White Men Challenging Racism: 35 Personal Stories/White Men on Race: Power, Privilege, and the Shaping of Cultural Consciousness

By Wynter, Leon E. | The Crisis, September/October 2003 | Go to article overview

White Men Challenging Racism: 35 Personal Stories/White Men on Race: Power, Privilege, and the Shaping of Cultural Consciousness


Wynter, Leon E., The Crisis


books Considering Race: White Men Talk About the Color Line White Men Challenging Racism: 35 Personal Stories Edited by Cooper Thompson, Emmett Schaefer and Harry Brod (Duke University Press, $64.95/$21.95 paper) White Men On Race: Power, Privilege, and the Shaping Of Cultural Consciousness By Joe Feagin and Eileen O'Brien (Beacon Press, $26)

The premise of these two books is that certain White men have something important to say concerning the struggle against racism. In the better of the two, White Men Challenging Racism: 35 Personal Stories, they speak for themselves. In White Men On Race: Power, Privilege, and the Shaping of Cultural Consciousness, the authors do most of the talking, making it more about what the authors think they could teach their nominal subjects than what their subjects might teach us.

White Men Challenging Racism paints fairly intimate portraits of White men painstakingly chosen on their credentials as committed antiracists. The editors, a multicultural issues consultant, a professor of sociology and a professor of philosophy, say they wanted men who were both proud and humble "on a journey of learning about themselves" and willing to be "vulnerable in print."

These White men are doing the work, but don't expect to see them as heroes. They reveal themselves to be as self-conscious, self-effacing and insecure as they are passionate. Like some alcoholics, they're S almost painfully aware of being recovering White men. John Allocca, a Spanish bilingual teacher in Boston, for example, was troubled to find himself picking up mannerisms from his Black and Latino students.

"I have to be careful about this because I think it may not be appropriate. When I think about my first few years of teaching in this program, if I had a tape of it, I'd be embarrassed."

I wondered why Allocca, 39, should be so reluctant, when so many apolitical White men his age feel free to indulge in the "whazzup" aesthetic of hip-hop and can't get enough of it on television. But for Allocca, a socialist, resisting racism means resisting the corporate commercial hype, too.

Tobin Miller Shearer, a Mennonite Church organizer in Akron, Pa., uses the word "trying" to represent his personal struggle against his "individualism and need for control as a white person" and a male. "Trying," he says, "is an image of journey...working to attain something I have not yet fully achieved." It suggests that for Shearer, 36, being White, male and antiracist is a state of sin requiring constant repentance, not just to God but to people of color, especially African Americans.

Dependence on and accountability to Black Americans is central to their self understanding. A.T. Miller, 43, the coordinator of multicultural teaching and learning at the University of Michigan, brings up his race and gender at the beginning of class, encouraging students to examine his qualification to lead. "I think it's healthy to constantly be checking back with yourself and with the community within which you're working and asking, 'How am I doing?'"

Tim Wise, 33, a writer living in Nashville who is a former leader of a Louisiana antiracist group, says, "I probably learned more from and have been saved more by the people of color ... I worked with than I ever could have saved them."

Many Black-men-in-charge could learn from this humility. But White men do have a unique challenge in facing their dependence on African Americans for their very formation as a "race."

As Wise puts it: "To be white only has meaning in so far as it means not to be Black or Brown. …

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