Visiting an online discussion with students about the concept of “Reverse Racism”

Visiting an online discussion with students about the concept of “reverse racism”

I’ve been teaching an online race class for over 10 years now and being able to see students from across our nation, who come from different parts of the world, have a thoughtful discussion about their experiences with race has been a wonderful education privilege. It has helped me to see, close-up, how race impacts their daily lives. And having this discussion, which I moderate, has allowed me to see the imprint of race in my student’s lives, and it calls me to use my own experiences with race, from both lived and those acquired from  the more than 30-year-study of the subject that has become a basic component of my life. I have been granted a wonderful laboratory through which to examine this social construction that has shaped my life.  What follows is the basics of a discussion that I had with a couple of students in my Race in America class. The names have been changed to protect the innocent, and editing of some of the student’s words for meaning may have taken place. The jewels that are to be found from telling the stories of our lives, and then examining them through a filter of race, allows us to see things that we may not have thought of before. I present this discussion for your consideration.

This discussion happens in a section of the class called Capitalism and Race. We have talked about the connection between the creation of our nation, the creation of the concept of race and how those two resulted in the creation of capitalism as our national economy, with the examples of the land taken, and genocide performed on the Indigenous peoples of this land, and the use of enslaved free African people as a basis for the nation’s economy, the students were asked the following question:

Our discussion topic:  In what ways is racism profitable and for whom?

Students are required to log in and to participate in the discussion.  Students must

  1. Think of an action which you believe to be racist and then discuss the following:
  2. who profited from the action?
  3. what was gained?

Student Mark:  Racism, depending on the area can be monetarily and possibly socially beneficial for people based on the area, and conditions therein. The example is one from my own personal experience.

 I lived in Hawaii. A friend and I were in an area that was notorious for being full of local Hawaiians. We would usually hike all over the island of Oahu on our days off. One day, after we finished a hike near this densely local populated area, we decided to stop at a gas station and a drink as and a snack. Upon entering the gas station, we immediately were glared at and whispered about. When we went to pay for our snacks and drinks we were told that we weren’t welcome in the store. My friend and I looked at the attendant, surprised, and he automatically answered: “I won’t serve you, and if you don’t leave now, I’ll call people who will make you leave.”

Instantly my friend and I headed out the door, with the attendant shouting at us, “F*ck off Haole boys” (Haole being a racial slur towards white people from Hawaiians). As we walked to my friend’s truck, a truck full of people from the neighborhood pulled up to the gas pumps and we could see the hostility in their eyes

I would say that the gas station owners benefited from refusing service to us (as is his right to do) in a social way. There is a sign in the neighborhood that reads, “White Invaders Give The Islands Back Before We Take Them Back,” so I assume that the clerk experienced some personal gratification, the gas station owners probably got some sort of additional business when it became known that my friend and I (the student did not mention the race of he or his friend directly, which is white )were kicked out of the store. I would say that there was more monetary gain beyond what my friend and I would have contributed to his business, as well as some personal gain and recognition within the neighborhood.

Instructor Kim’s thought/notes about student Mark’s post:  When I read Mark’s post the first thing that strikes me is that he calls a native, Indigenous Hawaiian neighborhood “notorious.” The negative connotation is obvious in the word, but it may not be obvious to those who read this. The people of the island are ‘notorious’, and no such words are used to talk about the white student and his friend, who I am assuming is white as well. I know that both these people are white even though the student never identifies himself, or anyone else as white. It is fascinating that he has not problem identifying native Hawaiians as such, but does not recognize his own color, race, ethnicity or anything. Yet in order for us to understand the ‘reverse racism’ that Mark also does not name, is to understand that he and his friend are white.

White is the race that goes unmentioned. We never have to talk about it, because it is assumed; this student assumes his whiteness, and he assumes that we will also assume his whiteness; he never questions that we will recognize him as white. What also goes unmentioned is the fact that Mark and his friends are colonizers. They understand their whiteness without a filter of race. They are white; they don’t have to think about what that means. But they know the meaning of the race of those who are other. They live in “densely” populated neighborhoods that are notorious.

