Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Why a White Blog?


Five years ago, I took a subway trip I'll never forget.  I'd finished my book and still had a good twenty minutes left to go on the train.  Bored, I started reading the subway car's ads.  One contained a sexist statement.  It was small and not the “point” of the ad; nevertheless, I read it three times, feeling my temperature rise.


I realized something as I sat there fuming: At that moment, I fit the bill for the "Angry Feminist" stereotype.  If I had been presented with the ad's creators, I could have screamed at them from Brooklyn to the Bronx, or I could have tried to explain my thoughts calmly; either way, I suspect they would have thought, "what's wrong with this crazy lady, that something so tiny can set her off?"  I suspect they would have snuck glances at each other, dismissing me as an “hysterical woman”.


I'd encountered this catch-22 before, when someone would say, for example, "Feminists can't take a joke," or similar.  By objecting to something so small, I opened the door to accusations of my being petty, hypersensitive, or looking for a fight.  If I elected to swallow my rage, I would internalize yet another tiny act of sexism (I did not yet know the term "microaggression"), and who knew how long my blood pressure could take it?  In that moment, I saw very clearly not only how the ad was sexist, but also how the stereotype of the Angry Feminist disempowered me from effecting change. It was a profoundly painful realization.


I found myself thinking: This shouldn't be my burden to bear. I shouldn't be the one agonizing over sexism, or the best strategy to educate people in power about disempowering stereotypes.  Men should do this work, because it would be so much easier for them!   A man who brought up issues of sexism would likely not be laughed at or dismissed as I would (there is no stereotype of the Angry Feminist Man).  What if a man in the advertising department had said, "Hey, let's take that one out, it's sexist and that's not cool"?


In that moment, I desperately wished some man, somewhere, would start a "men for Feminism" or "men against sexism" group.  I realized the names sounded oxymoronic, but--what amazing work such a group could do!  Where women's groups have to strategize and campaign for decades just to be taken seriously before they can start to advocate for things like equal pay or access to health care, men could skip that "take me seriously" step.  They could sit in a circle and say to each other, "What things do we do that are sexist? Let's stop doing those things." How fast would change come if all-men Feminist groups started organizing and advocating for change?


I hung on to these thoughts, convinced that because I was oppressed in this situation, I understood all oppression; and that because I am a woman and therefore oppressed, I could do nothing about it.


What a rude awakening it was when, two years later, I discovered that I am White.
________________________


I had begun to do some work around racism (primarily as it related to a curriculum I was co-teaching), but in my discussions of race I focused on the experiences of people of color.  I still thought of myself primarily as a woman, a target of sexism, and therefore oppressed.  In my very limited race-related self-reflections, I tended to think of myself as race-less rather than White.


Then one day, I had lunch with a colleague who told me about a racial microaggression she’d experienced earlier that week.  I nodded sympathetically, and then replied, “I get you.  I know what that’s like.”


“You do?” she said.


“Sure,” I said.  “I’m a Feminist.  I experience sexism all the time.  I totally know what you’re going through.”


She looked at me hard, then said “No, you don’t, and what you just said was a microaggression.”  And she stalked away.


I was numb, then upset, then angry, for about an hour.  Didn’t she know that I was a “good” White person?  And anyways, I thought, sexism is just as bad as racism!  I knew too much about being on the receiving end of microaggressions--I could never be the aggressor!  How could she be so callous to my experiences?  Didn’t she want to hear about the microaggressions that I’d experienced too?


That was the moment something in my brain finally clicked:  She is a woman too.  She already understands sexism.  She is dealing with racism on top of that.  And I am exempt from that.


Over the next few weeks--months--years, I gradually became aware of a world of exemptions, of -isms I’ve never had to deal with.  I am a woman, yes.  I am also White, heterosexual, cisgender, and not disabled.  I am a documented citizen, I am housed, I am educated.  None of these things change the fact that as a woman, I experience sexism (as it manifests against white women).  But similarly, my woman-ness doesn’t alter the truth that I belong to the dominant group along these and many other identifiers.


I dove whole-heartedly into a self-education that focused on the ways in which I dominate others, rather than the ways in which I'm dominated.  I attended professional trainings.  I read.  I followed more and more anti-racist people on social media.  I learned of the existence of all-White anti-racist groups.  


Wait, all-White anti-racist groups?


First thought: This sounds like an oxymoron.


Second thought:  Actually, so did the “men against sexism” groups I’d dreamed of, years ago, on the subway.


