“I’m Through”

“I’m Through”

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"I'm through," says Jocasta from CBS's "Big Brother"

This might seem very strange for me to write since I devote much of my professional life to teaching, researching, and writing about race and racism in education. But, with the exception of my scholarly pursuits, I am through talking to white people about race and racism. My absolute “through-ness” (I know, a made-up word) came to a head when my university covered up blatant racism (a man in a Trump costume had a noose around a man in an Obama mask at a recent football game and the university president called it “free speech.”)

Below is a litany of what I am through with:
• I am through trying to assuage white tears whenever the topics of race and racism arises;
• I am through acting like I don’t notice when I’m the only black person in a room of white people with authority and power;
• I am through pretending like I don’t notice that college football fields and basketball courts are filled with black players earning enormous sums of money for universities that have stadiums and arenas filled with white fans;
• I am through trying to explain why Donald Trump is racist … indeed, I am through not reminding people that the entire presidential election has race as a subtext;
• I am through giving white entertainers and celebrities a pass when they do racist foolishness online, on social media, etc. and then “walk it back” with, “I didn’t mean to offend anyone!”
• I am through with trying to explain when something is racist(e.g. police shooting, lead water poisoning, the justice system, schools, housing, voter suppression);
• I am through going HARD for other people’s issues and then finding myself standing alone when the issue is racism;
• I am through with people using “implicit bias” to paper over their racism;
• I am through with explaining why Confederate flags, nooses, references to fried chicken, watermelon, and “black on black” (what about “white on white”) crime are racist;
• I am through explaining the need for affirmative action (when you break stuff, you are obligated to fix it);
• I am through trying to get people to understand why slavery is still relevant to black people’s ongoing plight;
• I am through pretending appropriation of black culture is flattery (don’t braid your hair or try to enhance your butt and stop putting kale in everything);
• I am through worrying about if something I say will “hurt your feelings,” “make you feel uncomfortable,” or “make things ‘worse’;”
• I am through thinking it’s okay for white people to move into and take over Harlem, Detroit, or West Philly;
• I am through explaining the need for HBCUs;
• I am through explaining why I attend a BLACK church;
• I am through explaining why I am in a BLACK sorority;
• I am through with the unbridled hatred of Serena Williams, Cam Newton, and President Obama;
• I am through with your children being so ignorant that every time they see a black person they rudely stare (I will be staring back);
• I am through listening to you start sentences with, “Well, you know I’m not racist, but…” (Yes, you are);
• I am through with white mediocrity being called excellence while black excellence is ignored;
• I am through with people trying to pit the plight of black people against that of others implying black folks should still wait;
• I am through indulging comments like, “everything is not about race,” when most times it is;
• I am through explaining my style — hair, dress, swagger;
• I am through being your teacher when I am not paid to do so;
• I am through supporting “liberal” causes that don’t make race central to their work;
• I’m through trying to get folks to understand that “Black Lives Matter!”

Yes, I’m just through! So you may wonder what am I going to talk to White folks about. Well, we can talk about Downton Abbey, Game of Thrones (although I don’t actually watch that), Portlandia (which I’ve only seen 3 times), and why every fall you turn EVERYTHING into something “pumpkin” (lattes, muffins, and bread).

Written by Gloria Ladson-Billings

Gloria Ladson-Billings

Gloria Ladson-Billings is the Kellner Family Chair in Urban Education in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction and Faculty Affiliate in the Department of Educational Policy Studies for the University of Wisconsin.

22 COMMENTS

  1. This was the one that thoroughly cracked me up and made my day:

    “I am through thinking it’s okay for white people to move into and take over Harlem, Detroit, or West Philly.”

  2. In your world, every white person is a racist. I suggest that you look in the mirror to find a racist. Your 27 point litany proves it. Do you have any real white friends who love you because they believe you are a good person to everyone you encounter?

    The world is full of nice people. If you can’t find one, be one.

    Judge yourself by the way you serve people and the way you treat people, especially those that you do not like.

  3. I like this a LOT. And feel the same exhaustion and exasperation every day (although, I am white) But do you mind if I keep braiding my stingy fly-away hair during the summer months? I can’t do corn-rows, so basic braids have been my solution for almost 7 decades.