The student can see how the race of the Indigenous people impact their own lives, as well as how their race impacts his life. It is not Mark and his friend’s whiteness which gets them kicked out of the gas station; it is the ‘Hawaiian-ness’ of the locals that is the problem. Whiteness cannot be the problem for Mark, because it does not exist; he cannot ‘see’ his or his friend’s race.

But Mark sees the ‘local-ness’ of the clerk, and it only through the language of native Hawaiians, ““I won’t serve you, and if you don’t leave now, I’ll call people who will make you leave.” “F*ck off Haole boys!” By the way, a Haole, is not a term for all white people. It is a term for white people who have colonized the Hawaiian Islands and continue to benefit from this act of oppression.  It is important to understand the limits for the power of the word haole, because there is no way to say that all white people are bad. There are ways for different groups of white people to be bad, but the idea that whiteness may be something undesirable is inconceivable.

The importance of the voice of the clerk cannot be overestimated. It is only through the voice of the clerk that Mark and his friend begin to understand that there may be places on this island where they are not welcomed. This concept is as foreign to Mark and his friend, as they are to the island. We are told that the two, “We would usually hike all over the island of Oahu on our days off.” The friends never question if they belong on the island; it is theirs to explore, after working at jobs, that many of those who are born to the land have difficulty being hired for.

What seems most problematic for these friends is the fact that there is a sign in the neighborhood that declares the intentions of those who were born to the island, ““White Invaders Give The Islands Back Before We Take Them Back”. It is the voice of the island that calls Mark and his friends White Invaders. Without this voice, Mark and friend’s race would never have been spoken, noticed, would never really exist.

Without this sign, there would have been nothing in Mark’s analysis that spoke of the fact that white people did invade and colonize the islands. These are facts that are not part of Mark’s consciousness, so it is easy to ignore. If these facts are not acknowledged by white voices, then the impact of their truth does not have to be part of the story that Mark gets to tell his classmates about the ways that people of color benefit from treating he and his friend in an unfriendly manner.

Student: Isabelle: Thank you for sharing a personal story with us! I don’t have a deep understanding of Hawaii’s history besides knowing that the U.S. annexed it illegally in the 1900s at some point. Based on Johnson’s definition of racism, was that what you guys experienced? It just sounds to me more like prejudice on the part of the shop-owner- based on the island’s history of imperialism and violence, he saw you two and immediately felt animosity. 

Instructor Kim’s thought/notes about student Isabelle’s post:  I love that Isabelle is asking Mark about the history of the Islands! I love even more that she is reminding him of the class definitions of racism: The Patterns of Privilege and Power granted to one group over others based in race. This is something I can work with.

 

This is what I posted into the student discussion:

Hey y’all what a great discussion y’all are having about the differences between racism and prejudice and the concept of ‘reverse racism’ that seems to be at the base of Mark’s story.  I, too, would like to thank you for sharing this story Mark.  It is brave to talk about the ways that we have experienced the impact of race in our own lives.  This may take a while, LOL!

So Isabelle asks if what Mark experienced on the Island of Hawaii was prejudice and not racism.  Mark has told of his experience of not being served by indigenous peoples (native Hawaiian descendants) and being physically threatened and forced to leave the area.  Mark spoke of the financial reward that the shop owner would receive in terms of having other indigenous people spending their money in his store, and the ‘recognition’ he would get from the community.

 And the history of the Hawaiian Islands is complex; while it is a U.S. state, statehood came at a high price for the Pacific Islanders who were the victims of the horrors of colonization, plantations, occupation and all of the other things that being treated as a conquered people entails, including having your homelands taken over by others for their profit and pleasure (tourism) and leaving little ability for indigenous people to even make a living, except in service to those people who use the islands for their own pleasure.

So what, in terms of the ways that we are going to use the vocabulary in this class, are we talking about here.  The following are the ways that we will use terms in this class.

  1. Prejudice-is a bias, either for or against someone or thing, often based in stereotypical social understandings about the behaviors and natures of others because of group memberships.
  2. Racism is the patterns of privilege and power granted to one group over others based in race.

There are two (2) important things to notice about these definitions.  There is no mention of hatred, or intention.

So let’s begin this analysis at the beginning of the relationship between the U.S. and who can be citizens.

  • In 1790 the first naturalization and immigration act said that there were only 2 requirements for one to become a U.S. Citizen. The first is that one had to be free. The second is that you have to be white.
  • This is one of the clearest places to see how early whiteness and U.S. citizenship have been linked.

