The Emory professor behind Dear White America explains his side
He triggered ‘tons of hate mail from white people’
Dear White America, written by Emory philosophy professor Dr George Yancy, is a gripping and provocative letter on the reality of race relations within the context of the United States of America.
Due to the poignant nature of this piece, many people felt compelled to voice their opinions, unsurprisingly resulting in what Dr Yancy described as “tons of hate mail from white people.”
We interviewed Dr Yancy so as to better understand his controversial views, and shed light on some of the harder to grasp concepts in the piece.
While talking with students on campus about this article, the word that arose in every conversation without fail was “racist.” This word is a label that white people in particular attempt to distance themselves from at all costs.
Dr Yancy laid out a position that argues that white people’s racial privilege, how they benefit from it, is predicated on the suffering of black people and people of color. As such, regardless of the anti-racist beliefs held by whites, they are not exempt from the label racist.
His argument is that white people, despite their best intentions, are still part of a racist structural system that makes them complicit with that system. Unsurprisingly, people fall into a defensive frame and refuse to listen to such a position.
He told us: “Racism is not limited to a set of beliefs; rather, it is fundamentally systemic.
“Just look at the prison-industrial complex, the banking industry, and unemployment rates. Black people are three times more likely to be pulled over while driving than white people, even though white people who are pulled over are more than four times likely to be found with contraband. Blacks are denied loans based on the color of their skin rather than their economic standings.
“It has also been shown that a white person with a criminal record is slightly more likely to be called back for a job interview than a black person without a criminal record.
“And applicants with white-sounding names are 50 percent more likely to be called for an interview than those with African-American-sounding names.”
Sophomore Tristen Thompson, aPhilosophy and Film double major, said: “Implicit racism is definitely in the majority, but it isn’t inherently less harmful than overt racism.
“Once you are an adult, it is your responsibility to identify the realities of life. If you fail to do this, or refuse to accept those other realities, then you’re racist.”
My friend Adam Schexnayder a sophomore, and Psychology major said he believed if someone truly loved every person equally, then it would be unfair for him or her to be called racist.
But fairness is beside the point. The label racist, in this “passive receiver” of privilege context, is more of a means of drawing attention to the societal domination of whites – in the same way that Yancy uses “sexist” as a way to describe men who are passive receivers of privilege based on the suffering of women.
Beyond concerns with the label racist, the second biggest recurring theme was “how can I help?” As a person of color, it is great to see people who do not share in your hardships willing to participate in the fight against them. Dr Yancy and I spoke in depth about a possible first step in attempting to solve this problem. His solution rests on the premise of active silence.
He describes active silence as a “cultivated virtue that allows you to actively intervene on the side of your tendencies.” He argued it can be separated into two steps.
Firstly, he argued you must “quiet your own voice to hear from or about those who suffer in ways that you do not. Linger with the weight of the problem before attempting to solve anything,” says Dr Yancy, and don’t automatically assume you know better.
Secondly, the step is to practice active silence in the space that occurs between thought and action, when you must make a choice on how to act. In this moment, quiet your tendencies towards responses conditioned by societal norms, and respond in accordance with that which you learned from those who are oppressed.
Dr Yancy suggested readers “mark the monolithic nature of whiteness.” Openly question the blatantly obvious disparity between the numbers of blacks incarcerated to the number of whites incarcerated. Shine a light on the parts of our culture that are taken for granted.
Hopefully reading this article in conjunction with Dear White America can serve as a tool of enlightenment for those who are searching for guidance in navigating America’s complex socio-political landscape. Thank you for reading.