Third thought: I have to check this out.
_________________________________


There’s more to this story (see Nina, Megan, and KT's upcoming posts), but it leads to a phone call between me and Nina Lindsay in which we hatched the idea for this blog.


The field of children’s literature has a long and fascinating history of anti-racist advocates and allies, and a thriving anti-racist community today.  If you browse through our blogroll, you’ll see the excellent, Herculean, work of marginalized people in the children's literature community, primarily people of color.  These people understand racism and its effects much, much better than I, as a White person, ever will.


But if we White people talk about racism as if we are not part of the equation, we are the problem.  We have a responsibility not just to boost marginalized voices as much as we can, but also to examine ourselves and our Whiteness.  And we must create all-White spaces in which we can do this work without burdening non-White communities.  People of color and First/Native Nations have enough work to do in analyzing how racism has impacted their lives.  To ask them to also educate us on our Whiteness is White privilege in the extreme.


What advantages do White adults in the field of children’s literature experience?  From what are we exempt?


What is White culture and how does it perpetuate the status quo?


By what mechanisms does Whiteness dominate in children’s literature, and why are these mechanisms so often invisible to us White people?


How does all this affect children--White and non-White?


Reading While White is intentionally by, about, and for White people who are interested in anti-racist work in the field of children’s literature.  There is no quick fix to racism, which exists on personal, institutional, and societal levels; but by organizing ourselves and working together, I hope that we can start to answer some of these questions.


In Sam Bloom, KT Horning, Nina Lindsay, Angie Manfredi, and Megan Schliesman, I have a dream team of thoughtful, smart, questioning, self-examining librarians.  It’s an honor to list my name alongside theirs.


Years ago, I daydreamed on the subway about an empowered group that would devote itself to examining, and changing the balance of, its power.


Let’s get to work.

53 comments:

Kate Barsotti said...

Thanks for creating this.

Debbie Reese said...

I look forward to what you'll do here! I imagine you'll get a lot of push back. People will call you all manner of names and disparage you in other ways, too. For example, people say "Debbie Reese hates white people." Of course, it is systemic whiteness and its unexamined power that I hate.

Some people follow a "if you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all" mantra, but that mantra only keeps the status quo in place. My sense is that (for some people), you're going to be violating that "good manners" idea!

Again--I look forward to reading your blog.

Debbie Reese
American Indians in Children's Literature

Lyn Miller-Lachmann said...

A warm welcome to Allie and the Allies! (Sorry, couldn't resist, though I'm sure humor will be a focus of an upcoming post or two.) You're doing important work here, and I look forward to sitting in on the conversations and learning from you.

Christine said...

This is a beautiful beginning, Allie!. Thank you for your eloquent thoughts. I applaud you and look forward to future blog posts. Applause, applause!

D.G. Driver said...

Well written. I look forward to more from this blog.

Kate B. said...

Fantastic! I'm looking forward to following this blog. As a white librarian, I hope that seeing what you do here will help me get more comfortable with finding the line between "using white privilege to promote anti-racism" and "white-splaining racism." (This is something I have difficulty with in my marginalized identities as well--when and how can I tell well-intentioned allies to Just Stop Talking?)

polycotte said...

Excellent! Can't wait to read more. -- Lauren Thompson

Unknown said...

This is awesone. Forward!

Lisa N said...

I'm so excited this is happening! I've been looking for this voice in the librarian scene and I'm glad it's here!

Dana Elmendorf said...

This is fantastic. There's so many times I try to recognize the microagression a coming out of my mouth. I want to learn and grow beyond my white world. I have so many questions. I hope this will be a safe place for me to ask white questions with the full intent of educating myself.

Leslie Gallager said...

This is so great, Allie!! I look forward to reading everything that you and your co-contributors add to this discussion, and I'll be sharing this blog with the teachers at my school...

Sue Poduska said...

Congratulations! Just making the effort is applaudable. Looking forward to more.

Pat Schmatz said...

I'm in. That's a beautiful first post. Thanks for starting this up.

timwynnejones said...

I had a big wake-up call along these lines, several years go reading to an inner-city group of students who didn't for one moment accept what I thought was a reaching out, we're-all-in-this-together excerpt from one of my stories. I was stunned and hurt and then very slowly -- all too slowly -- forced to realize that I hadn't a clue what these kids went through. I'm shy about trying to respectfully bridge the gap, now, because I'm not sure just how wide or deep that gap is. But I don't want to stop trying to understand. Thanks, Allie.

Jane Hathaway said...

Am anxiously awaiting all the upcoming conversations. This is very much needed, within the field of children's literature, and beyond it, too--actually, all through our culture.

Kathi Appelt said...

