Family Weekend Forum 2017: Good White People After Charlottesville

Family Weekend Forum 2017: Good White People After Charlottesville


TRICIA ROSE: My
name is Tricia Rose. And I’m a faculty member here
at Brown in Africana studies. I work in African-American
culture history and social issues. And I’m the director of the
Center for the Study of Race and Ethnicity in America. And we have decided to offer
this conversation today as part of our sort of family
of learners, alumni, parents, and students. And it’s a 50-minute
conversation, for those of you who sort
of stumbled in and didn’t maybe see the entire guide. And the goal here is– I’ll have a conversation
with Dr. Sullivan, and then we’ll have a
conversation with you. And then there’s a
reception at CSREA, which is at 96 Waterman Street. It’s one parallel street over
from Angel, where we are. And there’ll be a
sandwich board out front, so you’ll be able
to figure it out. And we have treats
and snacks, as well as actually copies of this
pretty amazing book we’re going to talk about. So just for two minutes,
or maybe one minute, I just want to share what our
mission at CSREA is all about. You can see a much more detailed
description on the website. But our goal here is
to feature and support excellent and relevant
scholarship on issues of race and ethnicity in America. We build community
within the university among graduate students, and
faculty, and some advanced undergraduates. But we also invite speakers
in on key issues and topics, such as today. One of the ways we really
try to make a difference is to connect
ideas to community. There’s so much amazing
knowledge in academic circles. And a lot of it is much
too complicated for us to have just a general public
conversation about, like, applied math or something. But if you’re talking
about issues that shape every moment that we’re
consciously constructing– and it’s still in English,
it’s not in math talk– we want that space to
be really connected. We want great ideas to be
connected to community. So we seek out people who are
able to take very complicated, conceptual theoretical issues
and break them down in ways that we understand so that we
can talk across disciplines, so we can talk to
our communities, we can talk to our
alum, to our students, and to family members. And it’s part of
the broader campaign focus on making the world
more peaceful and just. You can study race and
ethnicity in the United States, particularly groups that have
been aggrieved, and colonized, and discriminated
against, and not try to think about
it in relationship to creating a just world. We have lots of events– I just want to say this
before we transition into the ideas that are out
front where you came in here, there’s a sign-up sheet
to be on our mailing list. Even if you’re not
near Providence, really, I recommend you sign up. We’ve put a lot of
what we do– almost all of what we do online,
and we notify people when it is online. So you can be in Seattle
with your terrific cup of fresh-brewed coffee, and you
can watch any number of things that we’ve done, not only
recently, but in the past. And it’s a fantastic archive. So please sign up. So this topic today,
when Dr. Sullivan and I decided to do this,
it was relevant, but it got increasingly
relevant as things unfolded. It also became more
difficult and complicated. So it is, we acknowledge,
a difficult time to think and reflect on race in America. It’s especially difficult,
but also especially important, to think about whiteness. Most of our conversations
about race and ethnicity speak to the moment
that is not white, to the community that is
itself not marked by whiteness. And whiteness becomes a
category of social identity, and political, and cultural,
and intergenerational practice that goes unmarked. And this is
tremendous difficulty with that kind of unmarking. Figuring out, what role does
whiteness play, how does it work, is unbelievably
important in our conversations on race and ethnicity. But even more importantly–
and this is the focus of our conversation and the
focus of this fantastic book– is that there is an assumption
that whiteness should be talked about only when it’s
basically bad whiteness, when it’s whiteness that’s doing
intentional harm based on race. But what about the
sort of Achilles heels of good whiteness,
of good people? This is the thesis
for the book and how good intentions
don’t necessarily take us where we want to go. So our guest scholar,
as I mentioned, is Professor Shannon Sullivan. She’s Chair of
Philosophy and Philosophy and Health Psychology
at UNC Charlotte. She’s a feminist philosopher,
critical philosopher of race, and American philosophy. She’s offered four books. The latest one is the subject
of our conversation today– Good White People– The Problem
of Middle-Class Anti-Racism. Please join me in welcoming
Dr. Shannon Sullivan. Can you hear us? Maybe we should get– wow. It’s over, everyone. That was quick. There’s nothing to talk about. OK, so how is this? We have wheels. I guess we could roll them up. That might be more efficient. SHANNON SULLIVAN: Can you
all hear us in the back? TRICIA ROSE: Oh, yeah. I can hear now. I can hear you. OK, are we all set? I’m going to give it one
minute for these last settlers. Thank you so much for coming. So Shannon, I’ll
call you Shannon– make it more conversational. That was quick. OK. Yes, how are we doing? AUDIENCE: Good. TRICIA ROSE: OK, I’m just
going to stay very still, which for those of you who might
have been in my classes, you know this is
absolutely impossible. But I’m going to do my best. Thank you for coming to brown. SHANNON SULLIVAN: Thank you. TRICIA ROSE: It’s been great. Yesterday’s conversation
was fantastic. I love this book. And I want to talk
about it with you here. But I want to give you
a chance to lay out the argument for the audience– I’m going to assume some
people haven’t read it– just to give them a sense
of what you’re up to here. SHANNON SULLIVAN: So thank
you for having me here. And thank you. What a wonderful,
full room this is. in a nutshell, I’m trying to
argue that white people need to figure out some different
ways to live their whiteness– a different ethos,
a different way of being and living as
a white person that’s not centered on
traditional liberal values of moral goodness. And even just to mark
whiteness, as you were saying, is white people have ways
of living their whiteness, but we usually don’t think
about it, we don’t talk about. We “good” white
people don’t anyway. One of the things
I’m very critical of is a way in which a kind
of really strong divide between the so-called good
