In my first commentary, I wrote that “this pandemic reveals pre-existing inequities in our society that starkly manifest themselves in our education system, as well as elsewhere.” In fact, as this pandemic proceeds, it is not only more starkly revealing these inequities, it is aggravating them.
To lay some groundwork for observations to come, in this edition I want to suggest that you listen to or read the transcripts from a most remarkable series entitled Seeing White on a podcast called Scene on Radio. It, and the books referenced in it, have fundamentally reshaped how I think about race even after contemplating the subject for decades.
A friend and colleague, who is black, recommended it to me. Undoubtedly, many of you have already heard it or have read some of the books referred to in it. It is hosted by John Biewen, who runs the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University.
Here are some excerpts from the first of its twelve episodes, which was posted in February 2017.
John Biewen: [In] the summer of 2016, a few weeks after Trump …clinch[ed] the Republican nomination…the comedian and actor D.L. Hughley [was on] the daytime talk show, The View…It snag[ged] my interest…
Joy Behar: …Did you even think that [Trump] would get this far?
Hughley: … I’m not shocked … because I think that ultimately America is aspirational…Obama is what we would like to be. Donald Trump and his supporters are what we are [emphasis added]…
John:…Seventy percent of voters were white in 2016, and 58 percent of white voters chose Trump…
People can debate how big a factor straight-up racism was in Trump’s victory. But his year-long drumbeat of remarks and tweets and retweets, giving voice to white resentment toward people of color…was not too much for the…people who colored in the bubble next to Trump’s name…
I’m John Biewen, it’s Scene on Radio. The “race” beat in American journalism usually involves pointing our gaze…at people of color. That goes for me, too. Over several decades as a reporter and documentary maker…I’ve often treated whiteness like the proverbial elephant in the room. You might hear about some white individuals or white-run institutions, the alleged bad apples, the discriminators. But like most American reporters, I’ve usually left white people as a group—the white “race”— unnamed…In the coming batch of episodes, a series we call Seeing White [we are] turning the lens around, looking straight at white America – and at the notion of whiteness itself. Where did this idea of a white race come from? God? Nature? Or is it man-made?…[But,] I’m a little concerned about my perspective as a white dude…[So,] I maybe could use some backup…
Chenjerai Kumanyika: Hey, my name is Chenjerai Kumanyika. I’m a professor… in the Rutgers School of Communication and Information. [He is black.]
John: Chenjerai will make regular appearances in this series…For this introduction, Chenjerai and I put some thoughts and worries on the table about the series itself…
Chenjerai: …I’ll tell you the big thing is this. There’s a tendency in this country to frame the discussion about race…in terms of something called “race relations.” And this just overwhelmingly focuses on the individual attitudes of people…I think the thing that these conversations really need [to consider is the] issue of structural racism or institutionalized patterns of exploitation and oppression that are racialized…a more complex engagement with how power works and what race and ethnicity [have] to do with it [emphasis added].
John: …there’s an idea that people have talked about that you can have racism without individual racists…I have a…disclaimer that I would want to make about this project. And that is, I’m concerned that people will look at the title of the series, Seeing White, and they’ll think, “Oh this is a series about white supremacists and neo-Nazis and the KKK again”…And, I want people to know that that’s not what we’re up to here…mostly what we want to talk about is…the rest of us who are not overtly, stated white supremacists.
[In the next episode, we’ll go] back in time… when, though there were people who looked like me, there’s no sign they thought of themselves as white.
Nell Irvin Painter [a history professor at Princeton]: [When] there WAS no notion of race.
Here is a link to the Seeing White series. https://www.sceneonradio.org/seeing-white/ You can also print the transcripts there if you prefer reading to listening.
And, we have just gone live with a modest website to host these commentaries: www.exograms.com
In the next few Exograms, I will try to expand on how COVID-19, remote learning, and race are all intertwined.
Please, as always, pass it along.