On this year’s 4th of July holiday, many white Americans are feeling their identity encroached upon and their opinions ignored. Especially in the south, many whites feel that the recent focus on removing the confederate flag from public spaces is an attack on our heritage, our past, and our very identities. Here is the totality of what white southern identity looks like, as some would have us think:
IN 2005, one of today’s most revered American writers, David Foster Wallace (now deceased), delivered a commencement address to graduates of Kenyon College, titled “This Is Water.” The twenty-minute speech is worth a listen or read, freely available on YouTube and in Wallace’s eponymous 2009 collection, This Is Water: Some Thoughts, Delivered on a Significant Occasion, about Living a Compassionate Life. Some of what he says in the address about liberal arts education is applicable to humanism. In particular, his words help to color a brand of humanism I refer to as “uncertain humanism,” a way of privileging human possibilities for flourishing that relies on an embrace of and appreciation for uncertainty—for not knowing, feeling anxious, insecure, and unsettled. Uncertain humanism is not just about how we approach “facts.” It involves how we approach our very identities and who we think we are.
Continue reading at The Humanist Magazine July/August 2015...
What’s a white person to do?
Recently, I had the pleasure to participate in the Interplay Hip Hop Symposium at Lehigh University. The event was hosted by the inimitable hip hop theatre pioneer Kashi Johnson and keynoted by brilliant lyricist and hip hop educator Asheru. I gave a lecture about white appropriation of rap. My lecture led to a discussion about how white people fit into the #BlackLivesMatter movement.
Together, we came up with these, the ten cracka commandments for 2015:
(Originally published for Marginalia Review of Books on January 19, 2015. Reprinted here in full including images that were not included in the MRB post due to permissions issues.)
The hard truth is that neither Negro nor white
has yet done enough to expect the dawn of a new day...
With these words taken from Dr. Martin Luther King’s final book Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community?, King prophetically and woefully suggests that for the dawn of a day without racism, more black blood and suffering will come hand in hand with white denial, ignorance, and indifference.
I remember well a day in middle school, during gym class. We’d just arrived to gym and were swiftly told that in lieu of P.E., we’d be attending the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day assembly. Some students were happy, others were sad to miss the glorified recess that is junior high phys.ed. One white student, I’ll never forget, spoke up and said “Martin Luther King, Jr. Day ... more like James Earl Ray day.” Amid awkward laughter from students and an even more awkward silence from the gym teacher, we walked to the auditorium. As our class sat down, my childhood emotion met with intellectual curiosity and I wondered, “Were we there to celebrate King’s life or to have our minds galvanized as to exactly what happens to those who profess to climb insurmountable mountains?
(Originally published for Marginalia Review of Books on December 8, 2014)
The human relations I valued most were held cheap by the world I lived in.
White lesbian Southern novelist and woman of letters Lillian Smith wrote these words(and those that follow in italics) in 1949, the same year my parents were born — one to white Catholic carpenters in Iowa, the other to white Protestant farmers and share croppers in central Louisiana. Growing up in north Louisiana in the 80s and 90s, I would never have imagined that Smith’s words from so long ago would resonate as powerfully today. Written in response to her growing awareness that, in America, to be loved by “white” meant she could not love “black,” they tell a tale of the two-ness of white life in America, its unreconciled bondage to a moral binary of guilt and shame reinforcing the way we saw the world then and continue to see the world, ourselves, and those around us now. If the notion that #blacklivesmatter teaches white Americans anything, it is that our white relationships — those based on denial, silence, privilege, and blood — have not allowed us to see black bodies as fully human, as mattering at all.
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