Tuesday, May 11, 2010
White Privilege Boot Camp Courtesy of the Black Israelites
Wham. Boom. Pow. Damn!
I love street theater. I especially love agitprop disguised as teaching and knowledge. I have been thinking a great deal about our conversation on white privilege and my using Paul Mooney and David Chappelle as a lens for discussing race in America. In reflecting on my experiences in the classroom, I started thinking about how some students--white and black--found my approach too serious, or that I should let them express their feelings more. As I said earlier, we got's serious work to do, and I am no one's therapist.
In a quite timely, and unexpectedly coincidental fashion, a former student of mine emailed me. She is taking a course on Race and Sociology at an institution with which I was formerly affiliated. While there I had a reputation as the "mean," "tough," black, "race obsessed" professor. That may be true--but folks went to school when they were in my seminars. Trust me. Ironically, I was feared while there, but now fondly remembered by some.
My former student proceeded to explain how her class is all Oprah Winfreyesque, and the professor is more interested in discussing "feelings" and "guilt" than in critical discourse. Apparently, there is a cadre of my former padawans in the class and the feeling seems to be a shared one.
In trying to explain the logic underlying her new teacher's pedagogical approach I pointed out two things. One, race is certainly part of this (as said instructor is a White teacher at a predominantly White institution, so she is sympathetic to the "boo hoo, I feel so guilty" deflection and"I don't know what to do, yet I know I won't give up any wealth or privilege" that some white folk play when their Whiteness is put on blast). And gender may be a component too, as the professor is female. Yes, I do think there is something to the particular intersections of whiteness, gender, and feminism that color how white women teach and approach their scholarship on race. Just as my identity as a black man colors my work, gender and race have a profound influence on how white women navigate these issues as well.
Ultimately, I told my former student that in my best paraphrasing of Jesse the Body Ventura in the movie Predator, that "I ain't got time to bleed."
Why? White teachers and professors have in general not shown much compassion, coddling, and attention to the feelings of people of color in the classroom (the "please random coloured person speak for your race" moment that many of us have witnessed in the hollowed halls of academia for example). Frankly, I am not going to extend white students a courtesy that I/we/you have not been afforded because to do so reinforces the white privilege that is the rotten heart of Whiteness in this country.
Funny, if some of my former students thought I was hard, God knows what said folk would have done if a brother from the Black Israelites walked into the room. And once more to privilege, the Black Israelites may rule that corner and have the ability to make naive white college students who are drunk on the possibilities of post-racial radical humanism as they hook up with cute racially ambiguous boys after a game of beer pong cry, but they ain't got no real juice.
Am I dark and twisted as I laugh at the predictable outcome of Black rage, white fear, white denial, and the inevitable power of white women's tears in this video? Well actually they were rendered ineffective by said brother's verbal Kryptonite. Being a bit more provocative: Is there anything that he said regarding whiteness as property, power, and privilege in the U.S. that was (generally) untrue?