words by ethel and paul

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WHITENESS WITHOUT HEART

A response to NPR’s offering of an excerpt from “The Heart Of Whiteness” by Robert Jensen, at http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=5539692&sc=emaf

“The Heart Of Whiteness” seems anachronistic, but--and what a sad but--it probably is just right for some of the current carriers of pathological racism. So it is useful to some, but there is a need to point out that Robert Jensen, a professor of media ethics, has not solved his problem of discomfort in the company of African-Americans--even colleagues. His insight stops short of solution. (Our conclusion is based on the excerpt, but the comments there are in the present tense.)

There is a subtle implication that Black persons are unforgiving and lacking in understanding of white racism. Nothing could be further from accuracy. THEY are the ones who forgive, and THEY are the ones who see through the historical nuances, the hypocrisies, and they also have supersensitivities to “vibes”--a word that covers a multitude of senses, intuitions, and experiential clues. (Women have “vibes” sensitivities on their first meeting of men.)

What Professor Jensen fails to recognize, despite all his agonizing, is that he is uncomfortable only because HE is still not cleansed of his racism. No person in the USA need be embarrassed by their racist ignorance if they are struggling against it. We whites and the USA Black people are born to this nonsense; we did not create it, nor even consciously adopt it.

Black people understand this, just as they see through the “white superiority” myth. (Note, however, that a hundred years ago many then Negro persons were indoctrinated into their “inferiority”.) If you mouth a racist word in ordinary tones, but are warmly friendly and comfortable in their presence; if you support their struggle for equal justice under law, equal protection under law, you need not be so “fearful” in the presence of Black persons, as Jensen confesses he is. (Though he carefully uses the prescribed term “African-American”, and we don’t.)

(And yes, of course, there are Black persons who are asinine, also.)

The crux of it is: They are, overwhelmingly, like us, except for the socio-political demands placed on them--including the need for wisdom in addition to the same education we whites have. But, let us celebrate the cultural differences.

Professor Jensen HAS now joined in the struggle, even if he does not face the vicious law men and dogs, nor bad tomatoes and ketchup in the streets, or eviction for having then Negro guests.

But the first hurdle for Professor Jensen is to recognize and uproot forever his fear of being SEEN as a racist. If he will continue to scrub away at the racism, he won’t need to fear being perceived as a racist “for all...to see”, as he wrote.

Ethel C. Hale and W. Paul Wharton