If you’re at all political, or even if you just like bookstores, you’ve probably seen these titles on the front shelves: Robin DiAngelo’s White Fragility. Debby Irving’s Waking Up White. Nell Irvin Painter’s The History of White People. And this is just the books on whiteness BY Whites. There are plenty of others by Black authors, but obviously the vibe is different. We’re clearly in a moment where folks who’ve always considered themselves “the good White people” (like me!) are suddenly feeling the need to study, well–ourselves. Our assumptions. Our Whiteness.
On the titles above, I’m two down and one to go and I’d love to talk about any of them with anyone. But since it’s easier for books to sell themselves than podcasts, I want to throw a little love to this podcast, from my hometown of Durham, NC: Scene On Radio’s series, Seeing White.
If you prefer to get your Whiteness-awareness-raising in smaller, more varied chunks, I’d suggest starting the series from the beginning, where host John Biewen (White) and his friend/mentor Chenjerai Kumanyika (Black) explain what it means to “turn the lens” onto a “race” that’s never really seen itself as such, even while determining the very meaning of the word. I’ve listened to a dozen, and they’ve all been DEEPLY thought-provoking.
But the last one I listened to, My White Friends, really made me want to share. Here’s the premise: photographer Myra Greene, who is Black, got a handful of her White friends to pose for pictures in ways that push the viewer to ask, “What is the Whiteness of this photo?”
You can see more of Ms. Greene’s exhibition here. Her photos got me thinking, what is the Whiteness of some of my own? Let’s try a few.
Well, I’m obviously out in a mountainside meadow. Wilderness, or at least the illusion of wilderness, is important to me. Is that a White thing? And I have gear: knee braces, a water pump. Good boots. REI Nation! I know they’re trying to reach out, but still–REI’s a pretty White store, am I right?
OK, here, I’m performing in public–in flip-flops and a skirt sewed out of old T-shirts! I was raised to believe informality was cool, inviting even. It would never have occurred to me that some folks might find this disrespectful of the audience.
And here I am, back in the wilderness…this time very far from home. And though you can’t tell from the photo, it was taken on a Monday in March–not a holiday, mind you, just a regular workday, when I got to be on vacation. In my REI gear. What’s the Whiteness of that, you ask? Layers upon layers of privilege, which I’m only now starting to acknowledge.
If you’re up for it, and you’re White, choose a photo of your own to describe. If you look, can you see your own Whiteness?