Category Archives: White Fragility

Questions Skew Answers about White Privilege

At first, this seems like a really simple question: Do you believe in Santa Claus?

But scholars and researchers know that this question is actually a mine field of problems.

“Believe” is a problematic verb, and before anyone can answer or anyone can interpret the answers, we must all agree on what “Santa Claus” means.

Does “Santa Claus” mean a literal man who travels the world and crawls down chimneys to deliver toys? Or does it mean some historical “Santa Claus” who has become mythologized and represents a spirit of Christmas?

In other words, especially in polling designed to uncover better understanding of an issue or phenomenon, the questions asked and how the terms in those questions are defined (if at all) create the answers and thus shape the conclusions drawn from those answers.

Take for example Toplines and Crosstabs December 2021 National Poll: CRT & Race in America.

This poll gathers data on several aspects of the Critical Race Theory debates driven by Republicans and conservatives across the U.S. But the framing skews (and likely distorts) what people know, what people think, and what people believe about CRT and white privilege. Consider the following:

Two problems are created by the framing above. First, note how “white privilege” is defined for the respondents: “White people in the U.S. have certain advantages [emphasis added] because of the color of their skin.”

Notably during the Trump era, certain segments of white people who support Trump have been very vocal about rejecting the concept of “white privilege.” Typically, these white people point to white poverty and white failure to reject—with evidence, they think—the concept of “advantage.”

The question defining “white privilege” as an “advantage” very likely reduces the number of respondents expressing support for or nuanced understanding of the concept. And that framing is inaccurate.

“White privilege” is better defined as the lack of barriers that are race-based for white people.

When white people find themselves in poverty, it is rarely because they are white; when white people fail, it is rarely because they are white.

There is not pop culture rhetoric about “driving while white” or “jogging while white” because race is rarely the key factor in negative interactions for white people, notably interacting with police or other authority figures (or other white people).

Systemic racism manifests itself in pervasive ways for Black people in that being Black is often the key factor in life experiences for Black people. Black people do fail and suffer primarily because they are Black, and not because of their behavior or character.

White privilege is about an absence (lack of race-based barriers) and about being allowed to exist as if your race doesn’t define you. Black people do not have that opportunity; being Black is a state of perpetual awareness of being Black.

Unlike white people, then, Black people do experience existentially and systematically barriers that are race-based.

Describing “white privilege” as an advantage suggests guarantees of wealth or success that simply are not true—and thus easy to reject.

Framing “white privilege” as the absence of race-based barriers both better defines the concept and increases the likelihood that respondents can acknowledge that reality.

The second problem is the use of the word “beliefs” with CRT, which distorts and misrepresents CRT as a “theory.”

Similar to the jumbled discourse around evolution (people often claim “I don’t believe in evolution”), respondents are likely misled by the word “beliefs” since it implies the lack of empirical data and suggests CRT is simply someone’s beliefs—and not a carefully formulated theory based on rigorous scholarship.

CRT, as a scholarly theory, has a set of claims, or principles. The use of those words, “claims” or “principles,” provides, again, a fairer framing and should provide more valid data.

Together, these examples show how research erodes the validity (do the data and conclusions drawn reflect what they claim to reflect?) of a poll by the questions asked, the framing and defining of the key terms.

In the “CRT beliefs” data also note that the “white privilege” framing as an “advantage” is reinforced by the use of “enjoy”: “Whites Enjoy Certain Privileges.”

Creating a set of questions for polling requires statistical expertise, but also scholarly knowledge and experience. In this case, the poll itself seems poorly reviewed for framing in terms of fully understanding either “white privilege” or “CRT.”

Since the entire cultural debate around race, racism, white privilege, and CRT is being driven by dishonest actors and misinformed media, politicians, and members of the public, a valid poll of those topics requires accurate and nuanced clarity on the questions being asked and definitions of the terms being examined.

This poll is ambitious, but it is likely doing more harm than good for that debate.

Freedom and the Politics of Canceling Teachers and Curriculum

By mid-December of 2021, Matthew Hawn, a former teacher in Tennessee, will once again have his appeal heard after being fired for violating the state’s restrictions on curriculum:

The Tennessee General Assembly has banned the teaching of critical race theory, passing a law at the very end of the legislative session to withhold funding from public schools that teach about white privilege.

Republicans in the House made the legislation a last-minute priority, introducing provisions that ban schools from instructing students that one race bears responsibility for the past actions against another, that the United States is fundamentally racist or that a person is inherently privileged or oppressive due to their race.

Tennessee bans public schools from teaching critical race theory amid national debate, Natalie Allison

As Allison reported in May, several states across the U.S. have filed or passed copy-cat legislation aimed at banning the teaching of Critical Race Theory.

By October and November, the consequences of Tennessee’s law have moved from silencing and canceling teachers to attempts to cancel curriculum [1]:

The Tennessee Department of Education recently declined to investigate a complaint filed under a new state law prohibiting the teaching of certain topics regarding race and bias.

The complaint, the first directed to the state under the new law passed this spring, was filed by Robin Steenman, chair of the Moms for Liberty Williamson County chapter, a conservative parent group sweeping the nation. 

The 11-page complaint alleged that the literacy curriculum, Wit and Wisdom, used by Williamson County Schools and at least 30 other districts, has a “heavily biased agenda” that makes children “hate their country, each other and/or themselves.”

Tennessee Department of Education rejects complaint filed under anti-critical race theory law, Meghan Mangrum

Although the complaint was rejected, Mangrum noted, “The group detailed concerns with four specific books on subjects like the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s March on Washington, the integration of California schools by advocate Sylvia Mendez and her family, and the autobiography of Ruby Bridges, adapted for younger learners.”

A teacher fired for teaching Ta-Nehisi Coates, parents calling for bans on MLK and teaching about Ruby Bridges—these events are not unique to Tennessee, but they reflect a pattern of efforts to control not only teachers, but what students are allowed to learn and read.

Notable in these examples is that many of the consequences of legislation are canceling Black writers and key aspects of Black history; additionally, legislation and calls for book banning are targeting LGBTQ+ writers and topics.

Teaching and curriculum in the U.S. are being systematically and politically whitewashed.

