Pain and Privilege: Kathleen Collins’s Commentary on Colorism

The late Kathleen Collins’s collection of short stories titled “Whatever Happened To Interracial Love?” was published in 2016 by Granta books, and is a treasure trove of memoiristic stories, written with whit, humor, sorrow, and personal experiences from Collins’s own life. The narratives focus on the intersection of race, family, friendships, and love. In the words of Slate journalist, Diamond Sharp, in her review of Collins’s collection, “Kathleen Collins was a black woman who lived at a time, quite simply, when black women’s stories were not valued.”  (Sharp,  2017) Rendering the collection an important archival culmination of the sentiments of mainly Black women from a bygone era. Sharp comments on the canonization of her work, but highlights the importance of the publication of her stories as a preservation of African American life during the span of the civil rights movement. Born in 1942, Collins reached adulthood in the late fifties, placing her adult years in a period defined by activism, ra

cism, in addition to social and political turbulence. Collins’s narratives are necessary now more than ever, as they reflect the sentiments of Blacks from past generations, and highlight the impacts of the racial complexities amplified throughout the fifties and sixties, that still impact the Black community and American society at large, today. 

Racial complexities like colorism, have plagued American society since their conception. Colorism is depicted as the cause of a family’s disintegration in Collins’s narrative titled, “The Uncle.” It is among the sixteen stories featured in the collection, and it captures colorism and its effects in past generations. In an article titled, “Dark Skin Pain, Light Skin Privilege: Nine Solutions to Dismantling Colorism in the Black Community,” written by Suzanne Forbes-Vierling in the online periodical, Medium, Forbes-Vierling responds to research on the origins and the effects of colorism throughout history and today. She outlines the found

ations of colorism and its conception in white supremacy and the slave trade. (Forbes-Vierling, 2017) Forbes-Vierling also details the continuation of colorism’s divisive infiltration into American society and evolution throughout history, as well as its implications today. (Forbes-Vierling, 2017) The article informs Collins’s “The Uncle” as it highlights the foundational concepts of colorism, and how these concepts impact individuals within the Black community. Forbes-Vierling and Collins highlight the implications of the effects of colorism, such as light-skinned privilege, and discrimination. These implications had a significant impact within the Black community in Collins’s time, as the turbulence brought by the civil rights era created prominent social changes within the Black community. Colorism continues to run through the veins of society, as it has become a fundamental, thoughtless, foundational practice among Americans. However, it’s impact within the Black community, in addition to the

 perpetuation of its ideologies is perhaps most fascinating and complex.

Collins’s “The Uncle,” just begins to unravel colorism and its complexities as it follows a Black family’s unravelling due to its omnipresent pressures and effects. The story charts the life of the narrator’s uncle, “a former athlete of olympic stature” and a light skinned black man, a “double for Marlon Brando.” (Collins, 15) But after a lifetime of trail and error, long bouts with depression and anxiety, and a fractured marriage to a woman who is also light skinned, and demonstrates an apathetic and shallow attitude, he merely gives in to his sorrow. “cried into his pillow until death took him away.” (Collins, 19) Through her careful crafting of the narrative, Collins incorporates lexical diction, employs tone and contradictions, as well as motifs. This is what forms the narrative into a window into the lives of Blacks from decades past, and renders “The Uncle” an important commentary on the intricacies of racial complexities like colorism that continue to impact the Black community.

Colorism acts a catalyst for the destruction of familial relationships within “The Uncle.” Collins demonstrates the decisive nature of colorism and it’s effects through the narrator’s initial presentation her aunt and uncle. In the exposition of the narrative, she describes her childhood memories of the summers she spent with her little sister at her aunt and uncles home. In her description of them in their younger years she comments on their fairness and beauty. Collins uses glorifying diction such as, “exquisite,” “idolized,” “stunni

ng,” and “magic” to characterize her experiences and perceptions of them as whimsical and almost perfect. (Collins, 15) However, Collins counters this positive portrayal of the aunt and uncle as she blatantly includes their flaws. There is mention of their severe financial insecurities, but the narrator revels in the fact that they are “broke yet so handsome and beautiful, so lazy and generous.” (Collins, 16) by including this contradiction, Collins highlights how the narrator valued her aunt and uncle’s beauty to such an extent that it took away from the severity of their problems. In selecting diction that glorifies the aunt and uncle’s appearances – specifically “stunning” and “idolized” – Collins demonstrates the connection between their fair skin and the narrators initial perceptions.(Collins, 15) The idolization of their features demonstrates the value placed on their complexions. In highlighting the si

gnificance of their complexions to the centrality of their characters, Collins demonstrates the prevalence placed on their exteriors by the narrator, and reveals the connection between their fair skin and their perceived beauty.