In 1922, Hawaiian born Japanese descendant, plantation owner and farmer Takao Ozawa took his petition for citizenship as an ‘all-american’ successful business man to the Supreme Court where he was denied based on race. With the Chinese exclusion act of 1882 and then this, it wasn’t until the 1950’s that Asians were allowed full citizenship, after World War II and the U.S. internment camps for Japanese. With all of this history and so much more that relates directly to the U.S. acquisition of Hawaii, involving the violent inhuman treatment of indigenous peoples on the Islands, there is a long history of white American cultural based U.S. benefits much more from statehood than have many indigenous Hawaiians. This is racism.

When I look at the story that Mark so graciously shared with us, I see a situation that happened between individuals (Mark and his friend and the shop owner and people present). I see a hurtful situation where the prejudice of the indigenous peoples that Mark and friend dealt with was awful. It was real, and it hurt.

The next thing that I want to address is profit, because the connection between profit and racism is what this lesson is about. Mark’s experience is that there are two ways that the Shop owner profits/gains from not serving people (Mark and friend) because they are white. But it is obvious that he actually doesn’t personally profit monetarily; the shop owner loses whatever money that Mark, and friend would have spent. This has happened on the individual level, and once again, there are people here who have done the hurting—the Shop owner and the indigenous community. And there are individuals who have been hurt (Mark and friend) because of their race, in this case, because of their whiteness. This is real and is seen by some as an act of racism, but as the instructor and a person who has been studying racism for years, this is all an example of the hurtful ways that prejudice hurts others.

For the purposes of this class, when we talk about racism, we will be using the larger, systematic definition that is suggested by our textbook, Privilege, Power and Difference, which focuses on the patterns of privilege and power. The Patterns of Privilege and Power granted to one group over others based in race.

Because of the impact of race in colonialization, the Shop owner was actually really risking having no business at all or having the dominant culture (whites who live on the island (power)) never doing business with him again, and having violence done to himself (shop owner) for not doing business with and for threatening white people. And what makes this systematic and not individual, is that from what happens to you is that most of the business opportunities, jobs and the like are tied to white owners, (especially in tourism airlines and hotels, etc.) and those with power will have a greater influence over a wide number of indigenous peoples.

What happened to Mark will not determine how all white people will be treated across the island.   I hope that this is clear. Feel free to ask questions.

The power of story. We all have stories to tell, and it is only through telling our own stories that we can begin to deal with the trauma of race in our lives as individuals and this is important. And what is vital to our society is that we tell the stories through a filter of race. Mark’s ability to divorce his story from the political social and historical situation that he lived when he was in Hawaii is one of the reasons that talking about race across racial groups is so difficult. Often when white people talk about their experiences, they are doing so from an individual experience; the stories of people of color may be individual, but they are always about an entire people. What an essential difference!

Telling our stories validates our experiences and that is healing for the individual; examining our stories through a filter of race helps us to heal for a society. If we want to heal, we must find places and times where we can tell stories, and listen to those of others. And then we must do the hard work. We must listen to the voices that have been silenced. We must add the parts of the story that are missing; and only then will healing be possible.

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Wisdom from My Daughter, Aged 12

Wisdom

To Katya, Age 12

 

I listened.

She said.

Momma how do I tell my Dad I want him to

Stay in one place, have a home.

She listened.

I said.

I’ve never been very good at talking to your Daddy. You must find your own way.

She listened.

I said.

Your Daddy may not ever be the man that you and I need him to be. So, we’ve got to accept the man he is.

She listened.

I said.

We can both keep searching for a man who is right for us. We don’t have to settle.

She said.

Momma you can change the men in your life.

My Daddy will always be my Daddy.

I listened.

I Remember Ondad, my Grandfather

This is an old piece, but it speaks to me as I have been thinking about family, and missing them. I wrote this in 1996 after the death of my Grandfather, Edward B. Pollock, and no harm is meant to anyone mention herein. My grandfather, Edward Benjamin Pollock is the first on the left, 3 away from the Great Ma Rainey.


