Saturday, June 12, 2010

The R Word

Sociologist Michael O. Emerson poses an interesting question: what’s the emotionally charged racial slur for white people? Is there an N-word equivalent for whites? There is such a word, Emerson concludes, but it’s not what you might think. It’s not “honky,” or “cracker.” It’s the R word, and in this case, R is for Racist. This is the word that makes middle class, open-minded, tolerance-preaching, politically correct whites like me cringe. “A student called me racist,” I once heard a white teacher say, “and it felt like someone kicked me in the stomach.” Why such a strong reaction? Because this woman cared about racism. She considered herself to be a fair, non-prejudiced person – colorblind, even. Calling her a racist, putting her in the same category as the ignorant Archie Bunkers of this world (or worse), was devastating because it challenged her opinion of herself as someone who has risen above the racism of past generations. And, thankfully, racism is a thing of the past.

Or is it? Archie Bunker may be long gone, but many (myself included) believe that we are far from being a “trans-racial” society. Everything changes, though, and racism has changed, too. This blog is about that change. It’s about racism in the forms it takes today, forms that can’t be understood by whites until we begin to think about what it means to be white. So this blog is about whiteness and white privilege, and about how, as scholar Michelle Fine says, “white rises to the top through seemingly neutral policies and practices.”

Why this blog? None of these ideas are new. People have been writing about whiteness and white privilege for decades now. However, in parts of my world (the world of a teacher educator in a small, mostly white, evangelical college) race in general and whiteness in particular are not exactly everyday topics of conversation. In fact, in this part of my world, the word “race” is hardly used, as if it is in some way distasteful – “ethnicity” seems to be the euphemism of choice. This blog is my attempt, for better or worse, to have an open, honest discussion about race among people who might not normally do so – my friends, peers, students, and anyone else interested. It’s an opportunity to talk about race and whiteness without fear of being called “the R word,” because calling names never helped anyone.


Michael O. Emerson, The Persistent Problem, Christian Reflection: Racism, Baylor University, 2010, p. 11-18.

Michelle Fine, Witnessing Whiteness, Off White: Readings on Race, Power, and Society, 1997, p. 57-65.

No comments:

Post a Comment