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?

26 comments:

marci said...

i heard nothing wrong in the clip...
the chick, even if she was sober, could not handle the truth and was utterly destroyed by it.... mind, body and soul...
fatally.. she asked the question from her white tower standpoint and was completely unprepared for the answer....
good..

Diedre said...

First off, thanks for writing this piece. It's good, and provided a forum for me to work through some of my own thoughts. I'm starting my PhD in Education at a big ole White school in Florida working in the area of Critical Race Theory and Culturally Responsive Pedagogy, with mostly White classmates and White professors, as such I am thirsty for conversations with people of color...

For the first time since leaving Brooklyn, I find myself missing the Black Israelites. Let me tell you that is no small feat because they damn sure know how to clog up the street with their screaming screeching amps-a sista is just trying to buy some soap brother Israel, let me be.

But this video, if one can view it as an extraction of ideas, is fantastic and utterly true. The White/Jewish lineage asking the African American lineage about some willie-nillie concept called love, while the African American lineage is more concerned about concrete realities called History and Debt and Service. I love it!

Nothing cruel about it, not the showing of it, nor the pedagogical bruteness that you wield in teaching it…now the history, the truth of it- that’s some cruel ass shit. (hope I am “allowed” to curse on here…)

In my own experience facilitating conversations on white privilege in a mixed race audience, the tears of White folks, and they ALWAYS come, are counter-productive. They create an overly emotional space of grief where action is necessary. My response is- DO YOUR WORK PEOPLE! I have. I’ve spent time and energy researching the history of your people, and how the politics of your governance has created a State in which folks are subjugated strategically and systematically. Cry at home. Come ready to work when you come here.

I think for Black folks, when the space becomes saturated with the tears and guilt of White folks, we get impatient, belittled even, as the object of one’s pity rather than subject of one’s alliance. In the last course I facilitated, the “manual” stated that I should ask White folks how they could share the privilege that they have benefitted from with people of color. Share? WTF? I don’t want your unearned aloofness. Just move out of the way while I get my due.

My strategy to this has been to start training White folks to work with other Whites in the subject of their own privilege, thereby alleviating the shocked looks, ignorance, and over emotional response a White person encounters when dealing with this the first (or first fifty) time they encounter the effects of White Privilege in this country.

My aim is to strategize, let someone else be the frontline educator.

Keep speaking Truth to power. 

sarstar said...

I realize this addresses only a part of your post, however... As a former student of yours, I find some of your points extremely interesting. I am wondering if your description of yourself as "mean", "tough", and "race obsessed" is your own interpretation of students' perception, or a reflection of course evaluations. Though I would describe you as "race obsessed", to an extent (I'll come back to that), I do not think then or now I would describe your instruction methods as tough, or yourself as mean. Speaking for myself, I found the course I took of yours to be rather rudimentary. Much of the coursework and readings from class were exactly the same as or similar to the ones from a class I took in the 11th grade. As for yourself being mean, I never thought that. It seemed you were more elitist and apathetic, because you didn't fit in at our institution, you assumed it was the fault of the students, when in reality, we were used to a certain teaching method, a certain teacher, and a certain caliber of courses that I felt was just not met.
Back to the race obsession. I would have to agree with this, but not in a positive light. I am a minority myself, but because I'm not black, never felt a connection to your views on race, racism and white privilege. You are one of the many, in my opinion, that sees race as black and white. When in fact, there are a vast array of minorities, and an even further spectrum of the problems faced by minorities. Though I am not in the course that your other former student spoke to you about, I find your comments and views on that to tie right back in to your elitist personality. I agree that as a white instructor, there is only a certain level of sympathy that the instructor can achieve with the minority students in her class. However, I do know of some of the things they have done in class and think that she makes a great effort to address racial issues. I would say that it should be more of a lesson to have a class on race taught by a white professor than a black professor, not that either is more valuable than another, but it's important that minorities know how whites view race. What fair is it that they should listen to minorities complain and protest our problems and views, if when they do the same they are brushed off and labeled naive or ignorant by their colleagues? For instance, a few years back, I took a Native American Religions course at my college. As a Native American, the class seemed to me that it was politically incorrect, horribly generalized, ignorant and a little racist at times. However, upon reflecting on the course, I feel that it was far more educational for me to take this class taught by a white professor than an N.A. professor. I learned more about myself, race, and the importance of my own race and education because it wasn't taught by somebody who had experience in those issues. Learning from the "opposition" (for lack of a better term) has often proved to be more educational. I encourage you to take this into account when you teach about race, remember that there is more than just black and white, and are your own prejudices helping the white students or colored students more?

SLM said...

Wow. Brother Isreal summed up 400yrs+ in 4 minutes. AMAZING!

chaunceydevega said...

I will get back to all of the points. But when a former student calls me out I have to take the bait! How fun! I am engaging this because it proves so much about higher education today, white privilege, and many of the issues we are dealing with in all subjects today.

"I am wondering if your description of yourself as "mean", "tough", and "race obsessed" is your own interpretation of students' perception, or a reflection of course evaluations. Though I would describe you as "race obsessed", to an extent (I'll come back to that), I do not think then or now I would describe your instruction methods as tough, or yourself as mean. Speaking for myself, I found the course I took of yours to be rather rudimentary."

