It’s Not About Your White Feelings, It’s About Organizing and Action
By D. Bowen /// Opinion Editor
Council Chamber was closed for fear of fire-code-breaking attendance on Sept. 11 for Inclusion and Multicultural Engagement’s inaugural event of the year, “Beyond Ferguson: Conversation and Action.” The panel discussion, featuring Assistant Professor of History Reiko Hillyer alongside Portland activists Giovanni Blair McKenzie, Lakeitha Elliot, Michael Crenshaw and various members of #DontShootPDX, included lengthy discussion concerning the prison-industrial complex, military-industrial complex, local Ferguson-oriented events and racism and police brutality in the Portland community. While the event was informative and, for many people, the first exposure to the existence of police brutality and racism in Portland, the “what-about-me-and-my-white-feelings?” attitude made an appearance in the room.
The event was unique for LC in that people of color predominantly spoke. This shifted the way racism and police brutality are sometimes discussed on campus to include lived experiences from people in our community and beyond. An overwhelming number of Portland activists attended the event and participated in the Q&A afterward. When discussing Ferguson, the most valid, important voices are those of people of color. In the event, this was acknowledged and used to generate productive conversation including community activism. I applaud new IME director Cathy Busha in organizing what I would consider a successful event.
However, rhetoric employed by Busha and some attendees deserves critical examination. LC is a predominantly white campus. Yet, Busha used the royal “we” of LC students and faculty to imply that “we” are a white campus. This is obviously untrue and erases the experiences of people of color on campus. Moreover, a couple of questions during the Q&A briefly shifted the focus from people of color discussing activism to the feelings of white people in the room. I’m white. I’m angry about racism and police brutality. I’m livid about Ferguson. But guess what? The mic in that room wasn’t there for me to say that. Unless I use my energy to participate in Ferguson or race-oriented activism, then it doesn’t matter how I feel. I have the privilege to continue living like this isn’t happening. I’m not going to assert that privilege by expecting people of color to acknowledge my feelings and comfort me, because that is unproductive. White people and their feelings should never become the focus of race activism.
Busha mentioned an upcoming workshop instructing white people in discussing and actively defying white privilege and racism. While I question the existence of such a workshop and the space it takes up on campus, I also think that it has the potential to be productive and informative.
As always, I invite everyone on campus who has knowledge or experience in this area to submit an Opinion article to the Pioneer Log. Articles concerning Ferguson or race activism on campus are welcome here.