white people and the bad ones get set up. And the bad ones are
the white supremacists. They are– this is usually
very much class-marked in terms of poor white folks,
who are uneducated, who don’t know better. And they’re the reason why white
supremacy and racism in general continues in the
United States today. They’re the problem, not
us, not us good white people who are educated, who
know better, et cetera. And that divide I
think is pernicious. And a lot of what’s
going on in that divide does very, very little
to actually combat racial injustice. It’s more about securing a
position of moral goodness and moral superiority as one
of the good white people. So I’m trying to
break down that divide and call for different
ways for white people to live their whiteness. TRICIA ROSE: Right, great. That’s very helpful. So you identify four strands
of liberal, white anti-racism. So just to remind
the audience, we’re talking about liberal
anti-racist practices, or what people think
of as supporting an anti-racist
identity and practice. And you identify four strands
that you say are very common. Can you describe the four
of them very quickly? SHANNON SULLIVAN: Yeah,
and I refer to them in general as what I call
distancing strategies. I think middle class white– I use “middle class”
really broadly here. It’s middle to upper class. Middle-class white people
like to distance themselves from race and racism in general,
and certainly whiteness. And one of the ways to do that
is just not talk about it, to be very silent. Another way is to dump on the
so-called bad white people. They’re the problem. That’s where the
racism is located. It’s not us. We’re the ones who
want to fight it. So I talk about this in terms
of dumping on white trash, which is a slur here– that is why I’m
air-quoting– but methods of dumping on so-called
white trash as the problem. There’s also a way of
demonizing white ancestors, white slaveholders,
Klan members– just demonizing the white past. Think of Jim Crow
era and before. Back then, they
didn’t know better. There was this awful racism and
white supremacy in our nation. Now we know better. They were awful. We’re not like them. The third one would be
color-blindness– pretending to not see race at all. And we’re all just people. I don’t see race. And as long as I don’t see race,
then I know I’m not a racist. I can secure my identity
as a good white person. And then the fourth
one would be thinking that cultivating guilt and shame
is sort of the appropriate way to be a good white person. And that is going to take
care of any remaining racism in the world. TRICIA ROSE: Right, right. All of these I can think of
very relevant examples of. But I was really
struck by the way there was a natural
tendency to assume that only poor whites
affected the election outcome, that there was
just an assumption that– everyone knew that
mostly whites voted for our current president. That was not a surprise. But the class assumptions turned
out to be entirely untrue. SHANNON SULLIVAN:
Turned out to be wrong? TRICIA ROSE: Yeah. Have you thought about that in
relationship to this dumping? SHANNON SULLIVAN: Yeah, I
think you’re exactly right. The statistics came
out, and most of us probably know that across class
lines a lot of white people voted for Trump. And it was not just poor people. It was not just a disgruntled
poor or working class. But people middle class,
financially comfortable that were white voted
for Trump as well. I think in today’s day,
post-2016 election– and I’m also thinking about
incidents in Charlottesville– it is all the more tempting and
all the more seductive to buy back into this dichotomy of
the bad white people over here, and then there are
good ones over here. And we know that
they’re the problem. It’s not us. And it’s distancing or
deflecting where and how races– and misunderstanding
when and how some extremely pernicious
forms of white domination still occur. TRICIA ROSE: Right and so even
though those four strategies are about various modes
of separating oneself from this bad either history
or set of current ideas, there’s still a real
discomfort, as your own research and your citing of
other research shows, around even talking
about whiteness. Could you share
with this audience that story of the study of the– SHANNON SULLIVAN: Yeah. TRICIA ROSE: You
know the one, yeah. Let’s not waste
time summarizing. You go. Go for it. SHANNON SULLIVAN: Well, right. The minute, as a
white person, you start talking about
whiteness or start asking other white people– so how are you, what do you– and I’m especially
interested in issues of parenting and child-rearing. White people out
there, how are you rearing your children, your
grandchildren as white? Talk about fear and silence
in response to that question. That’s just not something
you’re supposed to talk about. That’s not what good
white people talk about. That sounds like
something a clan– TRICIA ROSE: Bad white people– SHANNON SULLIVAN: –bad
white person would say. So you just don’t
talk about that. One of the studies– this one took place in
Austin, Texas, which is a very self-identified,
very liberal sort of pocket of the United States, and
of Texas in particular. There was a recent study where
100 families were recruited. They were white families
with white children to have parents talk with
their children about race. One group had some vignettes,
videotapes to do it with. One was supposed
to do without them. And the study was to see how
effective the tapes were. And the families
signed up knowing this is what the study was. It wasn’t one of those
social science studies where they fake you out where
you think they’re studying one thing, and it’s not another. It was up-front, they
knew what the study was, they volunteered. They wanted to do it. And the study failed– or the author could not
get any results out of it, because 94 of the families
refused in the end to do their assignment,
knowing that this is what the assignment would be. And they just said in the end– and this is a quote here– we just don’t want to have those
conversations with our child. We want to point out skin color. And this is just not
what white families do. And so on one hand,
the study failed. But on another hand, it was
very revealing about the– it’s not even at
a conscious level, this full-body discomfort
and inability sometimes to have conversations with race
about race, about whiteness. TRICIA ROSE: Yeah,
that’s pretty amazing. I think it would be
great to see a follow-up study with those same
people reflecting on their own investment. So that’s the tension that
