Canada leads charge in exposing whiteness

Mike Riggs Contributor

“Like communist die-hards confessing their counter-revolutionary thought-crimes at a Soviet workers’ council, or devout Catholics on their knees in the confessional,” writes the National Post’s Johnathan Kay of a community workshop called “Thinking About Whiteness and Doing Anti-Racism,” where his fellow attendees “seemed utterly consumed by their sin, regarding their pallor as a sort of moral leprosy.” More:

Sandy, Jim and Karen work at a downtown community centre where they help low-income residents apply for rental housing. Sandy has a bad feeling about Jim: She notices that when black clients come in, he tends to drift to the back of the office. Sandy suspects racism (she and Jim are both white). On the other hand, she also notices that Jim seems to get along well with Karen, who is black. As the weeks go by, Sandy becomes more uncomfortable with the situation. But she feels uncertain about how to handle it. Test question: What should Sandy do?

If you answered that Sandy’s first move should be to talk to Karen, and ask how Jim’s behaviour made her feel, you are apparently a better anti-racist than me.

That, for what it’s worth, was the preferred solution offered by my instructor at “Thinking About Whiteness and Doing Anti-Racism,” a four-part evening workshop for community activists, presented earlier this year at the Toronto Women’s Bookstore.

My own answer, announced in class, was that Sandy should approach Jim discreetly, explaining to him how others in the office might perceive his actions. Or perhaps the manager of the community centre could give a generic presentation about the need to treat clients in a colour-blind manner, on a no-names basis.

The problem with my approach, the instructor indicated, lay in the fact that I was primarily concerned with the feelings of my fellow Caucasian, Jim. I wasn’t treating Karen like a “full human being” who might have thoughts and worries at variance with the superficially friendly workplace attitude.

Lessons from the workshop include: Don’t hire third-world labor in a first-world country (even if the shift improves a laborer’s standard of living, it’s inherently racist to hire poor people of color); if you are white, do not ever criticize a colleague of color (if you forget this rule, apologize for your actions by saying, “I’m so sorry! I’m unloading so much whiteness on you right now”); and do not ever forget for a minute that you can never be not-racist, just less racist. Tea Partiers could learn a thing or two from a workshop like this–even the 40 percent of Tea Partiers who identify as Democrats or independents.