Meg Tapucol-Provo, who teaches at Green River College, writes about her reaction to Under Our Skin and says the only time she feels completely open talking about race is with other people of color.
Editor’s note: When we were putting together Under Our Skin, we knew we wouldn’t be able to include many important perspectives in the original set of videos. That’s why we’re offering the chance for more people to write guest essays to be featured alongside the project. We received the following submission from Meg Tapucol-Provo who currently teaches Multiculturalism and Anti-Bias Issues in Education at Green River College.
I greatly appreciate The Seattle Times’ Under Our Skin project, which explores different people’s attitudes about racism, white privilege, political correctness and other related issues. Having taught diversity classes for over two decades, I have encountered many of the situations that your participants have encountered. I have also encountered people not unlike some of those participating in the project — people who are loathe to admit that white privilege exists, who think that talking about race is divisive, and who feel that colorblindness is a good thing.
Most of the participants of color, plus many of the white participants, understood the concept of racism being prejudice plus power. When it came to white privilege, it was clear that some of the participants struggled with it and became defensive. This wasn’t a surprise, as most whites are oblivious to their own privilege. Also, there wasn’t much talk of intersectionality—the concept of overlapping systems of advantage or disadvantage. A white man with a disability is still going to have an advantage over a black man with a disability by virtue of his skin color, although the white man with the disability is not going to enjoy the same benefits as an able-bodied person. (We compare like with like.)
Jerrell Davis hit the nail on the head when he said that the majority of the people in our culture, and a lot of Seattleites, have the privilege to “opt out” of conversations or actions regarding race because it doesn’t affect them. There are no people of color in their neighborhoods, there are a lot of perspectives that are silenced in our communities and there are not a lot of opportunities for certain voices to be heard, which is detrimental to our society. I have experienced this over and over again on social media. Because I feel so passionately about these issues, I post about them on Facebook, but there are always only a small handful of people who respond. In fact, I once participated as the only person of color in a conversation about race on someone else’s Facebook page and was then blocked from seeing anyone else’s posts. The only time I truly feel I can be completely open talking about race is with other people of color, which takes me to the next topic of white fragility.
It appeared that several of the participants did not know about white fragility, a concept introduced by Robin DiAngelo to describe how even a tiny amount of racial stress can cause a white person to become extremely defensive. I saw many examples in the video of white fragility — defensiveness about political correctness, racism, white privilege, the term “people of color.” It is white fragility that makes it so difficult to have conversations between people of color and people of the dominant culture.
Finally, it wasn’t lost on me that there were a lot of negative comments about the project. It always seems to me that whenever there is something presented about race, there are always closed-minded people who come out of the woodwork and spew their hatred no matter how much you try to present your arguments. Some people hold on tightly to their beliefs and nothing you say or do will ever convince them that diversity is a good thing. Unfortunately for them, they are well on their way to being in the minority. Please just ignore them and keep up the good work!
Meg Tapucol-Provo has worked for over two decades traveling the country as a diversity consultant. She currently teaches Multiculturalism and Anti-Bias Issues in Education at Green River College.