Why we need to talk about whiteness

Conversations about race and justice should happen outside of university sponsored discussions

When I found out that Karen B.K. Chan, a sex and emotional literacy educator, was coming to Mt. A to talk about whiteness, I got really excited. During class, we were talking about the importance of acknowledging racism when I, audibly exasperated, said “Thank fuck” in front of everyone – heads turned, eyes widened and my professor laughed.

As someone who is a biracial Filipino person, I am constantly alternating between feeling confident and feeling doubtful. My identity wavers because higher education wasn’t created for people of colour, so it’s oftentimes easier to stop speaking up on my discomfort. I was on the doubtful side of the pendulum, so Chans’s Why Do We Have To Talk About Whiteness? discussion was something to look forward to after feeling pretty otherly these past few weeks.

My fear going into the discussion was that it was going to be a crash course on allyship; truthfully, it may have acted as such. Mt. A, like many universities, is a predominately white school so, demographically speaking, more white people attended. Still, the concentration of white people made me feel uncomfortable, even though I have walked into the room many times before as one of few people of colour.

Although this talk primarily discussed ideas around race, it didn’t really have much to do with non-white students. I felt that a lot of what was being talked about was something that I feel on the day to day, but put into simpler terms for the white audience to understand at a basic level.

Perhaps I am cynical, but I feel as though this discussion was for the white-dominated faculty and student union. The event came across as one of the many workshops and talks the University holds to cancel out its racist actions that will inevitably come to the surface.

An email went out to every student at Mt. A and there were still empty seats in the auditorium. That is just a matter of privilege in most cases. Some students have to work or study, I understand. But regardless of these time commitments, students who are white didn’t have the same obligation to go because they can continue their lives never acknowledging racial disparities. They didn’t give Chan their time because it just didn’t interest them enough. On one hand, I want to thank all the white students for coming and finding a way to think about their advantages in society. But also, is sitting in on a talk and raising your hand all the time the best we can do? Let people of colour into the space to speak through the silence that has historically persisted through institutions like Mt. A.

Everyone should be aware of the racism and advantages of various identities. But it needs to happen independently of the institution, which is the oppressor to the very people it is “trying” to aid with these anti-inflammatory discussions. I wish the talk was entitled We Need To Talk about Whiteness, rather than proposing the question as “why we have to.” We are in a dire political climate that demands socioracial conversation. Conversations surrounding whiteness must take place outside of Crabtree M14.

But thank fuck, there is some kind of discourse.

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