Smiling black faces straining; sweat pouring to the pavement, watering the past.  Torn, worn red keds, clicking, ticking back to a time before now, before then.  Quarter blues and jazz swirling and twirling making white faces smile easy, hateful.  Laughter without joy tumbling from mouths thrown open wide.  I was seven, and all I knew was that the movements and music should have been mine.  Should have felt good.  But my stomach ached, and I wanted to be somewhere else, someone else.  Yet the dancers never stopped.  They just waited for the next crowd to appear.

I remember my grandfather, Edward Benjamin Pollock.  He was always a strong, hard man.  I remember that he never wanted to throw anything away.  He thought he could do, could fix anything.  He would try to force things to work, sometimes breaking them beyond repair in his attempt to bring the pieces together again.  I can see coffee pots taped together and chairs held together with string.  He thought that he really could force things to work, force things to last longer than nature had intended.  Even force people to love him.

I remember his raspy voice.  At times he sounded like Louis Armstrong, which was not so surprising, since he was born in New Orleans the year before Sachmo.  I always knew that my grandfather had been a jazz musician, yet it wasn’t until I had lived in New Orleans that I understood.

When I was little he still played his clarinet occasionally.  It was always such a strange sound – so light that it just floated off.  My grandfather never floated.  It was so lonely, his music.  Before I was 10 he stopped playing, only a guitar after that, but he could never make it sing.

I can see my grandfather; just another of the little black boys roaming the streets of the Quarters.  When I first saw these boys I was a 7-year-old girl who had been raised in my father’s – my grandfather’s adopted city- Chicago, I hated those boys.  All I could see was blacks putting on a show for white people.  Dancing and smiling with bottle caps stuck in the soles of their shoes so that they could use their feet to create the rhythms that those white faces had come to reap.  I was sure that the steps of these boys weren’t any different than the shackled shuffles of their great-great-grandfathers as they walked through the same streets,  ankles bound , auction block ready. I hated those boys because I knew that somehow, I was them, and I never wanted to beg.  I was ashamed of my grandfather because there was always a bit of that little Quarter hustler in him.

That street dancer was always there.  He was the one that made my grandfather hold on to thing which should have been allowed to die.  He was the part of my grandfather who never allowed anyone to be tired, to be sick, to need a rest.  My grandfather made everyone just keep on dancing, keep on smiling, no matter what.

When my grandmother first got sick, it wasn’t so bad, because to some extent, she could still do for herself.  But as the years and the strokes continued to drain her, my grandfather could not understand.  His entire survival was dependent on his being able to dance, to smile, to say ‘yaz sir’ just one more time.  After a while my grandmother could no longer dance and my grandfather made her pay dearly for this.  She let him down when she could no longer sing, and he had been with her for so many years that he had forgotten how his own voice sounded without hers.  All he could do was try to force her to sing, force her to dance, even though her body had left her years before.  By the end, she would push the food out of her mouth, because not even my grandfather could force her to dance again.

When my grandfather looked at his son, he never saw a man.  A man was hard and worked for a living.  A man danced so hard that he could taste his sweat as it ran between his clenched, barred teeth.  My father never danced; he never quite understood the rhythms.  He had not been born in New Orleans; he had never seen Congo Square and could not understand.  My grandfather could never see that because he had danced so hard, my father didn’t have to.  Indeed, my father had already forgotten how.

When my grandfather could no longer sing and dance, no longer please the crowd, his life no longer had a purpose.  So he decided to leave those streets which were crowed with young faces who heard rhythms that my grandfather could not even imagine.  And so we must take up the dance.  Our steps will be different.  But I will teach my own daughter the song and dance routine as I learned it from her grandfather.  We must dance and sing as if our life depended on it, for it does.

As I walk past the little black boys in the quarters, baby stroller in front of me, I tell my daughter to look.  I tell her to love those boys, and not to ever feel shame about who we have been, who we still are.  I whisper the names of her black  great-grandfather , her black grandfather, and her white father.  I tell her to never forget the rhythms that she hears on these streets.  I tell her to listen to the echoes of all of the souls who dance before her.  And I tell her to take the movement, take the music and form wings with which to soar.

Didn’t Leave Nobody But the Baby

Didn’t Leave Nobody But the Baby

for all the Emmet Tills there have been, and that are yet to be.

