Thanks so much for your response and its questions and invitation for dialog. I hope you’ll indulge a rather long, unpolished response because you’ve got my wheels turning.
As to why I think I responded the way I did to my teacher (first challenging her, yes, but then accepting her invitation to interrogate racism in texts) I wish I had firm answers, but I’d have to keep thinking through the experiences that led me to that point — including some other really powerful moments of White people interrupting racism, or failing to do so, in my early childhood. And, memory is slippery, so I am aware of the risks of nostalgia, sentimentality, and affection that can impact one’s thinking about childhood and the cultural, familial, and political forces that inform it.
Nor do I know why my teacher embedded her anti-racist thinking into that lesson. But, I am grateful she did. I haven’t been in touch with her at all since I left that school after 8th grade, or perhaps she left the school even before I did. I can’t remember. But I would love to have a conversation with her about this.
For what it’s worth, I think you’re spot-on about many (most) White people being either overtly and honestly racist, or dodging discussions and conversations about race and trying to assert a patently dishonest “colorblind” worldview that is in and of itself is a privileged stance. In my experience as a White person trying to live a life that disrupts racism, I try to see allyship as something I do, not something I am, and I recognize the impulse that I and many White people have to enact some sort of White racial innocence that says “I’m not like those other White people. I’m a good one.” I try to resist in engaging in “ally theater” (a term that this piece by Mis McKenzie notes was coined by Princess Harmony Rodriguez) since it is both alienating to White people we might otherwise engage around race and anti-racism, and oppressive to people of color and Native people as it dishonestly obscures ways that all White people are complicit in systems of privilege and oppression.
So, doing the work involves taking responsibility for times I screw up, and trying to do better. It also means accepting that my better isn’t always going to be good enough for everyone for reasons historical, contemporary, political, and personal. I worked with an organization that led anti-racism workshops for corporations and nonprofits when I was in college, and I remember one trainer saying “it’s not about being perfect, but about being consistently conscious.” That I can do.
As for why more White people don’t have these conversations or engage in antiracism, I think some resistance some is born of outright ignorance that is premised on a resistance to listening to and learning from people of color and Native people. And, listening to and amplifying the voices of people of color and Native people is a huge part of antiracism, so even as I think and write about Whiteness and my own life, I don’t want to constantly center that in my writing, teaching, nor in my relationships. And some resistance is born of that insidious line of thinking that places Whiteness as default, and so regards discussions about racism as “political” while not acknowledging that a refusal to acknowledge or confront racism is also political as it reinforces the status quo.
I guess I can imagine that in some ways it’s easier to just live in uninterrogated White racial privilege; but that privilege is premised on dehumanizing fear, lack of self-awareness, and corrosive hatred. It, by default, undermines the potential for honest relationships and true connections with people of color and Native people. So “worth it?” Oh my god, yes. Not just because I love my children and don’t want to imagine my life without them, nor just because being the parent of children of color means I have a moral obligation to resist racism (I feel I’d have the same obligation if my children were all White), but because I know my whole life is enriched by being open to learning from people whose lives and experiences are different from mine. And I think there are lots of other reasons that antiracism is “worth it” in my life, but the biggest one is that it’s just plain about doing right.
I am sure I haven’t answered your questions fully, and I know I’ve said a bunch of stuff you already know; but I hope I’ve offered something useful to you here, and maybe to others who will read this public dialog. Thanks again for taking the time to respond to my essay and for sharing your perspective and questions. I really appreciate it.