This illustrates the implications and effects of colorism in a broader context, as it speaks to the way in which whiteness equates to beauty – this perception is not new. Forbes-Vierling highlights how light skinned slaves were preferred, due to their appeasing features, and traces the roots of this system of discrimination back to white supremacy. Forbes-Vierling illuminates how this “color based acceptance/ rejection continuum is still internalized by African Americans over 300 years later.” (Forbes-Vierling, 2017) Collins highlights these foundational concepts of colorism in the opening paragraphs of the narrative. Rendering the emphasis placed on the complexions and exteriors of the aunt and uncle as a significantly valuable quality, in a society that subscribes to the constructs of colorism. This highlights the importance of Collins’s story in the broader context of colorism in society, as the narrative demonstrates the impacts of the issue in a past era, but also demonstrates the la

ck of change, as colorism still impacts the black community in the United States.

The issue that Forbes-Vierling highlights with colorism is that there is rarely discussion about those “inside our [the Black] community that perpetuate it.” (Forbes-Vierling, 2017) The aunt is presented as a prime beneficiary of colorism throughout the narrative, as she expresses a sense of privilege, due to her understanding of the value and privilege her complexion affords her. Collins demonstrates the way in which the aunt perpetuates colorism through the narrators shift in tone and age. Preceding her description of her happy and light hearted childhood memories, she describes the removal of the “hallowed filter” that shrouds her memory. (Collins, 17) She realizes, in her adult years, that her aunt and uncle were far from perfect. Rather than characterizing them as beautiful despite their flaws, she realizes what their beauty truly means and how it becomes a detrimental factor in their lives. She realized her aunt was a “lazy, spoiled woman who thought her fair, almost-white skin would save her.” (Collins, 17) Collins carefully selects racial diction to frame this pivotal moment of revelation for the narrator and the reader. In selecting “almost-white” Collins illuminates the awkward social placement of the aunt. (Collins, 17) Her complexion renders her a part of the Black community, but simultaneously places her in an elevated medium. She is in a position of privilege due to her fairness, which she is aware of and takes advantages of, this is demonstrated through her shallow and apathetic attitude. But she is not a white women, she cannot transcend any racial barriers, she can only accept the privilege that oth

ers assign to her complexion and use that as leverage over other members of the community. This exemplifies the perpetuation of colorism within the Black community that Forbes-Vierling highlights.

The aunt’s perpetuation of colorism demonstrates the normality of the issue of colorism in Collins’s time and today. The lack of intervention and conversation around those who perpetuate colorism is highlighted in Collins’s narrative and by Forbes-Vierling’s article. In highlighting this issue, both Collins and Forbes-Vierling demonstrate how colorism continues to infect the Black community, resulting in detrimental social impacts. This discourse between Collins’s narrative and Forbes-Vierling’s article, demonstrates how the issues form a bygone era are still relevant today.  An article by Claire Fallon, from the online publication, The Huffington Post, responds to the importance and relevance of the themes in Collins’s collection, in an article called Whatever Happened To Interracial Love?Asks Q

uestions We’re Still Trying To Answer.” She highlights how the collection demonstrates the “tantalizing unfulfilled promise of a “melting pot,” an interracial or even a post racial society, remains a preoccupation many years later, and, again, it has resulted in a painful disappointment.” (Fallon, 2016) Collins’s work demonstrates the lack of social change from her time to the present. Her work highlights the prevalence of racial complexities like colorism, and the continuation of these issues in today’s society. Highlighting that the “questions we’re still trying to answer” lie within the lack of conversation and agency in solving the issues that divide Americans.

