To say whiteness, and its influence hasn’t had an effect on society would be a big understatement. Coates has called whiteness dangerous, going on to state people have used their whiteness to tear down black bodies. Men and woman both have used their whiteness to hide themselves in a cloud that allows black bodies to be broken on a daily basis. Coates argues that the idea of whiteness divides or divests people from their humanity. – JA
“Part of me thinks that your very vulnerability brings you closer to the meaning of life, just as for others, the quest to believe oneself white divides them from it” (p. 107).
Q. How does the idea of whiteness divest all people from their humanity?
This website offers a diverse array of people and their views on what whiteness means to them
The Modern Invention of Race
“But the belief in the preeminence of hue and hair, the notion that these factors can correctly organize a society, and that they signify deeper attributes, which are indelible – this is the new idea at the heart of these new people who have been brought up hopelessly, tragically, deceitfully, to believe that they are white…These new people are, like us, a modern invention…the process of washing the disparate tribes white, the elevation of the belief in being white, was not achieved through wine tastings and ice cream socials, but rather through the pillaging of life, liberty, labor and land” (p. 7-8)
Q. What does Coates mean by “people who have been brought up to believe they are white”?
Plunder and Forgetting
“Should the Dreamers reap what they had sown, we would reap it right with them. Plunder has matured into habit and addiction; the people who could author the mechanized death of our ghettos, the mass rape of private prisons, then engineer their own forgetting, must inevitably plunder much more…The Dreamers will have to learn to struggle themselves, to understand that the field for their Dream, the stage where they have painted themselves white, is the deathbed of us all” (p. 150-151).
Q. How does the idea of “forgetting” connect to the Dream, being woke, and/or DiAngelo’s notion of white fragility? (see below, Robin DiAngelo link)
Interesting links, images, and political cartoons
Nell Irving Painter_The History of White People
This book is important in understanding the social construction of whiteness. For instance, where does the term Caucasian come from?
Chapter 6: Blumenbach Names White People Caucasian p. 58 on pdf
Robin DiAngelo_White Fragility
Look at the list of “Triggers” on p. 57
How does the process of reading Coates fit with this list of triggers? Be conscious of where you experience triggers to white fragility as you read and discuss the book in class.
Also consider how the current social and political climate in America also connects to that list.
Activity — use this list of triggers to analyze comments on Twitter or Social Media surrounding the BLM movement or the election
Awakening the Dreamers
“I am convinced that the Dreamers, or at least the Dreamers of today, would rather live white than live free” (p. 143)
“And the terrible truth is that we cannot will ourselves an escape on our own. Perhaps that was, is, the hope of the movement: to awaken the Dreamers, to rouse them to the facts of what their need to be white, to talk like they are white, to think that they are white, which is to think that they are beyond the design flaws of humanity, has done to the world. “ (p. 146).
Q. Coates directly connects the Dream, the Dreamers and “the need to be white”. What is his portrayal of whiteness? And do you agree that America can only change if enough Dreamers awake?
Q. What does it mean to be an ally of BLM?
Explore the stance BLM took on Macklemore’s song White Privilege II
Q. Are you an ally? And why is important for white people to be allies? (Think how white privilege can be used as a platform…)
Interview with poetry slam 14 year old
His concept of “turning a ladder into a bridge” — Is that possible? If so, how?
Have the class watch a few of these videos and them share their thoughts on them: