To my colleagues who think of themselves as white
To my white colleagues who think of themselves as white,
I must admit I have been thinking about you.
I have been thinking about your whiteness, and as a result about my own brownness. I have been thinking about the way you hold onto your whiteness and the ways in which you continue to recenter discussions of race, diversity, and access, around the experience of your whiteness, even when we are discussing the experiences of students or faculty of color. I have been thinking about how I might relieve myself of the exceptionalism that is placed upon me by our academic institution, an exceptionalism which is the result of my being one of only a handful of faculty of color at this institution, nevermind my being the only faculty of color in the department. I have been thinking about you, and your questions. The way you patronize and disregard the opinions, insights, and behaviors of students and faculty of color. I have been thinking about how I might begin to tell you that I am no expert in matters of race and identity and that to ask me to be is to ask me to speak for a broad coalition of peoples whose experience of race, is as much defined by their skin color, as it is their class, citizenship, gender expression, age, ability, sexuality and more.
You see, I have been trying to tell you that you are as racialized as I am. I have been trying to tell you something about how we all participate in a racialized country, one that wants us to believe in things like exceptionalism and expertise as much as race. You see, you can no more understand what it feels like to be denied service, to be stared at, or worse, to be openly interrogated and intimidated for no reason other than you are visibly marked as non-white, any more than I can imagine what it must be like to never experience such a thing. You can no more understand the impact racism has had on my body, on my psyche, than I can understand the effect that white supremacy has had on you. Neither of us can imagine how any of this has impacted our students. It is for this reason that I do not blame you when you ask me or students of color to explain race to you as though you had no part in it, as though your whiteness was not created by a colonialist-patriarchal-capitalist-state same as my brownness. On a generous day, I may convince myself that you cannot know how I feel after a faculty meeting, or how isolated and alienated I and our students of color feel in an all white institution that obscures its efforts to challenge racially exclusive policies. This is not to excuse you but to ask you to consider how it is that you know that you are white. What are the structures that allow you to remain separate and privileged?
You should know that writing this is no easy task. Putting language to these experiences has me second guessing myself and wondering whether or not I shouldn’t generalize about my white colleagues. It is a doubt that forces me to question not only the image of your identity that I am conjuring but the language that I am using and the ramifications of speaking publicly on the subject. My doubt asks me to second guess every experience I have had at our institution that has at best highlighted my difference and at worse alienated me from the mainstream community. My doubt asks me to second guess every student who has had the courage to share with me their stories of implicit and explicit racism. The doubt is mine, that I will admit, but that I carry it is not of my own doing but a result of being socialized in a society that informs me continually that I would be of greater value if I were white. I tell you this now not as a confession, or in an effort to produce guilt, but as a way of alerting you to the difficulty of speaking to and from this position. To call attention to the conditions and expectations that police my behavior. I do this to help us both understand something about where we are and where we could be.
What I am asking is that we share in this labor. I am asking that you think of it as your responsibility, not just mine or our students. That you consider the part you play within our racialized society and the privileges that it affords you. I am not asking you to be an ally. I am asking you to be a collaborator.
Your fellow educator
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