At face value, this seems like a post discrediting White people, their experiences, and their knowledge about race relations and multiculturalism. There are plenty of White racial justice advocates that have extensive knowledge about race relations and the experiences of people of color, including folks like Tim Wise, however to have them in charge of Multicultural Affairs at a college is problematic. This is also not to say that White people don’t have the capacity to mentor students of color. I want to preface my blog with a story I recently read and why I decided to write this. This post is spoken about from a student’s perspective.
Leigh Anne Touhy
Recently, I read an article about Leigh Anne Tuohy, the woman who The Blind Side was written about, regarding her recent experience at a restaurant. From what I gathered, she was with a friend at one of her restaurants when her friend pointed out that there were two young Black men huddled together “nose to nose” at one of the tables. Her friend felt that this was suspicious and inquired about what they were doing. As a good ally, Tuohy would have told her friend that she’s being racist by racial profiling, but instead she decided to pursue the young men. Tuohy sat next to these men, for approximately 10 seconds, without saying a word (keep in mind how they must have been feeling when some random White woman, in their eyes, came up to them unexpectedly for being present). She then proceeded to tell them that she owned the restaurant and wanted them to tell her what they were discussing. After they told her that they were in need of financially means of getting to a game at a local high school, she proceeded to give them money for the game, popcorn, and bus fare. Then she went on to talk about not judging a book by its cover.
The amount of applause and positive recognition she got from doing this alarms me. This story had me frustrated and what I found next didn’t help. Michael Oher, Baltimore Ravens football player, did an interview about his disinterest in talking about The Blind Side, because of how it portrayed him as a person. They made him out to be dumb and as if he didn’t know anything about football until he was taken in by this upperclass White family. After reading these two articles and seeing some of the comments, I reflected on a conversation I had a while back with a peer about if White people could/should be Directors of Multicultural Affairs. And my answer is no.
Another example is when I have conversations with seemingly conscious White liberals about race relations. It is empowering when they come to my defense as I debate with others about the state of race relations in our country. What isn’t empowering is when they invite me to a party with exclusively White people where I am blatantly ignored despite my best efforts to engage in conversation. It really sparks a disconnect when I realize that even though they can consciously argue against racial injustice and racism, them being White – unconsciously or consciously – puts me in situations like this one. Despite their extensive knowledge, they still navigate the world as a White person and may not pick up on the subtle messages. I need a place where I can express my discontent and have those feelings acknowledged and validated.
A Thin Line
We come upon a thin line when we talk about White allyship and the White “savior.” There’s the idea that the do-gooder White people tend to see and treat Black bodies as incapable and in need of help. Enter Leigh Anne Tuohy, this White woman who is saving Black youth left and right. I scrolled through her social media, noticed numerous pictures that depict her enormous amounts of privilege. I saw many pictures of her helping the Black children mentioned earlier. As a student, I don’t want to go to my campus’s Multicultural Affairs office to seek guidance from this White person saving me. Regardless of the intent, that’s how I personally feel.
A Multicultural Affairs office is a place that does more than provide academic support services for people of color. It also serves as a place where they can go to see and confide in people who look like them and may have gone through similar experiences. That sense of connection and home is lost. I feel the biggest purpose of a White person working in Multicultural Affairs is to educate mainly white people about the experiences of people of color and how to be a good ally. I want a White person standing WITH me in solidarity and not leading me, because despite their knowledge about race relations, they don’t know what it’s like to be a person of color in the U.S. and at a predominately White institution.
Ally vs. Savior
This is true for many populations. I, for example, can be a great ally for LGBTQIA individuals, but I don’t identify as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex, or Asexual, so I can’t be the leader or spokesperson for this community. For me to be the Director of an LGBTQIA resource center would be silly. This is the same for a Women’s Center. I think allyship is essential to the progress of historically oppressed groups, however I think there needs to be a distinction between being an “ally” and a “savior”. Exposure to different identities and cultures is important. Collaboration is something student affairs professionals live by, but at the end of the day, I don’t feel comfortable with a White person being a Director of Multicultural Affairs. Not because I think they’re unintelligent or lack knowledge with race relations, but there is a level of authenticity that is missing because they aren’t directly impacted by racism.
I’m tired of applauding White people for cultural appropriation and being saviors of people of color or recognizing that race relations is more than just a people of color issue.