your work is really revealing. This isn’t about
hate or refusal– neither one of those. It’s about, we’ve
really cultivated a complete lack of language
and capacity to see. And we’ve cultivated
such discomfort, which leads me to one
of the amazing chapters on color-blindness in parenting. When we think about
color-blindness and sort of racial-social
practices, we usually think about adults and
fully formed beings. But the question of how
we reproduce, how do we create these ways of thinking–
and some people have written on this, a certain number of
African-American scholars have. But I loved your discussion
of this formation. So can you just share
a little bit more about color-blindness
and parenting and how you work that
argument out in the book. SHANNON SULLIVAN: So I’ve
come to think of “alleged color-blindness”– I don’t see race,
just see people– as the white middle-class
parenting strategy. Now, white parents
don’t usually say that. In fact, they usually
don’t talk about it at all. You might think about
all sorts of questions when you have a child and
even questions about gender. How am I going to
raise a white girl– a girl. Sorry, you usually
don’t say “white”. Just how am I going
to raise a girl? How am I going to raise a boy? Even if I just
inject “white” there, it’s probably
making you nervous. Like, why does she
keep saying that? Is she really secretly one
of those bad white people? Becuase once you start
troubling that line between the good and bad–
but I insist on that. And it is. It’s uncomfortable for me. And I know it’s risky for me. And I know it’s risky
for you to hear that. But whiteness goes unmarked,
as you were saying, But it’s there. And when I work with college
students and teach college students– and I teach
race and other things– and they don’t just pop
into being at 18 years old and somehow find out about race. They’ve been learning
all about race, and, if they’re white, how
to live as a white person. They’ve been picking
this up all along. But it usually happens
in these unspoken ways. And so all kinds of stuff
is humming along there without examination and the
attention that’s needed. TRICIA ROSE: Tell
them the story– I know, I’m sorry. It’s like my– tell
them on page 38– like a weird guide
to your work– but that amazing
story about the child who blurts out some completely
non-good white person statement. The parents couldn’t figure
out where she got it from, but it had to do
with their route to the coffee shop or
something and how they avoided the gentlemen on the street. SHANNON SULLIVAN: Oh, yeah. Yeah, this one is
actually took place– I believe it was in New York. So it was a– TRICIA ROSE: A very
good white person– [INTERPOSING VOICES] SHANNON SULLIVAN: A
good white person. And she’s got her young child
in the stroller or whatever. And I think this is where
she goes around the person. I think he was asking– it was
a homeless man, a black man, asking for money. And she steers
around and et cetera. And her child blurts out– TRICIA ROSE: Over and over. SHANNON SULLIVAN: Yeah,
this happens multiple times. TRICIA ROSE: Right,
so she just picks another route and [INAUDIBLE]. SHANNON SULLIVAN: Picks
another route, goes around. And I forgot the exact thing. The child is like maybe three. It’s at like a dinner party. They had other families over. The other families were white. And out of the blue, the
child blurts out something like, black men are
scary and dangerous. And is– TRICIA ROSE: Yeah,
that’s correct. SHANNON SULLIVAN: That
was about that quote. TRICIA ROSE: At three. SHANNON SULLIVAN: And
the mother’s horrified and nervously
trying to reassure– well, how did you pick
that up– and kind of reassuring,
that’s not something we talk about here at home. And the child had been
taught over and over and again, particularly when
it came to electric outlets in the wall, to stay away
from dangerous things, avoid dangerous things. We avoid those, because
they’re dangerous. And so the child learned that,
and then again and again saw this pattern of going
around avoiding, going around avoiding. And it’s like, oh,
so now I’m learning this is another dangerous
thing that I need to avoid– and so proudly announced the
thing that he had learned, and chose the moment of the
dinner party to do that. And the white husband and wife– they were just mortified. But talk about very
early at three or four. And there’s a lot of other
information from sociologists and child-development
specialists where kids are picking up all sorts of messages
about race, about whiteness– They wouldn’t call
it power relations– but all these dynamics. And they’re trying to figure
out how to process this. And for white kids– and this is different
in white families than many families of color– with very little space, a
safe space in their family to ask what’s going on, they
usually just get shushed. The white the white child
blurts something out in the grocery store,
and the white mother just shushes, kind of in
an embarrassed way, to make sure that
nothing awkward happened. And so these are some of
the ways in which whiteness is being built up,
white habits are being built up in childhood. TRICIA ROSE: Right, right. And one of the other strategies
for keeping that silence is the guilt and
shaming, where– any number of people can do it–
but it’s particularly effective when good whites shame quote
unquote “fallen good whites”, because they don’t usually
have to shame quote unquote “white supremacists”. That’s not going to
be terribly effective. But shaming other fallen,
mistaken good whites becomes this other mode
of silence production and makes it much harder to
have these very conversations. Can you talk a little bit more
about this guilt and shaming? It does really get at the
binaries we’re dealing with– the silence and the shaming
as working together. SHANNON SULLIVAN: Yeah. And I want to be
clear, there is a lot in American and global
history to feel ashamed about. And so I’m not saying that
shame is never appropriate. But I worry about using that
as a primary emotional or affective relationship to
thinking about race and racism. I don’t think it has
the staying power to get white people
to dig in and commit to doing some of this
work, because this is going to be long,
hard– it is, it has been for hundreds of years. There’s a pessimistic note in
a lot of the things I write. I don’t think a lot of this
is going to quickly change any time soon. So it’s to be a long
haul and a lot of work. And I don’t think shaming
and self-flagellation is going to be a long-term
strategy for getting white people to
