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  •  Completely agree, omg... (1+ / 0-)
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    Foothills of Oblivion

    Exhaustion. Yes.  No other word for it.  I would come just as you described.  Some days I couldn't even drive home from class because I was so beside myself trying to deal with all of the denials, rationalizations, deflections, outbursts, and accusations of white students who just refused to get it.  Refused.  When I was in graduate school, I had 2 white students take a zero on an assignment because it supposedly discriminated against them as white men, had students leave my classes enraged, never to return, had students throw papers at me in anger (not kidding).  (I should insert here that I also won teaching awards, so I was doing my job and doing it well.)  As a visiting prof I had to meet with a Dean because two white men in my class said I was mistreating them for being white. In that case, the rest of my class corroborated my account, not theirs.  So, please believe me, I know the exhaustion you describe. The frustration. The anger.  All of it. I also know that I am, because I'm white, better able to "put it away" at the end of the day because the rest of my life doesn't invite such mistreatment and hatefulness.  This is precisely why I think it's so important that we discuss these issues instead of furthering divides and trying to silence complexities, ambiguities, or unforeseen consequences that follow in our wake as we try in tense moments to figure out how to respond, or whether to even bother responding.  

    The union situation is a much longer story, too long to get into, but I should at least add that when they were muscling these people out, we had already won on the issue but they were still so angry that they did a PR stunt in the local paper, with the express disapproval of the union body as a whole, that almost led to the university canceling the entire contract.  Our union reps in the international students office were particularly enraged by these power plays because of how much it undermined the work they were doing to assure that office that we weren't a bunch of unreasonably-militant hotheads.  They went scorched earth; I was one of many burned and the union, for a few very tense days, almost lost our contract.  When they were asked to account for themselves, the ringleader simply told a room of 50 very concerned people, "You are wrong."

    In response to your first post on the issue of being required to LISTEN as an ally, yes, I was replying to the comment thread, not the original post.  But as a white instructor with many "white allies" in my classes, I heard this line all of the time and the net effect was that the exhausting students (the reactionaries and those who just didn't get it yet) got worse, not better, because they saw themselves as martyrs.  And I especially hated when we made reactionary right wing libertarians free-speech heroes to those white students who weren't as well-versed or bold in discussions of identity politics. At the campus I was teaching as a visiting professor, a refrain of white students who were circulating blackface images or displaying confederate flags in dorms was that they were being ironic to demonstrate the supposed intolerance of both the activists of color on campus and professors like myself.  Talk about exhausting.  It is hard, undoubtedly, to be your best self in the face of such things.

    And, yes, obviously, my graduate cohort didn't trust me.  That climate of mistrust was palpable and it seemed like folks were waiting to "out" me, as it were.  As I mentioned in the salsa example, what was upsetting to me about these incidents was not that they didn't trust me (I know myself, that I can listen and learn and have empathy, and that I have the humility to admit when I am wrong or misguided), but that the politics in these kinds of classrooms are that you shouldn't defend yourself because you need to defer to demonstrate solidarity.  Both the salsa and CD examples show strangers jumping to conclusions about someone based on her appearance (i.e. this white woman doesn't know what salsa music or 'real' hip hop is) but what I'm saying is that that kind of presumptive rudeness can run unchecked in these kinds of classrooms.  ("If you are willing to have sex with men you can't be a feminist." "I think the white people in the room should stop talking." "I'm sorry, as a bisexual you can just hide behind your heteronormative privilege." "You have no right doing that/saying that as a [blank] person.") These are personal attacks, not scholarly debates.  This means that you have to continually take the high road in the face of rudeness, even outright abuse, and that is grating and isolating.  Again, I know the bigger picture matters more (i.e. the equilibrium of oppression has arrows pointing in the other direction), but, again, I think we cannot build alliances across these divides if we tell people that they have to defer depending on the particular privilege under discussion.  And I think it's horseshit (i.e. the union example) where "you're a closet racist," "you're a closet sexist," "you're a closet homophobe" because you dared disagree with a person.  And I find it hard to believe I'm the only person who has witnessed the word privilege used in this way--to silence or discredit or belittle.  And pause for irony because the whole point of privilege as a academic term was to move beyond assessing oppression as only the results of bad individuals' characters.  To me, graduate school was a like a daily political firing squad.  

