To cite the published version
of this article, please consult
either the paper or the electronic
copy of the journal QSE.

Tiffany, Friend of People of Color:
White Investments in Anti-Racism
Audrey Thompson
University of Utah

This is an earlier version of the article published in the
International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education
Vol. 16, no. 1 (January 2003): 7-29.
©Taylor & Francis, 2003

For the final, revised version, please see the paper or electronic copy of
International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education
(if your institution's library subscribes to QSE, it will
also have an electronic subscription; see website below)

QSE 16:1

Audrey Thompson is an associate professor in Education, Culture and Society and an adjunct professor in the Ethnic Studies Program at the University of Utah. Her research interests include whiteness theory, feminist ethics and epistemology, African-American epistemology, feminist and anti-racist pedagogies, and writing/research epistemologies.

Correspondence to Audrey Thompson, University of Utah, Dept. of Education, Culture, and Society, 1705 E. Campus Center Dr., Rm. 307, Salt Lake City, UT 84112-9256. E-mail:

Tiffany, Friend of People of Color:

White Investments in Anti-Racism


Whites have long designated people of color as "good" when they were "friends of the white man." In a reverse move, some anti-racist whites now identify themselves as "good" whites — as friends of people of color. A number of anti-racist psychologists and teacher educators have argued in support of this move. To develop a coherent and abidingly anti-racist stance, they say, white students and teachers must feel positive about their racial identity. If the "anti" aspect of anti-racist white identity development is given too large a role, learners will have no room to measure themselves in proactive as opposed to reactive terms. Accordingly, white students need to be able to think of themselves as "allies" of people of color. Although less likely than students to aspire to the status of friend of people of color, progressive white professors, too, insofar as they pride themselves on "getting" race issues, congratulate themselves on being exceptional whites. Both forms of white exceptionalism rely on an indispensable "anti" status: anti-racist whites are invited to see themselves as not that kind of white and to embrace only those aspects of whiteness that can be construed as positive. This paper argues that progressive whites must interrogate the very ways of being good that white identity theory offers to protect, for the moral framing that gives whites credit for being anti-racist is parasitic on the racism that it is meant to challenge. In order to move towards new conceptions of white anti-racism, the paper argues, we need to adopt emergent approaches to both cross-race and intrarace relations.

Tiffany, Friend of People of Color:

White Investments in Anti-Racism

Books with "friend of the white man" in the title are no longer embraced with quite the same open enthusiasm as they once were. You can still find Squanto: Friend of the White Men in school libraries, but it is gradually being replaced with Squanto: Friend of the Pilgrims.(1) At one time it seemed obvious to whites that anyone who was a friend of the white man was somebody who ought to go down in history, presumably because whites have had so few friends; now, however, we understand that it is arrogant to organize history around whites and people who have been friendly to them. Although the category of cross-race friendship seems to be embedded more firmly than ever in the white imagination, colorblind protocols require that whiteness be played down as the explicit reference point for friendship. Thus, Squanto becomes the "friend of the pilgrims" and Pocahontas the "friend of the colonists."(2) Sacagawea, Pocahontas, and Squanto — not to mention Tonto — still figure as significant insofar as they are friends to the white man, but the coded language makes the friendship sound more individual, more local, less a matter of race.

Yet even as whites have begun to back away from explicit assessments of people of color as "friends of white men," we have embraced the idea that whites can be "friends of people of color." It is not a new idea; Custer himself declared that the white man was "the Indian's best friend."(3) But we mean it differently, not that way. We mean that we are supporters of people of color, that we understand about white racism and that we are against it.(4) We are not that sort of white; we are good whites. Anti-racist whites know not to talk about "good Negroes," "friendly Indians," or "good Mexicans," but somehow it seems different to talk about "good whites" — about "Tiffany, friend of people of color."(5)

It is because whites are uncomfortable with the implications of acknowledging white racism that (whether or not we use the term) we are tempted to position ourselves as "good whites."(6) Although we can acknowledge white racism as a generic fact, it is hard to acknowledge as a fact about ourselves. We want to feel like, and to be, good people. And we want to be seen as good people. This need is often more apparent among white college students who are first beginning to struggle with the implications of racism than among advanced white graduate students and white professors who have spent years studying racism and anti-racism. For the white student who is new to colored epistemologies, whiteness theory, critical race theory, and postcolonial critiques of white racism, it can be devastating to realize that people of color — people who, not by coincidence, do not really even know you — can make judgments about you and just assume that you are racist without giving you the chance to prove otherwise.(7) In some cases, white students will ask students of color, "How can I prove to you that I am trustworthy?" Other white students want to start from the presumption that they are nonracist, insisting that "If I can't be part of your black feminist study group, you're being a racist."(8) Still other white students may recount personal histories testifying to their colorblindness, their near-color experiences, and their distinctive status as friends of people of color.

The self-centeredness of these stories, questions, and objections can be frustrating to students and faculty of color and their naïveté is frustrating to progressive white teachers who want the white students to hurry along, to get it faster than they seem to be doing. Sometimes white professors just tell their Tiffanies outright, "We don't get to be blameless. Get used to being uncomfortable about being white." Yet the assumptions that progressive white teachers — call us Dr. Lincolns — make about correct anti-racism smack of much the same idealism as does the Tiffanies' insistence on being acknowledged as good whites. To the extent that Dr. Lincolns become complacent that we, at least, are doing it right — that we really do get it — we buy into the notion that, secretly, we are "the friends of people of color."(9) Regarding ourselves as authoritatively anti-racist, we keep whiteness at the center of anti-racism.(10)

How to Read This Essay

In the struggle to keep whiteness off-center in this essay, I violate several scholarly practices. Not only have I not framed the issues in terms of a review of the literature, but I have specifically avoided offering implications for practice. I have also troubled the scholarly preference for linearity and foundationalism. Educational journals generally look for a seamless text in which each paragraph either builds on a previous paragraph or follows a predictable path (as in the APA introduction-method-results-discussion format). Because I want to underscore the whiteness of our desire for safety, blamelessness, and certainty, I have avoided laying a foundation and building on it. Instead, I have organized the paper in terms of the constellation of places to which we as white teachers and students continually retreat; in effect, I have tried to follow the white reader and myself to those places of retreat.

Both to trouble the seamless narrative structure and to avoid the rhetorical effect of the author-date system's constant invocation of authority (Adam, 1999; Eve, 1998), I have used Chicago-style endnotes in preference to APA style. Most educational journals follow the APA guidelines in discouraging the use of discursive endnotes and footnotes, which are said to be "distracting to readers." According to the APA Manual, "an author integrates an article best by presenting important information in the text, not in a footnote."(11) Implicitly, if the material is not "important" enough to include in the text, it is non-essential. Indeed, the APA Manual discourages discursive writing even in the text, holding that "discursive writing often obscures an author's main points."(12) My intent here, however, is not to argue for a series of main points but to initiate an open-ended conversation.(13) Accordingly, I have sought a relational form of address, setting aside both the objective, impersonal voice of academic authority and the confessional approach sometimes conflated with a personal voice.(14) The distracting endnotes help to foreclose tidy integration by providing "a second, parallel text."(15) I also use the notes to separate the scholarly apparatus of citation from the conversation.

My efforts to problematize the whiteness of scholarly apparatuses and conventions are at best partial and problematic. The paper is still a scholarly paper and does not, in itself, call into question academic ways of making meaning. A more radical format might have eschewed references altogether, might have turned to entirely different sources of epistemic authority, or might have worked within nonscholarly and nonmainstream genres. Even then, it would be hard to undo white privilege by writing about it. Writing about whiteness redounds to whites' benefit; institutionally, if not also politically and morally, we get "credit" for such work. Perhaps in a few years we will know better how to talk about whiteness in academia without reinscribing all the instrumentalities of academic whiteness, but for the moment, we are still building the tools we need to build anti-racist tools.(16)

Student and Faculty Investments in "Good" White Identity

The desire to be and to be known as a good white person stems from the recognition that our whiteness is problematic, a recognition that we try to escape by being demonstrably different from other, racist whites. Among students who are relatively new to whiteness theory or related theories about racism, exceptionalism tends to take the form of statements about how different they are from other whites.(17) To defend her status as nonracist, a white woman might say, "My husband is a terrible racist," meaning, "In comparison to other whites I know, I'm really open-minded."(18) Not only do such discursive moves shift the blame for racism to more obviously blameworthy whites, but they shift the focus of the anti-racist project to whites who really have a problem.(19)

Other white students may invoke narratives that attempt to invalidate charges of racism by proving that the speaker has always been connected to people of color and has had any number of near-color experiences — perhaps a former African-American boyfriend, a Korean-American school friend in first grade, or a memorable teaching experience involving foreigners. In such narratives, the white student may not seek entirely to escape responsibility; she may recognize, for example, that her near-color experiences have not stopped her from enjoying white privilege. Her concern is less to avoid blame than to demonstrate friendship and solidarity with people of color — to show that she gets racism in ways that other whites do not. Lest the moral of such stories be overlooked, it is underscored: "I spent a lot of time with the Tongans from my church, last summer, and I saw firsthand the prejudice they faced."

Like white students, white professors make self-congratulatory assumptions about our anti-racist credentials. But because our own investments in whiteness are far less visible to us, we often write and talk as if racism and whiteness were problems we could solve through pedagogy: they are our students' problems. Strictly speaking, we may not believe that we are exempt — we may know better — but we tend to act as if we believe it. Partly, this may be because we associate Tiffany-like behavior with appeals to feelings, anecdotal evidence, and "common" sense. Whereas white students who are new to racialized analyses tend to base their claims on personal experience, white professors and doctoral students appeal to research as the basis for our racial awareness and insight. Indeed, we often take it for granted that our studied anti-racism is the standard to which other whites should be held; at the same time, however, we may anxiously try to prove our anti-racist credentials by positioning ourselves in unproblematic solidarity with scholars of color.

A case study of white professorial anxiety might be found in white feminists' efforts to blur the boundaries between ourselves and feminists of color. Although we have known for years that the term "feminist" is a false universal, we continue to call ourselves feminists as if the term were all-embracing and unproblematic. As Patricia Hill Collins reminds us, Black feminists usually call themselves black feminists specifically to distance themselves from the implicit whiteness of "feminism." "Inserting the adjective Black" in front of the word feminism "challenges the assumed whiteness of feminism and disrupts the false universalism of this term."(20) Many progressive white women acknowledge the misleading character of the unqualified term "feminist," yet we tend to balk at calling ourselves "white feminists," a term that seems to leave whiteness unproblematized and monolithic. We know "feminist" is a false universal, but we still cannot quite bring ourselves to say white feminist. It sounds as if we might be racist, and we do not want to be thought of as racist.

A more attractive option would be to call ourselves "anti-racist white feminists," but Collins troubles the complacency of that category as well. "Even well-meaning White feminists," she says, "can inadvertently consume the limited resources of African-American women who claim Black feminism." Having to support and applaud "White women in their efforts to foster an anti-racist feminism diverts Black women's energy from addressing social issues facing African-American communities."(21) In itself, anti-racism is not the problem; the problem lies with the agenda it often conceals, namely, white academics' desire for unproblematic solidarity with people of color — people with other kinds of anti-racist commitments. Embracing "anti-racist" as a descriptor enables us to reintroduce the disallowed universalism of "feminist" under the guise of a nonwhite-centered solidarity: if we cannot all call ourselves just plain "feminists," at least we can all call ourselves "anti-racist feminists."

