“Question what looks like unity at first glance.Austin Channing Brown, I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness
I am not someone who really likes being read aloud to but I’ve discovered I really love Audible especially when the book is read aloud by the author. I’ve read or listened to more books this summer than I thought I’d be able to thanks to this discovery and my conscious effort to add more leisure walking to my life (managing stress levels). I listened to Ta-Nehisi Coates Between the World and Me a few weeks ago and this week finished listening to I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness by Austin Channing Brown. These books, along with the hard copy reading I’ve done: Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America and So You Want to Talk about Race, and my weekly podcast obsession Pod Save the People have gotten me thinking a lot about the interactions I’m hoping to have this school year with my colleagues and the ensuing knot that’s growing in my stomach.
Oddly enough, that knot isn’t so much about my fear of conflict and making people uncomfortable. I’ve started growing quite the backbone and courage for pushing back and planting seeds of change when I can. I thank Christie Nold for modeling how a white person should be doing this on a daily basis (@ChristieNold on Twitter). While I tend to shy away from awkwardness and difficulty, that’s not what I’m getting anxious about. I’m more getting anxious about how shallow and self-serving conversations about race (esp among self-proclaimed progressive whites) tend to be.
In my experience, conversations that are trying to get people to deeply reflect on their identities and how those identities interact with our white supremacist society to lead to inequities, often fall short. They aren’t long enough, they aren’t truthful enough (skirting around issues rather than naming the issues head on), the spaces lack trust (for a variety of reasons), and people are able to excuse themselves as not being the “bad people” who are obviously perpetuating these problems. Ultimately, they fall short because of everything outlined in Robin DiAngelo’s book White Fragility.
Other times, white people leave these experiences feeling validated and comfortable, playing this narrative in their minds “See, I’m a woke white person. I’m set.” I have come to believe that if, as a white person, you leave a conversation about race feeling validated and comfortable, you didn’t do it right. Maybe you can feel validated that you’ve started doing the right work, you’ve started having the right conversations, you’re reading the right books, following the right people. You shouldn’t, however, feel finished. Ever. Antiracist work is the work of a lifetime.
Here’s to a school year filled with true and honest conversations and reflections that spur us to move from asking the question “am I racist?” to “how am I racist and what am I going to do about it?” (credit to Robin DiAngelo for that shift in questioning).