  4. “Lets work at getting along”: as a white guy I’m going to add one to Dr. Ladson-Billings list. fragility. Your post is a prime example. When race comes up, and rightfully so, people start clutching their pearls and attacking the speaker like THE SPEAKER are the antagonist. BS. Part of the reason we have the mess we have in this country with race is because of the mindset you display. Race and racism IS something we need to talk about. A lot. Not stick our heads in the sand and pretend everything is fine except for a few rabble rousers. Black folk and other people of color are dying every day at the hands of people that look like me. Others live in conditions less than mine because of the institutional racism at play in their communities (and no it’s not because the people choose to live like that), life expectancy and infant mortality in the US for people of color is years less than for white folk. But we aren’t supposed to talk about it? Step off.

  5. I get it, I do. But one point I don’t … braided hair and kale are a black people thing? I don’t think so. People braid their hair all around the world. And kale? I thought that was a hippie-turned-rich-people-who-shop-at-Whole Foods thing.

    • It’s not. It’s not a “black” thing. She’s saying it’s an over done thing. Hence, ” stop putting kale in everything.”

      It was rarely seen in a number of dishes then it exploded because it’s “the new superfood” or “chic” FOR NOW. The previous reader/commenter got it as it went from a snubbed hippie food to a staple at whole foods.

  6. Scotts (my heritage) have been eating Kale for a thousand years, but I’m appropriating it from blacks? Not sure if you know this, but kale is a cool climate plant.

    I recognize I’m probably not the intended target of this article, but not only do I find it not helpful, it seems destructive to moving toward a world where ‘race’ is less important.

    Also, btw, culture IS appropriation. It’s how cultures come about. No culture was just “born”, fully formed. Cultures develop and change and grow to what they are today by taking in aspects of other cultures they are exposed to. No culture today is what it was 100 years ago, nor what it will be in the future. Thank god.

    Now let’s work together to see less of skin color and more of just …..people.

    • It’s not. It’s not a “black” thing. Kudos on yohr people eating kale.
      She’s saying it’s an over done thing. Hence, ” stop putting kale in everything.” And since your people have been doing it for over 1,000 years then you can help pinpoint (a) when it became a thing to do in the US and (b) help tell folks to knock it off.

      It was rarely seen in a number of dishes then it exploded because it’s “the new superfood” or “chic” FOR NOW. The previous reader/commenter got it as it went from a snubbed hippie food to a staple at whole foods. Her premise: it’s being done to death and not in any meaningful way. Its like saying, “ENOUGH kale, already.”

    • If you don’t see color, you don’t see me. I’m a black woman married to a white man. When we first married over 20 years ago, we’d disagree all the time about whether racism would ever end. I argued “no” while he argued “yes”. Over the years he’s noticed a difference in how SOME people react to him when he’s with me versus when he’s alone, sometimes the same person. He’s a 5th grade teacher and some parents are very friendly until they notice the picture of his wife and grandbabies.

      In 2016 we are still stared at in small towns (La Farge, WI), in mid sized CITIES (Madison, WI) and big cities Chicago, New York, San Francisco. My husband now notices sometimes when I don’t; after all, he’s only had 20 years to acclimate. He’s watched store clerks follow me while he’s left to shop freely. He’s watched while others are served ahead of me while I was at the counter first. Well, sadly, my husband has come around to my way of thinking. If you are human, then you have racial biases. If you are American it is complicated by a history where whites brought in slaves from other countries to use to as human mules to support their way of life – for free!

      If some whites are tired of hearing about racism, image how tired we are of living with it. This problem will never go away because when discussing race defenses go up. People don’t like looking into the mirror. LET’S WORK TO GET ALONG should take a gander into the mirror she wants to hold up to Prof. Ladson-Billings.

      When I was growing up in the 60’s, during the time of the Black Panthers, if you had told me I’d marry a white man I would have said when hell freezes over. Well I guess it’s frozen. I had to think through my anger at how I was view and treated by the dominant (at the time) culture and try to take people one at a time, to get past my anger, resentment and sometimes hatred of whites. I’m 60 years old and it’s still a struggle. When the shootings were happen, seemingly everyday, I yelled at my husband that “If they want a race war, they’ll get one! Pick a side!”

      Am I going to pick up a weapon and start shooting people? Of course not, but I can say that I’ve not felt this unwanted in MY own country since the early 1960’s.