Aside from smuggling universalism back into progressive causes, the generic term "anti-racist" is problematic because it fails to clarify what white academic anti-racism means, pragmatically — what shape and consequences it has, what it amounts to other than using and talking about the right texts and the right names.(22) If white progressive educators' commitments to anti-racism begin and end with reading and citing and teaching the texts of people of color, it is hard to see how anti-racism is all that different from academic business as usual. Are we satisfied, for example, with invoking Toni Morrison and bell hooks and Gloria Anzaldúa and Cherríe Moraga and Paula Gunn Allen and Patricia Hill Collins, while continuing to think of knowledge and social change in more or less the same generically progressive ways?

Indeed, Collins finds it suspicious that black feminism is "so well received by White women."(23) Such suspicions are prompted by the history of whites' appropriation of black and brown bodies, words, songs, and symbols.(24) As Nell Irvin Painter observes, white women have long taken up black women's texts and voices for our own activist purposes — profiting much more from the commodification of black voices than have the black women invoked in the white texts. Whereas Sojourner Truth had to sell photographic cartes de visite for 33 cents apiece to support her abolitionist work, Harriet Beecher Stowe earned money by writing about Truth and other African Americans.(25) Tapping "a marketable subject" in an era when "material on the Negro was very much in demand," Stowe — who had already made a fortune from Uncle Tom's Cabin but found herself in need of further funds — "min[ed] the vein that had produced her black characters in Uncle Tom's Cabin." Writing for the prestigious Atlantic Monthly, Stowe "made Truth into a quaint and innocent exotic who disdained feminism."(26) Later, in a reversal of her symbolic fortunes, Truth was appropriated for white feminist purposes. In the white feminist reform literature, Sojourner Truth became a suffragist more than an abolitionist symbol, famous mostly for having said "and ar'n't I a woman?" — a line that Frances Dana Gage, a white woman, composed and attributed to Truth.(27)

Like Stowe and Gage, white academics who take up the texts (and lives and projects) of people of color for progressive purposes risk exploiting them for our own insufficiently examined ends. Writing an open letter to Mary Daly in 1979, Audre Lorde told her, "The history of white women who are unable to hear Black women's words, or to maintain dialogue with us, is long and discouraging."(28) Rather than "ever really read the work of Black women" and other women of color, white feminists tend to "finger through [such work] for quotations" that they think will "support an already-conceived idea concerning some old and distorted connection between us."(29) The question Lorde asked Daly might be asked of white feminists and white progressives in general: "Have you read my work, and the work of other Black women, for what it could give you? Or did you hunt through only to find words that would legitimize your" own claims about race and racism?(30)

When white scholars strategically quote material by scholars of color to "support an already-conceived idea," we colonize the work of the Other to enrich our writing and enhance our authority. Like Stowe, we mine the lives and writings of people of color to produce a more marketable commodity.(31) Indeed, even when we are true to the work we study, whites may profit in ways wholly out of proportion to our historical contribution to the field. Long before the academy began to accept whiteness as a distinctive area of research, it had been the subject of countless works of theory, fiction, art, and journalism by people of color. Although some of the contemporary scholarship on whiteness by white authors recognizes our indebtedness to classic and pathbreaking work by James Baldwin, Vine Deloria, Toni Morrison, and others, whiteness theory nevertheless seems to be "ours."(32) The very acknowledgement of our racism and privilege can be turned to our advantage.

"Some of My Best Friends Are . . . "

Rather than struggle with this dilemma, most white scholars (if they consider the work of scholars of color at all) content themselves with token anti-racist gestures. For example, white authors seeking to prove that they have done their homework might include glancing references to Chela Sandoval or Barbara Smith or Trinh T. Minh-ha, allusions intended to stave off critiques of the whiteness of the author's research base or working assumptions. Helene Wenzel calls such defensive moves "ritual libations." "Even when white women call third world women our friends, and they us, we still agonize over 'the issue'" of race, Wenzel observes. Fearing an "explosion, we sprinkle our material with ritual libations which evaporate without altering our own, or anyone else's consciousness."(33)

Over time, ritualized prostrations and libations may change in style, but their function remains unaltered. A few years ago, white feminist researchers routinely included a disclaimer in the introductions to their books saying, in effect, "Because I am a white, middle-class, middle-aged, able-bodied, Catholic-raised, heterosexual, widowed, slender, fourth-generation Italian mother of two, the research in this volume reflects the cultural limitations of that perspective." The initial acknowledgement of the author's situatedness meant that she could safely ignore race from then on. More recent authors may interrupt their texts with occasional forays into racialized analyses; some feature a lit-review chapter devoted to the writings of scholars of color; others might offer an extended analysis of a well-known third-world writer in relation to a white theorist. But the analyses of theorists of color never enter centrally into what the white authors have to say; they merely lend an air of racial inclusiveness to white-centered analyses. "As we see from this close reading of Alice Walker (or Emma Pérez or James Baldwin), Montessori (or Foucault or Marx) was more completely right than we even realized."

Underscoring their insider status and with-it-ness, some white scholars splice comments from friends or acquaintances of color into their conversations and texts. By prefacing their comments with an attribution like "As my good friend in Thailand said about the global economy . . . ," white authors enhance the legitimacy of their analyses. They may even get credit for a certain humility in thus having learned from a third-world friend. Almost immediately, however, these authors reposition their own insights at center stage, for the purpose of such attributions is not to listen but to speak with augmented authority. Like other authors' attempts to authenticate their analyses through appeals to the woman or man in the street — "I once met a working-class black woman who told me that my writing totally validated her experience!" — attributions of one's preferred analyses to third-world Others bestow authority by association.

The distinctly retro flavor of appeals to The Genuine Opinion of a Person of Color should remind us that invoking friendly black and brown opinions is a longstanding white practice. In a 1966 essay entitled "Some of My Best Friends Are White," Era Bell Thompson noted that liberal whites liked being able to quote a black friend on race issues.(34) (Not-so liberal whites are satisfied with quoting their hired help: "Our maid is black and she says that blacks want. . . .")(35) For sophisticated, progressive whites, having an African-American friend — particularly a "clean-cut Negro, dark but not too dark; smart but not too forward" — was "a status symbol."(36) Today, it no longer counts as sophisticated to say, "My good friend, Gloria Anzaldúa, a Chicana, says that . . ." or "As my much-esteemed colleague, Evelyn Nakano Glenn, a Japanese American, has pointed out . . . ," but quoting these scholars' published work in our work does count. Defensive citation of scholars of color helps prove that white scholars really do get it, that we have earned the right to speak with authority.(37) At least superficially, it demonstrates that we are in sync with the analyses of racism offered by those who suffer from racism.

Most white academics do not read widely across races and, even if we do, we tend to use the writings of scholars of color to bolster rather than to interrogate our work. Insofar as we subordinate the work of scholars of color to our own intellectual projects and career advancement, we tokenize that scholarship. Tokenism, bell hooks says, means treating the scholarship of people of color like "a box of chocolates" from which we comfortably select our favorite bonbons and bons mots.(38) When white anti-racist researchers borrow the lives and writings of people of color to authenticate what we have been saying all along about class relations or progressive pedagogy or moral development, we treat people of color like trophy friends who validate our pronouncements and help us appear informed, open minded, and cutting edge. While all scholars "use" the work of other scholars and no institutionally sponsored scholarship can escape institutional pressures to publish, there is a difference between a Dewey scholar who studies other scholars' work and a Dewey scholar who merely dips into Du Bois to claim him for the Dewey empire. Taking the work of people of color seriously requires studying their projects, not just quoting the occasional point that coincides with what we were going to say anyway. In appropriating black and brown texts to enhance or revitalize our research and teaching, we rob those texts of their power to make anti-racist and other meanings in new ways.

Good-White Pedagogies

The tendency to keep white projects and understandings at the center of anti-racist research also characterizes much of anti-racist education. Implicitly, many anti-racist and multicultural pedagogies accept white students' comfort with white ways of knowing: new understanding will not require new ways of engaging. Most anti-racist and multicultural education, for example, relies on lectures, articles, history books, novels, films, and textbooks to provide students with knowledge about other cultures. "Simply knowing about Indians, African Americans, Asian-Americans, and Latino/as," Philip Deloria comments, "has become a satisfactory form of social and political engagement."(39) More troubling still, cultural pluralism assumes the knowledge of the Other that it purports to discover. As Aldon Nielsen observes, the cultural pluralist who anthologizes or teaches about supposedly representative African Americans "rewards black writers who speak for that expected [representative] identity and in the requisite voice." White students, in turn, "discover" the blackness they already know they will find.(40) Conversely, white students may dismiss as inauthentic any dimensions of blackness or brownness that they do not already recognize. Greg Sarris found that his white students, in repeating a Kashaya Pomo Coyote tale, usually omitted "the clause about Father God . . . because, according to students, [this was] 'a Christian concept [that] did not seem Indian.'"(41)

Students who are to do more than assimilate anti-racist and multicultural education to their existing understandings must not only learn to read in new ways but must go beyond the texts, for no textual engagement can do all the work of moving us outside our existing ways of knowing and understanding.(42) In textual encounters with other communities and individuals, we can maintain our distance. Face-to-face involvement, on the other hand, calls for a complex, immediate, and at times uncomfortable kind of responsiveness. "It is much easier," Troy Richardson and Sofia Villenas point out, to read a Toni Morrison novel than to "step outside of [the] safe spaces where [whites] control the terms of engagement" and encounter real people who "talk back in the flesh."(43) Learning to respond in such contexts "involves judgment and ethics and feelings . . . of a new kind than we were raised with." To respond in the ways that are called for, says Minnie Bruce Pratt, we need to "gather up, not just information, but the threads of life that connect us to others."(44) Similarly, Cynthia Dillard observes that "To know something is to have a living relationship with it, influencing and being influenced by it, responding to and being responsible for it."(45)

In principle, "white identity" approaches to anti-racist education move beyond the kind of multicultural pedagogy that is satisfied with exposing students to non-European cultures.(46) White identity theories — including white stages-of-development and "allies" theories — describe the psychological shifts that whites undergo in moving towards a fully committed form of anti-racism; implicitly or explicitly, the person at the highest stage of white identity development is an ally of people of color. The distinctive feature of such approaches is their emphasis on fostering a positive white anti-racist identity. If "professional development programs" are to "increase teacher effectiveness with multiracial populations," Sandra Lawrence and Beverly Tatum believe, they must focus on the impact that anti-racist and multicultural education "have on the racial identity development of the participants."(47) Insofar as white identity is affected, white teachers and students are not just learning about other races but becoming committed to anti-racism as part of their own sense of selfhood. In the final stage of white development, writes Janet Helms, "the person truly values diversity" and "actively seeks out opportunities to increase the racial diversity in her or his life because the person recognizes that she or he can learn and grown from such experiences."(48)

The guiding assumptions behind white identity theories are borrowed from the liberal student-centered tradition, which understands growth in terms of self-actualization. At "Autonomy," the highest level of development in the Helms model, whites "no longer rely on people of color to define Whiteness for them or to validate for them their 'nonracist' status."(49) Whereas the white person at the fifth stage of development congratulates herself on being "more enlightened about racial matters than most White people," the person at the sixth and final stage is "problem centered rather than self centered" and "proactive rather than reactive" about race issues.(50) An ally is not a helper, Tatum emphasizes, but someone who, on her own account, "speak[s] up against systems of oppression" and "challenge[s] other whites to do the same."(51) The characteristics assigned to autonomous whites thus set them apart from the needy Tiffanies and complacent Dr. Lincolns — yet the problematic traits ushered out the front door are reintroduced at the back. No less than Tiffany or Dr. Lincoln, the person at the highest stage of white development celebrates her status as a white person who understands about racism; she merely asks the theory, rather than individual people of color, "How am I doing?"

