Res Life hosts #RaceMatters discussion on ‘Whiteness’

By Kelly Haberstroh

[Image retrieved from voxygen.net]

Dr. Anne-Claire Fisher of the School of Education led a talk on March 21 with Nichole Gonzalez, Executive Director for Residential Living & Conduct and Chief Judicial Officer, as part of the Civil Dialogue series for #RaceMatters. Both Fisher and Gonzalez addressed sensitive issues, such as whiteness, on our campus.

Gonzalez introduced the conversation by addressing the importance of having a safe environment for students to learn how to talk about these kinds of topics. “Until we make mistakes, we are not going to learn,” said Gonzalez. “No questions are off-limits. We want to make sure that everything is out there.”

Fisher has lived in many countries throughout the world, which she feels has had an impact on her views about race. Since she has moved around a lot, she had to constantly leave her comfort zones and reinvent who she was.

Fisher, who is half French and half English, was born in Africa and lived there until she was eleven years old. She has lived in multiple countries in Africa, Europe, Southeast Asia, and Australia. “From a young age, I became aware of many different types of dissidences,” Fisher said.

Due to her diverse background and colonial ancestry, Fisher had been questioning her identity. “Early on, I started thinking about, ‘Who am I? Where do I belong?’ said Fisher.

Her response to this question was, “Africa is my country.”

Fisher also touched upon discrepancies between the children being taught and the people teaching them. Right now, the teaching population is white and middle class, while the student population is more diverse. Studies show that there are more kids in kindergarten who are racially diverse than there are white. This raises issues of inequity, such as disproportionality, according to Fisher.

Fisher believes white people have a difficult time talking about race because they are afraid, because it is not something they are accustomed to.

“In this culture, people here are just taught not to bring up controversial topics,” said Fisher. “The idea of civil dialogue is important and beneficial because there really is not a place here to have that conversation. We need more experience talking to one another. There is a huge fear of conflict.”

Jessica Laursen, junior and journalism and mass communication major, said, “Important conversations like these need to happen. Whiteness has been looked over and not everyone understands it.”

Laursen continued by saying, “We are a step ahead of a lot of universities, where we create a safe space for people to ask questions.”

Despite the fear of offending people and saying something incorrectly, Fisher pointed out that there has been more talk of these issues in light of recent events. “Since Trayvon Martin, people have really started addressing some of these issues publicly.”

Another issue that was also touched upon was the concept of whiteness as absence of color. Fisher felt that this was too simplistic. “Whiteness is more complex than just being non-black. Blackness is a lot more complex than just being non-white. We need to get away from binaries,” said Fisher.

The concept of people wanting to be colorblind by not noticing race and simply seeing a person was also mentioned. When asked about her thoughts on this, Fisher responded by saying, “I think it is insulting. I think we need to see the color.”

By failing to recognize diversity, you deny the person’s identity and they become invisible. “Being colorblind is not the solution. There is this illusion of equality, but there is no equality. There is equity, but equity is not equality,” commented Fisher.

JW Cook, junior and political science major, said, “There are a variety of students on campus and this impacts everyone. It’s important to heighten people’s awareness of these issues.”

On the topic of acknowledging whiteness and white privilege and whether or not it is discriminatory, Fisher said, “We have to embrace color and then try to figure out ‘what do I do with this?’ Then we can become an ally in an intelligent way.”

On the possibility of implementing ways to open up conversation between races, Fisher also said that it is important to create safe places with facilitators that would teach students how to have discussions on loaded topics. By doing so, people will become aware of what’s offensive or not.

“You cannot help where you are born and how you are raised,” Fisher said. “You need to start thinking deeper and questioning ‘what is?’”

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