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.
Biewen, John. “Turning the Lens.” Seeing White. 2017. Podcast.
Oluo, Ijeoma. So You Want to Talk About Race. New York: Hachette Book Group, 2018.