One aspect not being addressed often is that political dynamic. Parents, political activists, and politicians are impacting who teaches and what is being taught in the context of a historical and current demand that teachers themselves remain apolitical, both in their classrooms and their lives beyond school.

As I have discussed often, teaching is necessarily political, and teaching as well as writing are necessarily types of activism.

For teachers, then, we must recognize that calls for teachers to be objective, neutral, and apolitical are themselves political acts. Currently, laws being passed and parents/activists confronting school boards are exercising their political power at the expense of teachers and schools—both of which are required to remain somehow politically neutral.

From historian/activist Howard Zinn to critical scholars such as Joe Kincheloe and to poet Adrienne Rich, we have ample evidence that taking a neutral stance is a political act that passively endorses the status quo and that silencing words is an act of canceling thought, eradicating ideas.

Zinn’s commitment to transparency as a teacher and activist is hauntingly relevant to the current political attack on teachers and curriculum:

This mixing of activism and teaching, this insistence that education cannot be neutral on the critical issues of our time, this movement back and forth from the classroom to the struggles outside by teachers who hope their students will do the same, has always frightened the guardians of traditional education. They prefer that education simply prepare the new generation to take its proper place in the old order, not to question that order [emphasis added]….

From the start, my teaching was infused with my own history. I would try to be fair to other points of view, but I wanted more than “objectivity”; I wanted students to leave my classes not just better informed, but more prepared to relinquish the safety of silence, more prepared to speak up, to act against injustice wherever they saw it. This, of course, was a recipe for trouble.

You Can’t Be Neutral on a Moving Train: A Personal History of Our Times, Howard Zinn

And Kincheloe confronted not only who is actually indoctrinating students but the imperative that teachers recognize teaching as inherently political:

Thus, proponents of critical pedagogy understand that every dimension of schooling and every form of educational practice are politically contested spaces. Shaped by history and challenged by a wide range of interest groups, educational practice is a fuzzy concept as it takes place in numerous settings, is shaped by a plethora of often-invisible forces, and can operate even in the name of democracy and justice to be totalitarian and oppressive [emphasis added].

Critical Pedagogy Primer, Joe L. Kincheloe

The great irony is that critical educators (often smeared as “Marxists”) are committed, as Kincheloe asserts, to a foundational concern: “Critical pedagogy wants to know who’s indoctrinating whom.”

The Orwellian named “Moms for LIberty,” then, by calling for canceling curriculum are in fact being “totalitarian and oppressive,” calling for not education, but indoctrination. To ban words and ideas is to ban the possibility of thinking, of learning:

The study of silence has long engrossed me. The matrix of a poet’s work consists not only of what is there [emphasis in original] to be absorbed and worked on, but also of what is missing, desaparecido [emphasis in original], rendered unspeakable, thus unthinkable.

Arts of the Possible, Adrienne Rich

A final powerful point is that many of these political acts to silence teachers and cancel curriculum are occurring in right-to-work states controlled by Republicans. Teachers not only are expected to be neutral, objective, and apolitical, but also work with a distinct awareness they have almost no job security.

Hawn fired in Tennessee simply taught a text and now is fighting for his career; the text in most ways just a year ago was considered non-controversial and even celebrated as Coates had attained recognition as one of the country’s leading Black voices.

During this holiday season at the end of 2021, teachers honestly have no decision about whether or not to be political. We are faced with only two political choices: conform to the demand that we take a neutral pose, resulting in endorsing whatever status quo legislators and parents/activist impose on schools; or recognize and embrace the essential political nature of being a teacher by actively opposing efforts to cancel teachers and curriculum.


[1] Twitter thread:

Being White Is a Handout

My 4.5 year journey as an undergraduate and the first five years teaching high school English were spent mostly in the Reagan era.

While this was many decades before terminology such as “fake news” or “post-truth,” I literally lived during those years a painful and now embarrassing conversion from white denial and ignorance (believing in reverse discrimination, for example) to racial awareness and seeking a life dedicated to racial equity grounded in my own awareness of white privilege.

I had been raised in racism and white denial that pervaded my home and community so when I returned to my hometown high school to teach, I felt compelled to help my students make a similar conversion as mine but not have to endure the stress of experiencing that growth as late as I did.

Reagan in part depended on bogus American Myths (such as bootstrapping and a rising tide lifting all boats) and thinly veiled racist stereotypes, such as the infamous welfare queen myth evoked by Reagan and Republicans with great effect.

No one called this fake news then, but I invited my students to investigate and interrogate these overstated and unfounded claims as we examined race through nonfiction in the first quarter of my American literature course.

That unit began with canonical American thinkers—Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, and Margaret Fuller—contextualized with Howard Zinn’s confrontation of the Christopher Columbus myth of discovering America. From there, we moved to race in the U.S. by reading and discussing texts by Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, W.E.B. DuBois, Marcus Garvey, and Booker T. Washington in order to emphasize the diversity of thought among Black leaders throughout the early and mid-twentieth century.

The culmination of the unit was anchored by a consideration of the life of Gandhi (linked to Thoreau and King).

What was my agenda in this unit?

The writing goal was to explore nonfiction writing, specifically argumentation. But I also asked my students to begin to form their beliefs about the world based on credible evidence and not cultural myths and stereotypes.

One brief activity I used, and continue to use, is to have students brainstorm what percentage of the U.S. they believed to be classified as white before asking them to identify what percentage of the world was classified as white.

In the 1980s, students living in rural upstate South Carolina tended to wildly miss these statistics in their guesses; then, about 70% of the U.S. was white, with about 12% constituting Black Americans. The world statistic really forced them to rethink race, and whiteness, since I had found a chart that portrayed about 1 in 10 people in the world being white.

These statistics created a great deal of disorientation for students even as I helped them recognize that about 4-5 out of 10 people in the world were Chinese or Indian (a context they had never considered).

One of the most memorable moments of these lessons over the years was a Black student who grew livid with me, calling me racist, because she entirely rejected that only 12% of the U.S. was Black.

