dagNotes: I will follow
I’m just reminded about something I wanted to say a while ago because of something the wretched of the earth just posted about Tim Wise. I get questions about him, too. A lot of questions from white bloggers. I had a recent question and forgot to respond.
You all know I write and I teach. At work, in my public life, I do not professionalize my reflection about race, whiteness and white power, and privilege. This is not to say I would never publish my ideas. It’s to say, when I’m in the street, in the classroom, in cafes and bars, I’m not the one to take the reigns as The Professional or The Expert. I’ll tell you why.
People of color speak out about these things all the time and are routinely and purposefully ignored. On tumblr, for example, bloggers of color, especially women of color, are routinely harassed for their work against bigotry and posted reflections about white supremacy and privilege. I may get a small amount of harassment for my reflections, but I tend to get a ton of acceptance, accolades, congratulations. Moreover, I’ve learned after years of doing this, most people who criticize me assume I’m not white and, often, not male. When my critics figure out that I’m a white guy, the racist harassment suddenly becomes seemingly civil attempts to persuade me to stop. Anyway, to not recognize these facts is to embrace that which I’m protesting.
I get questions about Tim Wise all the time. This is my response to Tim Wise. I think he’s made a career out of things people of color have been saying for as long as we’ve been thinking about race. He’s been permitted a career by a white establishment. It’s that simple.
In real life, I’m a teacher: writing, theory, literature, poetics, et al. I’m a writer: prose and verse. I’m a race traitor, too, sure, but you know, I ain’t got a useful fucking thing to teach about the experience of oppression. I can address the theory, but to be responsible, I believe I must listen to and follow the lead of others. In other words, I need to both confront white supremacy and reject being implemented as a filter for the experiences of people of color.
And this shouldn’t be embarrassing to admit: it’s tempting for people like me to step up in front of our communities and act as a white filter for others, to implement privilege, to practice paternalism. I have to insist not to do so. And I do. I just walked away from a great job, with amazing students, because my boss insisted I be the white example of civility and English Language Culture for my Cambodian high school students. I was told that I should be the one to show them how to properly speak about US culture and American English. I walked away. To remain, to protest each day—no matter how painful it was to personally endure administrative punishment—would have been making it all about me and my privilege and sense of the world. And I just am not going to do that sort of thing any more.