The perpetuation of colorism is as relevant now, as it was in Collins’s time. Collins demonstrates how it has a drastic impact on the family’s dynamic, as it cau

ses the aunt and uncle’s relationship to deteriorate and influences the uncle’s life long struggle with depression. This familial deterioration is demonstrated through Collins’s use of setting and motif. The narrator initially depicts the aunt and uncles’ bedroom as an enchanted place, where the four of them “would lie there for hours, laughing and hearing stories.” (Collins, 16) However upon returning to their house after her uncle’s death the bedroom is depicted in a much different light. The bed where the narrator, her younger sister, and her aunt and uncle spend hours in throughout their summers, became a “monument” to the uncle’s “perverse pursuit of humiliation and sorrow.” (Collins, 20) Collins uses the bed a subtle motif, only mentioning it twice, however it is used as a means to express how the aunt and uncles relationship has deteriorated, and has changed the dynamic of the family. In characterizing the bed as a “monument” it demonstrates how the bed once stood as a place of gathering and togetherness – even though the aunt and uncles’ relationship had n

ever been explicitly portrayed as perfect – it was still a place where the narrators childhood took place and where significant memories were made. (Collins, 20) After years of depression and the lack of cohesion between the aunt and the uncle, the bed becomes a memorial to the uncle’s sadness that consumed him. This subtle motif highlights how colorism and their complexions destroy their lives and their marriage. The aunt perpetuates it as she benefits from it, whilst the uncle’s relationship with colorism is far more complex. The narrator comments on the “blunt humiliation of his skin, with its bound-and-sealed possibilities” in the last moments of the narrative. (Collins, 20) she highlights the limitations his complexion imposed on him. The limitations that he was unwilling to struggle with. He was “so refused to overcome his sorrow as some affliction to be transcended.” He didn’t want to fight it. He had no desire to stand up against the limitations and his own inhibitions that he let sorrow consume him instead. These last moments in the narrative highlight how the aunt was able to use her complexion to gain privilege, but the uncle could not bear to struggle with the trials and tribulations of the complex discrimination that plagued him within his own family, and throughout his life.

“The Uncle” is a harrowing narrative, but it is important. It acts as a historical preservation of an era long past and immortalizes the sentiments of Blacks towards the intricacies of the racial complexities amplified by the civil rights movement. “The Uncle” just scrapes the surface of colorism, whilst it certainly explores the intricacies of the issue, there is more exploration to be done. Additionally, the narrative preserves a social commentary from a bygone era, but could easily be a social commentary on colorism today. In reading Collins’s narratives from the past, we seem to be peering more into the present. Whilst the narrative presents the issue of colorism, I also think it presents the solution. It shows us our mistakes, and misconceptions, it shows us where we went wrong and ignored it, continued to ignore it, until we finish the story and arrive back to reality, where we ask our selves as readers, what has changed?

Op Ed

Works Cited:

Collins, Kathleen. Whatever Happened to Interracial Love? Granta Books, 2018.

Forbes-Vierling, Suzanne. “Dark Skin Pain, Light Skin Privilege: Nine Solutions to Dismantling Colorism in the Black Community.” Medium.com, Medium, 14 Oct. 2017, medium.com/@suzanneforbesvierling/moving-forward-with-radical-action-nine-solutions-that-the-black-community-can-adopt-to-dismantle-8edfb15917cb.

Sharp, Diamond. “Our Minds are Intricate” Slate Magazine, Slate, 7 Feb. 2017, www.slate.com/articles/arts/books/2017/02/kathleen_collins_whatever_happened_to_interracial_love_reviewed.html.

Fallon, Claire. “New Book Asks Questions About Race & Gender We’re Still Trying To

Answer.” The Huffington Post, 2 Dec. 2016, www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/whatever-happened-to-interracial-love_us_5840aee7e4b09e21702ddb0f

Colorism in Kathleen Collins’s “Whatever Happened To Interracial Love?”

