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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

Wheatley Hosts Forum on White Anti-Racist Literature

Emmett Schaefer, professor of Sociology at UMB and co-author of the new volume, White Men Challenging Racism: 35 Personal Stories (Duke University Press), describes rather humbly the process of the compilation of white men’s stories of their own work combating institutional racism.

“We [Cooper Thompson, Harry Brod and Schaefer] literally got in a station wagon and we were riding down the East coast and stopping in various cities to interview white men we had heard about who do this kind of work,” Schaefer relates during a 90-minute forum at the Wheatley Lounge on Thursday, October 2.

The concept behind the compendium revolves around white men’s anti-racist work in several spheres, political, communal and personal. One of the goals of the project, according to Schaefer, was to dispel the sense of isolation that many whites (the authors included) were involved in anti-racist work feel because of their whiteness. With most of the noted anti-racist activists in the U.S. being people of color and women, Schaefer, Thompson and Brod saw a void that needed to be filled in the awareness of white males who did this type of work, as well as a need to develop a sense of solidarity between these men while bridging the gap between them and the rest of the nation’s anti-racist movement.

Schaefer spent a good portion of the hour and a half reading from among the first-person narratives compiled in his book, which were processed from interviews conducted with activists over a span of several years. The interviewees whose accounts Schaefer read included a lawyer who spent a great deal of time working with the Black Panthers in the 60s and 70s; a med student who also worked with the Panthers and claimed to have been willing to throw away a life of guaranteed success and die for a romantic notion; and a member of the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force who worked to fight racism in the gay community.

Noting that the crowd of 50 was almost entirely non-white, Schaefer cited a feeling of discomfort among white men with anti-racist sentiment that stemmed from a reluctance to look at the world without the frames of white male privilege. Such discomfort would often keep these men from speaking out against the practice of racism in public and private institutions for fear that they would be speaking from a perspective that undermines their credibility.

The audience responded approvingly as Schaefer continued by stating that in many cases, simply being white can be a problem for someone looking to fight racism in the establishment because so much of the establishment consists of white males. One woman sitting in on the forum chimed in, stating that one of the primary reasons that it’s so difficult for white men to stick their necks out against racism is their by-default inability to personally experience it.

“Can white people experience racism,” she asked rhetorically, “No, in my personal opinion, no.” She continued, “I feel that to get white people to try to identify with racism by experiencing other types of discrimination is undermining the experiences of people of color.”