Educating white people on their whiteness

White people need to learn about whiteness in order to aid in dismantling the system in which it operates, so why don’t they have a space to do so which isn’t dependent on people of color?

Rose-Marie Athiley, Opinion Editor

Ruth King, author of “Mindful of Race: Transforming Racism from the Inside Out” spoke at Hamline this past Friday, March 1st. The Facebook event description read “This talk explores our racial programming,
its impact, and our potential.” I was intrigued by the concept of potential; believe it or not we do not live in a post-racial society and there is a lot of room to for progress. Simply put, we can all do better.

A topic brought up during the talk was racial affinity groups (RAG). An affinity group brings together people who have something important in common— ability, age, race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, or other trait. According to Ruth King’s site “In a RAG, we put ourselves in intentional spaces with people of our same race, where we can be safe enough to be vulnerable, challenged,
and unedited . . . and to understand what is difficult to acknowledge, feel, and attend to within us and among us as a racial group.”

Although RAG isn’t limited to people who identify as racially white, it seems to me they need it more than people of other races. People of color (POC) have conversations with others within their race on what feels like a daily basis. It is unknown to me whether white identifying people talk about their own race as much as POC, I’m assuming not (please do correct me if I’m wrong). White people often don’t acknowledge their race when with each other, and much fewer have conversations about what it means to be white.

I think that it would benefit them to have a space where they converse about whiteness with the goal to learn how the ideology works to oppress minoritized groups and in the words of King “cultivate racial solidarity and compassion and support each other in sitting with the discomfort, confusion, and
numbness that often accompany white racial awakening.” A white racial affinity group would also benefit POC by removing them from the role of educator that is too often thrusted upon us; we are not obligated to teach anyone about our oppression.

In addition to relieving POC of the role of educator, RAGs can be beneficial to us by allowing us the time and space to focus on ourselves without the responsibility of educating white people about what whiteness is and how its negative impact. As King’s website put it, “a habitual focus on white people can distract POC from knowing themselves as a diverse body.” Frankly, it’s a win-win.

I’m aware of the culture of Hamline University and some might read this article and conclude that a RAG isn’t needed because Hamline is so “liberal” and “progressive”. I say cut the pseudo-intellectual bull and pay closer attention. The diversity of this institution is growing but is the inclusion? Is the allyship? Are we comfortable having conversations about race? About other minority identities? Are we making an effort — as individuals and as an institution — to educate ourselves when presented with the opportunities?

Ruth King’s talk was one that had the tools to inform and aid in the race, gender, sexuality, etc…conversations. I was disappointed to see the majority of people in attendance were members of the community, but I was pleasantly surprised at how many of those people were white. It showed me that those who truly aim to fight oppression make the effort to do so.

If you don’t agree that Hamline students could benefit from a white racial affinity groups, let’s grab a cup of coffee—or write a letter to the editor. Either way, let’s chat.