"We should not dwell on race too much. It can be dysfunctional. Just do your work and meet your targets. The color of the person does not matter. It is irrelevant," he said.
But is it really? There are a lot of race assumptions hidden in the few pearls he offered above. The need to move on and not to dwell - who does that kind of thinking serve?
And work? How many white people are racially defined by their relationship to work?
Whiteness has its escape mechanisms all set up to hover above the race essentialism that is used to ascribe value to racism (having the historical power to do so).
A lazy white person or a white rapist, for example, is not an indictment on whiteness or the white race.
An 'Eastern-dressed' person, on the other hand, could be treated like a terrorist and removed from a plane for no other reason but being associated by racist design (racism). See for example 'Dressing Like a Terrorist".
A white man will never be asked to get off a Kenyan Airlines plane because some of his racial ancestors were genocidal murderers on the continent and elsewhere.
The white man and woman are individuals. Exempt from the kind of racializing that defines/confines the Other of the racial kind.
At the end of my time at PSU a white colleague I respected started teaching a course on White Studies from inside of the Department of Black Studies where I had spent 7 years.
He asked me to recommend his class and I did because I knew it would be about deconstructing whiteness in much the same way that I had been engaged for most of my time there.
I did not hear much about the class until a week or so ago when a former student of mine at another institution came across the commentary below and forwarded it to me (don't you just worry about Google? ;)
The student, a young woman I remember by her initials (not shown here), wrote the following paragraphs in a class blog at the end of 2008:
Reflective Assignment 1Reading through these paragraphs made me realize that not too long ago I was never off-guard for too long in conversations or interactions that induce race.
White studies… white studies… white studies… what the f**k is up with that???
I am a Black studies major so when first hearing the concept of “white studies” in my Racism class this past fall, I was thinking to myself, what the heck is white studies and why the hell am I learning about it. Isn’t white studies just basically considered to be every other class outside of Black studies classes in academia?? Well I came to find out that this was definitely part of white studies, but that it is so much more. After my professor went on to explain about the other aspects of white studies, including white privilege, I started to realize that I already know waaaaaay too much about white studies, thanks to the melanin in my skin. White studies is my everyday life. It is the white woman who moves to the back corner of an elevator when I step on; it is the white man who looks at my body when I walk into a club; it is the white students who sit next to me in my classes everyday, stunned to hear that I had a private school education, yet also questioning how I paid for it… white studies is my day to day living.
So when I found out that there was going to be a class on White Studies, I decided I had to see what it was all about. Ridwan Laher, the professor who taught my Racism class (and is probably the most influential teacher I’ve had in my life), suggested to a fellow student and myself, that this class would further develop some of the issues and discussion we had in our class. Now the one thing about Ridwan’s class that I truly loved, was the fact that people expressed their raw emotions. People weren’t trying to be “politically correct” or worry about being judged of their lack of knowledge or opinions. Yeah some of the discussions were definitely heated and there was some tension, but we worked through it as a group of diverse individuals, and not a single person left there feeling like they had been attacked. Ridwan also wasn’t afraid to bring up “touchy” subjects, for he felt that discussing those things was the only way people could grow.
Now in the third week of our White Studies class, I wonder if I am going to experience the same passion and raw feelings that I experienced in my Racism class. Our class is full of people who seem way too guarded, and worried too much about saying the wrong thing. And as I sit there in class I think to myself, do I want to drop this class?? It is not anything of what I expected. I found it interesting that in one class, I was asked to play the devil’s advocate in order to get people to open up and start talking about things, yet in another class we are told not be “devil’s advocates”. WTF is up with that?? I do agree with the fact that we shouldn’t start stuff, just to start it, but in a class where NO ONE speaks up about things, or is afraid to vocalize their thoughts, the conversation has to get started somehow.
I believed then as I do now, that whiteness must never be allowed the option to define race spaces by exempting itself from its inherent bias and f*cked-up history.
I allowed the interaction over lunch today because I have social graces at times and disinterest in most personal issues of the white kind most all of the time.
But whiteness is so much more than just white people now and the struggle terrain is very different and challenging indeed.
At Salary Hell this week a person whose desk has authority over me and mine took it on herself during a meeting to explain to me what "emotional intelligence" meant in the workplace.
As she ummmed and ehhed through her checkout stand literature she stopped to say emphatically that "this is a new way of getting the workplace to work efficiently and colleagues to work right."
"You must mean work white," I said to her with tables of colleagues giggling in my direction.
"You need some of that emotional intelligence training," she replied looking flustered and angry.
The content and questioning that was apparent to me and a few others in the room was totally lost on the managers and their attachments who have BMWs to pay for and a taste for the Sushi lifestyle that has brought so many to confusing working right with working white.
I bet the young lady in the paragraphs above will not be so easily fooled and for that reason there is still hope that resistance will keep more than just a few of us from being reductive subjects of whiteness and White Studies.
I really miss the classroom :0)