 

“Whatever Happened to Interracial love” Granta 2016 is a compelling collection of short stories written by the late Kathleen Collins. Published in 2016,  the collection features stories written by Collins throughout her life. The narratives focus on the intersection of race and varying subjects such as family, gender, friendship and relationships. The story titled “The Uncle,” is centered around the intersection of race and familial relationships, and speaks to the impact of colorism within the Black community. Colorism is defined as a system in which individuals place a higher value on light skin and European-esque features, and lower value on dark skin. “The Uncle” is written from the perspective of the nice of a failed track and field athlete. She recalls her memories of him and chronicles his life as she saw and remembers it. She describes the relationship between her uncle and his wife, and describes how their contrasting complexions – hers being fair and his being dark – results in their contrasting attitudes towards life, as the aunt expresses a sense of privilege ( afforded to her by the lightness of her skin) resulting in her laziness, and the uncle feels a sense of inadequacy ( due to the confines of his dark complexion) resulting in his overwhelming depression. Collins’s portrayal of this relationship illuminates the significance of the impacts of colorism within the Black community. Collins demonstrates the sense of privilege felt and exercised by the aunt, which not only perpetuates colorism and its effects within the community, but simultaneously forces the uncle to remain in a limited position, as the color of his skin dictates his privilege within his family, the black community, and on a larger scale, society.

The narrator of “The Uncle” – the niece – introduces her aunt by reminiscing of her beauty. She depicts her aunt as “exquisite”, a perfect product of “mixed breeding” meaning “her skin was the palest white imaginable, her hair back and silky, her features keen.” She then goes onto remark how she and her sister “idolized” both their aunt and uncle for their good features. (Collins, 11) Collins utilizes the introduction of the characters to emphasize the significance of colorism within the text and within the relationship between the aunt and the uncle. Collins employs the use of carefully selected diction in order to subtly implement the significance of colorism to the aunt’s character. Collins uses the phrase “mixed breeding” as it connotes pro-creation for the sake of achieving a desired result, rendering the aunt’s appearance a  preconceived, predesigned, blueprint for privilege. 

The aunt’s sense of privilege comes from the racial dynamics in the United States at the time the story was written. Collins wrote the stories from the collection throughout the sixties and seventies meaning “The Uncle” was written during the civil rights movement. In this context, the phrase “mixed breeding” highlights the way in which the aunt’s features give her the ability to identify as a black woman but receive and exercise the privilege of a white woman, allowing her to ascend in society at a time when African American’s were fighting for equality. This not only demonstrates the significance of colorism within society, but simultaneously highlights the impact of colorism on the aunt and uncles relationship as she is able to ascend in society, and he is bound and confined by his complexion. Through Collins’s careful selection of diction she defines the aunt’s character as well as the role her appearance plays in her relationship with her husband. Furthermore, collins’s craft enables her to speak to the socio-cultural influences that surround the characters and the narrative all within a single phrase.

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Works Cited:

Collins, Kathleen. Whatever Happened to Interracial Love? Granta Books, 2016.

Post Colonial Governments And Their Forgotten Peoples

Malaysia and Singapore, two nations embracing multiculturalism within the perimeters of a post colonial mindset. Both nations exhibit a post colonial mindset in their government structure. This can be referred to as racial governmentality, and is defined as a pressing issue for Malaysia and Singapore by Goh and Holden in Race and Multiculturalism in Malaysia and Singapore (2009). This ideology results in the lack of recognition for minorities living within Malaysia and Singapore, and allows the majority ethnicities to thrive. Through the examples provided by Goh and Holden, the forgotten people of Malaysia and the issues they face are exemplified. 

Racial Governmentality is defined as a system that allows one race – amongst others within a nation- to thrive whilst the others are left without recognition, representation, and very few resources. Goh and Holden highlight the origins of racial governmentality in Malaysia by explaining the way in which the British segregated the population socially, economically and geographically. The Chinese were “placed as commercial middlemen”, whereas the Malay’s were “confined to the fields” and Indians “imported as municipal; and plantation laborers”. (Holden, Goh. 5) Goh and Holden highlight this societal organization as important pre-text to explaining the way racial governmentality operates today. This organization and separation of races highlights the post colonial mindset  that Influenced this social separation and categorization. This organization lead to the “hardening of racial categories” (Holden, Goh, 5) which is what contributes to Malaysia’s current system of racial identification. Malaysian citizens have the option of identifying as Chinese, Malay, Indian or Other. This system of organization excludes the mired of other ethnicities that inhabit Malaysia, specifically the native peoples of the land – the Orang Asal. The exclusion of the Orang Asal within Malaysia’s system of identification highlights the lack of recognition of indigenous peoples – a expected effect of colonial and post colonial attitudes. The marginalization of the Orang Asal exemplifies the significance of racial governmentality and its roots in colonialism as Malaysia gives priority to other ethnicities, even over the native people of the land.

