“What do Black People need saving from?”
(asked by a Black seminary professor during a white fragility discussion group that I co-facilitate)
We were talking about DiAngelo’s (2018) analysis of the movie, The Blind Side (Hancock, 2009), in response to a question on white people’s motives when helping Black people. Often, even though white people think our motives are noble and pure, we may actually be operating from a posture of systemic racism. There was much discussion on how can we help Black people and not be seen as racists? It was an honest question from a church group who wanted to act in the way of Christ, and didn’t want that action to be viewed from a position of white beneficence. They did not want to be perceived as trying to “save” a Black or Brown person from racism.
That question rattled around in my brain. “Saving” Black people from themselves is a white supremacist, colonialist and imperialistic concept (García, 2017), directly rooted in chattel slavery. While García (2017) does not support the black/white paradigm of racism because he argues it excludes Mexican American’s [(García’s self-labeling)] and brown skinned persons, the question of the seminary professor hit home, as did García’s comment with regards to “saving”. It struck a chord of truth within my psyche.
Had I been doing antiracist work to save Black people from the effects of racism, or had I been doing this work to expose white people to their systemic racists biases?
I realized I had been doing this from the position of the former, and not the latter. While consciously trying not to be a white messiah of Black deliverance from white racism, I was subconsciously acting as one. This experience continues to remind me how deeply racism is embedded within white culture. It reminds me that even as an antiracist educator, I need to be called out when my racism rears its ugly head.
Since then, I have been grappling with the question of what it means to be an antiracist white person and an antiracist educator. While my answer is not quite congealed into a philosophy of antiracist education, it’s a start.
My antiracist educator role is to expose white minds to the truth of the systemic racism embedded deep within white culture. It is to challenge the status quo of white conservative and liberal minds and transform them into a mindset of active liberation. It is to advocate for change in the policies and practices white culture continues to use to keep Black and BIPOC bodies and minds oppressed. And it is to stand up, stand out, and stand with, all persons fighting for equality.
DiAngelo, R. (2018) White fragility: Why it’s so hard for white people to talk about racism. Beacon Press.
García, R. (2017). Unmaking gringo-centers. The Writing Center Journal 36(1), 29-60.
Hancock, J. L. (Director). (2009). The blind side [Film]. Warner Bros. Pictures.
iStockPhoto.com/kgtoh. (2015). Racial profiling word cloud [Photograph]. © iStock by Getty Images. Used by standard licensing purchase agreement.