Go to sleep you little babe (Go to sleep you little babe)
Go to sleep you little babe (Go to sleep you little babe)
Your mama’s gone away and your daddy’s gonna stay
Didn’t leave nobody but the baby

Go to sleep you little babe (Go to sleep you little babe)
Go to sleep you little babe (Go to sleep you little babe)
Everybody’s gone in the cotton and the corn
Didn’t leave nobody but the baby

You’re sweet, little babe (You’re sweet, little babe)
You’re sweet, little babe (You’re sweet, little babe)
Honey in the rock and the sugar don’t stop
Gonna’ bring a bottle to the baby

Don’t you, weep pretty babe (Don’t you, weep pretty babe)
Don’t you, weep pretty babe (Don’t you, weep pretty babe)
She’s long gone with her red shoes on
Gonna’ need another lovin’ baby

The song of the sirens, calling young men to their death. The scene in “O Brother, Where Art Thou,” where the beauties, Southern White women, temptresses all, call George Clooney and pals to their supposed death, or transformation, has been swirling around my head today. The haunting lyrics came to me as I was sitting for a friend’s child with a smile that always entices me to fall into her deep, bright eyes, came swimming up through the fog of a wet Seattle afternoon.

Go to sleep you little babe Go to sleep you little babe

The song of the sirens, calling young men to their death. This song is tricky. Got to be real careful around it. When I hear three-parts, each voice distinct, I too, am drawn in, suckered by the all too sweet sound that forces one to stop whatever they are doing and only pay attention to those voices, calling, needy as always, forcing me to wonder what they want, and that, that it the trick. If they make me wonder about them, then I am hooked, and I don’t want to wonder about them. I don’t want to think about them ever. Too much time has already been wasted on them, by them and for them. And they have never been worthy.

Go to sleep you little babe Go to sleep you little babe

The song of the sirens, calling young men to their death. On January 30, 2018, DaShawn Horne was beaten into a coma for going home with a white girl

You’re a sweet, little babe You’re a sweet, little babe

Honey in the rock and the sugar don’t stop

Gonna’ bring a bottle to the babe

The song of the sirens, calling young men to their death. Light-skinded young man this time. A twenty-six-year-old daddy, a child that he cared for and loved, looked forward to raising and seeing him become somebody. My bad, he was somebody. Friday night, you know, he went to a club to dance and have a good time, and he heard that call. She called him, alright. But unlike Odesyus he was not a hero of white literature. If DaShawn’s story is ever told, it won’t be in the form of an epic poem, for they don’t write them about brothers. Never have never will. But she called him alright, and he answered, they almost always do. How could he not? They are everything we all are told we want. She was a white woman, and who can resist?

Go to Sleep you little babe

Go to Sleep you little babe 

Your momma’s gone away and your daddy’s gonna stay

Didn’t leave nobody but the babe

The song of the sirens, calling young men to their death.That night, LaDonna Horne lost her son, not all the way like Emmet Till, but enough. Enough so that he is no longer recognizable, face beaten to a pulp, and what’s left attached to tubes that breathe and eat for him. Her brother did what he set out to do. He beat the ever-lovin’ humanity out of that brother, for touching a white woman.

The song of the sirens, calling young men to their death. 15’ll get you 20; but white’ll get you dead. He forgot to be careful round them. Them white women sing so sweet, their cruel, cruel song, make a brotha forget for a minute that he ain’t quite free.

Go to sleep, you little babe

Go to sleep you little babe

Everybody’s gone in the cotton and the corn

Didn’t leave nobody but the baby

 

The song of the sirens, calling young men to their death. Oh she called to him, knowing he would answer cause he was deep in that bottle she gave him, full of that sweet nectar that helps a brotha forget what happens when you answer her call.  ‘Cause that honey she was offering was deep in the rock of her brother’s baseball bat. How all-American of him. No swing and a miss from him. Big brother hit a home run, all over that nigga’s face. (It’s ok if we say it with an ‘a’ instead of an ‘r’, you know. I mean, they call themselves it all the time so what could be the harm?)

Don’t you weep you pretty babe

Don’t you weep you pretty babe

The song of the sirens, calling young men to their death. She led him right to it. Brought him outside on the front lawn, where he beat him to a pulp. He beat him like it was 1955. That Louisville slugger was covered in red, they was white, and that nigga was black and blue. How’s that for patriotism. Just another faithful son of this great nation, making America Great Again. And she was free to go the club next Friday night. After all her song is so pretty; it would be a shame if there weren’t anybody to appreciate it in all its horrific beauty.