invest into really caring about racial justice. And I have seen,
in my classrooms, for example, a white student
who says something, frankly, that’s racially offensive. It was part of an
honest question. But it was racially offensive. And another white student jumped
up and just shamed that person back into place– and that being a really
counterproductive way to have some conversations
about what’s going on. TRICIA ROSE: Yeah, and
it’s complicated, too, in my own teaching
in classrooms where it’s a fairly
diverse environment, and different groups of
people can do the shaming. But the end result is that
it’s very hard to have certain kinds of conversations. So it seems that one of the
things you’re calling for is not, it’s neither silence nor
sort of forced blame and shame, but some sort of
third way, as it were. Can you describe not
so much the actions, but how would it have
gone if the student who was doing the shaming in
the story you just told, didn’t do the shaming? Some kind of challenge
is obviously necessary. Otherwise, that becomes
silence, which we already know the work that’s doing. So what are some options
that this other student had– the responding
student– that you think would be more productive? SHANNON SULLIVAN: Yeah,
it’s a hard question. So one part of the answer is– I think it’s very hard to do
that in large public spaces where you don’t know
each other well. And the one incident
I’m thinking of is a classroom about this
size with 100, 150 people. So the shaming d it
was pretty brutal doing this in front of
these other students. I think it it’s going to have
to be more in smaller spaces where there could be
a real conversation. It’s hard to be
called out as a racist or as saying, feeling, thinking,
doing something if you’re a white person, and
someone points out, I can’t believe that. That’s a really racist
then you just said. The immediate mode most white
people, myself included, would want to go to
is very defensive. So this has got to
be a space which I think is smaller and in some
kind of relationship to have more of a conversation. TRICIA ROSE: Right. Right. And to play devil’s
advocate a little bit just to think this through
from multiple angles– at the same time, there
is resistance, even when it’s not about shaming. So as a teacher, I see that
even when it’s like, hey, look, all ideas are
perfectly good to have. But they have to
be thought through. And you have to be willing
to interrogate them. And I want to ask
you some questions about this set of ideas. But there’s been a
lot of resistance. Whenever an anti-racist– how
structural racism happens– videos are presented
in different settings, there’s a lot of parental–
particularly in high schools where parents are
more directly involved in the curriculum–
a lot of resistance. They feel just the
fact of talking about significant structural
racism is itself shaming. If the motive of identity is
silence, then talking about it and saying that
there are outcomes that are bent to create
tremendous advantages for whites across class but
differentially across class is somehow itself shaming. So do you see what I mean? Maybe that tension or that
gap is much harder to shoot, because it seems that just
doing it at all, you end up doing so much caretaking
that you never get to the work of
saying, well, we’re trying to unseat this thing, not
make everyone feel good today. SHANNON SULLIVAN:
That caretaking point is really important. The work that goes in– there is an author,
Robin DiAngelo, who’s called this white fragility. The fragility that
most white people have around issues of race
and especially whiteness, it’s like the person
might just shatter if there’s any sort of thing
that feels like a challenge, even though it may
not be direct at all, but just talking about
structural racism. Like, what, I didn’t get where
I am because of the hard work that I did? TRICIA ROSE: It’s
not all or nothing, just for those of you
who are like, yes, that’s a good question. Everyone works hard. Some people get more
for their hard work– well, maybe not everyone in
every group, but most of us. SHANNON SULLIVAN: So frankly,
it’s a very hard question to answer about, what would
it mean for that third way? A lot of what I’m
calling for in this work is for white people
for white people to dig in and do some of
this work of figuring out some other way to live your
whiteness, our whiteness. There’s got to be more options
than the bad white person and the good white
person, where it turns out we just have different forms
of violence against people of color, frankly. That sounds like a strong word. There’s some very
spectacular violence, like Dylann Roof
in South Carolina. And we can think
about Charlottesville. But there are peaceful
forms of violence that come through
the structural racism that good white people
certainly benefit from. TRICIA ROSE: Perpetuate. SHANNON SULLIVAN:
Yeah, and perpetuate. TRICIA ROSE: And
in fact you have been thinking about
Charlottesville in particular. We talked a bit yesterday about
how that kind of extreme hate unifies us around goodness,
around what good whiteness looks like, which is
at least not that. And I have to say, there
are moments when I’m like, I think I’ll take good
white people over that, even with all the failings. I’m like, can the good white
people come over here now? So we’re all clear. But there was a fantastic
story you wanted to tell about a farmer in town. So tell them. I’m sorry, yeah. SHANNON SULLIVAN: You later
can go Google this yourself. His name is Chris Newman. He is a black farmer that
lives in Charlottesville. I don’t read his blog
regularly, but I ran across it after some of the incidents. There have been multiple
protests in Charlottesville around taking down the
Robert E. Lee statue. And then, of course,
the second event was the one in August
that was more violent, and one person was killed. So Chris Newman, though, posted. He’s a black farmer. And he talked about farming
while black in Charlottesville. He delivers organic products. And he’s delivering them to very
comfortable neighborhoods there in Charlottesville,
or predominately white neighborhoods. He’s actually stopped
making deliveries there because of how many
times the cops get called, because there’s a black
man in the neighborhood. And the way he put it was– TRICIA ROSE: In a produce truck. SHANNON SULLIVAN:
In a produce truck. You know, like, getting out
the arugula and whatever. And the cop, kind of, just
swinging by checking him out. And this happened
again and again. And so he’s no longer
delivering there. And he said, you know what? It’s not Richard Spencer or the
