A couple of days ago, XOJane published an article called “It Happened to Me: There Are No Black People in My Yoga Classes and I’m Uncomfortable With It.” If you happen to be one of the three people who haven’t read it, it is actually even stupider than you would expect from the title.
Reading it, however, brought back old college memories for me, specifically of my senior seminar, Working Through Whiteness. Yep, not only did I take a class called Working Through Whiteness, I was required to take a class called Working Through Whiteness. And buy a book called Working Through Whiteness, which the internet informs me cost thirty-two bucks. This is the sort of thing that is responsible for people making fun of liberal arts colleges.
Everything else I had a choice, French or German, bio or chem, even queer versus feminist theory for my major, but Working Through Whiteness? That was the one immovable boulder in my college career. Three hours a week for twelve weeks, a group of mainly super-rich girls and one guy and I sat around talking about… well I took the class and I still have no fucking idea whatever it was we actually talked about. There were a few rules, though, of whiteness club.
- Never talk about our class privilege ever, even though nearly everyone was not just rich, but my family has multiple houses rich. Just pretend you know what it might be like to be poor or at least lower-middle class.
- Never talk about anything practical. The minute we get towards discussing anything that might leave the realm of theory, flee immediately.
- Never wonder what they would have done if any of the women and gender studies majors was, you know, not white. This rule was so strong that it just occurred to me this morning, ten years later. What would they have done? Given her an A+ and a pass to study hall?
While I don’t know what we talked about, at least much, I do remember how we talked. We talked exactly like that stupid yoga article. How we now realized that we were white and got stuff that “people of color”* didn’t get. How uncomfortable that made us. I remember some crying. I think we even talked about the tyranny of white thinness on African American women.
I thought it was stupid then, I think it’s stupid now, but that’s how someone who should know better can write an article like that and be surprised when it turns out to be a bad idea.
*actual term we were supposed to use. Something about solidarity of racial minorities against white people. It always uncomfortably reminded me of the term colored people but those type of thoughts break rule 2.