Refocusing the White LensApril 3, 2017 |
Dear White Colleague:
Given the world events that have occurred over the last few centuries and especially during the last few months, I am asking you all to devote more time to not only researching rural America but actually doing anti-racist work there. I am asking that you take up activist research agendas that include taking anti-racist action to isolated White community enclaves. I am asking that you actually do the work in those rural and White communities and work tirelessly — much like you do as “allies” in communities of color.
I am also asking that you spend less time writing about Black and Brown folks for publication and spend more time writing about White people and White racism. In fact, I would also remind you that the most “prolific” White scholars have plenty of publications and also have the resources and White skin property and privilege to find those spaces at a moment’s notice. The presses make sure of that, because most are comprised of predominantly White faculty and routinely publish your expert opinion about Black and Brown issues instead of publishing the works of people of color (POC) about POC.
Colleagues, I am asking, who is doing the work in isolated White enclaves in America? What are the names of and where are the critical White organizations that are fighting for social and racial justice? Have you joined them and posted your hard work and devotion to them on Facebook and other social media? It seems like you tend to do that for all of the Black and Brown organizational meetings to which you attend or hold membership. While I am sure those White organizations exist, I am asking that you actively work with them and keep us, people of color, apprised of your progress in putting an end to White supremacy. In fact, invite us to one of your meetings just as you attend every one of the many meetings held by organizations of color.
White scholars, please pay attention to all scholars, including the ones right there on your campuses who are in need of critically conscious White people intervention. Your colleagues of color are tired of engaging in conversations with fragile White colleagues, administrators and staff. We need your critical White lens and dispositions to help other older individuals who suffer from the ill repute of White fragility.
Also, could you please make sure that you are loud when you see and hear racism, because when you are silent around non-critical White colleagues, you are supporting racism. When you inform us about what you have heard from racist colleagues, you are perpetuating racism. You are also taking years away from our own life expectancy by informing us about “things” that we have to worry and stress about (racial battle fatigue). Did you know that hearing about terror and vitriol about oneself raises blood pressure? That is one major reason why Black folks are so stressed out and die from heart-related illnesses. When you listen and do nothing but inform us, it tells us POC that you are aiding and abetting racists and racism.
There are a number of other “things” that I would like to ask of you:
- Blacksperts, Latsperts and now BLMsperts thank you for supporting the efforts of Black and Brown folks, but again we need you to work in White spaces where racism proliferates. Please refrain from colonizing and gentrifying Brown and Black work. It is disrespectful. The message that you send to POC is that we are just not that good at it, writing about us, that is. You must do it — sometimes in consultation — but most of the time alone simply to move your agenda along. And since your work is accepted by the mainstream — the one you own and in which you thrive — and reference as Tier one [which is racist] — you typically become “famous” through a missionary positionality [saving colored folks]. Be clear that you are participating in building a stronger system of White supremacy and institutionalized racism. I am sure that you don’t mean to do so, but what you convey to the world, and specifically to POC, is that you are just better at knowing us and “doing us”[missionary positionality].
- Since you are ally scholars, sometimes known as “activist scholars”, you might think about talking to those presses and letting them know that they, too, are perpetrators of institutionalized racism. BTW, we have reviewed editorial boards of many presses. Did you know that few comprise Black editors? One very famous Ivy League press has no Black editors, and they proudly post the pictures on the website. (It resembles a certain presidential cabinet.) Now that is disrespectful. Please let them know that Black and Brown folks can do this work, too. (You know, some of us are articulate. See bullet point 6.) Oh yeah, also remind them that we actually have lived experience as Black and Brown folks.
- We realize that doing the work alongside POC is hard work, but it is also safe and self-congratulatory. In this safe “colored” space you get to refer to yourself as an ally. (See Cleveland’s Hayes paper, The good White people medal.) We live on the front lines everyday and take pride and care in doing the work that POC have to do and are expected to do for communities of color. We have carved out a space to do that work among POC. The hard spaces for you, where we wish you would do your anti-racist work, are the ones that are resistant, where the racially fragile shiver when they hear the word ‘privilege’ and certainly quiver to the notion of “White supremacy.” Can you imagine where we might be today, months after November, if you had kept up with the racially tiring work of ministering anti-racist work to folks who live in fragile, White enclaves? And, think about what the academy might look like if you actually devoted some of your attention to writing about Whiteness.
- Please quit receiving awards for everything that you do. Look at who receives them and count the number of people of color who have been participating in and doing the very same things years in advance. Ask why the pool of honorees is always so White? Ask why you need so many accolades and why you really receive them? Hashtag theotheracademysoWhite. Please know that you are a critical cog in sustaining the wealth gap. You see, the more awards and accolades that you receive — specifically for “doing us” — the more you are benefiting from racism financially. You see, your pay is attached to a structurally racist fiscal system with fringe benefits.
- Please quit congratulating us for being resilient. What we hear is that we have survived yet another day of racial attacks, lived through battle fatigue, and whipped microagressions in the butt. You see, resilience is a response to racism, like a rapid heart beat is a response to fear. Did you know fear increases the flow of adrenaline? It kicks in to motivate movement. Racial microagressions do the same thing. Eventually either response, if perpetual, kills people. Surely you know that POC die from stress related illnesses; It is now commonly called racial battle fatigue. “Resilience” is one of many responses to racism.
- Lastly, please quit referring to POC as articulate. That is racial code that conveys to POC that we “sound and string words” together that sound “smart” like you. It conveys exceptionalism to some norm. It says most of the time POC are not articulate, that to be smart is not the norm. It also means that you have decided what it means to be “smart.”
I know that you are open to change and critique and, that you, too, want to live in an anti-racist world. If you could just start with this list, I would appreciate it.
Just one of many critical and woke Black scholars who live Black experiences daily.
Dr. Robin L. Hughes is interim executive associate dean in the School of Education and Faculty Athletic Representative at Indiana University.