I will start by saying I am white-passing. You would not know my ethnic origins unless I told you or you had known actual people from my ethnic group who aren’t just funny stereotypes.
If you are not white-passing you will never begin to understand the things white people tell you in confidence because they think you are one of them. These things are not necessarily racist; they range from strange to out-of-touch, with the occasional (hopefully unintentional) full-on racism.
I’m a freshman here. I’m from a poor city and a diverse and large school. I didn’t know the rest of the world was so white and so strange. Being at Simon’s Rock has changed my view of whiteness as well as people who are white. I thought privileged white people were the kids I met at Model United Nations who went to Catholic schools and had dads who golfed and had hedge funds and retirement accounts. The Northern Mass whites weren’t horrible people; they had never been unintentionally strangely racist around me, but they weren’t the white people I knew at my high school. The Simon’s Rock white people with whom I’ve had the privilege (or the poor girl’s honor) to share classes are so liberal and “woke” and allied with the struggles of BIPOC people, they bounce back from wokeness and become what I categorize as strangely and unintentionally racist.
Empathy is an excellent trait to have as a human being, as in the words of Jake the Dog, “Empathy, empathy / Put yourself in the place of me.” This view of empathy is where the phenomenon of unintentional and strange racism appeals to my academic experience.
For example, unintentional and strange racism can be applied to the musical Rent if you replace racism with hating the poor; protagonists like Mark and Rodger gawk and profit from the poor yet simultaneously consider themselves poor because they refuse to work. After all, refusal to work is the exact same as being systematically denied employment.
As a first-year seminar student, you read texts that attempt to broaden the minds of any potentially racist people who could be attending your institution, namely James Baldwin’s Notes of a Native Son, The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down by Anne Fadiman, and Barracoon: The Story of the Last “Black Cargo'' by Zora Neale Hurston. My non-seminar classes also have the misfortune of white people empathizing with the struggles of BIPOC (as woke white people are known to do). White people’s empathy and allyship stem from their social media info posts and VOX Media YouTube binges. I will provide two examples of unintentional and strange racism before I move onto the bigger problem:
When studying a group of Indigenous peoples, a white classmate summarized the people’s self-provided liberation movement as a “horizontal social structure that I just adore.” A social structure that is adorable is not the militant overthrow of the colonizer’s grandchildren who steal your ancestral land, exploit your labor, and rape your communities’ women to erase traditional indigeneity. Another, more recent example would be a white classmate’s comparison of an African slave being given an easier-to-pronounce name (his slave name) by the white man who purchased him to him having to give the barista at Starbucks an easier name to spell because his white and quite popular name is just so difficult for the white man making his double shot to spell.We are not reading Charlotte’s Web—whites cannot be Wilbur—we are discussing intersectionality and generational trauma. You can’t compare your white struggles to the life-destroying result of your privilege.
Now, onto the bigger problem with the white intellectual’s empathy that results in the aforementioned unintentional and strange racism: the struggles of white people will never, ever, be comparable to those of BIPOC. The accomplishments BIPOC have made are acts of survival and not a fun Marxist experiment. Empathy and admiration are not appropriate responses to the systemic struggles that result from colonialism and patriotism. The white intellectual comes into play now because they think they just know everything about Blackness and Brownness and BIPOC struggles because their ancestors were oppressors, and now they have to make up for it by being the BEST ally on Instagram and in class.
Instagram allyship has the same faults as the 24-hour news cycle: it quickly moves on. Activism by white people proves their dissatisfaction, but it is not a long-term solution because it does not educate them on BIPOC struggles and where those struggles have come from, nor does it promise a long-term commitment to the cause of permanent and worthwhile change. Instagram activism leads to fatigue because you determine lynching as acceptable public content, because it “raises awareness”--as if people do not already know that cops murder Black people for just existing while being Black; your aesthically appealing inforgraphics state the obvious and societal normality of violence. In September, you saw news of forced sterilization in Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention up and down your peers’ stories, posts, bio links… but now you see nothing about ICE deporting the survivors or witnesses of forced sterilization. Where is the white man’s follow-through? When was the last time you saw a Black Lives Matter petition on your feed? Intellectual activism also does nothing because the aforementioned empathy and admiration white people have seem to stem from guilt, or maybe it is the saviortism and responsibility white people have exercised since the dawn of their time—white people are the fixers so they will fix racism and sadness. Instagram activism also leads to the problem of Vice President Kamala Harris, who got #GirlBoss’ed (and made people take A.C.A.B. out of their bios): white people empowering the wrong people, looking at qualifies not quantifiers. We love the police now, because not all police officers are white.
When people who are not white try to talk, they are overshadowed by white peers telling everyone that they learned the white narrative of the Civil War. All BIPOC want is to tell people to stop referring to the African-American Vernacular in class and to instead say Black Vernacular, as not all Black people are African. Not knowing enough to talk about a subject that does not affect them is apparent in every word that leaves a white peer’s lips. Instances include white people quoting viral tweets as though they are a peer-reviewed Master’s Theses. No, Kevin, Black people don’t die because of the stress racism causes to them. They die from the lack of healthcare and other life ruining actions resulting from a system that is racist and was built to be racist. There is no causation that backs this besides the fact that long-term stress does impact health––but that is only a minuscule factor of Black, Brown, and Indigenous mortality.
White academia is ingrained in SRC’s culture through phenomena like Seminar discussions led by white people on topics that are not about white people. In fact, these problems being discussed are even imposed by white people! Or Symposiums with themes that romanticize BIPOC ethnocide with words like “Resilience” and “Refuge.” At the end of the day, white academia is just a new-age and inclusive way to make academia something that studies BIPOC rather than actually including and listening to them. We are reading books by white authorities instead of Black people, not fully examining the histories of studies, and analyzing struggles instead of creating a framework to improve lives. White people are power-hungry and barbaric, so they will never not center a narrative around themselves, Caucasian-ing everything they look at. I will not accept liberalism and observations which trivialize my community and others’, nor will I accept the people who perpetuate them, until they sit down and listen to the people they claim to be the protectors of.