white boys with tiki torches who are calling the cops
on me week after week. They are, he says, a
visual inconvenience. He was referring to some of the
pictures of the tiki torches and the Confederate
flags and everything there in Charlottesville. He’s like, this is not what’s
going to leave my daughters fatherless. What’s going to leave them
fatherless is the yoga pants– white women in yoga
pants with, I’m with her, and co-exist stickers
on the back of her SUV. They’re the ones who
are scared of me. And if they don’t
know why I’m there, they’re calling the police. They’re the biggest
threat that I’ve got right here in Charlottesville. He goes on to talk about the way
in which their black businesses like his have the
cops called on him, while white businesses
that sell hip-hop material and make tons of money
on that have no problems and are making a fortune. So he’s talking about a
lot of structural things that are going on
in Charlottesville. And Charlottesville is not
unique in that respect. But it’s not the white
supremacists that scare him, even when they’re right there
in his town with the torches having the marches. It’s these other, more
peaceful forms of violence that scare him about, is
something going to go wrong? Like, I’m reaching
in to get my lettuce, and they think I’m reaching
for something else, and the cops have been
called, that’s what makes me scared for my daughters. TRICIA ROSE: Yeah, and I think
the lack of true conversation about this fear of black
people that drives so much of this seemingly
liberal-neutral behavior, I think is underlying both
the guilt and shame strategy and the denials of it
all the way around. But let me, again, push back a
little bit from the other side and say, OK, from a
liberal perspective, this is kind of a high-alert
emergency historical moment. If you’re a liberal
and you didn’t vote for Donald Trump, which
you don’t have to be a liberal to not vote for him. But just assume for
the sake of argument, not that many liberals did. And they sort of feel that
so many liberal values and institutions
are on their way under the wheels of
a fast-moving truck. What would you say to
anti-racist white liberals who may very well have the problems
that you identify, but they might say, you know, Shannon,
it’s DEFCON 1 right now. We have real serious
situations going on, we have white supremacists,
we have white supremacist advocates in the White
House as advisers. There are good people,
which is a fascinating use of your “good white
people” in Charlottesville. But they say, we have to
fight white supremacists and hate groups. It’s not a time to
criticize our approach. We’re doing the best
we can supporting whatever we’re supporting. Color-blindness is
the best we can do. What would you say? How would you explain that
that’s either true or not true? And what advice
would you give them? SHANNON SULLIVAN: So yeah,
it’s a great question. And I want to be clear I’m
not saying that somehow in criticizing what I’m
calling the good white people that white supremacists
are blameless. There’s horrific forms
of violence there. That is true. The problem is, it’s
not just a bunch of saints on the other side. It’s a different
form of violence. And I want to use that word. And I’m trying not to
be hyperbolic about it. But it is. So it is the non-white
supremacists that– particularly in
my state, but this is happening in other states– that are radically rolling
back the Voting Rights Act and all sorts of
difficulties for poor, and especially black people, to
just get to the polls and vote. This isn’t Richard
Spencer and people with tiki torches doing this. This is legislature. These are the some
good white people who would count as
good white people. Since the end of Jim Crow, some
of the measures of inequality between white people and other
people of color have actually grown, especially since the ’80s
when you look at disparities in wealth– and you know this, I know– and when you look at
disparities in health, which is another
really interesting one, and when you look at
incarceration rates. And a lot of this is set up
and done through very, very legal channels. And so it’s not to
say that it’s good that there are white
supremacists like Dylann Roof walking into churches
and killing people. That’s an awful thing, and we
need to find ways to stop that. But there is a
danger in focusing on that as if things like that
are the main way that people of color get killed, get
hurt, have their life, their lives shortened. And it’s spectacular. It certainly catches our eyes. And I do want to emphasize, it’s
awful and needs to be stopped. But percentage-wise, there
is a lot more harm being done in less spectacular ways. So I am calling out the hubris
of middle-class white people in thinking, we know
how to fix this. I don’t think we really know. And that’s not a
comfortable place to be in, to just feel
like you’ve had a– sorry, this is like a zen koan. You just sort of got– Sorry. I could go there later
if you want me to. It’s like getting sand
thrown in your eyes. And you just stop short,
and everything you thought was the right way to do it
that we learned through all of this– and I’m not
about rolling back Civil-rights accomplishments. But we thought we knew
all these things were going to fix things. And all of these measurements
are actually worse now. So we don’t know
how to fix this. And so just having
more good white folks kind of doing
the same old thing– we’ve got to at
least stop and go, we’ve got to have
some other options. TRICIA ROSE: Yeah, and I think
we talked about this yesterday. It’s not directly in the
book, but it flows from it– the level of resistance to
the things that could fix it, that it isn’t just that we don’t
know, I think you’re saying. It’s a willful refusal to
really address reality. So studies since the ’80s
have shown that well over 60%, 70% of whites think racial
equality has already been achieved. Like, you know. And then another 20% I
think it’s right on– on the way. SHANNON SULLIVAN: Right there. TRICIA ROSE: So that 80%. The reality is so
dramatically different that it raises the question,
how a person could– so that venue, hey,
it’s already equal, changes the
interpretive framework for demands for talking
about race and racism. It looks like extra,
and frustrating, and why don’t you
leave us alone? We’ve done all we can do. SHANNON SULLIVAN: We
did that in the ’60s. TRICIA ROSE: We did that, right. SHANNON SULLIVAN: Yeah. Yeah. And your point about– all these statistics
were referred to– they’re out there, they’re easy