She’s long gone with her red shoes on

Gonna need another lovin’ babe

 Go to sleep, you little babe

Go to sleep, you little babe

Honey in the rock and the sugar don’t stop

Gonna need another lovin babe

This is the place where Emmet Till didn’t whistle at Carolyn Bryant, but got beat to death anyway.

photo credit: kim pollock

“I Don’t See Race”: A Reflection of the Act of Color Blindness

” I don’t see race.” The little phrase that is intended to clear the speaker of all of the ills of the world associated with race. “I don’t see race.” I have heard this phrase from ‘good intentioned white people’ my entire life. And the words are spoken so cavalierly, as if the history of the new world had never happened. “I don’t see race.” Abracadabra, speak the magic words and whiteness never saw those darker ones as different, as lesser, because this one white person chose to used their voice on this day, to simply erase what they are most uncomfortable with. “I don’t see race.”

“If we just stop talking about race, it will cease to matter.” As if silence ever solved a problem. Tell the child whose last decent meal was 2 days ago, to just stop talking about his the ache in his belly, and his tummy will feel full, even if  his lunch has to be an air sandwich because the balance on his account is in the red. ‘Just don’t talk about it,’ and no one will see your skin, its deep rich coffee color that tempts me to drink you in, long, warm, flowing liquid, that echoes the fluidity with which you doge the face slaps, telling you that if you just didn’t talk about race, the pain would simply go away.’

“You know, I don’t see race.” And yet the only person you say that to is the brown woman who comes twice a month to scrub your floors and clean your toilets because, out of the kindness of your heart, you have hired her, despite the fact that you’re sure she’s not ‘really American’, and you really shouldn’t be paying her, but there is no one else. Besides, she always brings the best tamales, a freezer full whenever we ask. And tex-mex is our favorite, right next to the Chinese we order every Friday night, cuz who wants to cook after a full week’s work at the office, where you never notice the brown man polishing the hallway floors that gleam that waxy glow each morning when you sit behind your desk working your ass off. (I too, work in cushy circumstances, yet the color that you don’t see in me, makes my experiences in the classroom quite different than yours, but that is a reflection for another time.)

“The only race that I see is the human race.” That fabulous concept that if we become color blind, then there will suddenly be life long spring and summer,  and we will all be transformed! Everyone will have pale skin, and colorless eyes, and pink will be synonymous with ‘flesh color’ as it was in the days of old, when that box of 68 crayons was everything you wished for, even though you don’t see color. The sent of the wax always reminds me that I, too, am ‘flesh’ colored, but that is because I am lighter than those who are ‘like me’, and sometimes you like me better because of it, which makes it difficult for me to be trusted by those whose humanity is what you actually never see in their race, because the fact that ‘flesh color’ works for me means I might just get a bit more than my darker brothers that you claim to see, but you can’,t because you have sworn, out of the goodness of your heart, to never see race.

“Well, what would be the harm if we just stopped seeing race?”  I am what my people call ‘red-bone.’ I’m a really light-skinned black woman, with natural red hair and freckles. I have an incredibly good education–I studied at Oxford for a year, and have completed the course work for my PhD in English, I speak standard English, have read widely in Art, Literature, Philosophy, Social Sciences, and many other fields.  I have studied ballet and classical music. Once a colleague asked me why someone who had reached the professional status that I occupy ‘insisted upon calling herself black.’

Many people have said things to me like, “Kim, I don’t think of you as black,” and they have meant it as a compliment. And why would they think they were complimenting me?  Because I have exhibited traits that are associated with whiteness, they have decided to treat me as if I am white.  I call this “giving one honorary whiteness.”  And all of those traits above are me.  But they are not all of me.

I love, James Brown, greens, grits and cornbread.  I wear braids, and my hair is frizzy and nappy and hard to control.  My grandfather was a jazz musician who played with Al Jolson and Louis Armstrong, and my area of study is African American Literature.  And every inch of me is black, all the time, forever!

