I love chapter 3 of Ijeoma Oluo’s So You Want to Talk About Race. It reminds us that our human/race arrogance is a deep impediment to making a difference in the world.
Francesca Ramsey, whose voice is spreading more widely in the world thankfully, shows up with a great review of this book on the back cover. She’s part of why/how I found Oluo’s great writing and insight.
I first encountered Ramsey in her video about how to be a better ally. Enjoy it here or below, way down. I share it as often as I can. One of her 5 tips isn’t so much what happens if you make a mistake talking about race issues or trying to be an ally/accomplice/co-conspirator, but WHEN you make a mistake. It’s inevitable. It’s also arrogant to imagine that we won’t make errors, especially if we’re steeped in privilege.
So I found chapter 3 to be a wonderful companion to Ramsey’s engaging and accessible video.
I remember distinctly a couple errors I’ve made, both pointed out by students. I love having been teacher/professor.
- About 20 years ago while teaching high school English in a largely white Vancouver suburb, I had reached a state of “awareness” such that I realized that being colour-blind meant I could be a more effective teacher/human/ally. It made a lot of sense. I strive to see all students as equals, I don’t discriminate based on race or culture and I seek opportunities to help others get past race. My intentions were honourable, but that doesn’t matter. A student pointed out that if I’m so colour-blind, what colour is everyone. And I didn’t see everyone as white, which I thought was the student’s point. I saw everyone as homogenized, which is white. But to be colour-blind I’d ended up negating/ignoring everyone’s distinctive and individual race/culture. Bringing everything to the common denominator of human meant ignoring what made people different from me. Failure. That was a great class that day. I was fortunate that someone was generous enough to invest that feedback in me. It made a difference.
- Another generous student in university more recently called me out for constantly referring to Obama as a black president. Talking about race, class, privilege, etc. in my politics of labour course was pretty common. But like most [many?] people, we referred to Obama as black, not mixed, not part-white, not light-skinned. How we [the white world] frame him says more about us than about him and the socio-political context he exists in. That was a great gift too. People are white, or not. A deeply bad over-simplification. And one that exposes our privilege.
My goal is to have enough working humility every day that when I make mistakes, people offer me the grace to fill me in on where I screwed up. Chapter 3 gives me more hope that there are way more chances for richer, more effective conversations in our future!