I have never been described as rudimentary. I like that. If anything I was labeled directly and indirectly as mean, hard, etc. I took it as a badge of honor. If so rudimentary, why did so many throw temper tantrums demanding A's because "the other teachers liked their writing!" You see, when black and brown folk demand excellence we are judged harshly and unfairly for it.

"Much of the coursework and readings from class were exactly the same as or similar to the ones from a class I took in the 11th grade."

Great school then. Reading Omi and Winant, Roediger, Katznelson, Goldberg, Guinier, Mills, Williams, Collins, Jacobson, Olson, Gilroy, West and others. I wish I had gone to that school!

"As for yourself being mean, I never thought that. It seemed you were more elitist and apathetic, because you didn't fit in at our institution, you assumed it was the fault of the students..."

Ouch. This is a great lesson for professors. When you have higher standards than your predecessor and don't give everyone an "A" you don't fit in. This is especially true of institutions where the students have been told they are brighter than they are. Thus the move to a customer service model of higher ed where a slave like reverence for evals is the norm. Whatever you do don't be the person who rocks the boat! Never, not ever.

Also, if you are at an institutions where you are to be bff's meaning best friends forever with your students and respond to them via facebook and myspace be very very weary.

"when in reality, we were used to a certain teaching method, a certain teacher, and a certain caliber of courses that I felt was just not met."

Ouch again that hurts. Do you mean mediocre and coddling? Do you mean Powerpoint and handing out my notes to students? Do you mean incessant lecturing like I am a robot that doesn't expect students to come prepared to class?

"Though I am not in the course that your other former student spoke to you about, I find your comments and views on that to tie right back in to your elitist personality."

You speak truth! Yes I am an elitist. I expect excellence. All snowflakes are not created equal. Sorry.

chaunceydevega said...

"I agree that as a white instructor, there is only a certain level of sympathy that the instructor can achieve with the minority students in her class.I would say that it should be more of a lesson to have a class on race taught by a white professor than a black professor, not that either is more valuable than another, but it's important that minorities know how whites view race.What fair is it that they should listen to minorities complain and protest our problems and views, if when they do the same they are brushed off and labeled naive or ignorant by their colleagues?"

You prove my point. Do you get that? Would you like a hug and a sticker for being so brave as to discuss race and privilege? I can give you a star or a teddy bear. Your choice.

"I encourage you to take this into account when you teach about race, remember that there is more than just black and white, and are your own prejudices helping the white students or colored students more?"

We "colored" folk best know our place, no?

I entertained this exercise to prove my point. This is white privilege in action folks. Often white students think they know more about us and all matters by virtue of their racial privilege. We have to prove our competence and knowledge to them. We are suspect. We are judged as incompetent until we demonstrate our worth to them.

Funny, if not so sad.

!&# said...

None of it was untrue.

It was an exquisite "performance" on the part of the man. This is an explosion on a busy street. This is what being in public should be: a free place where we're confronted with other peoples' view of us.

Instead, the public commons is an extension of our (by us I mean white people's) bubbles of privilege. Even among people we don't know and in places which are not "ours," we're protected from the truth of our history and power by norms of civility, hospitality and "safety."

I wonder if the woman learned anything? What's the outcome of this intervention? Or does this even matter?

This is the first post I've read from your blog, but it won't be the last. Thank you!

OhCrapIHaveACrushOnSarahPalin said...

@Chauncey, well! I think you've just been labeled uppity. Gee, I bet you've never heard that before.

"Often white students think they know more about us and all matters by virtue of their racial privilege."

Too many white students -- and/or nonwhite students overidentified with whites -- still actually believe they know more about the topic of race than the people who have spent an entire career studying it.

Poor things, it must be SO DIFFICULT to learn that's not the case...and be schooled on that issue, in public, in front of everyone.

Frickin' unreal.

Cobb said...

Wherein the whites are reminded that no matter how much 'education' is processed, they are on the hook.

If only words were power.

chaunceydevega said...

@Cobb.

It must be going to rain. We are in total agreement.

cd

Cobb said...

OK I'm going to burden you with a little story because writing it will help me out.

Once upon a time in Brooklyn, I found myself at one of those Spike Lee parties. This was back when Black Sheep owned the soul of every dancer when the hook swung in 'engine engine number nine..' So I'm at this swanky flat in Ft Greene and homeboy in dreads is holding court.

He explains to the smitten crowd that as a tenured professor at an Ivy League school, he is a WASP nightmare, and the mojo he throws curveball stylee at the generic midwestern white crowd is even more spectacular. You see all of their lives, these cherry cheeked bohunks scatched and scraped to get their babies into college. Not just any college, but a fancy tip top East Coast college. All their lives they have instructed their offspring to respect their professors in order to get their ticket punched into the good life, aka non-trailer trash non-ghetto life. And all of their provincial lives they have encountered teachers of the composition of William H. Macy.

