Thursday, October 01, 2009

Struggling with Whiteness

This week I taught a section on White Identity Development. We also talked a great deal about oppression and White culture. You would think that because I am White, teaching about White identity would be fairly easy. Not so. In fact, I struggled with it a great deal, in part because I am still developing and grappling with my racial identity.

This morning I read a post on Jezebel regarding Oprah's recent show on Chris Rock's new film Good Hair. It was a good overview of the show and lots of food for thought, although nothing particularly new for me. As I scrolled down through the comments, however, I was struck by a particular exchange started by a blonde woman who was trying to describe why she likes natural Black hair. Her post is a little off-putting, but she's really examining her own prejudices and how her whiteness inherently contributes to racism and oppression.

The responses that she gets ("Privilege. Examine it.") are pretty pointed, and rightly so. But the fact is, she is trying which is more than I can say for a lot of people. I worry that when people get shut down they stop trying because this is a difficult conversation to have. I think when people are trying to examine their own prejudice and the part they play in advancing White culture they inevitably will say something that sounds ignorant or privileged. Of course they should be called out on it, but in a way that encourages continues thinking, not in a way that shames and questions the motivations for whatever offensive utterance.

Due in large part to history, conversations about race are some of the most difficult that we can have, but they are also some of the most important. As a person that studies and teaches identity development understanding the culture of White privilege is paramount, but the fact is, I'm still learning. More importantly, I want to.

While we are on the topic, this is an important film we should all watch:

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