Why I’m Not Meeting People Where They’re At Anymore

Last week I gave two separate talks on similar topics. At the University of Michigan, a colleague and I presented the following, Examining the Hard Truths of Whiteness and Maleness in Engineering Education. Two days later, I spoke with faculty at the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga at a talk I titled No, We Don’t Live in Tipis and Other Misconceptions: Understanding the Educational Experiences of Traditionally Marginalized Students. The conclusion of each presentation included action items for (white) faculty/researchers who want to “do better” when it comes to these efforts. The biggest takeaway from both (in my opinion) is that any movement toward equity requires direct, visible action. You need to be seen doing the work.

When I first started doing work on dismantling oppression/challenging hegemony, I fell into the camp of meeting white people where they were at. Everyone’s experience with this is different, but in mine this generally took the form of accepting people’s discomfort with action. I excused their unwillingness to confront peers or take a stand as a product of their current position–they were still “figuring this out.” I allowed their justifications for inaction (“what will other people think?” “I don’t want to rock the boat right now”) to go unchecked. I figured they would eventually get to the point where they’d start engaging more.

And what I realized is that letting folks stay where they were at allowed them to stay within their comfort zone, a gift Brown and Black people rarely receive.

I do not care where white people are at. I do not care if they are newly aware of systemic racism (again, a gift to arrive into 2020 and not understand how deeply fundamental racism is to our system). I do not care if this work is hard. Yes! It is. You might lose some friends. You might lose some professional connections. You might lose a whole host of things. I wish it were easier, I wish the fight for racial justice did not require costs. But it does. And for a long time Brown and Black people have absorbed those costs–now it’s time for white people to do the same.

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