I'm so glad to see this blog, and look forward to joining the conversation. As a child of the South who came of age during the Civil Rights era of the 60's and 70's, I've always stood against racism, but I recognize that I certainly have blind spots, due largely to the privileges that have been granted to me along the way, the most obvious of which is my whiteness. It's a hard nut to crack, but I really want to go there. Thank you for opening the door.

aaryn b. said...

Fantastic post. Love the analogy, the honesty, the humility, the willingness to learn. For that is what it will take of us white folks if we are going to be participants in The Struggle. As an anti-racist warrior, white woman, mother to a black daughter, writer, provoker, and interrupter, I can't wait to see what you do in this space. (Perhaps you'll one day tackle film and animation as well...) If you're every open to contributors, please reach out.

http://sdcitybeat.com/article-14399-how-to-be-an-interrupter.html

Deirdre said...

Everyday I realize how much more there is to learn and do in this area. I look forward to the discussions and the journey.

Danielle Jones said...

Thank you for creating this space. This is a great next step in the "We Need Diverse Books" conversation.

Tasslyn said...

Yes! Yes! So much to learn.

Tasslyn said...

Yes! Yes! So much to learn.

Loretta Ellsworth said...

This is a wonderful idea - I look forward to learning and working toward that dream.

Carrie Minturn said...

I am so thrilled to find this space. Thank you for sharing your story and creating this much needed resource.

Robbyn M said...

So excited to see this. I had my own personal awakening to my whiteness when I was working in an African American community. I still have moments of awakening dating an Asian man. I look forward to learning more and being part of the conversation for improvement.

Ruthanne said...

Pleased to see this conversation starting and even more please by the comments of support. Will be sharing this blog with my anti-racist white discussion groups.

Ruthanne said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ruthanne said...

Pleased to see this conversation starting and even more pleased by the comments of support. Will be sharing this blog with my anti-racist white discussion groups.

Ruthanne said...

Pleased to see this conversation starting and even more pleased by the comments of support. Will be sharing this blog with my anti-racist white discussion groups.

Ruthanne said...

Pleased to see this conversation starting and even more pleased by the comments of support. Will be sharing this blog with my anti-racist white discussion groups.

Kathy J said...

Thank you, Allie. I've added your blog to my favorites and look forward to the continuing conversation!

Hope Evey said...

Wow! I'm so excited to see what y'all do with this wonderful mission!

Like so many others I struggle with how to engage in anti-racism beyond checking my own privilege - this looks to be an excellent resource for that. Thank you!

Wendy said...

Whilst I largely agree with your post, there are a few things I'd like to add:

- I don't agree with this blog being "for" white readers, as you said above. "By and about" - not a problem, there's a purpose to that, and you've articulated it above. But writers of colour never write their blog posts and articles about diversity only for PoC (or only for white people), do they? There needs to be an inclusive, open dialogue, which is valuable because each side (white or PoC) can offer their own perspective in discussing issues that apply to everyone. Please don't cut this conversation off by targeting only white readers.

- You did mention boosting marginalised voices - great! - but I just wanted to reiterate that ideally, this should be an all-white blog's highest priority. By using the privilege you mentioned above (of being "taken seriously") to raise the voices of others up, you're working to "change the balance of power". But often, white people's perspectives are prioritised OVER PoC when talking about racism (this is more of an issue with racism & diversity than it is with sexism & feminism) so every time you post something about racism, you're unfortunately risking drowning a PoC's voice out (BR Sanders' post here discusses this really well). So complement that with giving the marginalised a voice, rather than reinforcing the balance of power.

Thanks. I look forward to hearing what you have to say! :)

Joni Splett said...

This sounds great and as a white, privileged mom of a young white privileged boy I'm definitely adding you to my blog favorites and hoping to soon have books to share with him! But, my hope is similar to Wendy above - please don't make it just for whites written by whites. It will be better informed if developed by people of diversity in all shapes, colors and sizes. And please think about messages beyond recognizing our own white privilege, but also about being allies for those marginalized. Since giving birth to a white male, I've thought lots about privilege and how to raise him to be sensitive to issues of diversity and all the -isms. My hope for him is not only that he recognizes his privilege, but learns to be a strong and helpful ally - that being an ally is important and valuable to him, something that becomes second nature to him.

Sandy Brehl said...

Just watched this and it applies, in so many ways. The biggest question to face is our privilege and its consequences, to ourselves and others.
http://www.ted.com/talks/michael_kimmel_why_gender_equality_is_good_for_everyone_men_included?utm_source=newsletter_daily&utm_campaign=daily&utm_medium=email&utm_content=image__2015-09-16

Reading While White said...