to find, you can Google them, books talk about it. There’s something else going on. There’s this is kind
of willful not knowing or a willful ignorance
or something, because all this
data is out there. And yet that does not seem
to make much difference to a large majority
of white people. There is another motivation. There is something else at work. It is not just going
to be making sure that white people know the real
statistics about inequalities in health, and wealth, and other
things we’re talking about. There’s something else going on. TRICIA ROSE: Yeah, for sure. So there’s always the,
what can we do, question. If you study these
issues, there’s a drive to say, what can we do? How can we fix this? And you know on the one hand,
we don’t want to be so cerebral, and say, well, there’s
really nothing you can do. Just reflect on it. Meditate. We don’t want to go that route. SHANNON SULLIVAN: That sounds
like another stalling, kind of distancing technique, too. TRICIA ROSE: I can do
that while I’m silent. Strategy two. SHANNON SULLIVAN:
I’m not being silent. I’m just reflecting. TRICIA ROSE: Yeah, exactly. I’m like, does anyone
have anything to say? They’re like, not yet, not yet. But at the same time,
the other strategy you identify as sort
of a kind of knee-jerk. What can I do to fix this? I can’t stand the discomfort
that that has been generated. So we want to fix this. And what’s my top five steps? And let me do them right now, as
if we could do it in five steps all together today. And so you’re struggling
with this tension. But you end on something that
is both super engaging to me, but also a little scary,
which is morph, examination, and self-love
among white people. So not to say we shouldn’t have
as much self-love as possible. But an argument could
be made that there’s a whole lot of
self-love going on. It may not be the– SHANNON SULLIVAN: A lot of
white self-love already. TRICIA ROSE: It may not
be the self-love that helps racial justice,
but it does kind of feel like a whole lot of
love of whiteness. So how do you call
for more of it? What kind are you calling for? SHANNON SULLIVAN: Yeah. Yeah. And you’re right. The end of the book is the most
controversial part of the book. The first time I read
it, I skipped it. Then I was like, I got to go. It’s called, The
Struggle with Love. I’m like, I better struggle. Well, and you got
to buy the book. You can check it out from
the library or something. But please know I spent
two whole chapters. This is not a quick
thing I throw out there. It is a critical form of love. And also, I should
say, in some ways, I feel like I need to make
sure I’m giving credit to people like Stokely
Carmichael, the Black Power book from the 1960s. I feel like in
some ways, it’s all so weird that if a white person
says it, it gets attention. But there’s a chapter
in that book– that is a great book to
go back and pick up again if you haven’t read
it, or go reread it. There’s this chapter in there
in the middle about solidarity or working together as
black and white people on issues of racial justice. And one of the things he says
is kind of paraphrasing, why? Why are white people here? Why do you want to do this? If this is just charity
or helping black people, like go away. We don’t need that. So white people have
got to figure out what– and he’ll say is– a good working
relationship, each side knows why they’re there
and what’s in it for them. And that sounds selfish,
that sounds bad. What do you mean
for a white person? But why? Why, white people? Why do you want to do this work? And maybe the honest
answer is you don’t. I don’t know. I don’t you. You’ll have to figure
that answer out. But there has to
be some kind of– if “love” isn’t the
right word, some kind of investment that’s not about
a charitable helping others, but that this has
something to do that is gripping and matters to you,
and your life, and your world, and your family. And that’s going to provide
some kind of affective– I use words like “self”. I talk about a
kind of soul work. I don’t mean in a religious
sense, but some sense of a work on who it is and what you
are as a white person. And if it’s just a bunch
of virtue singling, people of color don’t need that. So why do you care about this? Why do you do it? We white people have got to
figure out some kind of answer to that question. And I think it has to
be formed out of a kind that answer has got to come
out of some kind of care for the self, not
self-flagellation. TRICIA ROSE: Right, right. Very nice, thank you. So I want to make sure we
have time for some questions. Do we have microphones for this? No? Can we ask them, Paul? I mean, we don’t need to have– PAUL: There’s a mic
sticking out the window. TRICIA ROSE: Oh, is there? OK, great. Sam, could you– can you
help us out, Sam, with that? SHANNON SULLIVAN: If it’s
not recorded, we could. TRICIA ROSE: Thank you. Are there people in
the– oh, we have people. I can’t see very well, sorry. SHANNON SULLIVAN:
Oh, that’s great. TRICIA ROSE: I don’t
know what’s going on. Oh great, thank you. AUDIENCE: Thank you. Thank you for being here. If we want to make
a change, we really must involve our children–
and not our college students. I’m talking about
preschool and grade school. The only way we’re going to make
a change is to be on that level and grow it up from there. So I go back and say, well,
you mentioned color-blindness. I thought that was a good thing. I really did. You identify culture and color. You’re color-blind
but you can still appreciate people’s culture. What do we tell the families? I believe there are many,
many, many families that believe they’re doing the
right thing by telling their children– or just behaving as though
you are color-blind. They live and breathe. People live and breathe. We’re the same. So what do we tell
those families that want to do the right thing? I hate to say that
color-blindness, you’re saying, it’s not the right thing. SHANNON SULLIVAN:
I’m increasingly convinced it’s not. But I’m not disagreeing with
you about the good intentions– that there is a hope
that that would do it. And also, I think there
is a real sense of– if a set of white
parents or white family is thinking about it, there just
seems to be no other options. So golly, you got
to hang on to this. It seems like
something at least. What does it mean
to start talking as a white parent with your
child about their whiteness and race? So first of all,
most parents don’t feel at all
qualified, or capable, or comfortable doing that. How do I do that? If I can’t even figure
out for myself as an adult how to be comfortable
thinking about race, how do I explain to a– one example is– I can give
