For White People: The Dangers and Importance of Saying “I”

Part of the reason I dread holidays so much is I know I will face the same conversations with my extended family as I do every year.  At this point, I’ve got my script in the back of head ready so that I can whip out the usual responses to the usual questions involving my major, my relationships status, and my professional goals.  Two of the texts we analyzed so far in the course, Ijeoma Oluo’s 2018 book So You Want to Talk About Race and John Biewen’s 2017 podcast episode “Turning the Lens,” have brought my attention to a whole different area of conversation I haven’t had to come into contact with so much.  These texts help provide strategies for conversations about race, as well as providing information on the structures and concepts that hide underneath the things that people say.

In Oluo’s chapter “What if I talk about race wrong?” she writes various strategies and tips to keep in mind while engaging in conversations about race, which can be difficult but are also important to have.  One of her tips reads: “If you are white, watch how many times you say ‘I’ and ‘me’” (Oluo 47).  A lot of racism extends beyond the individual, manifesting in the larger structures and institutions that we engage in.  When a white person makes a conversation about race too much about their personal feelings, they are diminishing the role that race plays in the lives of others.  Yes, white people experience problems.  But people of color can experience the same problems in addition to having them be impacted by race.

 

John Biewen’s “Turning the Lens” episode is a part of his larger podcast titled Seeing White.  In this text, before discussing how institutional racism is prominent everywhere, Biewen mentions how “…white people ourselves are not very good at seeing whiteness” (Biewen).  It is easy, particularly for those who live in predominantly white areas or schools, to look at people of other ethnicities and backgrounds and the social problems they face as a result of their difference.  What Biewen helps highlight, however, is that the privileges of being white are what needs to be recognized as well.  It is whiteness as a kind of property (as we learn in my American Studies major) that is the code for hundreds of years of racial formations that have been created.

 

And so in connecting both Oluo and Biewen’s ideas, it’s important to recognize that racism has been constructed into many aspect of our lives.  When discussing race, it is important for white people to use personal pronouns carefully as to not try to diminish the significance or extremity of racism but while still recognizing moments when personal privileges are making an impact on individual treatment.

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Works Cited

Biewen, John. “Turning the Lens.” Seeing White. 2017. Podcast.

Oluo, Ijeoma. So You Want to Talk About Race. New York: Hachette Book Group, 2018.

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-

Everyday Interactions of Whiteness

While the image above speaks for itself, I am here to merely stating my opinion in hopes to educate and inform a wider audience. As an American Studies major, I’ve read many texts that revolve around race. However, Ijeoma Oluo’s collection of essays in So You Want to Talk About Race, and John Biewen and Chenjerai Kumanyika’s Scene on Radio: Seeing White podcasts are by far one of the more thought provoking texts that I’ve come across. Both texts discuss a great deal about whiteness and provide different perspectives.

In the John Biewen’s 2017 Turning the Lens episode of the Seeing White podcasts, co-host Chenjerai Kumanyika states that institutionalized whiteness is not exclusive to overt and explicit bigotry, and is evident in mundane situations and “just in the everyday – well here I go – everyday interactions”. Whiteness is not only prevalent in institutional structures, it is also transparent in our interactions with one another and with our surroundings. I thought this statement was revealing because we are quick to notice clear-cut forms of whiteness, but we never really stop to think about how it perpetrates at a micro-level through our daily interactions.

Ijeoma Oluo expresses that in everyday interactions, white people have privilege that people of color do not have, which is evident when she discusses how white individuals are “not regularly followed by store personnel and therefore would be unaware of the impact it would have on [a person of color]” (Oluo 16). There is an inherit privilege if you are white, and that this privilege allows white people to go through out their day. This was compelling specifically because of the word “regularly”. Using the word “regularly” is significant as it indicates that this is an esoteric and repeated experience that POC face.

The excerpt from Oluo is an example of the “everyday interactions” Kumanyika discusses. I thought these two ideas were interesting because they reflect each other in the sense of cause and effect. It is interactions like a POC “regularly being followed” that uphold whiteness in society; white privilege allows these kinds of interactions. Even though it may not be at an institutional level, small exchanges like Oluo’s are what many people of color confront and what many individuals fail to acknowledge.

Structural or not, white privilege allows for whiteness in everyday interactions. Whiteness in everyday interactions reinforce the idea that whiteness is explicit at both the structural/institutional and at the mundane level of our own interactions.

 

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-1/

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