Lessons in Anti-Racism

When I was in graduate school, Tom Pettigrew used to remind us that many white Americans hold their racial prejudices and stereotypes at a rather superficial level, mainly as a way of conforming to whites and the white supremacist culture/society around them. (He suggested that a smaller proportion held these views very deeply, as a Freudian-type “crutch” that held their very troubled personalities together.) The clear lesson he was offering is that for many whites some significant change in racial views should not be difficult. The learning context matters.

Recently, one of my former graduate students, now a professor, sent me this comment about a new white student in her class:

I am beginning a new semester of my Race class. I decided to formally introduce your “white racial frame” concept the first week of the semester this time…My students journal free-form every other week or so, and here is the very first journal entry I read. I particularly love the last line of the first paragraph:

White Racial Frame: When first entering this course I never imagined that within the first class session my mindset would be changing about race and the role it has in the world today. The idea of the “white racial frame” is what immediately caught my attention. The idea that there is a term for a frame of mind I never knew existed struck me. I am the typical definition of a “white girl” and I know it. Blonde hair, blue eyes, sheltered lifestyle and never struggled a day in my life, I know I am a white girl. I just never considered that my frame of mind about the world is compromised because of it.

I always thought of my life as fair. I had the ideal mindset that the United States represents all that is fair; everyone has their own chance and makes their own choices from a totally level playing field. It is only now that I can see that things may be set up differently. My view was that my parents work hard for what we have and that anyone can do the same for their families. Maybe it is a naive frame of mind to believe the world to be fair, but it was nice that way. It is only in more recent years I can see the trends that lead me to believe that all is not fair and the world is a tough place. I believe that is partially due to my sheltered life that I grew up with and partially because of the “white racial frame” that I did not know I possessed.

Society prioritizes the white race and does not even realize it. I have done it and only now realize it. Everyday simple situations I find myself choosing someone who is white for a job, or maybe being more comfortable with a white person than anyone else. Even in my relationship preference I have only dated white men. Have had several opportunities to do otherwise, but simply never acted upon it. Before this class I never questioned that the president has always been a white male (until Obama obviously). I am realizing that the “white racial frame” expands into so many things in our lives. It can be as simple as daily life within my own home, and can expand all the way into politics in the world. I am excited to be in this course to help open my mind to more of these situations and to educate myself more on the role of race in society.

Things can change. Excellent teaching and teachers matter.


  1. jwbe

    >Things can change. Excellent teaching and teachers matter.

    Things don’t change via educating the oppressors group. I would like to see one example, where the oppressors actually changed and stopped their oppression out of ‘gaining knowledge’.
    And one students essay does not indicate change, empty lip-services are what makes Eurocentric culture, words don’t match actions.
    And most problematic is when teachers refuse to continue to learn

  2. No1KState

    @ jwbe – It’s just the girl’s first month of classes. Let’s wait to see what happens. I agree, though, that it’s rare that the oppressors as a group change anymore than they have to. But it’s important to educate the few who will change. And the truth is, racism is white people’s problem. They’re the one’s who have to change and education is part of that process.

    @ general: People really believe this?

    I always thought of my life as fair. I had the ideal mindset that the United States represents all that is fair; everyone has their own chance and makes their own choices from a totally level playing field.

    I thought it was just the people in the movies who believed that. Do people think poor people want to be poor? Wow. Things are worse than I thought.

  3. jwbe

    first, I do believe that most white people know what they are doing and that they also know that it is an advantage in a white supremacist nation to be white. They are perhaps not always able to name it, but they know it. Whites are not so stupid. Regardless what they pretend. And whites are also not super humans, means, whites won’t change out of good intentions alone.
    I am no psychologist and therefore I can’t explain it in a deeper way, but I want to mention it.: I think that every person considered ‘white’ will make a choice, early in his/her life – to be ‘white’ or to be human. In the end it is a very personal struggle, it’s not about knowledge, scholarships, rewards or whatever, but just about one’s own ‘soul’. One can either feel ‘it’ or not. Whites don’t need ‘white translators’ of your words if they are actually pro human rights.

    Regarding education – education in the Americas and in the US has happend since the first ‘Person of Color’ spoke up. It is whites who never have listened to these voices and why should we believe that this has changed only because we write the year 2010?
    Education – it also implies that whites don’t know. Don’t know what? That ‘People of Color’ are humans and that discrimination still exist?
    Whites do know and most choose because of this to ‘be white’, to live within mainstream, to benefit from whiteness and white privilege.