Although in principle the person at the highest stage of white development is self-actualizing and no longer concerns herself with how others see her, the entire white identity model is organized around individuals getting to feel good about being white in nonracist ways. The insistence that the person who reaches the highest stage of white development is indifferent to her status as an exceptional white person is disingenuous. A moral/political framework that is organized around white feelings of integrity and self-respect but denies that this is what the framework is "about" may appear to valorize the political and social realm. Nevertheless, functionally, the most important value is being and feeling like a good white person; political action takes second place to personal integrity. Since feeling good about yourself looks a little self-centered compared to fighting for social justice, the dual categorization of value — and thus the dissonance between them — is suppressed. The person at the highest stages of white racial development reaps the benefits of feeling good about her whiteness but must remain ignorant of the raison d'être of the theory that defines her as fully self-actualized, for otherwise she would count as self-centered rather than problem-centered and be relegated to stage five. Self-deception and sentimentality thus are built into the ideal itself.

Despite their commitment to decentering and denormalizing whiteness, white identity theories keep whiteness at the center of anti-racism. Although they call upon whites to challenge racism and privilege, their central preoccupation is with white identity development: anti-racism is organized around white students' personal growth. Insofar as white students learn to let go of racial privilege, good-white pedagogies involve loss, but anti-racist education as a whole is intended to be affirming, enabling, empowering. From the perspective of such pedagogies, it is crucial that white students have a positive sense of their whiteness — they should not have to feel guilty about being white. White guilt is too paralyzing to be productive, white identity theorists argue. Since whites cannot help being white, they need to find good ways to be white.

Guilt is indeed paralyzing. But I do not think it follows that the solution to white guilt is to help whites feel "good." Let me tell you a story that I hope will show you what I mean. A year or so ago, I spent a couple of weeks taking care of the children of my friends Howard and Janet, who live in another state. A few hours after Janet and Howard left, I realized that they had forgotten to leave me any keys to the house or the car. I knew that the next-door neighbor had a spare key to the house, but no one had a spare key to the car, so I phoned my friends' hotel to leave a message asking them to Fed Ex me the car key. After they got the message, I received daily, anguished phone calls about how dumb it had been to forget to leave the key, how guilty they felt, and how lucky it was that I am a bus person and could make do without a car. During one phone call, Howard urged me, "Be sure when you talk to Janet that you make her feel better; tell her it doesn't matter. She feels so guilty, and it's just ruining our vacation." "There's no need to feel guilty, Howard," I said. "Everything's fine. These things happen. Stop feeling guilty. Just send me the key."

In reply, Howard suggested various ways to get around the car problem — maybe call the dealers to see if they had a copy of the key, maybe ask neighbors for rides to the grocery store and the dentist, maybe ride bikes or take the bus. "Why don't you just overnight me the key?" I asked. He hemmed and hawed and finally said, "We're not sending the key. It just doesn't seem practical. By the time we find somewhere to mail it and everything, we'd almost be home again. And we just don't want to think about it any more. It's ruining our vacation." In later phone calls, therefore, I concentrated on making my friends feel better and assuring them that we were having fun, that the kids were enjoying the adventure of taking buses and bikes everywhere, that it was no big deal and not to worry about it. Once I knew that there was no question of doing anything about the key, I focused on making our conversations as comfortable as possible. But I did wonder why alleviating their guilt was the issue. Recently it occurred to me that there was an analogy here to white guilt about racism. It is not a perfect analogy, by any means — putting up with racism for a lifetime is not exactly like having to take the bus for a couple of weeks — but there's one point I think the two situations may have in common. People of color are not really interested in daily phone calls about how bad we feel. They just want us to send the key.(52)

Most white students and faculty who have studied whiteness theories realize that it is not enough to think critically about race and racism. We have to make what, to us, will feel like impractical or even painful sacrifices. What this amounts to for any given individual may not be much. All too often, the would-be "friend of freedom . . . pauses, calculates, hesitates."(53) Isabel, a white student who displayed a sophisticated intellectual understanding of whiteness theory, told her classmates that she had to be honest: if being a race traitor meant she might jeopardize her chances of being a professor, she could not do it. Although she prided herself on her intellectual anti-racism and counted herself a friend of people of color, she planned to play the academic game the white way. Such "halfness," as the abolitionists called it, makes for dangerous allies. In Isabel's case, studying the tools of whiteness provided her with ways to further exploit her white privilege. As Alec, Isabel's professor and a man of color, asked, "With allies like that, who needs enemies?"

Some white students try hard to think of sacrifices they could make. They ask faculty and students of color for suggestions and they try to make meaningful progress towards giving things up. But what, to whites, may seem like significant gestures — "look at all the things I'd be willing to give up, if I really had to!" — may seem to people of color like nothing more than new ways for whites to get comfortable with our whiteness. After listening to his white classmates talk about the sacrifices they could and could not make, a student of color in one of my classes finally lost patience. Interrupting the other students, Don told them, "We are not going to wait around while you all go through your checklists, ticking off this and ticking off that. 'This I can give up, but that I can't. Maybe I could give this up, under the right circumstances.' We're not just sitting around waiting while you all make up your minds what you might someday give up." As Laura, another student of color, pointed out, the discussion about sacrifice was a distinctively white way to think about change: social change conceived in terms of what whites, from their privileged position, were willing to do, rather than in terms of what needed to be done.

To pursue social justice, we have to decenter whiteness from programs for social change. Among other things, this means relinquishing our cherished notions of morality: how we understand fairness, how we understand what it means to be a good person, how we understand what it means to be generous or sympathetic or tolerant or a good listener. When we are challenged for our whiteness, our tendency is to fall back on our goodness, fairness, intelligence, rationality, sensitivity, and democratic inclusiveness, all of which are caught up with our whiteness. "How can you call me (me, of all people!) a racist?" we want to know. And then we add our own challenge: "These are the moral principles I stand for. Tell me in terms I can understand what it is I'm doing wrong." And then, if we are told, we do what my mother-in-law, Naomi Van Laningham, used to call "yebbitting." We say, "Yeah, but": "Yeah, but do you see how that's not my intention?" "Yeah, but do you see the reality of the situation, here?" "Yeah, but can you see it my way?"

The problematic character of white interest in and support for people of color lies in how we engage nonwhite others. We may listen, but how do we listen? What are we listening for when we attend to the situations and experiences of those who are not white? White progressives show "a touching faith in the talking cure of storytelling," Pakeha (white) New Zealander Alison Jones says, but all too often it is for our own benefit.(54) We are looking to enhance our own learning, our own sense of ourselves as good people, our own pleasure in our knowledge and understanding. As Caribbean-Canadian feminist Sherene Razack puts it, "we (people of colour) are always being asked to tell our stories for your (white people['s]) benefit," stories that "you can't hear because of the benefit you derive from hearing them."(55) Part of that benefit, white feminist Megan Boler points out, lies in the white pleasures of identification and empathy. The empathetic/identification response, at the same time that it helps "redeem" the white reader, affords her "the voyeuristic pleasure of listening and judging the other from a position of power."(56)

In seeking out the voices of marginalized Others, Jones believes, whites are looking for reassurance, acceptance, and absolution.(57) Leslie Roman suggests that white "redemption fantasies," in which the good white "supposedly comes to know and be at one with the 'racialized other'" and his or her "struggles against racism," may even be a new form of white privilege.(58) Although she does not argue that white redemption fantasies necessarily undermine the value of "pan-ethnic alliances," Roman does see them as "one means by which" whites "create and sustain" what George Lipsitz has called the "'possessive investment in whiteness'."(59) Redemption fantasies such as Schindler's List, Dances with Wolves, Ghosts of Mississippi, and Amistad, for example, while they seem to be "about" the histories of oppressed groups, reposition Christian-born whites as the stars of the show. In good-white narratives, the political struggles of oppressed groups serve as a dramatic backdrop to the central moral action in which the good white guy battles both the bad white guys and his own conscience. Tragic outcomes for racial minority groups, rather than undercutting the moral or political meaning of the white hero's actions, add poignancy to his moral struggles. Even if the racialized Other is doomed, at least we know that the white guy tried — and that he became a better person in the process.

White Progressive Principles

Such implicit racial contrasts frame both mainstream and white anti-racist moralities. As Toni Morrison points out, whites look virtuous or fair or chaste or generous when nonwhites are assumed as the background.(60) In conservative white ideology, the racial Other may be characterized as criminal, undeserving, selfish, or childlike, so that, by contrast, whites appear moral. White liberal framings, while less likely to demonize people of color, often treat nonwhites as "interested parties," so that white actions stand out as those of disinterested, citizen-minded individuals. Within the terms of such a moral economy, the political acts of people of color are not especially meaningful as moral action because they are seen as natural; white actions, however, count as "extras" — in Kantian language, they are supererogatory. Chicana/os, for example, are assumed to just naturally take an interest in Chicana/o issues and can even be blamed a little for doing so, since their interest betrays a lack of neutrality, a failure to be universal and disinterested in outlook. Whites, by contrast, are lauded for learning anything about Chicana/os, let alone taking a stand on their behalf. Anglos who learn Spanish get extra credit, whereas Chicana/os who speak English and Spanish get negative credit for the Spanish and second-best credit for the English. (When Chicana/os for whom English is a primary language are complimented on being "articulate" speakers of English, the praise is supposed to be valuable because it comes from someone who really knows how to speak English — someone who doesn't speak Spanish, someone unafflicted with the language deficit associated with knowing multiple languages.)

In mainstream white ideologies, ethics pins down meaning, insuring that moral action is referenced to an abstract ideal rather than a local, particularistic conception of the good. "In great part," says Marilyn Frye, ours is "an ethics of forms, procedures and due process."(61) From the perspective of many whites, the procedural character of this ethics makes it universally applicable. Under conditions of oppression, however, idealized and universalized notions of ethics look very different than they do from the standpoint of privilege.(62) It is ironic that white liberals and progressives so often appeal to "universal" moral principles and values as the basis for racial progress, for our morality is one of the main obstacles to racial change. "Universal" codes of ethics are the arrangements that make sense to people accustomed to privilege. Insofar as racial privilege organizes white notions of goodness and morality, appeals to moral principles and intuitions to guide social change are likely to be counterproductive.(63) You can act upon the ideal when what counts as fairness, equity, benevolence, or caring is organized around your own situation, but it is hard to aspire to, or want to aspire to, mainstream ideals of morality when those ideals are geared to the interests of people who hold power over you.

Consider inclusion as a contemporary democratic and educational value. Inclusion would seem to represent an unproblematically pro-diversity stance — bringing everyone to the table, preventing homophobes from denying a voice to lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and transsexuals, and disallowing racial or gender discrimination. But just as colorblindness shields whites from having to recognize or take responsibility for racist conditions, inclusion suppresses acknowledgement of conflicting interests. In an analysis of the race dynamics at a progressive, predominantly white alternative school, Virginia Chalmers reveals how inclusion, openness, and social harmony — values appealed to as progressive, anti-racist values — may be invoked to prevent people of color from organizing amongst themselves.