you examples of trying to– when my daughter was four
years old– she’s white– and we use to have this
ritual at the end of the day where we talk about things
we did during the day. So she told me about what
preschool was like that day. And then she asked me. And I was like,
well, I was working on this chapter that had to
do with whiteness and race. And so then she starts
asking, what is race? Already, I’m like,
how do you spell– I can explain that
to other academics with my long paragraph whatever. How do you, to a
four-year-old, explain it in a way that doesn’t
make it just seem natural? So I kind of
mentioned something– because I thought they
had done something in preschool where they learned
a little bit about slavery. Turns out I misunderstood that. There was an MLK
Day or something. And there was no mention of
any kind of power imbalances. How do you start talking
about power imbalances? How do you start talking
about serious, deep trauma in this nation and do that
with a four- or five-year-old in a way that’s not lying,
but that isn’t retraumatizing? Or do you– But I also– this was one of
my moments where I thought– so she starts asking me– I can recreate it if you
want. it’s in the book. I finally come up
with something to say. And she asked, are we white? And I said, yes, we’re white. And she’s like OK. She goes, do we own slaves,
because I mentioned slavery. So you can hear the
inner panic in my mind. Am I now just
making things worse? Maybe it’s better if I just
shut up and go color-blind, like we’re all just people. So how do you instill
this sense of respect but that you’re
acknowledging, there are different ways
that we get treated and treat each other
in this world today. And they are picking up on
that and seeing it and not understanding it and
trying to process it. So it really
misrepresents the world we live in today to just
talk about an ideal world where we’re all equal
and race doesn’t matter. Maybe that’s what
we’re all shooting for. It might be. But that doesn’t help them deal
with this very non-ideal world we have right now and
how to deal with that and do that in a way that
challenges the injustice. There’s no way to challenge it. If you can’t see race, then
how can you see racism? TRICIA ROSE: Right. Let me add one thing. And we have a question here,
and I saw one down here as well. But I think part of the
struggle is to figure out– and this is why this book
is so powerful to me– is exactly how does the
invisibility of whiteness work to promote
racial inequality? SHANNON SULLIVAN: Yeah. That’s really [INAUDIBLE]. TRICIA ROSE: How does the
invisibility of whiteness work to promote this racial
hierarchy and disadvantage in the present? You can answer that
partly with the past. But it works in the
present on its own. And I think anti-racist
education– assuming that not talking about
race is anti-racism– is the first big mistake
of color-blindness. It’s not just
cultural difference. It’s like feminism–
adding women to history without an analysis of gender
discrimination and hierarchy is not a feminist analysis. It’s not going to
explain how we got here. So I think getting schools– if I had friends who had little
children who were white– most of my friends have children
who are a little bit older than that– I would say, don’t let
your school off the hook. A lot of parents pressure
schools to not talk about race. And they go crazy. Private schools can’t– not
public schools have a whole other set of to-do with this. But saying, well, I
want my kids to be literate around
what egalitarianism will look like in a
multiracial democracy– that’s, I think, one of the ways
we can make a big difference. SHANNON SULLIVAN: And this
is tricky for teachers, too. TRICIA ROSE: Right,
especially if they don’t have the support of parents. SHANNON SULLIVAN: And
you’ve got parents maybe saying very different
things about what they want. So how do you do that? And so most of the way it gets
done is through a kind of– maybe learn a little bit
about Martin Luther King. And usually, you learn about the
different foods, and dresses, and practices of the
different cultures. And so then it just turns into
a kind of smorgasbord of stuff for white– I’m like, well,
that’s interesting. I like Mexican food. And I like soul food. And it turns into this lovely
way that you just get to– it’s just lovely
for white people. But it’s hard. I don’t want to be flippant. This is hard. Every time I talk
about this stuff– people who are in child
development specialties, there needs to be so
much work, especially at these younger levels
like you were pointing out. How do you talk to a
four-year-old about this? They’re already picking
some of this stuff up. They don’t know
how to process it. And that’s probably going to
look different than the way you’re going to talk to
a 12-year-old about it. And that’s going
to look different– the that here is whiteness
and the power imbalances that you’re talking about. We’ve got so, so much work
to do to figure that out. TRICIA ROSE: Right, right. For sure. AUDIENCE: Question,
question, yes. TRICIA ROSE: Yes. AUDIENCE: I’m a little
bit confused as to, who are the good white people? There could be a lecture
at Liberty University, for example, Falwell’s
university in Lynchburg, Virginia. And you can have two
people talking about that they’re the
good white people and having completely
disagree with you regarding the liberal aspect of things. And they’re conservative. And they represent
the good white people, and they represent better
values and Christian values, if you will, of why they
are good white people. Indeed, I don’t see those two
groups talking to each other. SHANNON SULLIVAN: Thank you. That’s a very helpful– when I use the word
“liberal”, I mean in the sense of that
classic liberal sense of, there’s supposedly the liberal
values of equality and freedom at the cornerstones
of our nation. So I don’t mean Democrat
versus Republican. And I know that
many, many people in Charlotte, who are white
Christian Republicans, who very much would
identify themselves– they don’t identify themselves
as good white people, because most people don’t
identify themselves openly as white. Like, that’s already kind
of a strange thing the way I keep doing that. But yeah, they are
some of the good ones. They’re not racist. They just want a good
education for their child. They just want to live
in a good neighborhood. They just want to support– so you’re very much
right about that. AUDIENCE: Oh, no. I think many of them are racist. Wait a second. SHANNON SULLIVAN:
Well, they are. AUDIENCE: [? They saw ?]
