Earlier today, I got into an interesting exchange about white people confronting (or not) a history that may make them “feel bad.” The discussion was prompted by a post over at The Atlantic by Ta-Nehisi Coates, in which he writes the following:
It is often said that Americans aren’t interested in history, but I think it’s more accurate to say that people–in general–aren’t interested in history that makes them feel bad. We surely are interested in those points of history from which we are able to extract an easy national glory–our achievement of independence from the British, the battle of Gettysburg, our fight against Hitler, and even the campaign of nonviolence waged by Martin Luther King. For different reasons, each of these episodes can be fitted for digestibility. More importantly that can be easily deployed in service our various national uses. Thus it is not so much that we are against history, as we are in favor of a selective history. The fact is that Martin Luther King is useful to us, in a way that Bayard Rustin is not (yet.)
The ongoing dilemma for me, and from the looks of my Twitter timeline – lots of other folks, is how to get white people to confront a history of race and racism that “makes them feel bad” ?
This is something I’ve written about before. The fact is that whites as a population are implicated in the racist past and present of the U.S. Yet, whites in general, but perhaps especially white liberals and white anti-racists, want to place themselves at the heroic center of any narrative (i.e., The Help) about racism or equate their experiences with those of people of color. How can we get past this barrier of “feeling bad” about history with white allies in order to move toward racial justice?
Drop a suggestion in the comments thread. Look forward to your ideas.
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