When Chalmers, a white woman, was appointed director of the Bank Street College's laboratory School for Children, she found that parents of color, "although welcomed warmly," were treated as if on "permanent guest status." "They felt that they were outsiders, expendable and never really able to influence the core of the institution."(64) Committed to increasing the involvement of parents of color in her school, Chalmers set up a potluck dinner meeting for faculty and families of color on a Friday evening. By Monday, whites were furiously protesting their exclusion from the dinner. Invoking colorblindness as an inviolate democratic principle, some of the parents objected to the idea that a context was needed in which parents of color "could feel 'safe' to get to know each other and identify areas of common concern."(65) As one white parent wrote to Chalmers, "I strongly resent the person who does not even give me the benefit of the doubt and who doesn't feel 'safe' talking in my presence." Offended by any suggestion that they shared in the "responsibility for the exclusions people of color experienced at the school," outraged white parents insisted on their own feelings of exclusion.(66)

While we might be tempted to think of such examples as aberrations, supposedly universal ethical systems reliably favor those in power. A universal ethics may offer accommodation to marginalized groups, but the very gestures made on behalf of these groups will revert to protect the dominant group if the balance of power is seen as shifting. At the School for Children, the principle of inclusion made room for families of color on the condition that those families accept the established terms of the "community." Inclusion meant "on our terms." By gathering separately to explore their distinctive concerns, parents and faculty of color threatened the dominant group's ability to control the terms of participation. Whites invoked inclusion to restore the status quo.

Because white moral principles tend to return us to our standing assumptions about our goodness as individuals, significant change in our perceptions is slow. We are deeply invested in the ways we already know how to be good, in how we already know how to think and make sense. As teachers and students, we are seduced by our certainty in our own abilities to think critically and to get it right ("Didn't I just stand up for that black person last week in the grocery checkout lane?" "Didn't I point out my friend's white bias to her only the other day?"). We trust profoundly in our ability to think critically and responsibly about things, and it is this very trust that betrays us. Whiteness is like advertising. We all know that advertising is intended to seduce us, to get us to do the wrong thing for the wrong reason, to get us to feel good and cool and smart while someone else rakes in tons of money. We know this, but we like to believe that we, as individuals, are able to withstand the seduction, and we congratulate ourselves on being among the few critical thinkers able to hold ourselves apart from advertisers' base appeals to our desires and prejudices. Meanwhile, every other consumer is thinking exactly the same thing. Meanwhile, Madison Avenue continues to invest billions of dollars in seducing us and continues to rake in many more billions of dollars as a result. Someone, somewhere, has to be being fooled by all of this and of course it is us — it is those of us who think it can't be us.

An Emergent Approach to Change

Ideals, because they project from and correct for the known, cannot encompass ways of responding disentangled from who we are now and what we now love and desire. It is in part because they are referenced to an ideal that white identity stage theories are so problematic. Whatever their political or moral agenda, stage theories start from a definite ideal and work backwards. Usually, the definite ideal is the ideal embodied by the theorist who came up with the stage model in the first place. Piaget, Kohlberg, and Gilligan were not assuming some ideal beyond themselves; they did not consider themselves to be in the early or middle stages of the developmental models they were describing. Implicitly, they took themselves to represent the endpoints of development and then worked backwards to identify the previous stages as intermediate points on the way to becoming like them. Although the white stages-of-development models used by Helms, Carter, Howard, Tatum, Lawrence, and others may not be referenced to the individual researcher (since not all these researchers are white), they all assume an ideal endpoint of white racial development.(67) They assume that we know what it means to be an anti-racist white person.

Whiteness theorists who work with the more radical material and discursive frameworks generally avoid the "good whites" theme found in the allies and stages-of-whiteness literature, yet our tendency to think that we know anti-racism when we see it suggests that we too have definite ideas about desirable outcomes. Teachers in the race traitor and critical race pedagogy traditions, for example, are assumed to know what will count as genuine anti-racist learning on the part of white students.(68) Probably, anti-racist teachers do know things that will be helpful to their students and presumably we can provide students with tools, guidance, and insight. But it is worth asking how we know that our students are headed in the right direction or that we ourselves are on the right path. A couple of years ago, I was discussing anti-racist pedagogy with a white doctoral student who had been studying and teaching anti-racist theories for many years. When she mentioned how difficult it is for most white students to accept whiteness theory, I said something to the effect that we had to be patient, adding, "Look how long it took us to get to where we are now." "Where are we now?" she asked.(69)

Where, indeed, are we now? My assumption had been that, while we were at some intermediate point in our journey towards anti-racist understanding, we definitely were on our way. I still want to think this. But when we start congratulating ourselves on how far along we are, it is easy to stop thinking of ourselves as on a journey and start thinking of ourselves as having arrived. Not only have we not arrived but we cannot know, either in a pragmatic or in a visionary sense, what the end of the journey looks like. What will come to count as anti-racist will change as we take on new lived possibilities.(70) Progressive whites do know about some things that are racist, yet it is doubtful whether we have much of an idea as to what, a century from now, will appear most shocking about race relations today.(71) Still less can we claim to know about things that are not racist or that specifically undo racism and make room for something new, something "post-racism."

Anti-racist traditions provide us with useful critiques of existing situations, but tools developed to challenge racism will not always serve equally well to envision new racial possibilities. Critical tools are shaped to an important degree by the relations they are meant to disrupt. If we are to pursue as yet unimagined possibilities, we cannot rely on procedures and blueprints geared to what we know at present; we have to start by changing what is. Emergent approaches to change take up the possibilities found in change itself. Using the best tools available thus far to begin to shift our perceptions, investments, and involvements, they seek to alter situations enough so that, from the resulting experience and understanding, we can explore fresh possibilities of responsiveness.(72)

In the 1960s and 1970s, for example, white feminists often refused to allow men to open doors for them — a political act that, to many young women today, looks like not only an old-fashioned but a pointless form of political correctness. Its point cannot be grasped by referring it to an ideal, however, for it was not meant to establish once and for all who should open doors for whom. Instead, the gesture was intended to interrupt an elaborate sexist, heterosexist, and racist etiquette called chivalry that said that white men would wait on white (and only white) women to the extent of opening doors for them, if those women would continue to make the coffee, wash the men's socks, type their letters, defer to them, and accept the need for their protection. (At the time, many white men complained that they did not know what women wanted; they further pointed out that they themselves were acting only with the best intentions. Their discomfort was not unlike that of whites today who wish that people of color would just make up their minds as to what they want to be called.) Second-wave feminists' refusal to allow men to open the door for them was not meant to substitute a utopian door-opening etiquette for an oppressive one but to destabilize the old sexual code enough to allow for new values to emerge. Once that goal was served, this particular political gesture looked as quaint as first-wave feminists' bloomers.

Performatively trying on new assumptions about what is appropriate, reasonable, and fair makes it possible for us to develop new embodied values; in time, these temporary, working values may give place to values that we cannot yet imagine. How might those of us who are most privileged learn to listen differently in classrooms and at conferences, for example, if we let go of universalistic ideals of turn-taking inclusiveness? What might we hear, if we did? During the questions-and-comments period of a conference session last year, a white male professor in the audience politely checked to see if anyone else had a comment to make before raising his hand; aware of the propensity of white men to claim the floor, he remarked self-mockingly, "I did wait thirty seconds before speaking." A white female professor in the audience saw his irony and raised it. "Why thirty seconds?" she asked. "Why not a hundred years?" Like our turn-taking etiquette, the family and institutional stories we tell about merit and meaning often assume that universal, colorblind rules are fair. "My grandfather came to this country with nothing and . . . "; "My family suffered for what they have";(73) "Standards for this conference have been slipping. We need to get back to rigorous, discipline-based criteria." How might whites come to listen if we set aside those narratives? How might we learn to listen if we gave up the need to feel like and to be seen as good whites?

Growth, Loss, and Risk

When old values prove false, the loss we feel in giving up the sense of selfhood tied to those values is painful. More than most other anti-racist theorists, feminist and especially lesbian theorists have confronted the embodied character of white privilege, along with the grief and loss that accompany significant change in ways of being white.(74) In contrast with student-centered educators who emphasize the achievement of a stronger, more integrated sense of white selfhood as the measure of white, anti-racist growth, Minnie Bruce Pratt, Marilyn Frye, and María Lugones and Elizabeth Spelman point out that growth in understanding is no guarantee of an enhanced, improved, or better integrated sense of self. Whites cannot count on "coming out of the [unlearning-white-privilege] task whole, with a self that is not as fragile as the selves of those who have been the victims of racism."(75) Although Pratt speaks to the exhilaration of new challenges and discoveries, her experience is not one of simple growth. "Because I was implicated in the doing of some of these injustices, and I held myself, and my people, responsible," she says, "what my expanded understanding meant was that I felt in a struggle with myself, against myself. This breaking through did not feel like liberation but like destruction."(76) "I felt like my life was cracking around me."(77)

The keenness with which whites feel the loss of our best selves is captured in Marilyn Frye's grief at the inadequacy of her sincere efforts to be anti-racist:

All of my ways of knowing seemed to have failed me — my perception, my common sense, my good will, my anger, honor and affection, my intelligence and insight. . . . Simple things like courtesy or giving money, attending a trial, working on a project initiated by women of color, or dissenting from racist views expressed in white company bec[a]me fraught with possibilities of error and offense. If you want to do good, and you don't know good from bad, you can't move.(78)

By accentuating positive versions of whiteness, white identity theorists hope to save well-meaning whites from this sense of paralysis. Yet Frye moves beyond her impasse not by seizing upon some reassuring ideal of goodness but by accepting that we have to invent new forms of responsiveness. "We have to practice new ways of being in environments which nurture different habits of feeling, perception, and thought," she says, and we have to create these environments ourselves.(79)

Like Frye, Pratt does not see new ways of being in the world as a matter of acquiring new principles or new identity constructs, but as a question of learning new, embodied forms of responsiveness. "When we discover truths about our home culture," she acknowledges, "we may fear we are losing our self: our self-respect, our self-importance."(80) To regain our self-respect, "we need to find new ways to be in the world, those very actions a way of creating a positive self."(81) Pratt's "refusal to allow guilt to trap her within the boundaries of a coherent 'white' identity . . . makes it possible for her to make the effort to educate herself about the histories of her own and other peoples."(82) As Biddy Martin and Chandra Talpade Mohanty see it, "What differentiates her narration of her development from other feminist narratives of political awakening is its tentativeness, its consisting of fits and starts, and the absence of linear progress toward a visible end."(83) Because "there is an irreconcilable tension between the search for a secure place from which to speak" and "the price at which secure places are bought" — "the exclusions, the denials, the blindnesses on which they are predicated" — she does not sacrifice her search for meaning to a search for security.(84)

