Emory prof. to all white Americans: ‘You are racist’
Professor George Yancy of Emory University published an open letter to “White America” in the opinion pages of The New York Times asking white people “to admit to the racist poison that is inside” of them.
The letter, according to Yancy, was inspired by a series of 19 interviews he conducted with various public intellectuals on the topic of race, including well-known philosophers such as Peter Singer, Noam Chomsky, and Cornel West.
In the introduction to his letter, Yancy demands his readers “listen with love” as they look at parts of themselves “that might cause pain and terror.” Love, to Yancy, is a topic that receives little attention in the public square and one that could help fight systemic racism.
“We don’t talk much about the urgency of love these days, especially within the public sphere,” Yancy writes. However, love serves as a rhetorical force for the gay rights movement, and the movement itself has occupied a central place in the public sphere. In fact, after the Supreme Court ruling in June hundreds of activists marched on the court plaza chanting “love has won.” Justice Anthony Kennedy called the ruling necessary because gay marriage “embodies the highest ideals of love.” And The Times produced a video after the Obergefell ruling called “How a Love Story Won in Court.”
After invoking love as his argument’s foundation, Yancy goes on to call the letter “a gift” for all white Americans who cannot see themselves as the racists they truly are.
“This letter is a gift for you. Bear in mind, though, that some gifts can be heavy to bear…in this letter, I ask you to look deep, to look into your souls with silence, to quiet that voice that will speak to you of your white ‘innocence.’ Make a space for my voice in the deepest part of your psyche,” Yancy writes before asking his readers to take responsibility for their racism.
“It is painful to let go of your ‘white innocence,’ to use this letter as a mirror, one that refuses to show you what you want to see, one that demands that you look at the lies that you tell yourself so that you don’t feel the weight of responsibility for those who live under the yoke of whiteness, your whiteness,” he adds.
According to Yancy, good intentions do not make white Americans any less responsible for racism or men any less responsible for sexism.
“Even though the ways in which I oppress women is unintentional, this does not free me of being responsible,” Yancy writes, comparing his sexism to the way racism functions in America.
Yancy uses this analogy throughout his letter as an example of how stereotypes can be unintentionally perpetuated.
“In our collective male imagination, women are ‘things’ to be used for our visual and physical titillation. And even as I know how poisonous and false these sexist assumptions are, I am often ambushed by my own hidden sexism. I continue to see women through the male gaze that belies my best intentions not to sexually objectify them,” he writes before saying “this doesn’t mean that I intentionally hate women or that I desire to oppress them. It means that despite my best intentions, I perpetuate sexism every day of my life.”
Yancy concludes his letter by asking white people to graciously accept the gift of knowledge that he has given them and recognize the pain and suffering their whiteness brings to people of color.
“As you reap comfort from being white, we suffer for being black and people of color. But your comfort is linked to our pain and suffering,” Yancy writes. “Just as my comfort in being male is linked to the suffering of women, which makes me sexist, so, too, you are racist. That is the gift that I want you to accept, to embrace. It is a form of knowledge that is taboo.”