Thursday, March 24, 2011

Talking Race

I am firmly committed to the belief that we (particularly we white folks) need to be talking about race. And, I am firmly committed to teachers taking a leading role on this. However, it scares me. Mostly because I know I'm not 'trained' to do this and that I'm potentially opening up a can of messiness. Of course, the fact that the messiness is there and just not talked about is all the more reason to get things out and into conversation, but still....

Anyway, my class is reading and discussing W.E.B. duBois The Souls of Black Folk and I think things are going well (though it does make me want to teach an entire class on the Harlem Renaissance which I'm pretty much sure I can't squeeze into my course rotation).

Discussing duBois on the heels of discussing Royce is interesting. (1) It'd be really surprising if duBois hadn't studied with Royce and (2) Royce has really interesting things to say about interpretation (one person working to help a second person to understand a third person) which is what duBois is doing in this piece (duBois is explicitly making white folks his audience) and (3) Royce has really interesting things to say about community.

It's this last one that's led me to some interesting 'places.' To what extent is the history of Black Folk my history? As I thought about this and talked it out a bit, I've come to the realization that I, too, have a divided soul as I try to understand myself as both American and white.

Here's what got me thinking.....despite my ancestors not being anywhere near this continent during the Revolutionary War, I view this part of history as part of my history. I understand myself to be American (in the United States, Norte Americana, sense of the word). Without thinking I use the pronoun 'we' to discuss US history. That is, until 'we' morphs into 'white folks' as in 'we drove the American Indians from their land.'

Is, say, jazz legitimately a part of my history? Gospel music? The pain of reconstruction South? DuBois notes that Black folk have particular and important things to contribute to America's sense of who we are, but how do I (or can I) claim it as part of my history?

I really want my history, as someone who is a US citizen, to be inclusive of all. I don't think that US history is the history of white folks. But, it also seems naive, arrogant, weird, downright wrong (pick any or all of these) for me to include the non-white experience in the US as my history (yet, weirdly, it doesn't seem weird for me to include the male experience as part of my history -- do two weirds cancel each other out?).

So, is jazz a part of my heritage as a white US citizen? Do I have to identify with only the winners in the history of my country when I have been a very clear beneficiary of them winning?


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