In DiDi Delgado’s article “Whites Only: SURJ And The Caucasian Invasion Of Racial Justice Spaces”, she describes these white-led anti-racism groups as “a room of white people talking to each other about racism”. When I read this line I immediately thought of our class. Obviously our class is not a social justice organization nor did we intend for it to be all white, but it is difficult not to draw parallels. This is something I’ve thought about a lot this semester, especially when we say things like “it’s easier to talk about race in a class like this” or imply that an all white environment better fosters an open dialogue about race between white people. Like Delgado’s article, I think that there are inherent flaws with creating these safe spaces for white people, even if accidentally. When people imply that they are saying something they may not be comfortable saying in front of a person of color, I can’t help but wonder why they wouldn’t feel comfortable. Is this because they suspect that what they say is offensive or politically incorrect? By creating these all-white spaces to discuss racism I worry that we are coddling behaviors or language that actually perpetuating racist structures or are even strengthening the racial divide. One real benefit I do see from these white spaces is mentioned in the article, that they save people of color from having to help white people along the social justice learning curve. However, if white people are doing the educating, I do think that it is important to acknowledge that it is naturally going to be an inadequate education due to the disparity of experience.
I’ve also wondered if white people are wary of talking about race in non-white spaces for fear of being silenced or saying something that gets misconstrued, which could explain the low participation of white students in African-American Diaspora Studies classes. Talking about this class with a friend, she described it as “so interesting to have a place for white people to feel safe talking about race, people who would never actually take an AADS class”. While I initially agreed with this statement, it did cause me to think about why I’ve never taken an AADS class when the subject matter is something I’m both interested in and feel as though I have a lot left to learn. My immediate reaction was “it would be too awkward”. I’ve heard my friends in AADS classes laugh about the stupid things white students in AADS classes have said and I know I’m not perfect–I too would eventually say something ineloquently and misstep, or I would just not say anything at all for fear of saying the wrong thing. As I start to think about what I want to take away from this class, I don’t believe it would be productive or beneficial for anyone, much less myself, for these conversations about race to remain in this all-white setting. Now that the learning curve is over, like Delgado writes, it is important for white people to be made uncomfortable and for many of us at Vanderbilt, that means taking an AADS class.