    In terms of teaching, I'm talking here about things like, "I think maybe the men in the room should recognize their male privilege and allow the women in the room to speak" versus, "What does it mean if the topic at hand is domestic violence and we have to spend most of our time talking about whether the men in this room are presumed abusers?"   The former tells the men in the room to shut up.  The latter invites them to reflect on their contributions.  Both acknowledge that they're dominating and redirecting the conversation away from an oppression that implicates them.  I've seen many examples of this done in a way that preserves empathy and respects everyone's contribution... no matter how exhausting or clueless or hurtful the folks may be in a given room.... and I've seen (and done myself) responses that are mean-spirited, presumptive, and, thus, self-defeating.  I don't presume doing so is easy, and I know I haven't always done right on this score myself.  

    And, by the way, I'm also quite aware that some of my bristling at this stuff is class-specific.  If you can say one positive thing about poor white people, we say what we mean, so I had a real hard time adjusting to what, to me, seemed like so much dishonest language--meanness concealed under passive-aggressiveness and jargon:  "I find it problematic that...."   I would be forever happy to never again hear that word.

    Anyway, thank you for the thoughtful reply; I hope I engaged most of your points...

    •  lol@"problematic" (1+ / 0-)
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      gramofsam1

      Oh, the number of times that word gets said. We really do need to find another word.

      I am still not getting you on the cd thing, though. You're doing the typical, "Don't judge people based on their appearance," that white folks (including myself) tend to do, and yet what you described is what happens to people of color every single day in every single environment. You being cohorts changes nothing. I have seen firsthand the way people of color in grad school, particularly women, take a ton of shit from their professors and fellow students. It's unreal. In fact, women, general, take a lot of shit from a lot of professors and fellow male students in a lot of fields. It's bullshit that everyone just accepts because grad students depend on those professors for future advancement.

      However, to get back on topic, you thought that you were in an environment in which no one would be judged, but there is no environment anywhere where that exists for people of color.

      The way I see it, this diary comes across like the white people at this site who complain every single time Kos writes a diary talking about how the Republican Party is the party of old white male conservatives. Every time he does that, he gets complaints and calls to take the diary down from old white people who are at this site who think he is judging them since they identify more as white than liberal. It just seems like you are uncomfortable being judged by the color of your skin. Speaking as a white women, I get uncomfortable by it, too.

      However, I know I have the privilege of it rarely ever occurring. And since I also know people of color have a genuine reason to make snap judges about me considering how dangerous white people, especially white women, can be in this country for people of color, I choose to be understanding and not offended.

      As for who gets to talk. Hmm. I think that depends. It depends on the setting, the people involved, and how much each person actually knows. In my experience, those white students who come in refusing to hear about white privilege, go out the same way. And heaven forbid there's a person of color in the same class, because those white people will go out of their way to be as hurtful as possible, all the time pretending ignorance. I sat through six years of really, really bright white students who did just that. It was disgusting, and hurtful for myself to sit through feeling powerless, and I'm white. Lord knows how the women of color in the classes I had put up with it. In that situation, I am just fine with not letting those students talk.

      In the end, I have thought for years now that we need every single university to start doing seminars with all students, forcing the white students to go through talks about anti-racism and white privilege. It shouldn't wait until grad school like it seems to right now. By then, it's primarily too late for a lot of students.

      Time is of no account with great thoughts, which are as fresh to-day as when they first passed through their authors' minds ages ago. - Samuel Smiles

      by moviemeister76 on Wed Jan 15, 2014 at 04:56:58 PM PST

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