Last year, I had the opportunity to attend a conference and take a class that educated the hell out of me. I learned that the modern and subtle methods of racism (denial of work and/or education, lower wages, healthcare discrimination, daily microaggressions, lack of representation in media, etc. etc.) are often denied in their severity and impact.
I learned that when the word “racism” is used, white people think of lynchings and the n-word and the KKK, and they get angry because they support none of those and yet are being told that they are participating in and benefiting from an inherently racist system.
And I learned about the laws, the research, the history, and the current, ongoing systems of discrimination which make it very, very clear that racism is still a thing that is happening, all around us. Sometimes blatant and ugly, like the n-word and lynching and beating; but more often subtle and insidious, like refusing to acknowledge systems of disparate impact and blaming people of color for being defensive, or claiming that poc are lazy.
This year, I had the opportunity to take a class with a student body that was about 45 – 50 percent people of color. This is unusual in the area I live. Where I live, 83.7 percent of the population is “white” according to the 2010 census. The remaining 16.3 percent of the population breaks down as 2.0 percent Black persons, 1.1 percent Native persons, 6.0 percent Asian, 0.4 percent Pacific Islander, 1.8 percent “other”, 5.0 percent from two or more races, and 6.3 percent Latino persons.
In other words, I live in a very white-washed area. It is also a very liberal/progressive area. These two realities combine to create not only a space where subtle racism persists through unconscious or internalized bias, but where many attempts to address this sort of subtle racism are met with offended denial — because we are progressive, racially conscious liberals. We would not do things like be racist or engage in cultural appropriation.
During the course of this quarter, I have dealt with an internal struggle. How do I, as a white ally, help make this classroom a safer space? There are so many angry white voices in these classroom discussions. Despite the fact that people of color make up half the classroom demographic, their voices make up only a tenth of the discussion. They are drowned out by white allies arguing with white deniers.
As a white ally in a classroom of voices silencing and speaking over the people of color, is it my place to speak up and against the systems of oppression and racism, or is it my place to be quiet and try to provide a place for voices of color to step forward? How can my silence achieve anything when more white voices step into my silence? How can I make a supportive space for voices of color, and how can I encourage my professors to make such a space?
This post I am reblogging offers me hope. It offers some solutions. Ultimately, it’s up to my professors to navigate this classroom dynamic, but at this point it feels very much as though the hurt feelings of the white people in the room are being considered more than those of people of color.
Fun fact: white people’s feelings are magic. They can bring any conversation, meeting or movement to a halt. In a debate, they can outweigh even the most credible, concrete evidence. They can threaten someone’s job. They can even kill. White people’s feelings are one of this country’s most abundant natural resources and important exports.
Because of all this, any conversation about social justice, power, or history is going to naturally settle into orbit around white people’s feelings. And I get it: if we want to really do something about racism in this country, it’s white people who need to change the most, and it’s white people who often have the longest political/spiritual/emotional journey to undertake.
But when social justice education and/or media focuses solely on understanding racism through a white privilege framework, that can recreate the same oppressive structures we’re trying to destroy. When the conversation has such…
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