Her anger was grounded in a similar experience I was highlighting for students in general; for many people, the U.S. looked then very white ( a gaze that allows people not to see that the world is not as white), but this Black student believed that the U.S. was fare more Black than it was because she was hyper-focused on SC, where 25-30% of the citizens were Black (significantly disproportionate to the entire country).

The anger and disorientation grew for my students as I asked them to research data on welfare; they discovered that the average person on welfare was white and that people on welfare tended to have fewer children than the general population—all of which contradicted the myths they had lived by, heard from their parents, and witnessed in the political propaganda of the Reagan era.

These teaching experiences with mostly rural white and Black students very much like me are now about three decades behind me, but I think about this teaching often—and it is discouraging.

It is discouraging because I watched and listened as Lindsey Graham and others refused to extend jobless benefits during the pandemic because he framed that as a handout, a disincentive for working.

It is discouraging because I am watching the move to forgive student loans begin to crumble against a similar mantra about fairness and the usual “handout” rhetoric.

There are two ways that people (mostly white) need to investigate the handout myth, just as my students confronted race and racism in the 1980s.

First, the arguments against student debt relief are grounded in misinformation and racism in similar ways that arguments against welfare have been since Reagan (and including the Bill Clinton era).

Just as antagonism against welfare by white people was rooted in false perceptions that it was a handout to Black people with lots of children, the specter of student loan relief being a handout to Black people cannot be ignored in white rhetoric against that relief:

According to the Department of Education, Black college graduates have nearly twice as much student loan debt as the typical white grad. The National Center for Education Statistics reports that the typical Black borrower owes 114 percent of their original student loan debt 12 years after graduating with a bachelor’s degree. White students, on the other hand, usually owe 47 percent of their original debt.

Not only is this crisis exacerbated by higher Black unemploymentwage disparities and the racial wealth gap, but loan companies charge Black students higher interest rates. So, Black grads have less money before they attend college; earn less money after college and have to pay back loans at higher interest rates.

Second, as Harriot adds, “There’s no such thing as a ‘government handout.'”

Student debt relief would address a failure of public funding, a lack of political will that decides how tax money is spent.

There is no shortage of money in the U.S. for social programs such as fully publicly funding K-16 education for all, but there is a lack of political will to allocate money for the common good as opposed, for example, more military spending or militarizing the police forces across the country.

Allocated tax money is not a handout since it is the pooled money of all Americans that then must be designated in ways that serve those Americans.

A final point that cannot be emphasized enough, however, is that those most enraged by anything they deem as a “handout” are mostly White conservatives who like my students before our lessons on race and racism have failed to interrogate the truth about their white privilege: Being white is a handout.

The white handout looks like this:

And these:

Closing the Race Gap
black unemployment
Black unemployment is significantly higher than white unemployment regardless of educational attainment | Economic Policy Institute
rich black poor white prison
Poor white kids are less likely to go to prison than rich black kids
racial-wealth-gap
The Asset Value of Whiteness: Understanding the Racial Wealth Gap

The anti-handout beliefs and rhetoric from white Americans is a painful paradox exposing the lack of awareness and active denial among white people.

Privilege is an unearned advantage, starkly displayed in the data above. But for many white Americans that handout of being white is invisible since they cannot experience life in any way other than white.

White privilege, the handout, is no guarantee of success or a perfect shield against pain and suffering (or even inequity), but struggling while white is almost always less severe than struggling while Black.

This discussion here, however, is not white bashing; I understand that white people have not asked for that advantage, but I also recognize that a great deal of white anger is grounded in an unexamined fear of losing the handout, of having to live in a world of racial equity—ultimately a fear of achieving the meritocracy many whites falsely believe exists.

If in fact handouts erode people’s work ethic, the ultimate paradox is that for the white people who believe that their white privilege, that handout, must be eradicated.

I, again, think about the hard lessons my white and Black students wrestled with in rural SC throughout the 1980s and 1990s; they often grew into smarter and kinder people. They always gave me hope.

That hope is weakening for me however under the weight of 70-plus million Americans choosing the myths, the lies, and refusing to investigate the evidence.

If handouts aren’t good or fair for America, then it is well past time to end the greatest handout of all, white privilege.

Bully

TV shows and movies throughout the 1970s and 1980s, if my memory serves me well, tended to fall back on a predictable and likely lazy portrayal of bullies; beneath their abusive and violent exteriors hid a deeply insecure but ultimately redeemable human.

In the real world, however, the United States has elected a bully and conman president. The first presidential debate of 2020, in fact, put that harsh truth on display as well as offering ironic proof of the power of white male privilege.

Donald Trump and Joe Biden demonstrated the extremely low bar for white men with wealth and power. As I watched the circus between the conman clown and cartoonish career politician, I thought about “no excuses” charter schools where mostly Black and brown students are compelled to make eye contact, walk in straight lines, and conform to the most rigid rules of civility and behavior.

The expectations for the weakest among us in the U.S. are infinitely higher than for the most powerful—as demonstrated by Trump’s bullying and Biden’s doddering.

Let me be clear, my concern about the Trump/Biden debate is not a both-sides complaint. While Biden is a deeply flawed candidate and person, Trump is in a deplorable class all by himself.

The ultimately irony of Trump’s bullying and blatant racism on display at the debate is that it comes on the heels of the Trump administration claiming that anti-racism education is indoctrination and Nikki Haley’s celebrated claim at the RNC that the U.S. isn’t a racist country.

As the exposed tax returns have confirmed, Trump is mostly a conman not a gifted businessman. But more significantly his art of the con depends on his faith in bullying, a faith built on decades of evidence that those tactics do in fact work—because people who can benefit from tolerating the orbit of Trump are more than willing to suffer and fuel his bullying.

Conmen and bullies cannot survive, however, unless we allow them to exist. While those TV shows and movies of my youth seem naive and unrealistic, they did often expose the power of confronting bullies in order to disarm them.

One way Trump has survived and thrived is because pop culture and the media have been complicit in his bullying and lies.

After the debate, for example, The Washington Post offered a headline noting Trump had depended in “false facts” because the mainstream media refuse to use the word “lie” just like the media continue to suggest that using the word “racist” when warranted is somehow disrespectful.

Here is a missed lesson from the debate.

