I've noticed that either a willful ignorance or an extreme hypersensitivity/fragility crops up when white people are confronted about the content, quality, and interpretation of their institution's collections. I vividly recall when my idea for an exhibition about racism was enthusiastically accepted, not on its merit or due to the fact that the thematic premise was important, but because it was part of the institution's new strategic plan for "diversity." I remember being given a tour of that same institution's extensive (white) genealogical research collections, only to have my guide pause, consider me, then proclaim that "we also have some records from the internment camps." (To be clear: I'm not Japanese and my family did not emigrate until the 1970s – not that it matters.)
Any gentle reminder of underrepresentation or call to acknowledge these everyday microaggressions leads to defensiveness – for instance, the proclamation that "we're doing better than most institutions." The seeming inability to distinguish the drive for improvement from an attack on culpability is a classic case of white fragility. Clearly, the upkeep of their "white ally" performance is of greater concern to them than seeking justice via historiographic reparations. (Please note my previous observations on white lip service.)
"Lucy Liu Sips Tea" GIPHY. Accessed August 20, 2017. https://giphy.com/gifs/asian-lucy-liu- american-history-month-l0Iy797ZhIvLhm0Io.
How do our respectability politics undermine us? I've been repeatedly confronted with this question over the summer. As I officially enter graduate school, I find myself alone – the only person of color in my classes for the first time since high school.
After the Inclusion Roundtable discussion at NCPH 2017, I was inspired to start the Graduate Students of Color Association (GSCA). By taking an interdisciplinary approach to finding support, I hoped to recapture the sense of camaraderie I found with other POC during my undergraduate career.
This afternoon, our Facebook page received this private message (twice):
"How Racist can you get? Non whites only!!!! If the roll [sic] was reversed there would be protests all over Temple University. what would happen if we started GSWO Gradiate [sic] students WHITE ONLY!!!"
Rather than dignifying this individual's accusations of "reverse racism" (something that does not exist), I would like to take this opportunity to clarify why we need to continue to create environments exclusively reserved for people of color (POC).