For both Pratt and Frye, the first major step towards change is giving up the need to control meaning. Like Pratt, who "was taught to be a judge," Frye had "learned that I, and 'we,' knew right from wrong and had the responsibility to see to it right was done; that there were others who did not know what is right and wrong and should be advised, instructed, helped and directed by us."(85) This authoritativeness has particular resonance where the meaning of race is concerned. Historically, whites have been able to say what counted as racial identity, when it mattered, and when it didn't.(86) But while whites continue to "actively legislate matters of race membership" and can overlook or redesignate race strategically, the category "race" no longer serves white purposes as conveniently as it used to.(87) Our loss of control over the category may account for some of the frustration whites feel at having to name ourselves as white. The insistence on feeling good about ourselves and projecting ourselves as "good whites" is in part a determination to tell the story of our whiteness our own way — to be in control of the racial meanings used to identify us. It is a way, as Elizabeth Ellsworth says, of "having the last word."(88)

Giving up the desire to define ourselves unproblematically as good whites is a necessary step in pursuing an emergent sense of what it might mean to be an anti-racist white. White-identified or "whitely" whites, Frye says, "have a staggering faith in their own rightness and goodness, and that of other whitely people," and this overwhelming faith in ourselves seems to be specifically protected in anti-racist pedagogies that culminate in a good white identity.(89) We need to trouble the expectation that we can know exactly what will count as anti-racist in every situation and thus can always act blamelessly. When we insist, in advance, on an outcome that guarantees that we will feel good about ourselves — that guarantees we will feel growth without loss — we refuse the possibility of a response. "Speaking," says African-American playwright and actor Anna Deavere Smith, "calls for risk." It "calls for a sense of what one has to lose."(90) Knowing the right answers in advance confines morality and politics to a narrow place. As Pratt reminds us, we have "to widen the place of change."(91)


In challenging the emphasis that progressive and well-meaning whites place on our status as allies and friends of people of color, my intent is not to treat guilt, inadequacy, and anxiety as preferable to feeling good about one's whiteness. Guilt is indeed, as white identity theorists charge, debilitating. But it is also an artifact of a particular way of framing the problem. When my friends Howard and Janet decided that sending the car key was unrealistic, they assumed a particular view of the situation: they saw it as acceptable, if unfortunate, and as more or less fixed. Although they genuinely felt bad because the kids and I were inconvenienced, it seemed to them that, "realistically," there was nothing that they could do. Accordingly, they stressed their stupidity in having forgotten to leave the key. Whereas a sense of responsibility might have led them to take some definite action to change the situation, their sense of guilt concentrated their attention on themselves and their need to feel better. The guilt-ridden response says, "You think you feel bad? How do you think I feel?" Howard's and Janet's pain placed their own feelings, rather than the situation, at center stage. Covertly, their guilt also served to exonerate them. Guilt mourns a past that cannot be changed; since clearly it would have been wrong for me to blame them for something that was merely an oversight, their guilt carried the seeds of their absolution.

Although the stakes are very different in white racial guilt, the mechanics are in many ways the same. Born into a racist society, we find ourselves thrown into a situation — caught up in a tangle of racial meanings that are not originally of our own making. This thrownness is part of what frustrates well-meaning whites: we did not choose to be born white in a racist society. We do not now wish to choose whiteness or racism, but there they are, part of our world; so we try to distance ourselves from them, to show that we would unchoose them if we could. White guilt mourns genocide, slavery, land theft, lynchings, and broken promises as part of a past that can no longer be changed — and in so doing seeks to return to an imagined innocence. Since the past cannot be changed, we insist on being allowed to feel good about ourselves. Yet this is a solution only if the problem is white helplessness rather than racism. Taking on the alleviation of white guilt as an anti-racist project keeps whiteness at the center of anti-racism.

Our stumbling block is that we want to be unambiguously — as we have always been — in the right. What makes whites so anxious, Ellsworth observes, is the feeling that you are "damned if you do, damned if you don't."(92) Trying to be anti-racist, trying to be an ally, seems to catch us hopelessly ensnared in the fantasy of being an exceptional white person — yet, at the same time, we do not want to be racists. Confirming white anxiety about whether it is possible to do the right thing in a racist social order, black feminist Pat Parker's poem, "For the White Person Who Wants to Know How to Be My Friend," begins with this advice: "The first thing you do is to forget that i'm Black./ Second, you must never forget that i'm Black."(93) As Parker suggests, the contradictions of anti-racism are inescapable. The very status of anti-racism as anti- means that those of us who want to confront and challenge racism in ourselves, in institutions, and in others, can never forget race or racism but also cannot be trapped by it; we cannot allow it to be reified as meaningful in the particular ways we have learned to understand it. To want to be a friend in the ways that we already know how to be a friend, and to want to be an ally of people of color as a way of being in the right, is to insist on the authoritativeness of our existing conceptions of understanding and responsiveness. The desire to be seen as a friend substitutes for the engagements and ways of knowing required to be a friend.

Ironically, the sentimental ideas about race found in decades-old children's books are reflected in much of contemporary white anti-racist thought in the academy. White children's books intended to show cross-race relations in a positive light commonly invoke friendship as a sentimental ideal without addressing the kinds of understanding and responsiveness needed for friendship to be meaningful. At the end of Squanto: Friend of the Pilgrims, having found that his Wampanoag clan has been wiped out in his absence, Squanto decides to live with the white community as "a friend to these people." But his story is not yet complete, for, abruptly, two fictional white children appear — introduced, apparently, for the purposes of drawing a distinction between good and bad whites and promising a future in which the good whites will do their best. When Squanto says aloud, "This is my home again," the little white boy chastises him for "talking to the trees." "A tree doesn't know what you are saying," the white boy says scornfully. "But the little girl," the author tells us, "put her hand in Squanto's, as if she understood."(94) The little white girl, we like to think, is us. Whereas the boy represents the ordinary white person, arrogant and condescending in his ignorance about the Other, the girl represents the exceptional, innocent bystander. Sympathetic and supportive, she lets Squanto know that she is on his side. It is not clear if she fully understands, but she puts her hand in his as if she understands.(95)


1. Clyde Robert Bulla, Squanto: Friend of the White Men, illus. Peter Burchard (New York: Thomas Y. Crowell Co., 1954). Reissued as Squanto: Friend of the Pilgrims (New York: Scholastic, 1982). Ironically, the new title is less accurate than the original. Most of the white men in the story are Englishmen who come to North America to trade and who then return to England; the pilgrims do not make an appearance until almost the last chapter.

2. Lela and Rufus Waltrip, "Pocahontas: Friend of the Colonists," in Indian Women: Thirteen Who Played a Part in the History of America from Earliest Days to Now (New York: David McKay Co., 1964), 17-27.

3. In 1870, General George Custer said that "the [white] Army is the Indian's best friend." Quoted in The Experts Speak: The Definitive Compendium of Authoritative Misinformation, rev. ed., ed. Christopher Cerf and Victor Navasky (New York: Villard, 1998), 304.

4. In children's literature, the theme of whites as friends and saviors of people of color became a staple of what Sims calls the "social conscience" literature of the fifties and sixties. See Rudine Sims, Shadow and Substance: Afro-American Experience in Contemporary Children's Fiction (Urbana, IL: National Council of Teachers of English, 1982). Although most anti-racist children's literature has moved beyond this theme, Hollywood recently has emphasized cross-race friendship. The friendship of white men for black men, especially, is a recurring theme in contemporary movies. See Benjamin DeMott, The Trouble with Friendship: Why Americans Can't Think Straight about Race (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1995/1998).

5. "Tiffany" is a composite figure, not a real person. Wherever I have used just a first name in reference to someone, either the name has been changed or the person represents a composite. In one case, I used a last name for a composite figure ("Dr. Lincoln") in order to summon particular mythic-historical associations.

6. Although whites do not necessarily feel like a "we" and many whites would object that there is no coherent we-ness to whiteness as a category, I use "we" to work against the comfortable belief that "I" am not like other whites and therefore do not belong in the same pronoun with "them." In this essay, "we" sometimes refers specifically to white feminists; more often, "we" refers generally to progressive white university researchers and teachers. (Because white anti-racist doctoral students may have studied race issues in some depth, and because advanced graduate students occupy teaching and research positions in the academy, I group them with professors rather than with students.)

7. For example, white school teachers and student teachers often complain about the "racism" of students of color — especially African-American students — who are guarded or hostile towards white teachers they barely know or have only just met. As Julie Kailin points out, however, school hallways are "often the only place where some White teachers ha[ve] contact with Black students," and in those contexts, black students may learn nothing about the teachers except that they are policing them. "How White Teachers Perceive the Problem of Racism in Their Schools: A Case Study in 'Liberal' Lakeview," Teachers College Record 100, no. 4 (Summer 1999): 733. While white teachers resent black students making judgments about them without knowing them, many such teachers fear and avoid contact with black students. Others do not "bother to try to get to know the Black students' names unless they [a]re going to 'write them up'." Since white students in the hallways are not policed to anything like the same degree as black students, the latter see the teachers in question as racist even though the teachers may think that they are merely doing their jobs. When white teachers abandon their distrustful policing role vis à vis black students, they may find that those students in turn become much more "friendly" (734).

8. I borrowed this formulation from Deanna Blackwell, who used it to characterize white objections to noncolorblind anti-racism.

9. This is a different question from whether a white person can be the friend of a person of color. Here, I am focusing specifically on the universal "friend," as in "good guy" or "ally." Even intimate friendship, though, is not safe from racism. As Lerone Bennett, Jr., suggests, such a relationship may "transcend" racism without destroying it. "To rise above the situation, to transcend it, to impose on it new levels of meaning and significance: this is a private solution available to marginal individuals on the margins of the culture. But it is a private solution, and private enclaves are terribly vulnerable as long as the situation of oppression remains whole and individuals retain roots in the mutually exclusive worlds of the oppressed and the oppressor." "Tea and Sympathy: Liberals and Other White Hopes," in The Negro Mood (Chicago: Johnson Publishing, 1964), 92-93. White wieldings of tropes such as cross-race friendship, racial diversity, racial fluidity, and border crossing tend to ignore whites' rootedness in exclusionary and oppressive white worlds, preferring to concentrate on our capacity to travel to other worlds in our imagination.

10. In some cases, whole departments set themselves up in this way. It is easy to think that you as a faculty group are more or less through with the anti-racist project if your stance is not "Where do we go from here?" but "Is there any department more diverse than ours?!"

11. American Psychological Association, Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association, 4th ed. (Washington, DC: American Psychological Association, 1994), 163. The common abbreviation for the book is APA Manual.

12. APA, Publication Manual, 6. In 1999, QSE considered the limitations of APA style for its own authors and readers. See Nancy Zeller and Frank M. Farmer, "'Catchy, Clever Titles Are Not Acceptable': Style, APA, and Qualitative Reporting," International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education 12, no. 1 (January-February 1999): 3-19. Although I do not discuss the whiteness of the APA guidelines here, I offer this paper in part as a contribution to the questions about format raised in that article.

13. Some of our attempts to persuade students of a particular racial analysis involve rendering them defenseless against Reason. Using our superior analytical and argumentative tools and skills to prove students wrong seems to me a form of violence rather than of education. No doubt violence is necessary in some — perhaps even many — cases of white defensiveness, but I am interested in exploring what it might mean to avoid the dichotomous choices of either arguing students into submission through a top-down pedagogy or wooing them into compliance through a student-centered, bottom-up approach to racial enlightenment.