Debates are formal and structured arguments, events based on decorum and mostly academic expectations for discourse, argument, and facts.

Trump has spent his entire life existing in an ideology outside the parameters of rules, laws, and ethics/morality. As has now been reported, for example, Trump considers those who have died in the military to be “suckers” and “losers.”

To Trump, anyone who plays by any rules is a sucker and a loser.

Functioning outside the expectations of decency has allowed Trump to lie, project, gaslight, and bully his way to celebrity status and ultimately the White House.

It isn’t that Trump is playing chess while everyone else is playing checkers (a characterization Trump would love to foster) but that Trump is stealing at poker while using a marked deck when almost everyone else refuses to admit that he is cheating.

For all his bumbling and loss of composure, Biden was correct to call Trump a clown, and despite the delicacies of proper behavior, to tell Trump to shut up. But most importantly, Biden hit the core of Trump by repeating that Trump cares only about Trump, and is willing to sacrifice anyone, including the U.S. public and even his own family.

Every Trump business scam is a monument to himself.

While it is true Trump is a racist, that likely sits inside a much larger fact that Trump considers everyone else to be suckers and losers, including his evangelical base (which he also mocks behind closed doors as he does the military).

There is no credible way to justify Trump as bully in chief, yet more than a third of the U.S. continues to support and even revel in his bullying.

Trump is a referendum on the American character, which is once again being exposed for its very worst qualities. The U.S. had to fight a war to end slavery, waited over 140 years to allow women to vote, and held out almost 190 years before acknowledging equality for Black Americans.

However, this is not an after-school special, and Trump is not redeemable.

The real question is whether or not the U.S. is redeemable, and I have my doubts.

Big Time Football: “angry white man society”

While Trevor Lawrence—probably the highest profile white Division I college football player in 2020—has become the face for the #WeWantToPlay campaign calling for a start to college football amidst a pandemic, the Colorado State University football program has been forced to reckon with a racially toxic culture, implicating their former coach and current assistant coach at the University of South Carolina (Mike Bobo).

The #WeWantToPlay campaign appears to be garnering greater media and public coverage, but the CSU controversy should not be ignored, and should not be examined as a culture problem somehow centered only at CSU or in the individual coaches named in that coverage.

Charges by Black players at CSU are powerful and damning:

Image

However, again, this is not about CSU solely or a few high-profile coaches; this is about “closed systems” and a normalized culture of abuse “hidden in plain sight”:

Image

Black athletes describing the culture of their football program as “an angry white man society” can and should be amplified to describe the entire system of big time football in the U.S. Start by considering the numbers:

Div I head coach race football
NCAA Demographics Database

The power-base of college football is significantly skewed toward white men, disproportionate to percentage of white men in general U.S. society as well as disproportionate to the demographics of men who play the sport:

In mass media and popular culture, sport is often presented as a level playing field where the most skilled and committed athletes rise to the top. The racial composition of American football is often presented as evidence of the supposed meritocracy of sport. While 13.2 percent of the U.S. population is black, 47.1 percent of NCAA Division I football players and 68.7 percent of National Football League (NFL) players are black.

White Americans hold the vast majority of power and wealth in the U.S., skewed significantly toward white men. Yet, white Americans tend to struggle with concepts of systemic inequity (racism, sexism, etc.) that depend on understanding the invisibility of white privilege for white people and the key statistical concept exposed above, “disproportion.”

Even as the killing of George Floyd by a police officer has reignited awareness and public protests about police violence being racist, this movement has not silenced or erased the “but police shoot and kill more white people” response, echoed by the current white nationalist POTUS.

For people with power, then, grasping data about disproportion is often a paradoxical experience (Simpson’s Paradox) because of white denial and white fragility:

The people making this argument don’t dispute the fact that police kill Black people at disproportionate rates. A Black person in America is roughly three times more likely than a white person to be killed by police. But according to this argument, the disparity is rooted in crime rates and more frequent encounters with police, not racism. In 2018, the rate of arrests for violent crime was 3.6 times higher for Black people than white people. So actually, the argument goes, Black people are underrepresented as victims of police killings, after controlling for the number of encounters.

Big time college football is both a reflection and perpetuation of the larger systemic inequities (such as racism and sexism) throughout the U.S.

But the current charges against coaches and the program (culture) at CSU are not merely a condemnation of CSU or the former and current head coaches. These charges are historical and current features of sports across the U.S., starting when athletes are children and running through the very small percentage who make sports their livelihoods.

The mythology that coaches (overwhelmingly white men) are building character in their athletes and are nearly universally “God-fearing, good family men” is one of the ugliest lies in American culture.

Sports in the U.S. is never about building character and certainly isn’t in the service of God (despite the veneer of Christianity that is layered onto every aspect of scholastic sports in the U.S.), but about winning and the wealth and aggrandizement of coaches and the institutions associated with those teams at the expense of the athletes (often disproportionately Black bodies):

“After watching George Floyd being humiliated before he died, it triggered in me the times I saw or heard about certain coaches humiliate student-athletes and the fact that not going public made me complicit and compromised my integrity,” said the 65-year-old Stewart, who is white. “I also became conscious that racism is about being a bully. In that encounter with the Black student-athlete, Coach Addazio had this attitude that he’s bigger and more powerful than the student-athlete. The student was enslaved.”

The day-to-day normalized behavior of coaches—yelling, berating, swearing, threatening—would be viewed as bullying and abuse in virtually all other situations where there is the sort of power, age, and racial imbalance as there exists in sports.

The abrupt and sustained pauses created by the Covid-19 pandemic have the potential for not only the needed reckonings echoing around many of the foundational aspects of American culture but also long-overdue revolutions in those institutions, including how we educate young people as well as how young people are invited into and coached through sports (since in the U.S. formal education and sports are nearly inextricably intertwined).

White men coaches are reinforced at every turn that they are “good men” despite their behaving as bullies, despite their racist and sexist ideologies mostly veiled or closeted behind the secrecy of male bonding and locker rooms:

A member of CSU’s football staff said Addazio has downplayed the COVID-19 health threat and Black Lives Matter movement, which have dominated public discussion in recent months, calling both a “distraction from football” to be managed.