Goh and Holden’s points on racial govermentality illustrate the everlasting impacts of colonialism and exemplify the meaning of a post colonial society through their analysis of Malaysia and Singapore’s establishment and organization. Furthermore, Malaysia’s system of identification highlights the way in which racial governmentality operates and results in the oppression of other races.

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Works Cited

Goh, Daniel P.S. and Holden, Philip. Race and Multiculturalism in Malaysia and Singapore. New York, Routledge, 2009.

Lingering Memories, From Vietnamerica

Flipping through the pages of GB Tran’s novel, Vietnamerica (2010) You’ll see colorful spreads and complex panels, layers of images one over the other, creating an epic illustration of one man’s life. These busy and bright pages, are separated by single pages of smoke. Large illustrations of smoke rising from incense or a cigarette. Within the billowing plumes Tran illustrates, he encapsulates memories within in them, in small panels inside these plumes. Indicating a flashback to the reader, and highlighting the lingering and fleeting nature of memories – like smoke.

Tran first introduces this element when reimagining Gia Boa’s parents in their youth. He illustrates their young and smiling faces between images of their current selves and even younger, frightened versions of themselves. The bright colors of the in the panels depicting their happy young selves, overpower the darker colors around it, and signify the fondness and the clarity of these memories. In rendering these memories from the smoke on incense, Tran connotes the sweetness and fondness of these memories, as he associates the reflection of these happy moments, with the sweet smell of incense. In using smoke to encapsulate these memories Tran highlights how distant they are as smoke will linger but eventually disappear only leaving the sweet smell of incense behind, like the sweetness of distant memories.

Tran also encapsulates darker moments from the past within plumes of cigarette smoke. In using the smoke that billows off the tip of Gia Bao’s father’s cigarette to depict and encapsulate his memories of post war Vietnam, Tran connotes a sense of bitterness. These memories linger like cigarette smoke, as they are potent and pungent and linger much longer that the sweetness left by incense.

In combining illustrations of memories within plumes of smoke from incense and cigarettes, Tran indicates flashbacks to readers in a repeated format. Furthermore, Tran also combines the power of sight and smell by connecting the images from the characters memories to the sweet and bitter sent of incense and tobacco. These sensory oriented elements enhance the text as it gives multiple layers of meaning to the captions, and highlights the complexity of these memories and the impact that they have on Tran’s characters.

Works Cited:

Tran, Gia Bao. Vietnamerica. New York, Villard Books, 2010

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Caroline Berezin

Identity, Unchained

We are only as strong as our weakest link. In Kamila Shamsie’s novel Home Fire (2017), she explores the way in which a fragmented and broken identity can wreak havoc on ones self and their relationships with others. One of the main characters in the novel, Parvaiz, delves into his Muslim Identity, although he is British and considers him self a Muslim and a Londoner, the exploration of his islamic identity and his understanding of the islamic state brings him closer to his father, affords him a sense of freedom from the doubts he has never confronted, but tears him away from his family. He looses the sense of security he once felt with the duality of his identity and allows his Muslim identity to overtake his British identity, leading him to make life altering decisions.

