Friday, January 24, 2014

What did it cost me?

Yesterday I posted the link to my interview with Tiffany Rae Reid on Mixed Race Radio.  Here it is again just in case you missed it: Interview on Mixed Race Radio.

Toward the end of the interview, Tiffany asked me an interesting and unexpected question: what has my teaching and writing about racism cost me? She felt that it was courageous for me, a white person, to speak out about contemporary racism and white privilege.  I answered something about a loss of intimacy with white friends who don't agree with me, because that was the only thing I could think of at the time.

Did you ever have one of those, "I wish I'd said" moments?  I'm having one now, and here's what I wish I'd said in response to Tiffany's question:

It's cost me nothing. I've lost nothing. I can't see how it's taken any courage at all for me to teach, speak, and write as I have about race.  To the contrary, I've gained a dissertation topic that led to a PhD.  (I can't say I've profited financially, because -- true confessions here -- we haven't sold enough copies of The R Word to even cover the publishing costs.  This is ok with me, because that's not why I wrote the book.)

When I speak or write about racism, people think I'm courageous. They think I'm noble and unselfish. The whites I'm teaching or speaking to may not agree, but they don't doubt that my motives are good.  I lose nothing. But the truth is, when a person of color says or writes the very same things, often whites respond in a different way. They may assume the person has a "vested interest" and a "bias" in speaking out against racism, and so they distrust both the person and the stance the person is taking.  I've had this happen in classes many times, when teaching Tatum's work.*

One more example of the invisible way that my whiteness is at work for me.

*Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?"

1 comment:

  1. Hadn't been over here in a while. Thanks for the post and your honesty!