I learned that a White Power website was informed about this event and posted all of the details about this workshop including my picture. It still mystifies me as to why this occurrence popped up their radar since I have given this presentation on countless occasions in the past. But, regardless of the reason, they saw my work as an opportunity to further their own agenda. Underneath the posting was a community comment board which had many virulent and divisive posts. Some of these posts attacked the material but many others were personally directed towards me.
The following day I checked my email and discovered that someone copied me on a ‘Letter to the Editor’ sent to a local newspaper. The letter was directed again at my workshop but this author took another angle. He used quotes from the Bible in a perverse attempt to purport that the Word of God dictates that “Whites are the favored beings and those of African descent are beasts”. This use of the Bible was a disgusting display of hatred.
I wish I could say, at this point, that this story was over. I forwarded all of these materials to the group hosting the workshop so they could be prepared for whatever or whomever should walk through the door. Unfortunately, they too had received negative messages with one email in particular causing significant concern. My host could have simply forwarded me this email to share the information. Instead she called me personally so that I could be on the phone with someone when I learned what was written. I will forever be grateful for this act of humanity. The email she received was hateful, degrading, racist, homophobic, and threatened my safety. To say the least, I was shocked. This email was, by far, not the worst thing that has ever been sent to anyone. Nonetheless, being a first-time recipient, it was more emotional than I would have anticipated.
I talked about the comment with my host and helped with their plans for the event. I then processed with my friends, working my way through the initial emotions of fear, despair, and anger. But, what I kept coming back to was one question – How was I going to tell my wife about this? Now, let it be known, my wife is the coolest person on the planet. However, I cannot think of anyone relishing having to tell their partner something that will leave them afraid and powerless. I knew she would still want me to do the workshop and that her support would be unwavering. But, I also knew that from the moment I got on the plane to the moment I returned, this email message would be burned into her mind.
The workshop went well. Several people attended in hopes of disrupting the event to no avail. A community of allies and activists ranging in age from 13-80 showed up in support and helped quell the disturbances. While the event was stressful, it was also beautiful to watch. Nevertheless, when I returned home, I began to process what this experience meant to my justice work.
Of course I will not stop, but I am now wiser. I do not understand the thought process of a person who, in anonymous cowardice, employs racist and homophobic rhetoric in wishing for a person’s harm. But, I do know that such people’s hatred blinds them from seeing humanity. They fail to see my partner and loved ones surrounding me. They fail to understand that their hatred only fuels my desire for justice. And finally, they fail to grasp why I will never return their hatred. They want to manipulate my emotions and make me into just another cynical bystander. For me to fall into such hate warps my identity in their reflection. I simply refuse.
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Art Munin is the Assistant Dean of Students at Depaul University. All comments and questions should be directed to: email@example.com
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