As Parvaiz builds a bond with Farooq, a member of an extremist group he begins to feel closer to his father and gain an understanding of the significance of his Muslim identity. Upon entering Farooq’s apartment Parvaiz finds himself chained and waterboarded, as a means to simulate the torture his father had to endure. After Farooq frees him form he chains and lets Parvaiz leave he feels a sense of peace and solace despite the physical pain he has endured. He feels closer too his father, and feels a yearning to pursue a career in the Islamic state for it gives him a sense of connection to his father, and gives him the feeling of brotherhood and security. On his return home he notices the sound of a “wedding ring against a yellow hand rail” which Shamsie likens to “chains unlinking.” In likening the sound to “chains unlinking” Shamsie highlights the impact of the ordeal Parvaiz has endured, but simultaneously uses the imagery created by the disassembly of chain links to connote the sense of freedom Parvaiz has gained. He feels free from doubt as he has come to understand more about his father, but he also feels free from uncertainty about his identity. He embraces the muslim identity he had kept locked away out of fear, and he had suppressed his faith with his British identity, as he had never explored his connection to Islam because of his father and because of the way in which he felt persecuted in British society. Whilst this metaphor signifies a significant revelation for Parvaiz, it also symbolizes the close bond between him and his sisters being broken. As his revelation and the breaking of chains foreshadows his disassociation from his siblings when he leaves England to join the extremist group his father was a part of.

Shamsie’s use of this metaphor in conjunction with the use of foreshadowing highlights the way in which Parvaiz’s identity takes him from a whole man, to a fragmented and broken man. Like a chain, it is only as strong as its links. In the convergence of his two conflicting identities, his newfound understanding for his islamic identity breaks him apart from his British identity, and separates him from his sisters who embrace both identities as one, rather than two conflicting halves. Shamsie demonstrates the impact of conflicting identities throughout the development of Parvaiz’s character, and uses her craft to highlight the detrimental impact of conflicting identities.

 

By Caroline Berezin

Works Cited

Shamsie, Kamila. Home Fire. Riverhead Books, 2017.

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Race : The Elephant In The Room

 

Why don’t we talk openly about race? I think this image presents just a few reasons why. But within the history of the united states, race is subject that is barely explored in depth, whether it be in the media or between friends in conversation. It is hard to talk about race, and it is also difficult to understand the real reason why. Claudia Rankine’s collection of poems in her book, Citizen: An American Lyric (2014), explains and presents exactly why peopler so afraid of these conversations, and she does this without any of the frilly poetic elements you would expect from an collection of poems. Rankine is to the point, and states bluntly why, without needing to soften the blow – because it is time that we recognize this deafening silence and tune into the static, white noise that has been the soundtrack of the American life for centuries.

Within the opening of Citizen: An American Lyric (2014), Rankine includes a poem that exemplifies the difficulty of having conversations about race. She frames this issue by addressing the reader directly and inserting them into a conversation between a black and a white friend, allowing. The reader to choose who they align with. Through this, Rankine formulates her poem into a personal experience for the readers and furthermore forces them to think about their own interactions, and their own shortcomings or obstacles within racial discourse.

Rankine introduces the concept of one’s “self” and ones “historical self”. “Self” meaning the way in which one views and presents themselves aside from their race, and “historical self” meaning the way in which one is labeled categorized or perceived due to the historical context of the color of their skin within American history. Rankine’s use of diction in relation to the convergence of a black and a white persons’ “historical [selves]” is both broad and specific, but through this duality, Rankine creates a moving statement within the text that pinpoints the difficulty of racial discourse.

“However, sometimes your historical selves, her white self and your black self, or your white self and her black self, arrive with the full force of your American positioning”

The use of broad diction in reference to the phrase “American Positioning” forces readers to pause and think about the impact of the writers choice. What is my position? Where does my historical self put me? The word position has several different meanings. When we think of position we often think of a literal place in which exist, where we literally stand. Or, we think of position in terms of advantage or disadvantage, where we stand compared to others. Rankine’s choice of diction brings to light all of these implications and definitions and forces readers to confront that their “American positioning” will never be defined by their “self” but by their “historical self”, because race in America will always be at the root of all interactions, friendships, schools, institutions, and governments. It forces readers of all ethnic backgrounds to acknowledge that they are physically positioned in a nation that is designed to oppress, and that they are either in a position of advantage or disadvantage.

Rankine’s choice of diction is a small yet central component to the piece as the vague nature of the word forces them to confront themselves, but simultaneously the bluntness of the statement and connotations that are aroused demonstrate exactly why there is a fear associated with racial discourse. People are afraid – especially white people – are afraid of realizing the position that was built for them. And minorities, specifically African Americans in the case of the poem understand this position yet have to live in a nation that will not acknowledge this injustice aloud.

