More than a few times a month I sit around the table with leaders from the LGBT community of Indiana (of course most specifically Indianapolis). No one is surprised that the majority of people I sit with are, like me, white folks. I can honestly say that a majority of the people in these groups are seriously invested in bringing more racial diversity to the table, if possible. Calls for increased participation by Black lgbt individuals are not uncommon and are never met with outright disagreement by anyone. I am found wondering after a year of sitting at the table for discussions on this issue and being involved in email communications around this topic - why are we still talking about inclusion, equality and social justice in rooms full of white folks?
This very forum, where I am a happy contributor and have engaged in many good and powerful conversations with our very inspiring host (Bil Browning) about the inclusion of diverse racial voices remains to my knowledge an all white ensemble. I do not believe this is from a lack of Bil and other contributors attempting outreach to people of color to encourage their involvement. So if we are putting forth good-faith efforts at being racially inclusive where is the missing outcome?
In order to think about race and racism in the United States in potentially transformative ways, I believe we have to start by looking at ourselves. Being white does not mean being without a race. Whiteness exists as a category of identity that separates individuals and mediates worldviews and social interactions. Everyone gets a little uncomfortable when their identity is spoken about in absolute terms. If I say all white people see race, whether they admit it or not. I probably lose my audience just a little because no one likes to be told that some part of who they are directly means something else entirely. However, if I say all gay men and lesbians have formed identities at least partially by navigating a world that is largely homophobic. This statement is in itself an agreed upon assumption by the majority of the lgbt community. When I say lgbt community, I suppose I should be more specific and say the white lgbt community. Many people of color who are also lgbt often list race as more fundamental to their identity than sexuality. Well, what if I say white people have an inherent serious distance from statements about them that include some notion of whiteness as a unifying social trait.
Whiteness studies have started to finally take hold in academic settings, but my fear is that much like a lot of queer theory it will stay in academic settings never reaching activist frameworks. Stating clearly that as a white person, I am a racist makes people very uncomfortable. Now I spend a large portion of my week thinking about how to teach future teachers anti-racist ideologies as a teacher educator at Purdue University and my job prior to being a teacher and a graduate student was as an anti-racist educator/administrator at a small liberal arts college. I feel like it would be very easy for me to claim that I am not racist. However, the temptation to consider myself separate from the problem doesn't result in productive or meaningful conversation. The United States of America has a history of racial discrimination and violence that existed long before I was born and will continue to be a problem long after I die.
Our media still serves to largely reinforce the social and ideological domination of whiteness. Children of color still do worse on standardized tests than white students. College admissions still result in white students dominating university settings. How many black men and women are in leadership positions in our government? Race still exists as a problem.
Recently, I was called out for supporting a suggestion that a local organizations board (of which I am member) should engage in anti-racism training. We were told that, "anti-racism implies that we are racist and can we not call it diversity training?" Mind you, we can call it whatever you like however claims that you are not racist and vehemently turning the conversation away from serious consideration of race issues to instead focus on how innocent the white folks in the room are in this persistent problem of race leads us back to sitting very comfortably in our white skins.
Perhaps, reframing the conversation from racial difference being the problem to whiteness serving as a primary force and ideological dominating construct in all relations within the united states would serve to move us further toward fixing the problems of racial violence. Following years of serious social science and education research, I do not focus on teaching my white students how to teach black students. Instead I try to teach white straight students how white privilege and male privilege and heterosexual privilege and middle class privilege all impact their lives and access to opportunities. This conversation tends to make people very uncomfortable, but we need to have it anyway.