      If we refuse to talk honestly about our fears, anger, racial hatred will continue to flourish in the USA. Yes, I know the USA isn’t the only country, but this is home, where I live. I’ll worry about elsewhere when here is straightened out.

      Thanks for listening.

  7. Let me pinpoint one of the places you lost your credibility in this op-ed: “don’t braid your hair or try to enhance your butt and stop putting kale in everything”

    Since when were these things exclusive to race? If I’m interpreting you correctly, you’re trying to argue they are, which is so hypocritical of you to do in an article where you are expressing frustration over the racism of others.

  8. I feel bad for those who have to work with such a blatant disgusting racist as Ms. Ladson-Billings. Especially in an academic environment.

    If this was reversed, and written to denigrate people of color, with remarks such as “I am through thinking it’s okay for white people to move into and take over Milwaukee, Madison or Portland,” I doubt that person would have a position with the University in a week.

    I hope this racist rhetoric is condemned, and divisive, hateful individuals like this are marginalized.

    • Well, the first correction you get to make but seems like your purposefully wrote: Ms. instead of DR.

      YEP! call her a racist or whatever you like just don’t forget the credentials, start her name with Dr. OR Doctor.

      Or you could just choose not to refer to her at all usurping the whole title acknowledgment thing.

  9. I’m with you all the way and you’ll never have to explain what racism is to me. I know that racists think their racism is a virtue and they can’t be talked out of it. I know that white activism is often vapid and meaningless, and many white activists refuse to listen and instead insist on blaming you for “not being receptive” or whatever. Too many are part of a passive-aggressive, self-centered culture where their own careers or gallivanting are more important than getting work done and helping people. IMO the best thing TRUE white allies can do is be present, don’t try to lead, and hope our examples show other white folks how to get off their asses without trying to dominate everything. It’s not our fight to lead, but we’ve gotta be there to carry some of the weight. Sincerely, a white guy. P.S. Koval and Soglin need to go. NOW. #JoshuaBeal #JoshuaBeal #JoshuaBeal #JoshuaBeal #JoshuaBeal

  10. (sorry if this is a double post)

    I’m with you all the way and you’ll never have to explain what racism is to me. I know that racists think their racism is a virtue and they can’t be talked out of it. I know that white activism is often vapid and meaningless, and many white activists refuse to listen and instead insist on blaming you for “not being receptive” or whatever. Too many are part of a passive-aggressive, self-centered culture where their own careers or gallivanting are more important than getting work done and helping people. IMO the best thing TRUE white allies can do is be present, don’t try to lead, and hope our examples show other white folks how to get off their asses without trying to dominate everything. It’s not our fight to lead, but we’ve gotta be there to carry some of the weight. Sincerely, a white guy. P.S. Koval and Soglin need to go. NOW. #JoshuaBeal #JoshuaBeal #JoshuaBeal #JoshuaBeal #JoshuaBeal

  11. Thank you for taking the time to share this. It means a lot coming from you. I am a white educator from MN who has learned a lot from your work over the years. I have appreciated talking with you about the topic of race in academic contexts, and very much appreciate the line “I’m through being your teacher when I am not paid to do so.” Thank you for all that you have given so far. White folks have to step up to the work, and I’m doing my best to do that. We broke it, we fix it, indeed.

  12. Might be to late to comment on a three month old article…but I have to ask.
    How will people ever come together in unity with such categorical demonizing of skin color?
    I mean white to black and black to white as a race, etc. Unless we are able to look at each person’s individual character, we will NEVER solve this issue. I was married over 20 years ago. Our best man and maid of honor were both black. I was wasn’t running for office or trying to gain any politic position. They were our BEST friends. I was the only white guy living with all black roommates in college. As a white person, I read your article and feel that I personally, would have no place in your personal life (not by my choice). I don’t know what my ancestors did and whether they were racist. I am not. Period. So, Dr. Hastings, I know you know all this, but consider your target audience. Consider that your position may be worsening the divide out of your legitimate frustration. Consider this: I, as a white person, do care about you and your family. I seek to to treat everyone with fairness according to their character. Please leave a part of your heart open to being color blind yourself. I would be glad to walk with you in trying to change one mind at a time.
    The more we keep accepting speech that implies all whites are racist and all blacks are thugs, the worst this will get. You don’t need to justify your hair style, neighborhood, food, or anything. Just be you. Next time you walk past a white guy, it might be me. Not everyone is racist because we are different.

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