themselves as good white people. SHANNON SULLIVAN: I would
agree with you that they are, but they would say, look,
I’m not a white supremacist. I’m not a Klan member. I think that’s awful. I think it’s awful that Dylann
Roof went into a church– a church of all things– and sat and Sunday school
for an hour with these folks and then killed them. They will completely
agree that’s awful. And that’s awful. And I’m not them. And that’s racism. And I’m not that. But behind the desire to live
in the school district that will educate the
kids well, I want to be in a good neighborhood– this is racially coded
throughout in ways that I’m sure you’re aware of. TRICIA ROSE: Yeah, I think
there’s been an ever– I’m going to talk until the
mic gets where it’s going– an ever-retracting sense
of what constitutes racism. This is getting smaller and
smaller and more extreme. And then everyone else expands
the good category here. SHANNON SULLIVAN: And
then that spectacle then– if you’ve got white people
with tiki torches saying– TRICIA ROSE: Anti-Semitic– SHANNON SULLIVAN:
–anti-Semetic and other things I won’t repeat
here, that and that just gives you just
an easy target. It’s like a relief. It’s almost like good white
people need that to exist, because then you can
point to it over there and say, ah, see, that’s
where the bad stuff is. I know I’m not perfect, but
you know, we’re at least OK. And it really removes
all kinds of examination of structural forms of
racism and investments that white people have
in all kinds of forms. TRICIA ROSE: This will
be our last question, because I know you all
have other fora to go to. And I want to give you “travel
time”, as we call it at Brown. AUDIENCE: OK, I’ll
be real quick. I believe that I
fit in the category that you’re discussing
of good white people. So I, four years ago,
took a job teaching in Milwaukee, Wisconsin’s
worse ZIP code– the roots of the book Evicted. Ellison’s And I teach
in an all-black school. And my comfort level– we make a really strong
effort to talk about race, because we can’t get
African-American teachers. So we have primarily
white teachers and all-black students. So we, as a school,
have decided that it’s more important to talk
about it and get really uncomfortable in order
to get to a place where we’re all comfortable. So I started my year teaching
the first chapter of Ralph Ellison’s the Battle Royale. And think about my discomfort. And you know what? It really helped to talk about
it, to say, I’m a white woman. These are all the privileges
I have because I am white. And I this– talk
to me about it. And I have to say that I feel
as though we’re starting. That’s been fairly effective. I just came back
from Washington DC, because one of our former
senators from Wisconsin financed a trip for our kids
to go to the African-American History Museum in
Washington DC– and what an
eye-opening experience for kids, who, most of them
had never left their ZIP code. So anyway, for what it’s
worth, I don’t know. I just feel like it’s
really, really important to get uncomfortable. SHANNON SULLIVAN: I
think you’re right. Thank you. In some ways, that loops
back to the question you had earlier about, so
what can white people do? White people dealing
with their discomfort is not going to, by itself,
produce racial justice. Let’s be clear about that. I’m not claiming that. And I’m not even sure
white people, in the end, are going to be able
to do a whole lot to further racial justice. It’s going to people of color
pushing and things like that. But are there ways
white people can help? Are there ways that we can
at least not get in the way as often as we do? The first step, in some ways,
is not to race to fix things, because that gets you right
back into a place where you’re comfortable. That desire to fix it, I
think, is so much about just wanting to be comfortable again. And so one of the
first things you can do is start having these really
uncomfortable conversations where you talk about whiteness
with other white people. Yeah, and usually not fun. They really, really aren’t. TRICIA ROSE: They’re
[? unfun, ?] and they’re like two minutes long. SHANNON SULLIVAN:
Yeah, you will be lucky if you get to have
that conversation. And you will feel
like you were sticking your foot in your mouth. And maybe in some ways,
you just got to say, I don’t even know
what I’m doing here. So I don’t have a magic
formula for how to do that so you feel good doing it. You’re not going to feel good. And you’re going
to have reactions from neighbors, or
coworkers, or family members, where they’re going to
look at you like they’re scared a little bit. Like, what are you
doing all of a sudden? You start talking
openly about whiteness as a white person,
that marks you as one of the bad white people,
that, oh, so secretly, you’re really one of them or something. So these are what I
call existential risks with relationships. So don’t race to fix anything. You’re going to have to learn
how to live in some discomfort first. And that would be
some of the soul work that I would call
for as a first step. TRICIA ROSE: Yeah,
and not only is there a risk to be looking
like the bad whites. There’s also true worry
about being a race traitor. You know, whites who work for
racial justice take risks, if they work for
racial justice very intently at the nexus of where
major racial privileges are occupying. So this isn’t just an
ideological situation. It’s an on-the-ground matter. But the other
thing is that there are lots of great– just
to add to your answer and to refer to your point–
there are a number of really terrific scholars, and
speakers, and activists who work on white, anti-racist issues. You mentioned Robin DiAngelo. And we brought her
here last year. And so her video is on our
website, which I told you about, on white fragility. It’s just fantastic. And once you see
these categories, you start seeing them
in everyday life. I didn’t have words for
some of these categories. And I thought, that’s
just a perfect description of what happens. SHANNON SULLIVAN:
Yeah, that fragility. TRICIA ROSE: And then she
unpacks how it happens. And you have other ideas we
don’t have time for here. But there’s a notion
of white priority– not privilege, which has
economic-advantage categories– but how does whiteness, even
when it’s being economically oppressed, has racial privileges
or priorities attached to it? Learning more categories–
this is a brown community, so you know my goal
here is more education. But it is true
that the ideas help us see the world we’re
in much more effectively. And that’s what this
book did for me. So I just want to thank
you so much for the book and for the conversation. And thank you all for coming. I know it’s time to go. Thank you SHANNON SULLIVAN:
Thank you as well.

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