“He’s smart enough not to come right out in public and say it, but he thinks BLM (Black Lives Matter) is a crock of s—, and that has come out in meetings,” said the football staff member who wished to remain anonymous. “When we had the incident with the player (a Black CSU football player was held at gunpoint by a white man while working in Loveland), the players wanted to march with shirts that had BLM on it, make posters and say chants. He told them if you are going to do that we aren’t marching.”

CSU and the University of South Carolina likely have some hard decisions to make, and probably are hoping to sweep all this under the rug while people struggle against the avalanches of crises surrounding them—from the Covid-19 pandemic to the rumbles of a 5.1 magnitude earthquake at the North Carolina/Virginia border.

I suspect these universities will issue a few more statements, probably conduct some investigations and also create reports months down the line; there may be some very mild consequences for the coaches named (but their already earned millions will not be touched, of course).

The white coaching shuffle, in which mediocre white men fail upward while stepping on those Black bodies for leverage, will continue, however.

The messages coming from Black football players at CSU are not just about CSU, or big time college football, or the most disturbing aspects of coaching; the messages coming from Black football players at CSU are about systemic inequities pervading all aspects of the U.S.

Big time college football is an important subset of American culture, a point being fumbled by Lawrence calling for #WeWantToPlay.

The U.S does not need major college football to return to normal and resume as soon as possible in the coming weeks, the fall of 2020.

A full and complete unmasking of big time college football would be welcomed, and should precede any efforts to return to our contemporary and slightly sanitized gladiator event that was always about sacrificing some Other bodies.

UPDATE

ACC players speak out against Trevor Lawrence 

See Also

Dabo Swinney and the White-Man No-Apology Apology

The Christian Veneer: On Dabo Swinney and Donald Trump

Confronting Aaron Hernandez, Big Time Football, and Toxic Masculinity

The United States of Hypocrisy: Scholastic Sports

College Athletes’ Academic Cheating a Harbinger of a Failed System

Coach K, Sports Fandom, and More on My Redneck Past

I Swear: On “Grit,” Adult Hypocrisy, and Privilege

 

What White Folk Want

KEEP AMERICA PURE

WITH

LIBERTY PAINTS.

(Invisible Man, Ralph Ellison, p. 196)

What do white folk want?

Rigid accountability for other people.

License for “me” (the white view of the world is rugged individualism masking white nationalism/supremacy).

And “whiteness” never to be named, never voiced—only allowed to be embedded as an understood in “human” (“There is only one race, the human race”) or “lives” (“All Lives Matter”).

This last point is vital for the first two, in fact, and appeared recently on a Twitter exchange:

Reich is recognized as a Democrat, a progressive or liberal associated with Bill Clinton.

Yet Reich offers what he intends as a racially woke Tweet, only to expose the power of whiteness not to be named. Reich, of course, means “Black people weren’t even considered people by white people on July 4, 1776,” but omits the white context because in the U.S. whiteness is a given.

Even or maybe especially to, as Martin Luther King Jr. described, the “white liberal who is more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice, who prefers tranquility to equality.”

The mythologies masquerading as history leave out that white people came to the Americas to escape a specific religious persecution of them—in order to establish their own brand of persecution with them in charge.

The eventual rebellion from England, again, was not about universal human freedom, but about restarting white/man dominance on stolen land:

Let’s put our heads together
And start a new country up
Our father’s father’s father tried
Erased the parts he didn’t like (“Cuyahoga,” R.E.M.)

July 4, 1776, represents another independence for white men, the wealthy a bit more free than others. And, like Reich’s Tweet, the Preamble has a glaring omission: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all [white] men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

That independence for white men begun in the summer of 1776 also included their freedom to enslave humans as well as freedom to rape the enslaved.

But that use of “freedom” is also misleading because with the Declaration we witness a country established in the first two points above—accountability for other people who are not white or male, and license (not freedom) for “me.”

Well into the next century, the U.S. begrudgingly ended enslavement, and not until the next century did women earn the right to vote. Four decades after that, civil rights were acknowledged for Black people (again begrudgingly as well as with violent resistance and symbolic protests often by white political leaders in the South).

Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness have come quite a bit later and in our recent past for LGBQTIA+ people.

However in 2020, to understand the U.S., as James Baldwin repeated throughout his career, you can still expose whiteness by its relationship to Black people and Blackness; for example, the Reich/Moore Tweets.

What do white folk want?

Black Americans who assimilate into the unspoken whiteness called “American.”

But in that assimilation, there can be no confronting of whiteness. Certainly no dismantling.

White folk want Tiger Woods or Michael Jordan, not Muhammad Ali or Colin Kaepernick.

White folk want Ben Carson or Clarence Thomas, not Barack Obama (a master assimilator who, however, rose too high).

White folk want the passive radical myth of Martin Luther King Jr., only tolerating MLK until he rose too high and had to be sacrificed to make that myth possible, not Malcolm X or James Baldwin.

White folk want white Jesus, not historical Jesus.

White folk want O.J. Simpson and Bill Cosby, not Dave Chappelle.

White folk want Ta-Nehisi Coates, not #BlackLivesMatter.

Fit in to get in but don’t rock the boat.

Along with the unspoken given of whiteness and the essential rugged individualism myth to maintain white privilege comes the need for holding other people accountable and clinging to white license.

The frailty of whiteness has been exposed by Covid-19, in fact, even as the virus disproportionately ravages Black Americans—a painful real-life science fiction allegory of U.S. racial inequity.

The anti-face mask movement is white denial, white privilege, and white fragility in real time acknowledging very little about individual or public health but demonstrating that white folk want license, not universal human freedom.

Driving intoxicated is not freedom, it is license.

Public smoking is not freedom, it is license.

Refusing vaccines is not freedom, it is license.

Not wearing a face mask is not freedom, it is license.

But whiteness requires that the world be seen only as “I” and never “we” because “individual freedom” is a powerful code for white license.

White Americans are panicking because they sense a loss of white privilege, of white license.

The sort of white license that allows you to murder Black people but have your name emblazoned on public buildings, ground your political career in racism but have your name emblazoned on public buildings, lead a military revolt against your country to protect the license to enslave people but have statues built in your honor, or boast about grabbing women by the “pussy” but become president of the U.S.

