Waking Up to Whiteness
In the weeks since George Floyd’s murder, white people across the country have made commitments to listen more and to learn. These attempts at listening and learning are typically with regard to listening to the lived experiences of people of color, and to learning about our nation’s history of racial injustice. This is good and important work. Generally speaking, white Americans are vastly undereducated about race in America. What they are also undereducated about is the concept of white as a race and the need to also call in their whiteness — to explore what it means to be white and how white cultural norms influence every aspect of American society.
In a recent Times article, Savala Trepczynsk, executive director of the Center for Social Justice at UC Berkeley School of Law, shares what happens when she asks a room filled with 100 law students: “How do you know you’re white?” The question typically renders silence from the white students.
She writes, “White students often stop short, unable to identify and articulate the cultural, political, economic and historic clues that tell them they are part of whiteness, let alone what being part of whiteness truly means. I let the silence grow. It gets uncomfortable. Then I step in to suggest that this phenomenon — not the individual student — is a significant part of America’s problem with race. It’s a major part of how we arrive at moments like this one, where dozens of cities are convulsing with racial pain, state violence, and the shell-shocked gaze of many white Americans asking themselves how this can be happening again. (It is not a mystery to black people of color.)”
The general lack of fluency around race, especially their own, that is so consistent among white people is one reason why racism is so persistent in America. It is time for white people to call in their whiteness and to spend as much energy and effort peeling back the centuries of layers of harm this lack understanding, fluency, and education about whiteness has caused.
For twenty-five years, Debby Irving sensed inexplicable racial tensions in her personal and professional relationships. As a colleague and neighbor, she worried about offending people she dearly wanted to befriend. As an arts administrator, she didn't understand why her diversity efforts lacked traction. As a teacher, she found her best efforts to reach out to students and families of color left her wondering what she was missing. Then, in 2009, one "aha!" moment launched an adventure of discovery and insight that drastically shifted her worldview and upended her life plan. In Waking Up White, Irving tells her often cringe-worthy story with such openness that readers will turn every page rooting for her-and ultimately for all of us.
Read the Book
Whiteness Project is an interactive investigation into how Americans who identify as white, or partially white, understand and experience their race. The Project’s first installment, Inside the White/Caucasian Box, is a collection of 21 interviews filmed in Buffalo, NY. The latest installment, Intersection of I, is a collection of 23 interviews filmed in Dallas. This second installment features a cross-section of Millennials, ages 15-27, who share their views about race and identity.
Watch the Interviews
We know American public schools do not guarantee each child an equal education. Two decades of school reform initiatives have not changed that. But when Chana Joffe-Wal looked at inequality in education, she saw that most reforms focused on who schools were failing: Black and brown kids. But what about who the schools are serving? She turns her attention to what is arguably the most powerful force in our schools: White parents.
Listen to the Podcast
Peace & Conciliation Project’s Antiracism & Me community education program is designed to educate the white community so they may transcend the role of ally and assume individual and collective responsibility and accountability for creating an equitable and just society. While the program is grounded in the reading of specific educational texts, this is not a "book club."
Antiracism & Me dialogues are designed to bring about personal and actionable change.
Join us for the September 12 discussion of White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk about Racism by Robin DiAngelo.