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Caroline Berezin

Works Cited

Rankine, Claudia. Citizen. Graywolf Press, 2014. (Book)

Kindergarten Culture Day

Remember culture day at school? When people would bring in different food as a means of representing and educating others on their nationality. It was honestly a beautiful time, celebrating our different heritages through food. But the problem is, we’ve never grown out of this tradition. It seems that today, our conversations about race as a nation, never penetrate deeper than what you would expect at a kindergarten culture day. Seeing White, by John Biewen and Chenjerai Kumanyika, and So You Want To Talk About Race By Ijeoma Oluo comment on our nations inability to talk about the real issues regarding race in the United States. Together the podcast and the book bring to light the reasons why people are afraid to have these conversations, and together they create a discourse about how we dress race, and how we should be addressing race.

I’ve included this image just to bring us all back to that time in our lives when we all ate delicious foods made lovingly by our friends mothers, only to touch upon the superficial beauty of multiculturalism.

Isn’t it beautiful how we all coexist together under this glorious flag that represents us all and unites us in freedom. But isn’t it also beautifully naive that we value this faux sense of togetherness in order to coexist but allow racial formations and projects to continue to create a gaping divide in society.

Both Oluo and Biewen ease the readers and listeners into their discourses, as both stress the significance of race as a difficult subject to talk openly about. Both create a relaxed and comfortable dialogue between the readers, and listeners, and the content. By creating this casual yet serious tone, listeners and readers feel invited and welcomed to discuss these taboo subjects. I think that these conversations are essential in todays social climate, but people are too afraid to have them. This is why our nation is stuck in the mind set that we can educate ourselves through superficial activities like culture day. Oluo and Biewen package the information they are sharing to make it more “user friendly” but without diluting the potency of the discourse.

When listening to the first episode of the podcast, Turning the Lens, I took note of the fact that Biewen mentioned his own whiteness several times, and eased himself into the topic of discussion with the help of his co-host Chenjerai Kumanyika. Through easing himself – as a white man – into this conversation highlights the err of caution around conversations about race for white people. Biewen’s enlistment of Kumanyika as a co-host to help “check” him, highlights a fear white people have of talking about race. The fear of talking openly about race, I think, (as a white woman) stems from the fear of getting it wrong, or being labeled as a racist.

Which is honestly a valid fear. Why? Because as a white woman living in America in 2019 I know that I am in a position of privilege, and many people like to pretend that everyone living in America is equal, but this isn’t the case. This is why Oluo teaches her readers in steps on how to have these conversations. People don’t know how to talk about race because there has never been an open dialogue about the divide between the people of this Nation because we live within a system that perceives events like culture day as sufficient. Biewen’s awareness of his own whiteness and the impact of his perspective highlights the err of caution taken around the subject, but also the simple acknowledgement of the truth that it is time we remove our blindfolds and look at our nation in a light that we have never been exposed to before.

The conversations that Oluo urges her readers to partake in are necessary in order to understand how the United States functions, and also to open up the eyes of those who have been too afraid to delve into the reality of  the role of race within society and the government. Similarly, Biewen’s podcast unpacks the meaning of whiteness in this nation but also the meaning of whiteness for people that identify as white. Biewen’s podcast highlights why white people, and all people need to engage in conversations about race in this nation – to inform themselves on the truth of what the U.S. was founded upon and what it continues to run on. Like the old familiar kindergarten culture day, we need to take our conversations deeper, and we need to learn how to do so. Oluo and Biewen create an environment that teaches and allows people to have these vital conversations, in order to bring to light the truth about race in this nation and in all aspects.

Written By Caroline Berezin

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Works Cited

Oluo, Ijeoma. So You Want to Talk about Race. New York, NY : Seal Press, 2018., 2018. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=cat00326a&AN=dico.1767489&site=eds-live&scope=site.

Biewen, John, host. “Turning the Lens.” Seeing White, Scene on Radio, 15 Feb 2017. http://www.sceneonradio.org/episode-31-turning-the-lens-seeing-white-part-