14. A relational voice and a confessional stance are not mutually exclusive — Minnie Bruce Pratt's powerful interweaving of the two in "Identity: Skin Blood Heart" is testimony to their compatibility. (In Yours in Struggle: Three Feminist Perspectives on Anti-Semitism and Racism, by Elly Bulkin, Minnie Bruce Pratt, and Barbara Smith [New York: Long Haul Press, 1984], 11-63.) But frequently a confessional voice is used in preference to a voice that might offer an invitation to conversation; in some cases the intimate, confessional voice even serves as a badge of authenticity, an instant corrective to academic impersonality. In such cases, the personal voice is not an invitation to a conversation but a statement — less negotiable, even, than statements made in the name of objectivity.

15. Robert Madigan, Susan Johnson, and Patricia Linton, "The Language of Psychology: APA Style as Epistemology," American Psychologist 50, no. 6 (June 1995): 428. As these authors note, discursive notes are common in humanities journals. Whereas the APA Manual claims to have determined that most readers find footnotes distracting, Robert Connors claims that "most people agree that" discursive notes should be on the same page as the text to which they refer. (Not surprisingly, this also turns out to be his own preference.) Although the journal in which his article appeared specifies the endnote rather than footnote format, he received special dispensation to use footnotes rather than endnotes because the former "allow . . . for a text/note dialogism." Robert J. Connors, "The Rhetoric of Citation Systems, Part I: The Development of Annotation Structures from the Renaissance to 1900," Rhetoric Review 17, no. 1 (Fall 1998): 6. My own sense is that both footnotes and endnotes allow for text/note dialogism, albeit in different ways. Some readers go back and forth between text and notes; others read first the text and then the endnotes straight through. Both systems provide "a second, parallel text." I am not in a position to say which of these approaches "most" people prefer. However, readerly preferences may not be the primary consideration, if an author is trying to engage readers in unaccustomed ways.

16. When trying to devise tools that will perform new functions, my partner, a computer software engineer, constantly runs into this problem: "The tool most required to build the tool required is the tool required." (Ivan Van Laningham, recurring personal communication.) Because the only tools at present available are adapted to older ideas and assumptions, it is hard to invent something really new with them; but to get tools adapted for other purposes, you would first have to invent them. So you are in a regressive bind — unable to get going on the new till you have something new. A similar problem confronts anti-racist educators attempting to challenge and undo white privilege. Because we tend to rely on the older intellectual and pedagogical tools provided by such familiar progressive approaches to anti-oppressive education as critical pedagogy, student-centered education, and multiculturalism, we keep finding ourselves with the same questions and the same inadequate solutions. We are trying to fix racism with tools that were constructed, in part, to rationalize and/or correct for racism — not tools that are organized around ideas that we have yet to fully understand. This essay is an attempt to move in more emergent directions, to shift ground so that we can begin to develop new tools articulated to new understandings.

17. Whiteness theories decenter and denormalize whiteness; revealing whiteness as unearned privilege, they displace it from its status as invisible norm. Like Latina/o and African-American studies, feminist theory, and other umbrella terms, whiteness theory encompasses a variety of disciplinary and political approaches. I view the four main strands as analyzing whiteness in material terms (bodily, environmental, economic, etc.); discursive terms (referenced to texts, popular culture, language, ideology, etiquette, etc.); institutional terms (in some ways an intersection between material and discursive analyses, focusing on the ways in which racialized values and perceptions are systematized into law, policy, and formal working relations, for example); and personal and relational terms (such as psychological moral stages of development, a commitment to being a white ally of people of color, working through and deconstructing personal histories of whiteness, and recognizing one's personal privileges as a white person). The scholarly literature on whiteness is far too large to cite, but the following books and articles represent some of the best-known work in the field: Noel Ignatiev and John Garvey, eds., Race Traitor (New York: Routledge, 1996); Peggy McIntosh, "White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack," Peace and Freedom (July/August, 1989): 10-12; Toni Morrison, Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination (New York: Vintage, 1992); David R. Roediger, The Wages of Whiteness: Race and the Making of the American Working Class (London: Verso, 1991); and Christine E. Sleeter, "White Silence, White Solidarity," Race Traitor 4 (Winter 1995): 14-22.

18. Responding to Patricia Hill Collins' presentation of her paper, "On Moms, Mammies, Madonnas, and Matriarchs: Racism, Nationalism, and Motherhood," a surprising number of white women in the audience insisted that they themselves were nonracist but that they had to fight their husbands' racism in rearing their children. The women seemed nonplussed by Collins' response, which was (roughly), "Why do you stay married to racist men?" Collins' paper was presented at the University of Utah, in Salt Lake City, on March 1, 1993.

19. Dreama Moon discusses the pattern of white women pointing to the racism of their families as a way to highlight their own non-racism in "White Enculturation and Bourgeois Ideology: The Discursive Production of 'Good (White) Girls'," in Whiteness: The Communication of Social Identity, ed. Thomas K. Nakayama and Judith N. Martin (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Pub., 1999), 177-97. Kathy Hytten and John Warren discuss such moves in terms of a "discourse of friends and family" that not only "show[s] how enlightened or open-minded" the speakers are in comparison to their families and peers, but effectively blames their environments for whatever racist tendencies the speakers do have. See "Engaging Whiteness: How Racial Power Gets Reified in Education" (manuscript).

20. Patricia Hill Collins, Fighting Words: Black Women and the Search for Justice (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1998), 67.

21. Collins, Fighting Words, 68-69.

22. One consequence that I do not address here, but that deserves careful consideration, is the question of how faculty and students of color may experience whites' self-naming as anti-racist. As my colleagues William Smith and Frank Margonis have pointed out, when white faculty acknowledge their complicity in institutional and other forms of racism by calling themselves "racist," they may fail to send a message of explicit support to faculty and students of color in predominantly white institutions. This would-be anti-racist practice also may confuse white students who are trying to figure out whether it is possible to be white and anti-racist.

23. Collins, Fighting Words, 69.

24. Although I focus here on white appropriations of black bodies and stories, related points could be made about the cooptation of Asian, Pacific Islander, American Indian, Chicana/o, and other groups' bodies, words, songs, and symbols. For example, Philip J. Deloria details many of the ways in which American Indian culture and spirituality have been appropriated. Ironically, he says, even as non-Indians embrace an essentialized Indianness, they often ignore actual Indians. Thus, "the late Washington Redskins owner Jack Kent Cooke insisted that the name [Redskins] honors rather than degrades native people," despite Indians' continued protests about the name over the course of nearly two decades. Playing Indian (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1998), 174. New Age and other countercultural versions of American Indian spiritualism, although well intentioned, also have had little to do with Indian people. Like their "counterparts in communalism, politics, and environmentalism," Deloria says, such forms of spiritualism have "rarely engaged real Indians, for it was not only unnecessary but inconvenient to do so" (169). Also speaking to the issue of cultural cooptation, Guillermo Gómez-Peña comments that "border theory" has been necessary to Mexican identity for "at least two hundred years," whereas "for the United States, the border was more interesting as a metaphor, as a cultural fashion." He refers to this appropriation of exotic Mexican metaphors as the "cholo-chic syndrome." The comment is made in a dialogue with Coco Fusco in Fusco's English Is Broken Here: Notes on Cultural Fusion in the Americas (New York: The New Press, 1995), 162.

25. Nell Irvin Painter, "Representing Truth: Sojourner Truth's Knowing and Becoming Known," Journal of American History 81, no. 2 (September 1994): 482, 476.

26. Painter, "Representing Truth," 476.

27. Painter, "Representing Truth," 478. In addition to Sojourner Truth, iconic figures such as George Washington Carver, Sequoyah (George Guess), and Martin Luther King, Jr., have been subjected to mythologizing that serves the interests of dominant groups. See Linda O. McMurry, George Washington Carver: Scientist and Symbol (New York: Oxford University Press, 1981); Traveller Bird, Tell Them They Lie: The Sequoyah Myth (Los Angeles: Westernlore Pub., 1971); and Michael Eric Dyson, I May Not Get There with You: The True Martin Luther King, Jr. (New York: Free Press, 2000).

28. Audre Lorde, "An Open Letter to Mary Daly," in Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches (Freedom, CA: Crossing Press, 1984), 66.

29. Lorde, "Open Letter," 68.

30. Lorde, "Open Letter," 69.

31. Both Collins and Painter speak of the commodification of black texts and of the use of black texts to inject exotic interest into white arguments and analyses. Revitalizing whiteness through recourse to "primitive" blackness and brownness is a longstanding theme in critiques of white appropriations of African-American and American Indian imagery. Also speaking to the commodification of the Other, Philip Deloria remarks on how "Indianness — even when imagined as something essential — could be captured and marketed as a text, largely divorced from Indian oversight and questions of authorship." Playing Indian, 170. Culture becomes property, something to be "purchased, interpreted, mastered, and materialized" (171).

32. As written critiques of whiteness by scholars of color span more than a century, what follows is only a sample of this work. See, for example, Molefi Kete Asante, The Afrocentric Idea (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1987); James Baldwin, The Price of the Ticket: Collected Nonfiction 1948-1985 (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1985); Bennett, Negro Mood; Ward Churchill, Fantasies of the Master Race: Literature, Cinema and the Colonization of American Indians, ed. M. Annette Jaimes (Monroe, ME: Common Courage Press, 1992); John Henrik Clarke, Africans at the Crossroads: Notes for an African World Revolution (Trenton, NJ: Africa World Press, 1991); Angela Davis, Women, Race and Class (New York: Vintage, 1983); Vine Deloria, Jr., We Talk, You Listen: New Tribes, New Turf (New York: Macmillan, 1970); W. E. B. Du Bois, An ABC of Color (New York: International Publishers, 1989); Ebony, ed., The WHITE Problem in America (Chicago: Johnson Pub. Co., 1966); Frantz Fanon, Black Skin, White Masks: The Experiences of a Black Man in a White World, trans. Charles Lam Markmann (New York: Grove Press, 1967); Alma M. García, ed., Chicana Feminist Thought: The Basic Historical Writings (New York: Routledge, 1997); Marcus Garvey, The Philosophy and Opinions of Marcus Garvey, Or, Africa for the Africans, vols. I and II, compiled by Amy Jacques Garvey (Dover, MA: The Majority Press, 1986); John Langston Gwaltney, Drylongso: A Self-Portrait of Black America (New York: Vintage, 1980); bell hooks, Yearning: Race, Gender, and Cultural Politics (Boston: South End Press, 1990); Gloria T. Hull, Patricia Bell Scott, and Barbara Smith, eds., All the Women Are White, All the Blacks Are Men, But Some of Us Are Brave: Black Women's Studies (New York: The Feminist Press at the City University of New York, 1982); Lorde, Sister Outsider; Morrison, Playing in the Dark; Cherríe Moragu and Gloria Anzaldúa, eds., This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color (New York: Kitchen Table/Women of Color Press, 1981/1983); Edward Said, Orientalism (New York: Random House, 1978); Malcolm X, The End of White World Supremacy: Four Speeches by Malcolm X, ed. Benjamin Goodman (New York: Merlin House/Monthly Review Press, 1971); and Carter Godwin Woodson, The Mis-Education of the Negro (Washington, DC: The Associated Publishers, Inc., 1933/1972).

33. Helene Wenzel, "Philosophy and Passion," The Women's Review of Books 1, no. 1 (October 1983): 6.

34. Era Bell Thompson, "Some of My Best Friends Are White," in The WHITE Problem in America, ed. Ebony (Chicago: Johnson Pub. Co., 1966), 157.