It is 2020 and what do white folk want?

Rigid accountability for other people.

License for “me.”


Confronting DiAngelo’s “White Fragility” in the Time of #BlackLivesMatter

For a book on racism written by an academic, Robin DiAngelo’s White Fragility has experienced a level of popularity over the last two years that is interesting, if not surprising.

With the #BlackLivesMatter movement re-ignited after the killing of George Floyd by a police officer, DiAngelo’s book has also experienced another significant boost in readership, primarily by white Americans seemingly having a long-overdue come-to-Jesus moment with their whiteness and complicity in systemic racism.

On social media, however, blog posts and Twitter threads have warned “don’t read White Fragility” and “don’t worship DiAngelo.” These warnings come from Black scholars and advocates for anti-racism activism, creating a powerful and important tension in that fight to eradicate white privilege and racism in the U.S.

There is also an insidious challenge to DiAngelo and White Fragility that comes from and speaks to white denial and white nationalism; this denial is grounded in a dishonest use of “science” calling into question DiAngelo’s statistics, methods, and scholarship.

This rebuttal is ironic proof of the existence and resilience of white denial and racism. It has no credibility and is a distraction.

Black voices, however, challenging the centering of DiAngelo in the conversation about race and racism must be acknowledged by anyone—especially white people—claiming to be anti-racism.

Having been raised in a racist home (with parents who embraced white celebrities such as Elvis Presley whose celebrity erased Black entertainers) and community throughout the 1960s and 1970s, I have documented that my journey to awareness about white privilege, white denial/fragility, and systemic racism has been grounded in Black writers and scholars.

When I first read DiAngelo’s essay, I found nothing new or surprising, except that a book existed and that people seemed to be reading it.

If anyone had wanted to understand white America or white fragility, James Baldwin unpacked all that often, for example in 1962’s “Letter from a Region in My Mind”:

quote 8
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My reading and scholarship on race, whiteness, and racism began in the late 1970s and early 1980s, including Malcolm X, James Baldwin, Alice Walker, Audre Lorde, Ralph Ellison, Richard Wright, Langston Hughes, Carter Godwin Woodson, bell hooks, Paulo Freire, Martin Luther King Jr., Nikki Giovanni, Frederick Douglass, Nina Simone, Claude McKay, Zora Neale Hurston, W.E.B. Du Bois, Bayard Rustin, and others.

I cannot emphasize enough the essential role social media has played in my evolving racial awareness through my being able to connect to an invaluable wealth of Black and multi-racial scholars, academics, writers, and creators whose voices drive my own commitments to anti-racism: Natalie Hopkinson, Jose Vilson, Chris Emdin, Trina Shanks, Camika Royal, Theresa Runstedtler, Nikki Jones, Mariame Kaba, Robert Jones Jr., Mychal Denzel Smith, Andre Perry, Ernest Morrell, Seneca Vaught, Michah Ali, Nikole Hannah-Jones, Rhondda R. Thomas, Jay Smooth, Greg Carr, Imani Gandy, Lou Moore, Simone Sebastian, Yvette Carnell, Asadah Kirkland, Venus Evans-Winter, Roxane Gay, John Ira Jennings, Jacqueline Woodson, Cornelius Minor, Stacey Patton, Jessica Moulite, Chenjerai Kumanyika, Brittney Cooper, Lisa Stringfellow, Angela Dye, Sherri Spelic, Bree Newsome Bass, Zoe Samudzi, Eddie S. Glaude Jr., Jonathan W. Gray, A.D. Carson, Terrenda White, Clint Smith, David E. Kirkland, Dereca Blackmon, Alondra Nelson, Teju Cole, Colin Kaepernick, Morgan Parker, Tressie McMillan Cottom, Crystal Fleming, Eve L. Ewing, Johnny E. Williams, DeMisty Bellinger, Imani Perry, Josie Duffy Rice, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Etan Thomas, Ijeoma Oluo, Natalie Auzenne, Ja’han Jones, Howard Bryant, The Root, Jemele Hill, Ibram X. Kendi, Nnedi Okorafor, Jason Reynolds, Jamil Smith, Valerie Kinloch, Michael Harriot, Bomani Jones, Rashawn Ray, Walter D. Greason, Hanif Abdurraqib, Sarah Thomas, Joshua Bennett, Marc Lamont Hill, Sarah J. Jackson, Clarkisha Kent, Robert Randolph Jr., Peter Darker, Tanji Reed Marshall, Sil Lai Abrams, Sami Schalk, Bianca Nightengale-Lee, Jessica Owens-Young, Andre M. Carrington, Christena Cleveland, Christopher Cameron, Val Brown, Kim Pearson, Kim Parker, Nicole Sealey, Margaret Kimberley, Malaika Jabali, Lisa Sharon Harper, Benjamin Dixon, Tade Thompson, Maria Taylor, Terri N. Watson, Zaretta Hammond, Shea Martin, and Kim Gallon.

There simply is an enormous wealth of Black voices historical and contemporary that white people should read and listen to, often easily accessible online, in fact.

DiAngelo is finding a place in mainstream and fragile America in a similar way that Ta-nehisi Coates and Michelle Alexander have, the latter two Black writers having also received criticism from Black scholars and public intellectuals for appeasing whiteness even as they confront racism.

I have included DiAngelo’s book as a choice reading in my courses as I have introduced students to Coates and Alexander—with caveats and in the context of required reading from critical Black writers, thinkers, and scholars.

White privileged students have admitted openly in class sessions that they finally listened to DiAngelo, even though they have heard and resisted claims of white privilege and systemic racism before.

DiAngelo’s White Fragility and her celebrity from that work fit into what I have called the paradox of centering whiteness to de-center whiteness (a paradox of which I am a part).

DiAngelo represents centering whiteness, acknowledging racism and Black suffering only in proximity to whiteness, and Black voices given space because of white approval; these all work against anti-racism and are in fact racism.

Simultaneously, and paradoxically, DiAngelo represents the importance of and power in white-to-white confronting of and naming racism as well as white denial and fragility.