“I don’t see race.” By ignoring my blackness, the people who have given me honorary whiteness, don’t see ‘me’ because I am all of those things–the things reserved for whiteness, as well as those regulated to blackness, and by denying my blackness, they deny the richness and layers of meaning and goodness, and character, and knowledge that each black person adds to “what it means to be black.”

Yet ask a white person “what it means to be white,” and you start a quiet panic deep within them. They have spent so very much of their lives trying not to see race, that they have failed to recognize their inability to put their experience into words. After having created a system based in race that works for their own benefit, white people have gone about creating whiteness as if the freedom and equality that they espouse were real for  everyone, because after birthing race out of a nation pregnant with capitalism, they failed to see that their children’s skin was beautiful. And the paleness of their parenthood fooled them; it whispered that if they “just didn’t see race,” all of the evils done in their benefit would go nameless, for how could one be a racist if they can’t see race?  In the words of the immortal Fats Waller, “..my only sin is in my skin. What did I do to be so black and blue?”  

But you can’t be bothered to see race, and the beauty of my skin that comes in every shade of humanness that is possible is far too radiant for your pale eyes. Intentional blindness, one makes one’s self intentionally blind to all the amazing colors that the world offers so that you cannot see. And make no mistake, your ‘color-blindness’ is an action, a decision. It is the action of avoidance, denial.  For if you did see, you’d have to recognize your actions against those who’s race you claim to never have seen. You’d have to own you actions and be liable for what you have done. And nothing scares you more than being made to be responsible for your actions based in the colors of race that you claim to have never seen. That is the color of your nightmares.

Keep on being color blind. I’ll keep the wonder of color for myself.

Who Will Interpret the Data?

Who will Interpret the Data? If we don’t nurture those who are charged with making sense of the data, we will die. For the evil ones have plans of their own.  We must infuse, instruct, educate with a focus on values, for only those who value humanness will be able to interpret the data in ways that won’t end us, burying us with their weight, while the evil ones blame us for our own death.

Make people own their shame. Make people own their greatness. Make people own their true selves, not the one that matches the myth that we are most comfortable with, because of the ‘selfies’ we believe in. We believe that we are the selfies that we take, forgetting that the images are posed, adjusted, fake-ly constructed, perfected images of self, that are nothing like who we really are. And we believe in the ‘selfies’ because they make us feel good about ourselves in this narcissistic nation, in this vain glorious time.

Many years ago, I had an amazing kinda-sorta step kid who was mixed race, and hardly ever saw herself reflected in the faces that she looked into everyday. When we would go to the grocery store, she would make her way to the magazine rack, and she would gather up all of the Ebony, Essence and all of the other black based magazines which h people of color on the covers. She would then proceed to cover up every magazine that featured a white face. Just this small act of rebellion was soul saving for her. She created a small piece of the world where, for just a second, white people would see what she sees every day–a world where no one looks like them.

And this act of rebellion led me to make assignments to my white students, that they could choose to do without collecting data officially. I asked them to go through a weekend where every time they talked about someone, mentioned someone’s name, or referred to a person, if that person were white, that they would use the term “white” before they said anything else about that person. So that the barista would become, “that ‘white’ barista that just served me. And their parent would become their “white” Dad, and so on, every time that they talked to one person about another. They were to note the way that they felt every time that they said the word, “white,” when talking to white people, and then to note the way that the world responded to them for calling out whiteness when they saw it, quite literally.

White people live in a world where every time they look in the mirror, they see self. This is not the world of people of color.  Each time that I actually see myself in the glass, I am shocked and a little repulsed, for this is not the face nor the body that our society says is beautiful. But eventually, I am grateful to see myself as I am. The face that stares back at me is truly American, for she could not have been born anywhere else, nor in any other time. What I see is the daughter of America’s greatest shame, and her greatest triumphs.

I am the daughters of those who were on this land before those who gave it the name we now use. A small portion of me in the place and time that we cannot speak of for there are no words; they were taken from us. I am the daughter of those who survived genocide and land-knapping.

I am the daughter of those who came from Germany, Ireland, England, Scotland, France, who came to this place named for a brave Italian adventurer, who led the Spaniards to conquer those of my people who were already here.  Who forced their religion with no soul, that misinterpreted the beliefs of my older ancestors about the nature of the life force and love. And who created a system of survival for themselves based in the pain, torture, enslavement and extinction of parts of family, where if they could distance themselves enough from the pain, they could win bigly.