35. Quoted in Patricia J. Williams, The Alchemy of Race and Rights (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1991), 11.

36. Having too many of these white friends could get to be something of a burden for black professionals. As one man put it, "Since the white people discovered me, I never get a minute's rest. Every week my wife and I are invited to their homes. It's gotten so bad that I just have to say no, to remind them that I have colored friends too." Thompson, "Some of My Best Friends Are White," 157.

37. In keeping with the institutional premium placed on academic expertise and authority, defensive citation answers the question, "Have you done your homework?" By contrast, archival citation answers the question, "Are your citations an intellectual resource for others doing work in this area?" The two types of citation are not mutually exclusive — citations may be at once defensive and archival — but in many cases they will be addressed to different ends. Defensive citation performs an important intellectual function insofar as it shows how one's work is informed by and grounded in a particular scholarly literature, but too often it merely pays ritualized obeisance to the reigning authorities in a field or accords important newcomers a nod of recognition. In the worst forms of defensive citation, scholars make obvious claims like "Racism is a profound problem," then scrupulously back up the claim with one or two names like W. E. B. Du Bois, Frantz Fanon, and Angela Davis. Usually, that is the last we ever hear from Du Bois, Fanon, or Davis. Whereas the purpose of defensive citation is to honor the genealogy of ideas and to show that the writer is not just making it all up, archival citation is meant to introduce readers to other material that speaks to a given issue, pulling readers into the larger political and intellectual conversation. In mainstream scholarship, explanatory notes and parenthetical remarks may be considered, by definition, to be extraneous to the text: if something cannot be said in the text itself, it counts as an unfortunate interruption and therefore should be omitted. In countercultural and even in popular scholarship, however, parenthetical remarks, explanatory asides, and archival notes can be indispensable means of showing readers what they need to be aware of, to be part of the conversation. Extratextual material comments self-consciously on the context in which claims are being set forth. Ironically, the absence of attention to metacritiques and subtexts in mainstream academic work serves to bolster the appearance of straightforward, objective, impersonal, scientific truth. On this last point, see Avon Crismore and Rodney Fransworth, "Metadiscourse in Popular and Professional Science Discourse," in The Writing Scholar: Studies in Academic Discourse, ed. Walter Nash (Newbury Park, CA: Sage Publications, 1990), 118-36.

38. bell hooks, Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom (New York: Routledge, 1994), 80.

39. Deloria, Playing Indian, 189. (Emphasis added.)

40. Aldon L. Nielsen, Writing between the Lines: Race and Intertextuality (Athens: The University of Georgia Press, 1994), 20. In many cases, this means discovering an exotic or pathological blackness, or at least a blackness that is unquestionably Other. For example, Avtar Brah and Rehana Minhas note the tendency for Western feminist educators who teach about non-Westerners to select teaching materials that highlight the kind of sexism paradigmatically associated with non-European-based cultures. "Structural Racism or Cultural Difference: Schooling for Asian Girls," in Just a Bunch of Girls: Feminist Approaches to Schooling, ed. Gaby Weiner (Milton Keynes, England: Open University Press, 1985), 23-24.

41. Greg Sarris, "Storytelling in the Classroom: Crossing Vexed Chasms," in Keeping Slug Woman Alive: A Holistic Approach to American Indian Texts (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993), 152.

42. On reading in ways that go against the grain of racism and ethnocentrism, see Morrison, Playing in the Dark; Nielsen, Writing between the Lines; María Lugones, "Hablando Cara a Cara/Speaking Face to Face: An Exploration of Ethnocentric Racism," in Making Face, Making Soul/Haciendo Caras: Creative and Critical Perspectives by Women of Color, ed. Gloria Anzaldúa (San Francisco: Aunt Lute Foundation Books, 1990), 46-54; Greg Sarris, "Keeping Slug Woman Alive: The Challenge of Reading in a Reservation Classroom," in Keeping Slug Woman Alive: A Holistic Approach to American Indian Texts (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993), 169-99; and Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, "How to Teach a 'Culturally Different' Book," in The Spivak Reader: Selected Works of Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, ed. Donna Landry and Gerald MacLean (New York: Routledge, 1999), 237-66.

43. Troy Richardson and Sofia Villenas, "'Other' Encounters: Dances with Whiteness in Multicultural Education," Educational Theory 50, no. 2 (Spring 2000): 263.

44. Pratt, "Identity: Skin Blood Heart," 47.

45. Cynthia B. Dillard, "The Substance of Things Hoped for, the Evidence of Things Not Seen: Examining an Endarkened Feminist Epistemology in Educational Research and Leadership," International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education 13, no. 6 (2000): 673.

46. I use the terms "white identity," "good-white," "allies," "developmental" and "stage theory" approaches to whiteness more or less interchangeably insofar as these orientations focus on the affirmation of a "good" white identity. Almost all such theories are based on the stage model for white anti-racist development described in Janet E. Helms, "Toward a Model of White Racial Identity Development," in Black and White Racial Identity: Theory, Research, and Practice, ed. Janet E. Helms (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1990), 49-66; and Janet E. Helms, A Race Is a Nice Thing to Have: A Guide to Being a White Person or Understanding the White Persons in Your Life (Topeka, KS: Content Communications, 1992). For examples of white identity theories, see Robert T. Carter, "White Racial Identity," in The Influence of Race and Racial Identity in Psychotherapy (New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1995), 100-14; Robert T. Carter, "Is White a Race? Expressions of White Racial Identity," in Off White: Readings on Race, Power, and Society, ed. Michelle Fine, Lois Weis, Linda C. Powell, and L. Mun Wong (New York: Routledge, 1997), 198-209; Beverly Daniel Tatum, "Talking about Race, Learning about Racism: The Application of Racial Identity Development Theory in the Classroom," Harvard Educational Review 62, no. 1 (Spring 1992): 1-24; Beverly Daniel Tatum, "Teaching White Students about Racism: The Search for White Allies and the Restoration of Hope," Teachers College Record 95, no. 4 (Summer 1994): 462-76; Beverly Daniel Tatum, "Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?" and Other Conversations about Race (New York: Basic Books, 1997); Sandra M. Lawrence and Beverly Daniel Tatum, "Teachers in Transition: The Impact of Antiracist Professional Development on Classroom Practice," Teachers College Record 99, no. 1 (Fall 1997): 162-78; Sandra M. Lawrence and Beverly Daniel Tatum, "White Teachers as Allies: Moving from Awareness to Action," in Off White, 333-42; and Gary R. Howard, We Can't Teach What We Don't Know: White Teachers, Multiracial Schools (New York: Teachers College Press, 1999).

47. Lawrence and Tatum, "White Teachers as Allies," 335.

48. Helms, Race Is a Nice Thing to Have, 87.

49. Helms, Race Is a Nice Thing to Have, 87-88.

50. Helms, Race Is a Nice Thing to Have, 73, 90, 91.

51. Tatum, "Teaching White Students about Racism," 474.

52. I do not mean for the key to be read too metaphorically, in the sense that there is a key that will unlock racism if only whites will relinquish it. My focus, here, is less on structural issues like material privilege and more on issues of whiteness local to academic relations — the organization of the curriculum, control of academic standards, access to particular projects, and use of particular styles of communication, for example. Just as, in the story, the key was something that I was assumed not to really need, something it would be too inconvenient and impractical to send, the metaphorical racial key refers to changes that we are not prepared to make because we see the cost to ourselves as outweighing any value to others.

53. Bennett, "Tea and Sympathy," 78.

54. Alison Jones, "The Limits of Cross-Cultural Dialogue: Pedagogy, Desire, and Absolution in the Classroom," Educational Theory 49, no. 3 (Summer 1999): 306. The white students in Jones's study benefit from cross-race classroom interaction in a way that students of color do not. Also speaking to the benefit that white students derive from interaction with students of color is Octavio Villalpando's study of "approximately 200 Chicana/o and 200 white college students from 40 universities throughout the U. S.," which found that Chicana/o and white students alike benefit from interacting primarily with Chicana/o students. Specifically, their "socially-conscious values, their pursuit of careers in service of their community, and their involvement in community service activities" are all positively influenced. "But, when white students interact primarily with other white students, they do not derive any of the benefits accrued from interacting with Chicana/os." "Self-Segregation or Self-Preservation? A Critical Race Theory and Latina/o Critical Theory Analysis of a Study of Chicana/o College Students," International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education (in press).

55. Sherene H. Razack, "Storytelling for Social Change," in Returning the Gaze: Essays on Racism, Feminism and Politics, ed. Himani Bannerji (Toronto: Sister Vision Press, 1993), 92. Referring to the homeless, Patricia Williams also speaks to the issue of failing to hear because of the benefit we derive from hearing the Other's story. A stockbroker tells Williams that he never gives money to people who beg on the streets, but does "always stop to chat." He engages the homeless in conversation, he says, to remind himself of their humanity and also because it helps him not "resent their presence on the streets of my neighborhood so much." Williams wonders "whom it helps when he stops to reassure himself of a humanity unconnected to any concerted recognition of hunger or need." Alchemy of Race and Rights, 17.

56. Megan Boler, "The Risks of Empathy: Interrogating Multiculturalism's Gaze," in Philosophy of Education 1994, ed. Michael S. Katz (Urbana, IL: Philosophy of Education Society, 1995), 214.

57. Jones, "Limits of Cross-Cultural Dialogue."

58. Leslie G. Roman, "Denying (White) Racial Privilege: Redemption Discourses and the Uses of Fantasy," in Off White, 274.

59. Roman, "Denying (White) Racial Privilege," 275. Also see George Lipsitz, "The Possessive Investment in Whiteness: Racialized Social Democracy and the 'White' Problem in American Studies," American Quarterly 47, no. 3 (September, 1995): 369-87. Whereas Lipsitz is concerned primarily with material investments in whiteness (such as segregated housing patterns and access to desirable jobs), Roman focuses our attention on discursive investments in whiteness. Redemption fantasies represent an investment in whiteness insofar as they cast whites (especially non-Jewish, heterosexual white men) as heroes, with racial minorities figuring as victims in need of a savior.

60. Toni Morrison, Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination (New York: Vintage, 1992).

61. Marilyn Frye, "White Woman Feminist," in Willful Virgin: Essays in Feminism, 1976-1992 (Freedom, CA: Crossing Press, 1992), 155.

62. The U. S. Government, for example, as part of its "forced 'great experimental' civilization program," sought to eradicate traditional Cherokee ways and to replace them with white values. "White man's ethics were rammed down their throats in the name of conformity, and to destroy tribal life-ways." Bird, Tell Them They Lie, 14, 15. On the whiteness of "universal" ethics, also see Woodson, Mis-Education of the Negro; and Katie G. Cannon, Black Womanist Ethics (Atlanta: Scholar's Press, 1988).