Posted on behalf of Megan Dowd Lambert:

Congratulations on, and *thank you* for, the launch of this blog! Allie, KT, and Debbie (in the comments), I just read your excellent pieces in the current issue of Children & Libraries yesterday, so I was so very pleased and heartened to encounter your work here today. Thank you for stirring up this good trouble and I hope to contribute in any way I can.

I am not sure that this is the right place to share resources, so please direct me elsewhere for the future if it isn't, but I just listened to the 7/31 This American Life archived program on my commute to Simmons on Monday, "The Problem We All Live With" http://www.thisamericanlife.org/radio-archives/episode/562/the-problem-we-all-live-with
and I can't get it out of my brain. Ta Nehisi Coates called it "the best piece on the workings of white supremacy this year..." and I can't recommend it enough. The town meeting comments sadly aren't shocking to me (I've heard way too many similar comments in various contexts), but they're appalling, heartbreaking reminders of the work we white people need to do to confront racism--especially when we hear the tired line "it's not about race."

And I can't mention Coates without also mentioning his latest piece in The Atlantic: http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2015/10/the-black-family-in-the-age-of-mass-incarceration/403246/ .

Thank you again for creating this space.

Megan Dowd Lambert

Megan Schliesman said...

It’s a difficult reality: how do we do the work of allies without seeming to silence or take over, which is not our intent. IAnd yes, how do we create the opportunity for dialogue?

We do assume there will be non-White readers of this blog and want them to comment, so we hope the comments section will be on place for that dialogue to happen. We also do plan on having guest posts. And yes, it is absolutely our responsibility to draw attention to the voices and perspectives of people of color and First Nations/Native people in our posts as well.

These are things we have thought about. Being held accountable to articulating this well, and to actually doing so is important.

At the same time, we began this project because we feel strongly that we as White people share responsibility for challenging racism in the world of children's and young adult literature, and we want to encourage other White people to do the same. We have a lot to learn when it comes to being readers, critics, and thinkers about race in books for children and teens. That we are learning and will continue to learn is a given, but the idea of examining what it means to "Read While White" is central to why we are here.

Allie Jane Bruce said...

Hi everyone,

First, warm thank you's to everyone who commented in support!

Second, I need to name one thing I've been thinking a lot in the past 36 hours: A prominent White privilege I experience is that when I talk about racism, I get lauded. I get friended. I get asked to chair things or write articles. I never get accused of "playing the race card." I never get called "whiny" or "angry" or "attention-seeking." I do not fear that I will lose my job.

White people--it's past time we started pouring just as much love and support on the people who have been saying this stuff way, way longer than I have. Take a look at our blogroll ("Kindred Spirits") if you need a place to start.

(NB - I know that many of you do, in fact, read those blogs and support their creators. Better than I do.)

@Wendy and @Joni Splett: Thank you for your comments, and for getting a conversation about what's appropriate for a deliberately White space going right out of the gate.

To address Joni's comment and Wendy's first point, this is indeed a blog that is intended primarily for White people (although, as we've said in FAQs as well as Megan's comment above, our comments are open to anyone and we plan to have non-White guest posters) because the goal of this blog is for White people to educate each other on how to undo our own racism. We White people do not need to teach people of color and First/Native Nations people how to not be racist. We need to teach ourselves, and hold ourselves accountable, without burdening non-White communities any more than we already do.

Wendy, as to your second point, about the risk that we will drown out non-White voices--I totally agree. And I've been thinking about that a lot these past 36 hours. Hence my first few paragraphs. And I need to be held accountable along those lines. So, the next time I get offered a spot on a panel, or an interview, or whatever, the first thing I'll say will be "are you also involving non-White people?". That's my challenge to myself.

But I have to disagree that the *highest* priority of this blog should be boosting other voices. Absolutely, we need to do that, and if we fail in that regard, we should shut up and shut down. But unless we White people really examine White culture (what are White norms, and how do they operate?) we'll never stop dominating non-White people. It's easy to re-tweet non-White anti-racist people, pat our own backs, and say "I'm ready for my cookie!" It's harder to look inward and say "how am I the problem here? What behaviors do I need to change in order to stop being the problem?"

Believe me, I know how hard that self-reflection is, because I struggle with it every day. White dominance derives much of its power from the fact that white privilege is so often invisible to white people, who then reinforce the power structure unknowingly and involuntarily, creating the perpetual motion machine that is White dominance. For these reasons, I truly believe that anything that claims to be White anti-racist and does not devote at least half of its time to self-examination is a cop-out.

