I’m writing this from my beloved and broken Minneapolis. From my apartment windows I have seen the fires and smelled the smoke. As an historian of Minnesota I’ve seen the dagger of racism rip through our past and I’ve tried to document how it has wounded Native Americans, African-Americans, and other people of color directly and how it has mutilated the rest of us, too.
In his book, White Over Black, historian Winthrop Jordan investigates the roots of American racism. He points out that white Americans’ stereotypes of Africans did not describe Africans, but did starkly describe what Calvinists feared in themselves – that they were dangerous, lazy, sexually predatory, violent. Indeed, slaveholding fostered these very behaviors in slave owners and in American society.
Part of what has given – and continues to give – racism so much deep power is its rootedness in this shadow. It grows out of what we reject in ourselves and want, therefore, to deny, so we project it on to others. We can tell that it’s our shadow because so many stereotypes are the same, but they can’t possibly describe all of the “others” against whom they’re used – the poor, the homeless, people of color, immigrants.
Only when we can see racism as growing out of us, rather than a response to others, can we begin to unravel it. Only when we face that because we didn’t reason ourselves into racism, we can’t reason ourselves. Then, we can chart a path to the deep heart and soul work that we need to do – in Minneapolis, in the United States, in my beloved London, too.