    And because Americans love to invoke Nazi-Germany – does anybody actually believe that the Holocaust happend because of “not knowing” and that education and good intentions could have stopped Germany? No, only a fool would believe that and America is no different to Germany in this case.

    • No1KState

      j – You ain’t never lied! (Black coloquialism – doesn’t mean you’ve never lied, just that what you’re saying is indisputably true.)

      All I’ll say is that it does help if primary education students are given a more honest view of history and if white parents tell white children that, for example, black people have dark complexions because our ancestors are from Africa and not let the children come up with their own explanations.

      But those are minor details compared to the whole stack of truth you just brought.

  4. jwbe

    >All I’ll say is that it does help if primary education students are given a more honest view of history and if white parents tell white children that, for example, black people have dark complexions because our ancestors are from Africa and not let the children come up with their own explanations.

    But those are minor details compared to the whole stack of truth you just brought.

    yes of course an honest education of history would also be important.
    But it is not necessarily knowledge what makes somebody humane, humanity and living a humane life also often needs courage. Those participating as supporters of the Underground Railroad for example or people hiding Jews – most of them did not need education but courage out of a conviction, a personal decision and choice, how to live ones life. Against ‘main-stream’ but true to oneself.
    But many whites don’t want to be/can’t be true to themselves because in a Eurocentric culture appearance is more important than true being. People are rewarded for the fake image they live. So far I don’t know of any white scholar who is actually willing to explore ‘white culture’, Eurocentrism. Exploring ourself, the way we are without the constant need to talk about the alleged other. This is the honesty we lack, we don’t want to know why we act the way we do and why we are so obsessed to create an ‘other’, also necessary as it seems to create ourself and our own image.

  5. distance88


    There’s an American proverb that I think gets at what you are saying — “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink.”

    So while an honest education is important, it is only a superficial change by itself. Real racial changes for the better have to come from an honest desire and perspective within the individual. I’d have to agree with that. That being said, is there any way to nurture or unlock this ‘humane living’ that you discuss? Or does it just happen randomly?

  6. jwbe

    I will try to tell you my thoughts later, right now as a side-note to those who rate my answers negative: Thank you, that tells me that I hit the nail on the head:) Some must be really afraid of what I have to say.
    @Distance, this is (for me) in real life one part of this ‘humane living’. Being true to oneself. Always. And not to do anything to be ‘liked’.

  7. jwbe

    >There’s an American proverb that I think gets at what you are saying — “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink.”

    And the question already is: Does the horse need water?
    To a certain degree ‘we’ are looking into the wrong direction. ‘We’ think finding an answer is still to consider ‘us’ in relation to the alleged ‘other’ which implies that the roots of Eurocentric culture would be healthy. They aren’t. Why should any white person change anything when you think your culture is good/does not need change? And it is this culture which makes it difficult for many white people to realize how much of ‘white problems’ are a problem of our culture and not of individuals. I don’t want to function, I want to live. Just simple.

    (racial) change comes from within and there is no answer how to ‘unlock’ this humane living, this would mean I had the answer to the million dollar question. Victor Frankl and Alice Miller give some thoughts about humanity, and Yurugu is (for me) the most important book about European culture.
    ‘Unlocking’ needs to know oneself. Who I am. Then you (somebody) don’t need an alleged ‘other’ to define yourself.

    Education etc. is important but this blog shows like many other ‘anti-racist’ blogs by whites why white people are not able as a larger group to contribute in a meaningful way, most are too deeply stuck in their own personal white supremacy. And real life orgas dominated by whites and often by white males are the same. This does not mean that all their work is worthless, but it is partly an answer why we are not able to stop white supremacy when even orgas which say they fight white supremacy repeat it and also live from ws and are not willing to dismantle the white supremacist structures within their blogs and orgas. Therefore education can also be a perfect tool to keep ws alive exactly because of the knowledge gained.
    It is Eurocentric that words don’t have to match actions and that words are also more important than actions and that nobody is allowed to criticize the holy cows. Intentions are more important than the result etc.

  8. No1KState

    Really people. At this point, if you disagree with jwbe, state your case. No, you don’t have to prove anything. The least you could do is indicate what she said that you take issue with. Granted, you could argue she’s being a little harsh on the administrators of this particular blog. But overall, she’s speaking truth.