DianeRChen Kelly said...

The other day while teaching and entering data I noticed a column asking for racial demographics. I looked up and realized that everyone in the room but me was black, then I thought about how easy it is to not consider what race anyone is when you are white. Before I had heard colleagues talking about being color-blind, but what I have learned is that they were not sensitive to the continual racial tensions that occur because they were white.

Wendy said...

Hi Allie,

Apologies, I hadn’t read the FAQ before my initial comment on the post, so my mistake for misinterpreting the “[this blog is intentionally] by, about and for white people” line in the post. That’s great that you are open to PoC commenting and guest posting. I took that line as referring to the broader conversation of diversity in kidlit rather than the self-education/undoing racism aspect. Thanks for clearing that up for me.

As to the second point – I actually don’t disagree with you! In my initial comment, I wasn’t solely referring to how It's easy to re-tweet non-White anti-racist people, pat our own backs, and say "I'm ready for my cookie!". To build on what you said, self-reflection and examining white privilege inherently requires empathy towards PoC. Empathy, first and foremost, requires one to listen. So even in a space focused on white people, even in a discussion focused on white privilege & culture, PoC’s voices are an important part of the discussion (it’s clear you’re all aware of that, but I did still want to make that point).

Thanks! Looking forward to the discussions to follow.

Marianne Modica said...

Congratulations on your blog. A critical race theorist named Judith Katz noted decades ago that racism is a white problem - it was started by whites and whites need to work against it. The only caveat I would add that as a white antiracist, I had to learn to let people of color take the lead in antiracist activities. I had to shut up and listen. I don't agree that oppressed people can't do anything about their oppression. I've been blogging about race for a while, and my target audience is white people who haven't thought much about their racial identity and their position of privilege. Take a look if you're interested: http://risforrace.blogspot.com.

Allie Jane Bruce said...

Completely agree with all you say here, Wendy. One thing that I notice, time and again, is that no matter how much time and energy I spend trying to educate myself on my Whiteness, it's always people of color or First/Native Nations people who educate me the most about it. So even as I assume responsibility for my own education, and recognize that it is not any non-White person's job to educate me, when these people do offer up gifts of education, I need to close my mouth and listen up.

Thanks again, Wendy--looking forward to more discussion.

Terra Trevor said...

Welcome and thank you for putting forth this collection of voices. I look forward to reading here and following your discussions.

SktzofrenicMuse said...

I am so glad to have found this blog! I can't wait to learn and join in the discussion.

Jenn said...

So important, thank you for sharing this experience Allie!

diannaburt said...

Looking forward to more education

diannaburt said...

Looking forward to more education

Moyrid said...

I am so glad to see this blog.

Heidi Estrin said...

I just discovered this blog today and I'm thrilled. I am White and very concerned about racial injustice. As a Jewish librarian working in a synagogue library, I'm somewhat used to thinking about issues of dominant culture privilege, but as you point out in your post, just because I'm an oppressed minority in some ways doesn't erase my privilege in other areas.

Allie Jane Bruce said...

Hi Heidi! So glad you're here, thanks for commenting, I love what you say!!

Michelena said...

Oh my gosh, I love this blog! Holy moly. Your conversation with your colleague about microaggressions makes me think it's almost like a rite of passage, or a test. I suspect that's the part where some would turn away from, or at least get quite stuck before continuing to work on dismantling racial injustices and white supremacy. I love what you're writing about, and as a homeschooling parent, I think this is going to be an excellent resource for us. I'm glad you've only been writing for a month or so, because i imagine I would want to binge-read ALL of the archives to be sure I didn't miss anything.

I wish there was a way to follow on Facebook for notifications of new posts. My email is so full already, I'm afraid I'm going to miss something, I'll do my best!

Reading While White said...

Hi Michelena; thanks for your kind words! I have good news for you: you CAN follow us on Facebook, and by tweaking your settings you should be able to fix it so you will get a notification each time we post something. Can't wait to hear your thoughts on the rest of our content!

Research data said...

Great writeup. Look forward to seeing additional posts. Having recently completed a trilogy on "white guilt" on my own blog, new perspectives would be refreshing.

The statement:
"People of color and First/Native Nations have enough work to do in analyzing how racism has impacted their lives. To ask them to also educate us on our Whiteness is White privilege in the extreme."

This is an apt observation for one of the key burdens some writers of color labor under is the assumption that such things are a "minority problem" and that said minorities must assume all of the workload in educating whites.

Matthew C. Winner said...

Learning with every visit.