This week’s letter is from Krista Tippett:
One of the many, many experiences I’m having in this moment is shame, a bone-deep embarrassment, at the weight of what has been unspoken and thus unaddressed by white people for so long. By me, and in our life together. Writer Eula Biss, who has been examining the experience of whiteness for years, names its unexamined quality as primary ground of its privilege: an ability to move through life “without thinking about what your race means to other people, and what your existence in a community means to the people around you.” And you can’t fully think about anything, she points out, if you can’t speak about it. Our episode with her on talking about whiteness has been shared around the internet in the last few weeks. We offer it up again in a changing world.
There comes a moment when, in the middle of a thought (you’ll still hear this, we did not edit it out) she interrupts herself to name how inadequate and uncomfortable, in fact how “mortifying” it feels, to talk about this out loud, even for her after all these years. She continues, “I’m allowing this embarrassment to just wash over me, because I really deeply, fundamentally believe in bumbling your way through a conversation about this subject. ...We just cannot be silent on this subject.” She confesses, “I feel like I’m constantly touching the edges of my own comprehension.”
Which for me, this week, feels like an honest way in. So does her straightforward suggestion that guilt — which, along with shame, modernity has cast in a dubious light — can be humanly and socially productive. We should own white guilt, not as a self-referential feeling of sad and sorry, but as a mobilizing “cog in the machinery of consciousness.” She helps with what we need hand in hand with better words and better silences — new muscles for watching and shifting our own behavior in the most fundamental areas of our lives as neighbors, parents, friends. She brings a few moral reckonings of recent years in illuminating interplay — how white parents’ vigorous support of our children directly disadvantages other children, even if it feels like parental love with no intended malice. The phrase “opportunity hoarding” is a gift Eula Biss gave me three years ago and that I pick up as a practical tool with new eyes and ears in a world that may finally be rupturing not merely towards a greater consciousness but towards a greater wholeness.
But it is up to us to make that real. To bumble forward even as our words and questions and actions are mortifying in their lateness and inadequacy, again and again and again. I restarted and rewrote this reflection, edited it to the point of absurdity, a few dozen times. There is no poetic ending. May I prove myself worthy of the work ahead. May you hold me accountable. May we create space for an ever widening circle of redemptive white embarrassment and guilt and capacity to transform. For the point of speaking together differently is to live together differently.
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This Week at The On Being Project
Our Latest Episode
On Being with Krista Tippett
“Talking About Whiteness”
An uncomfortable but urgent and life-giving conversation.
Recommended Listening and Reading
Read | “White Debt” by Eula Biss
Discussed in this week’s conversation, Eula Biss’s 2015 essay on racial privilege asks: “What is the condition of white life?”
Read | “‘The Condition of Black Life Is One of Mourning’” by Claudia Rankine
In the weeks since George Floyd’s murder, many have turned back to this 2015 essay, which asks what might come from the whole country moving closer to the grief that so many Black Americans carry every day.
Read & Listen | “Ode to My Whiteness” by Sharon Olds
The poet reads her poem on reckoning with her racial identity.
We asked our team: What have you found useful as you’ve been processing George Floyd’s murder and this moment of reckoning more generally?
“I follow Common Sense Media, and they have pulled together a pretty comprehensive media resource page for parents and educators to start conversations with kids about race. It’s useful for parents who are trying to help their kids through this moment, especially at a time when many kids are online a lot more because of pandemic life.”
— Colleen Scheck, executive director, operations & vitality
“Diversity Photo has partnered with Haruka Sakaguchi, Allison Zaucha, Kate Warren, Maggie Shannon, Michelle Groskopf, and Samantha Xu in their efforts to compile a database of black photographers. This is an opportunity to follow photographers to let them shape the narrative of their community. This is also an opportunity for editors, art directors, and collaborators to include and work with black voices in their work, team, company, or organization.”
— Lilian Vo, associate art director
“I have been re-reading The Tradition by Jericho Brown and Citizen by Claudia Rankine.”
— Erin Colasacco, art director