63. The tendency for whiteness to organize moral perception extends to the perceptions of non-whites as well as whites. Drawing on work by Rizzo-Tolk and Varenne, Margaret Eisenhart describes a classroom in which "poor and minority students were engaged in an exploration of homelessness." She notes that "although they learned to be more sympathetic to the homeless (a goal of the curriculum), they did not also unlearn the culturally stereotyped, negative view of homelessness pervasive in wider U.S. society." They maintained the judgmental view of the homeless characteristic of the dominant culture, while softening that view with sympathy. Eisenhart, "Promises and Puzzles of Culturally Sensitive Teaching," Practicing Anthropology 17, no. 3 (Summer 1995): 24. Also see Rosemarie Rizzo-Tolk and Hervé Varenne, "Joint Action on the Wild Side of Manhattan: The Power of the Cultural Center on an Educational Alternative," Anthropology and Education Quarterly 23, no. 3 (September 1992): 221-49. Many white progressive educators would see such student learning as exemplifying anti-oppressive growth — yet whiteness in such cases is actually doubly reified. On the one hand, whiteness controls the terms of social meaning (here, the meanings attached to homelessness) while, on the other hand, it privileges values associated with whiteness — in particular, sympathy, which here extends a benevolent concern to those suffering from oppression, but from a distant, uninvolved, and even superior stance. Such sympathy confirms the naturalness of white values and circumstances and blames the victims of prevailing socio-economic relations. Those who demonstrate sympathy can congratulate themselves on their well-intentioned attitudes towards the "unfortunate," whereas homeless people who practice survival skills in solidarity with one another cannot claim a like morality.

64. Virginia Chalmers, "White Out: Multicultural Performances in a Progressive School," in Off White, 69. (Italics removed.)

65. Chalmers, "White Out," 70. Although most of the objections were from white parents, Chalmers notes that a few parents of color "who were invested in a . . . picture of benign diversity were also opposed to the meeting" (73).

66. Chalmers, "White Out," 71.

67. Janet Helms describes "Autonomy," the highest level of white identity development, as the stage in which the white person "has an ideal view of what a nonracist White person is like" and consistently engages in "activities and life experiences that will move the person toward her or his ideal." Race Is a Nice Thing to Have, 87. Gary Howard points out that "in the Helms model, autonomy does not represent an end-point in the cycle of growth. It is . . . a state of being continually open to new information and growth." Calling the final stage an open stage does not change its status as the endpoint in development, however; it merely incorporates the ideal of ongoing growth into the definition of the final stage. It is like saying that, even at the highest stage of learning development, a learner goes on learning. The point is not whether growth ends, but what else, besides growth, characterizes the final stage of development as a white person. Howard defines it thus: "In the autonomy stage we acquire a new and positive connection to our Whiteness and a deep commitment to resist oppression." We Can't Teach What We Don't Know, 94.

68. Race traitor and critical race pedagogies include Henry A. Giroux, "Rewriting the Discourse of Racial Identity: Towards a Pedagogy and Politics of Whiteness," Harvard Educational Review 67, no. 2 (Summer 1997): 285-320; Christine E. Sleeter, "Reflections on My Use of Multicultural and Critical Pedagogy when Students Are White," in Multicultural Education as Social Activism (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1996), 117-34; Christine E. Sleeter, "How White Teachers Construct Race," in Race, Identity, and Representation in Education, ed. Cameron McCarthy and Warren Crichlow (New York: Routledge, 1993), 157-71; Noel Ignatiev, "Race Traitor: Abolitionism and 'White Studies'" (February, 1998), Race Traitor [online journal] <>; and Alice McIntyre, Making Meaning of Whiteness: Exploring Racial Identity with White Teachers (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1997).

69. I owe this important question to Charise Nahm, who has since undertaken a dissertation project in which she looks at white teachers' sense of themselves as anti-racist not in terms of the categories imposed by whiteness theorists but in terms of the teachers' own emergent understandings of whiteness, racism, and anti-racism.

70. It is because what counts as anti-racist or feminist shifts as we live out new possibilities that didactic political fiction dates so quickly; the feminist and anti-racist certainties of an earlier generation tend to look sadly inadequate to later generations. In propagandist fiction, where the richness of narrative possibility is constrained by a definite political formula, the inadequacy of principled political and relational understanding can be especially apparent.

71. Anti-racist white students are sometimes shocked to discover how few whites in the U.S. supported the Underground Railroad; for well-meaning whites, it is hard to understand why human freedom was not as obvious a democratic value a hundred and fifty years ago as it is today. Yet even those of us who are thoughtful about racism may be unaware of, let alone active in, what someday may come to be seen as the twentieth- and twenty-first-century counterparts of the nineteenth-century struggle for black freedom. Contemporary journalism and scholarship pay little sustained attention to the modern slavery that produces so many of our consumer goods, for example, or the environmental racism that protects a largely white, middle-class, U.S. standard of living. Nor do most U.S. whites recognize that, legally, many of our compatriots are relegated to second-class citizenship — that Puerto Ricans, for instance, are American citizens who can be drafted for service in the U.S. military but do not have the right to vote in presidential elections or to elect representatives to Congress or the Senate. From the perspective of the U.S. government, any proposed change in the status of Puerto Ricans — such as the (competing) movements for Puerto Rican nationhood and for statehood — is highly controversial, even traitorous. As critics have pointed out, our national willingness to maintain Puerto Ricans as second-class citizens is evidence that nineteenth-century racism retains its hold over mainstream perceptions as to what is permissible, possible, and desirable. "The Supreme Court cases that defined Puerto Rico's relationship with the United States . . . are 'central documents in the history of American racism,'" says Sanford Levinson, a University of Texas law professor. If a majority of Puerto Ricans were to petition Congress for statehood, "Levinson wonders what possible justification Congress could give for . . . refusal. 'That most Puerto Ricans are non-white? That they are Catholic? That they are poor? That they do not speak English?'" It may be necessary to bring the political status of Puerto Ricans to crisis, says University of Puerto Rico law professor Efrén Rivera Ramos, before people begin to say, "Oh my God, this is what the Supreme Court decided a hundred years ago! What have we been looking at that we missed this?" Chris Mooney, "Status Anxiety in San Juan: Left-Wing Advocates of Puerto Rican Statehood Come under Fire from All Sides," Lingua Franca 11, no. 3 (April 2001): 54-55.

72. Regarding emergent relational values, see Audrey Thompson and Andrew Gitlin, "Creating Spaces for Reconstructing Knowledge in Feminist Pedagogy," Educational Theory 45, no. 2 (Spring 1995): 125-50.

73. Williams, Alchemy of Race and Rights, 28, 22. Williams identifies these and other familiar white refrains as "truth-denying truisms" (28). The suppressed logic of such claims is played out in Julianne Malveaux's exchange with a white man, in which she asked "what it was that he wanted. 'My fair share,' the white man said. . . . 'I worked hard for it and now you are asking that I take less.' 'You have more than 90 percent of the city contracts, and more than 80 percent of the police and fire employees. You dominate far more than you should. What else could you possibly want,' I asked in frustration. Without missing a beat, the man responded, 'All of it.'" Sex Lies and Stereotypes: Perspectives of a Mad Economist (Los Angeles: Pines One Publishing, 1994), 15.

74. Since race privilege is tied to skin color, all whiteness theory is to some extent concerned with bodies, but the specific focus on bodily experience is more pronounced in feminist whiteness theorizing. Feminists stretch the leftist category of the material realm to include not only economic, structural, and institutional privileges such as housing, income, education, and legal protection, but bodily privileges that encompass health, beauty, sexuality, vulnerability, emotions, identity, and moral embodiment. See, for example, Adrienne Rich, "Disloyal to Civilization: Feminism, Racism, Gynephobia," in On Lies, Secrets, and Silence: Selected Prose 1966-1978 (New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 1979), 275-310; Angela Davis, "Racism, Birth Control and Reproductive Rights," in Women, Race and Class, 202-21; Angela Davis, "Rape, Racism and the Myth of the Black Racist," in Women, Race and Class, 172-201; Audre Lorde, "The Uses of Anger: Women Responding to Racism," in Sister Outsider, 124-33; Pratt, "Identity," 11-63; McIntosh, "White Privilege"; Frye, "White Woman Feminist"; Mab Segrest, Memoir of a Race Traitor (Boston: South End Press, 1994); and Lourdes Torres, "The Construction of the Self in U. S. Latina Autobiographies," in Women, Knowledge, and Reality: Explorations in Feminist Philosophy, 2nd ed., ed. Ann Garry and Marilyn Pearsall (New York: Routledge, 1996), 127-43.

75. María C. Lugones and Elizabeth V. Spelman, "Have We Got a Theory for You! Feminist Theory, Cultural Imperialism and the Demand for 'the Woman's Voice,'" in Hypatia Reborn: Essays in Feminist Philosophy, ed. Azizah Y. al-Hibri and Margaret A. Simons (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1990), 32.

76. Pratt, "Identity," 35-36.

77. Pratt, "Identity," 39.

78. Frye, "White Woman Feminist," 148.

79. Frye, "White Woman Feminist," 166.

80. Pratt, "Identity," 47.

81. Pratt, "Identity," 42.

82. Biddy Martin and Chandra Talpade Mohanty, "Feminist Politics: What's Home Got to Do with It?" in Feminist Studies, Critical Studies, ed. Teresa de Lauretis (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1986), 198.

83. Martin and Mohanty, "Feminist Politics" 206.

84. Martin and Mohanty, "Feminist Politics," 206.

85. Pratt, "Identity," 14; Frye, "White Woman Feminist," 153.

86. See Cheryl I. Harris, "Whiteness as Property," Harvard Law Review 106, no. 8 (June 1993): 1707-1791; George Lipsitz, The Possessive Investment in Whiteness: How White People Profit from Identity Politics (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1998); Ian F. Haney López, White by Law: The Legal Construction of Race (New York: New York University Press, 1996); and George A. Martinez, "Mexican Americans and Whiteness," in Critical White Studies: Looking Behind the Mirror, ed. Richard Delgado and Jean Stefancic (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1997), 210-13. Whites' continued readiness to pronounce on these matters is glaringly evident in Kailin's report of how "liberal" white teachers view non-compliant black parents, teachers, and administrators. See "How White Teachers Perceive the Problem of Racism in Their Schools."

87. Frye, "White Woman Feminist," 149.

88. Elizabeth Ellsworth, "Double Binds of Whiteness," in Off White, 265.

89. Frye, "White Woman Feminist," 154.

90. Anna Deavere Smith, Talk to Me: Listening between the Lines (New York: Random House, 2000), 39.

91. Pratt, "Identity," 53.

92. Ellsworth, "Double Binds of Whiteness," 263.

93. Pat Parker, "For the White Person Who Wants to Know How to Be My Friend," in Womanslaughter, illus. Irmagean, Karen Sjöholm, and Wendy Cadden (Oakland, CA: Diana Press, 1978), 13.

94. Bulla, Squanto: Friend of the Pilgrims, 112.

95. For detailed comments on the manuscript, I wish to thank Sofia Villenas, Octavio Villalpando, Ivan Van Laningham, Tracy Stevens, Troy Richardson, Cris Mayo, Kathy Hytten, Dolores Delgado Bernal, Ed Buendía, Deanna Blackwell, and the Education, Culture, and Society discussion group at the University of Utah. This paper has been informed by my department in more ways than I can count. I have the great pleasure of being surrounded by faculty and graduate students who continually stimulate me, lend me ideas and insights, and challenge my thinking. For some of the particular ways in which I have been informed by conversations with members of the department, I would especially like to thank Deanna Blackwell, Bryan Brayboy, Kathy Spencer Christy, Mary DeLaRosa, Cleveland Hayes, Bobbie Kirby, Brenda LeCheminant, Frank Margonis, Charise Nahm, and William Smith.

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