Yes, we should all feel skeptical about celebrity status and capitalizing from racism, just as we should resist monetizing and career-boosting that surrounds poverty studies as well as poverty workshops and simulations.

White people must not worship DiAngelo or her book, and no one should be recommending that white people read only White Fragility or read it instead of Black voices.

My students who have been introduced to DiAngelo know that dozens of Black writers, thinkers, and scholars made the case against whiteness and racism over decades starting at least a century ago (in terms of the works I offer as required reading).

I take the warnings of “don’t read DiAngelo” from Black scholars very seriously, and find compelling without qualifications the alternative offered—read Black voices, listen to Black voices, and believe Black voices on their own merit.

I also think there remains a place for DiAngelo’s work—even as it has one foot solidly in centering whiteness—as long as it is an element of de-centering whiteness and eradicating white privilege and racism.

My critical commitments make me concerned this caveat is a mistake, yet another concession to that white fragility which DiAngelo is naming.

Is a contextualized place for DiAngelo necessary as white people continue to wrestle with racism? I think that is likely true.

“Don’t rely on only white voices about whiteness and racism” is the goal, the ideal.

Since we find ourselves in the midst of the paradox of centering whiteness to de-center whiteness, at the very least white people committed to anti-racism must reject calls for reading only DiAngelo or reading DiAngelo instead of Black voices.

White celebrity and white authority can no longer be allowed to rise on the backs and instead of Black labor and experiences, as that whiteness occupies spaces that erase or bar Black voices.

There simply is no place left for approaching the work of anti-racism while tip-toeing around the delicacy of white people.

Ultimately that is the sort of white fragility we must recognize, name, and check.


Recommended

You Want a Confederate Monument? My Body Is a Confederate Monument, Caroline Randall Williams

The Paradoxes of Dismantling Racism and White Privilege

If you just clicked on a link and are reading this, you are experiencing one of the paradoxes of dismantling racism and white privilege because by writing this and making it available across the Internet, I have centered my whiteness and the voice of (yet another) man.

As a white man, I simultaneously have an ethical obligation to dismantle racism and white privilege (and gender inequity) that sits in contrast to another ethical obligation that I (to cite a group of white men) need to STFU and not occupy the spaces where Black and women’s voices must be centered and embraced.

My scholarship and public work have for many years now been focused on class, gender, and race inequity, especially as they intersect with formal education.

Any credibility in addressing racism and white privilege that I have earned comes from my critical unpacking of my own whiteness and of my racist heritage in my home and community of birth, but I also have manufactured a greater level of racial awareness by reading and listening to Black voices—notably Black artists/writers and Black scholars.

My teaching seeks always to center Black voices and the voices of women, which I have documented by detailing who is included in my syllabi.

However, there I stand in front of my classes, centered by my role of authority, my whiteness, and my being a man with the additional weight of almost 6 decades.

Two situations, one recent and one a year or so ago, have pushed me to continue to wrestle with the paradoxes of my activism dedicated to dismantling racism and white privilege.

More immediately, I have been disturbed to see a blog post discrediting Robin DiAngelo’s White Fragility being shared across social media, often by Black academics and friends. This challenge to DiAngelo’s work, I discovered, comes from a source that is neither credible nor reliable.

The other situation came over a year ago when I was invited to speak on whiteness and racism at a university (in a series of programs that also included DiAngelo before I spoke there).

What these two contexts have in common, I think, is one of the most difficult paradoxes of dismantling racism and white privilege: centering whiteness to de-center whiteness.

If and how any of us dedicated to anti-racism work engage with DiAngelo’s concept of white fragility is itself a problem and a paradox.

I added DiAngelo’s popular book to the choice reading selections in my foundations of education course recently, and the book proved to be popular and effective with my students who tend to be white, privileged, and conservative (or from conservative homes).

Many students confessed that they went into the book not believing in white privilege or systemic racism but that DiAngelo had opened their eyes and changed their minds.

These students also read For White Folks Who Teach in the Hood…and the Rest of Y’all Too by Chris Emdin as well as essays by James Baldwin and Ralph Ellison; they are introduced to bell hooks and Maxine Greene as well.

But there is always a risk of centering white works such as DiAngelo’s since that can imply that Black voices and experiences with racism are valid only when verified by white witnesses or when in proximity to white witnesses.

Black advocates for anti-racism embracing the “don’t read DiAngelo” is coming from, I think, recognizing that risk and from their own experiences where only white voices are allowed in formal education. White witnesses to confirm their lived experiences and white proximity giving credibility to the moment-by-moment stress of their being Black in the U.S.

It is a powerful and important question to ask why white people do not find this credible itself, without white confirmation:

To be a Negro in this country and to be relatively conscious, is to be in a rage almost all the time. So that the first problem is how to control that rage so that it won’t destroy you. (James Baldwin from “The Negro in American Culture,” Cross Currents, XI [1961], p. 205)

As I opened in this post about my white man’s voice, DiAngelo is in fact not only occupying spaces where Black voices are not being read or heard, but also profiting on anti-racism, the capitalism paradox of dismantling racism and white privilege.

Activism, scholarship, and the Market are invariably going to overlap in the U.S., and even as we worship at the alter of capital, we also become skeptical when activists and scholars gain celebrity status or simply earn money from other people’s inequity.

It is inexcusable in the U.S. to ignore that racism has always fueled capitalism and profited almost exclusively white people.

I remain resolute that the primary obligation of anti-racism work dedicated to dismantling racism and white privilege belong to white people. But that drives the paradox of centering whiteness and can perpetuate the muting or erasing of Black voices.

The paradoxes of white people doing anti-racism work cannot deteriorate into fatalism, however.

For white people, awareness of racism, white privilege, white fragility, and the paradoxes of dismantling racism and white privilege as a white person is a first step often wrapped in the paradox of centering whiteness to de-center whiteness.

For far too long, there have been far too many white-only spaces, and the work of anti-racism by white people must seek shared spaces among all races, not just creating but allowing through white absence enough space so that voices do not have to compete and so that whiteness does not justify or regulate whose voice ultimately matters.