    • No1KState

      It says, “We can’t handle the truth!”

      I mean for real. I’m the “Sistah Souljah” among my peers, and even jwbe’s brutal honesty makes me shrink back sometimes! I think to myself, “Poor white people at the other end of that broadside.” Cause I know it has to hurt.

      Just because it’s harsh doesn’t mean it’s not true. It just means that the truth can be harsh. We’ve long since passed the time for shielding white people’s feelings.

      • jwbe

        and I guess, also this will be censored again: While people like maranda can distort what I wrote and can also offend others, I am censored. My response to Ellen, ahem Maranda, is not published…
        What does that say?
        The interesting thing is how predictable many whites act. And those who can ‘look through’ aren’t welcome. On an “anti-racist” blog.
        And just in case, I copy all my responses, means, this what you censor still is not lost, for whatever it might useful;-)

  9. marandaNJ

    I don’t consider JWBE’s observations some kind of gospel truth. In the social sciences, truth is dependent on whose and which perspective you’re speaking from. It’s not an exact science like physics or a math equation.
    For example, her belief that people choose to be benevolent or evil at a “very early age”. Really? It’s that simple huh? So, life experiences don’t count? By 5 years old, we either side with Satan or the Archangel Gabriel? Well, that’s an interesting philosophy.
    Next, people should do “What’s Right” despite what other people think of them. Sounds simple, but then again what constitutes “right” in the minds of some people does not constitute “right” in the minds of others.
    I find JWBE so judgmental of humanity in general it borders on psychosis. She has such vitreolic hatred for so many people, I don’t believe this is healthy. Why should I take this brutish aggression seriously?
    The point is JW is brutal, but her clarity of vision is up for debate. She brutally believes the white race is inherently flawed, some kind of demons sent to Earth to be “dismantled”. You don’t think that sounds a little neurotic?
    What I hear is, “No von is goot enuf to be me! This blog tells the tale! Whites pretending to understand! They understand nothing, NOTHING!” Sorry, but I don’t find this RATIONAL. She speaks about the concept of “othering”. The only “other” person JWBE seems to truly listen to, or have any love for is JWBE. She appears to be blinded by her own fury. People sense a little over-the-edge psychosis here, and maybe that’s why her comments are shaded.
    All human beings are a mixture of good and some “bad guy” stuff thrown in. None of us are unflawed folks. If we can make more good connections on this planet than negative ones, that’s about the best we can do.

  10. wizardk

    There is a lot of education going on here, beginning with the first post and the comments that followed. As a wise man once said – everyone is affected by white supremacy ideology. Whites professors in the classroom who may or may not wrap themselves in the “anti-racism” construct (which I agree also works as a way for whites to present ourselves in positive frames…)will never get out from the bubble of whiteness. What we can do is try, keep learning, be students of our students of color, take hits, fail, fail again, get up. Of course education is not the cure-all…is anyone really forwarding that here? No. Is anyone forwarding the idea that whites who use the “anti-racism” frame believe they fully understand racial oppression? No. Do whites need people of color to let us know when we fail? Yes. Do whites know many times that we’ve failed? Yes. Does that mean we stop trying, even if the times we fail reproduce the very processes we are trying to make right? For me, no. We are trying to exploit our whiteness to make things just, even if we can never ever remove ourselves from it.
    We all can be useful in the dismantling of the master’s house. We need to do this on many, many fronts — alone and together. And no, I’m not saying “can we all just get along?” I’m saying there is a place for whites in the struggle and we are not going to get it right all of the time. Whites deep in the struggle want to know when we don’t get it right even when it is more comfortable to be “shielded”…and even when our initial responses are to reject notions that we’ve failed.

  11. ashleekl

    Joe, I would love to know what class that journal comment was from and what school it is. I am a grad student and starting to do research on university programs that address racism, white privilege, and social justice. I am having a hard time knowing where to start looking for these programs.

  12. adelah

    education about racism is very important as well as discussing ways to combat the spread of racist and fascist ideas. however, i think we are lucky to have the ability to do this in our day and age.Other people had to demonstrate and get into serious rallies to show their views. For example the Battle of Cable Street, London 1936. Here’s a link to a great video which shows the struggle between local people, a large fascist organisation and also the police.

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