I am the daughter of rape. I am the daughter of men who believed that they had the god given authority to buy one woman and to create of her a labor force through the satisfaction of his own lust, against her will, and to do so to his daughters and granddaughters, until I have light skin, red hair and freckles. And he became rich through our pain. I am the daughter who survived.

I am the daughter of this land. The New Native American, for all that mixes with my blackness becomes me. And my survival gives me the right to share the wisdom of my people. The voice that I am using now must represent the thousands who were silenced; the thousands who screamed; the thousands who did not realize that they could say anything. And my voice must carry the weight of all those here, and those yet to arrive, as the nature of who we are creates who we become.

There is so much that rests on my writing, wright-ing, I almost wrote. And there is a perfect pun in the language for I must use my voice in the classroom and on paper to right the world of the unspeakable. We must use the classroom and the word to catch those who have fallen, for they are the ones who can see. The ones whose faces are not on the magazines that are deemed worthy to be representative of our “best and brightest.” We must catch those who light is not recognized, even by themselves. And the only way to do this is to understand that success does not look the same for everyone. What is success for one may be complete failure for another, but who am I to tell someone that what they have accomplished was/is not enough, is not worthy?

And so we must create in those who will be interpreting the data, a sense of what it means to be human that values so much more than the myth of the ‘beautiful selfie-self’ that we have created. For being human is so much more than posing for the camera. We must create places both inside of the classroom and out where people can be brave enough to be ‘the self behind the selfie.’ To bare their souls, to appear without makeup, without foundation, without clothes and jewelry, cars and houses, to be the person who has fears, and who makes mistakes. To be the person who is wrong, for that is the only path to growth.

As long as we keep telling ourselves that the myths that create that ‘great selfie,’ the one that says that whiteness is good, and clean, and pure, then the distance between what we actually are and what we believe ourselves to be will remain. And we will slip farther and farther from the humanness that feels, that see, that changes, that grows, that is capable of love. For there is no truer act of love than to educate. This is the act of the parent; it is the act that insures that humanity will continue and last for at least one more generation.

I fear the selfie world; as we become the automatons who will take our own places. We cannot leave the data, for those without hearts to sort out. And ‘the selfies’ are not human. The selfies don’t cry and wail. The selfies don’t bleed and heal. The selfies don’t die.

I want to use the classroom to create reasons for my students to keep living. I want to create a place where they can come together with other humans and talk about the world as it is, so that they can create plans for the world as we need it to be if we are to guarantee its survival. I want to create a classroom where success looks like a 10 page research paper on the history of rape culture in the creation of America for one student, and for another student in the same class, there is recognized success in simply showing up more days than not, and actually hearing what is being said, hearing the sense that is being made of the great chaos that surrounds us.

I also want to reach people who are outside of my speaking voice, the power of which I have grown to appreciate each passing year. Writing is such a solitary act, and while being silent and alone is essential for writing, it is anathema for dialog and interactions, which is the source of all of my inspiration. I lose interest in the word on paper because I cannot receive that power that comes from the call and response, because there is no one immediate answering my call, so there is no way for me to be pumped up enough to continue to create a song worthy of being sung without the voices of those of the community that is there to learn and heal together.

kimberly j. pollock

The Journey Begins

Thanks for joining me!

Good company in a journey makes the way seem shorter. — Izaak Walton

Hey Y’all, my name is Kimberly Pollock and I am both an Educational Equity Consultant for Live Equity, and a full time Professor at Bellevue College where I am the sole full time faculty member and founder of the Cultural and Ethnic Studies Department. With a background in the Humanities, emphasis in both Philosophy and Literature, I decided to do graduate and post graduate work in English.

Teaching about race, class and gender is my life. I thank the goddess each day for Kimberlee Chenshaw’s term, for intersectionality is how I experience the world. My students are my heart. I pour my soul into them each and every class, and they respond with love, by growing, transforming and being more human than when we met.

I hope you enjoy my work. I’m growing and transforming always as well. Please feel free to leave feedback. I’d love to hear what you’re thinking. Dialog is how we make the world we want to live in.

love, kim         kim head shot