Confronting White Responses to Racism: De-centering Whiteness and White Fragility

I grew up in the 1960s and 1970s with daily contact with what Ta-Nehisi Coates labels as “oafish” racists. These white men of my childhood and teen years were brazen and arrogant in their racial slurs and embarrassingly ignorant philosophies about race.

One oafish racist calmly explained to me that Black people were the result of Cain mating with apes after being cast out of the Garden of Eden. His “it’s in the Bible” racism was common in my South Carolina life.

But this is not about some racism in the past. Oafish racists remain throughout the U.S., not some vestige of the Old South. Social media and the Trump presidency have allowed and even welcomed overt racists into the American “both sides” approach to the free press and free speech.

However, the specter of oafish racists allows white people to keep whiteness and white fragility centered while refusing to acknowledge the greater danger posed by whiteness throughout the twentieth century and in 2020; as Martin Luther King Jr. confronted:

A leading voice in the chorus of social transition belongs to the white liberal…. Over the last few years many Negroes have felt that their most troublesome adversary was not the obvious bigot of the Ku Klux Klan or the John Birch Society, but the white liberal who is more devoted to “order” than to justice, who prefers tranquility to equality….

The White liberal must see that the Negro needs not only love, but justice. It is not enough to say, “We love Negroes, we have many Negro friends.” They must demand justice for Negroes. Love that does not satisfy justice is no love at all. It is merely a sentimental affection, little more than what one would love for a pet. Love at its best is justice concretized. Love is unconditional. It is not conditional upon one’s staying in his place or watering down his demands in order to be considered respectable….

The white liberal must rid himself of the notion that there can be a tensionless transition from the old order of injustice to the new order of justice…. The Negro has not gained a single right in America without persistent pressure and agitation….

As the U.S. experiences a revitalization of the #BlackLivesMatter movement in the wake of repeated police violence toward Black citizens, the killing of George Floyd as a notable flash point, white Americans are daily confronted with the recognition of racism, white privilege, and racial inequity.

White nationalists and racists have been especially emboldened for years now under Trump, but white people who claim to be invested in eradicating racism must also be invested in eradicating white privilege while working to resist the language of white fragility and centering whiteness.

A policeman’s knee on the neck of George Floyd, a state-endorsed execution lasting 8:46, demands a response from white people.

Consider these white responses to racism:

  • “Not me.”
  • “Not all white people.”
  • “Not all police.”
  • “I don’t see race.”
  • “I have Black friends.”
  • “What about Black-on-Black crime?”
  • “If they would just do what the police said, they would not have been shot/killed.”
  • “I am not a racist, but …”
  • “What about reverse racism?”
  • “I don’t have white privilege because I was born poor.”
  • “I didn’t own slaves, and slavery ended in the 1800s.”
  • “Heritage, not hate.”
  • “Taking down monuments and renaming buildings and schools is erasing history.”
  • “The Civil War was fought over states’ rights, not slavery.”
  • “There is only one race, the human race.”
  • “All lives matter.”
  • “What about affirmative action? What about Miss Black America? What about Black colleges?”

These white responses are grounded in two racist sources: white fragility and centering whiteness.

Racism is not just anti-Black; racism is whiteness.

Any white person responding to racism with an “I” statement is requesting that they and their whiteness (and delicate sensibilities) remain centered when the focus should remain on racism and its consequences for Black citizens.

To understand the centering of whiteness we need only to confront monuments and building/schools named after historical leaders with racists ideologies and practices.

De-centering whiteness looks like the statues of the Little Rock Nine, the young Black people who suffered the consequences of racism:

White fragility (“Not me!” and “Not all white people”) responses are ironic in that they unconsciously admit that centering whiteness has been the norm of their lives and their defensiveness is a fear of losing that centering. No white person can be allowed to continue to cling to their whiteness if racism is to be eradicated.

Racism and white privilege are inseparable, and that means by simply being white, all white people are moment by moment benefitting from white privilege and racism even as they did not create them, even as they ideologically denounce them.

Being white means being complicit in racism, which means to be white is to be racist.

Anti-racism language and practices, then, are not when a white person says “not me” or “not all white people.” There can be no “but” response to confronting racism.

As with all equity work, good intentions are not enough.

Policing shooting in the back and killing Rayshard Brooks in Atlanta rests most recently in the wake of civil unrest after the killing of George Floyd.

The site of the killing of Brooks, a Wendy’s, has been razed, and the centering of whiteness seeks to keep the public gaze on the outcomes of the racist killing—property as a marker for whiteness and rioting as code for racist stereotypes—and not the racism that precipitated these events.

Less dramatic is the response of white fragility in language that makes how white people feel and respond more important than the racism.

A different dramatic is pop culture where Blackness is elevated only in relationship to centering whiteness—The Help, Green Book, The Matrix trilogy, To Kill a Mockingbird.

To be white and anti-racism is to acknowledge whiteness is always complicit in racism. To be white and anti-racism is to work to de-center whiteness, to resist the language of white fragility and respectability politics, and to eradicate white privilege.

There is no room in anti-racism for “not me” or “not all white people.”

Here are resources for understanding white privilege, centering whiteness, white fragility, and respectability politics:

Racism scale copy
rigid refusal

A Reader for Confronting Whiteness, Supporting #BLM: “How Do I Open Their Eyes?”

A former student and current college student sent me an email with the subject line “How Do I Open Their Eyes?”

Their story is one that resonates with me since they have found themselves quarantined during Covid-19 “with my parents and neighbors, all of which I would say are very religiously right leaning.” During the more recent re-energized #BlackLivesMatter movement, they have experienced yet another challenge as they confronted those around them to support #BLM, but “was unable to get a word in because I was simply outnumbered by conservative white men.”

This is a journey that fits into this racism scale that details the challenges facing white people who genuinely seek to rise to the level of allyship/abolitionist:

Racism scale copy

The work of dismantling racism includes confronting whiteness and white privilege in order to eradicate both—and this is the work of white people in confrontation with white people.

There is a sizable faction of “conservative white men” who will not listen, will never listen, and will never move beyond their white fragility and white denial.

But racism cannot be overcome in a state of fatalism.

Here then is a reader, some resources for doing the work by white people and for white people who aspire to allyship/abolitionist: