[eDebate] What's Next for White People?

Beth Skinner beth.skinner
Thu Apr 10 17:21:35 CDT 2008


This post addresses just one of the many important questions raised so far.
What next?

I'm not going to speak for anyone else - the people I care about are doing
just fine themselves.  I'll just offer a perspective from my own social
location (midwestern daughter of white liberal middle-class parents).  This
is intended mainly for the benefit of people who come from similar locations
but if you consider yourself otherwise and find it interesting I'll be
happy, too.  I believe there are many truly well intentioned people who have
been truly moved by conversations over the last couple of weeks and who
truly want to know what they can do.  Here are some things I've found
helpful.  Whether they'd be helpful for others I don't know.

1) Get a taste of being distinctly, observably, obviously a minority.  One
of the most valuable experiences I ever had was moving to grad school at
Wayne State and getting out of the Ryder truck in the middle of Detroit.
Feeling conspicuously different, observable and judgeable, uncomfortable,
targetable, knowable - these are awful and valuable and painful things.  You
might have gotten at the some of the same kind of thing traveling to places
where you stand out by speaking English or being an American.  I've been
incredibly lucky to get to spend time in places like Turkey, Russia, Costa
Rica.  If you've ever gotten to do this and found yourself being extra quiet
to separate yourself from the noisy obnoxious Americans you know what I'm
talking about.  Remember this is only a taste and that you probably get to
choose to go back home where you will be safe and comfortable.

2) Read.  There are lots of people who write well about whiteness, white
privilege, white supremacy, what white people can do.  You know how to
research - go find them.  If you want a head start check out Tim Wise (
www.timwise.org) or bell hooks or Peggy McIntosh.

3) Listen to people who have things to teach you.  If your first response to
hearing an idea is, "let me think of 18 things that are wrong with it," then
listening is harder.

4) Constant reflexivity.  Whiteness is normed in many of the worlds we
inhabit and because it is normed it is invisible.  Learning how to see
invisible things requires a lot of attention.  I swear its often some hard,
provoking, painful work.  But its work no one except you can do because its
primarily in your own head.  Doesn't mean its not useful to talk with other
people but no one else is going to save you from whiteness.

5) Operate from self-interest.  If you don't believe it is in your own best
interest to confront racism - if you're doing it to "save the
underprivileged" then check yourself.  Racism hurts everyone including white
people.  A lot of people who want to sound good, to be down with the cause
(but only on a superficial level) do a lot of damage.
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