Now Dread Philosopher King Mandingo stands between Becky and the brass ring, and the white collective shits bricks. And he just can't wait until parents night. With all their wealth and privilege there is fuck all they can do to a tenured professor - it would make a mockery of everything they've been preaching their entire lives. Thus, homeboy is the embodiment of the Wake Up Call.

People actually stopped dancing to hear this.

DeVaga and the DPKM are now inextricably linked in my mind, and I wouldn't be surprised in the least if they turned out to be the same person.

Bill the Lizard said...

Hi Chauncey,

Based on what we see in the clip, I think everything the Black Israelite said was true.

I personally think it's obvious to anyone who is aware of the history of this country that this girl needed to be taken down a few notches and have her preconceived notions regarding race and politics seriously questioned.

Honestly, she showed a staggering amount of naivety (and outright stupidity) by asking that question.

"How much do you love your Country?"

Just uttering it shows that she had no problems making gross generalizations about people - judging before understanding.

Honestly, history shows us again and again that the ability to make decisions for yourself and self determine is power.

The Black Israelite knew that...

And so did Malcolm X: "Power never takes a back step - only in the face of more power."

Cobb said...

(full disclosure, i studied computer science and had chinese calculus instructors. the amount of sympathy between faculty and students in the hard sciences is asymptotic to zero, especially when the teachers were foreign born and thus unable to ply their technical trade in the military industrial complex of the reagan era)

Diedre said...

Last comment,
Are you willing to share a reading list? I noted the list of Authors in response to your former student but a little more direction would be lovely.

I hate that your identity is secret, albeit supposedly a pretty bad one. I'm looking for mentors and possible dissertation committee members.

Kit (Keep It Trill) said...

Riveting video, and not to take away from it, but I wonder what's the value of taking down the equivalent of Disney's Bambi?

I'd rather see Brotha Israelite go after Ann Coulter or Laura Ingraham or Sarah Palin, or their male counterparts.

And I can't help but wonder if nuke approach with the "Bambi's" of the world is counter productive, and will send them from the frying pan of naiveness to the fires of hardcore racism.

As for your covertly hostile Native American student, the most revealing thing he or she said was, "it's important that minorities know how whites view race."

How the fuck you gonna grow up as a minority in this country and not know that? Maybe on a mountain w/o electricity or even a radio.

Talk about internalized racism; that poor student has the words of the 'mastah' residing in his or her mouth and mind, and doesn't even know it. There's something profoundly sad when people accept (as opposed to tolerate by necessity) the view that the Eurocentric view of the world trumps all others in the classroom.

BTW, Chauncey, like Cobb, I seen you too! So have my kids. We identified you in the Where's Waldo book. You were standing near Waldo, and wore dreds.

:)

Kit (Keep It Trill) said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
jacked UP jazz said...

What is truly amazing to me is that Batman could hold a kitty with both hands and still put a beat down on both the Penguin and the Joker. You will also note that he managed to put said kitty safely out of harms way before that treacherous Cat Women pushed him into the drink with the Boy Wonder and all those villains. They don't make heroes like that anymore.

chaunceydevega said...

@Diedre. So flattering. Maybe one day we can talk about books and such.

What are you reading/studying on these topics? I finally got a copy of Feagin's new book on the White Racial Frame and also a copy of Backstage Racism. I am eager to plow through those.

@Kit--That is funny, king mandingo! (I so wish btw, I am more a cafe latte ant lion). It is sad to see students with so much internalized racism. They are racial enablers and can't see how damaged they are.

@Jacked up--Batman is that dude. You should check out Adam West and Bruce Ward's bios. There was some freaky stuff going on during the filming of the series. Apparently lots of women (and men) wanted some of that old batarang...

Cobb said...

Devega, did you ever use (or take) the Harvard Implicit Assumption Test? Comments?

chaunceydevega said...

I do. The IAT is a very powerful tool. Talk about denial when folks have to share their scores. Have you taken them?

cd

Cobb said...

Multiple times, I'm always neutral.

Anonymous said...

I teach in a school where the students are told they are brighter than they are and think they know more than the prof ... of color. PLEASE. I wish you and I didn't. Very good post. Thank you.

Sistagirl said...

Everything he said was true, just because she couldn't handle it; doesn't mean that he is a bigot. Just because the truth is harsh, doesn't mean that he hates white people.

It is what it is and more people need to realize that and stop living in a fantasy world.

Brett Stevens said...

I wish most white college kids would read this blog post, because it would demystify a lot.

White people, especially the die-hard anti-racist types, think they are "helping" the situation when it seems to me they are furthering a guilt-retribution cycle for their own means.

If you look at the class war that white people have been going through for the past few centuries, it makes sense. They're "keeping up with the Joneses" by being more altruistic and egalitarian than their neighbors.

Tom said...

I know I'm very very late to the party, but sarstar is something else! Is that how students talk to professors now?

I love the IAT, I put a link to it on my blog years back. Every white person who has mentioned his/her results to me also had an explanation about how results were totally inaccurate, the test is no good. Now maybe the people who got insight from it, kept quiet and did some introspection. Hard to say.

Nothing against white people, you understand, I'm white myself. But we got our work cut out.

Ankhesen Mié said...

Wham. Boom. Pow. Damn!