Students filed into Parmer Cinema on Wednesday evening, but they were not there to watch a film. Instead, they came to discuss white privilege and what it means to be an ally to minorities without adopting a hero complex.
The Black Student Union hosted the second annual Waking Up White, which offers a space for conversations about being in the racial majority. Posters around campus advertised the event as, “a panel discussion on topics related to whiteness and what it means to an ally in contexts of social injustice and racial prejudice.”
Waking Up White came to fruition last year when Esther Rosier, last year’s BSU President, realized that conversations surrounding social prejudice and injustices needed to take place. However, according to BSU Treasurer Samson Arnold, a sophomore social work major, “[Rosier also] knew that the presence of a student of color in that conversation would change the questions that were asked.”
Tim Mahoney, a senior English major, opened up the event. He introduced Kerry Hasler-Brooks, assistant professor of English, and Lucas Shaeffer, lecturer of interdisciplinary studies. Hasler-Brooks and Shaeffer gave a brief presentation on what whiteness is. They characterized it by four categories: white identity, white privilege, white fragility and white supremacy.
In addition to Hasler-Brooks and Shaeffer, senior communications major Nate Baum, senior politics and international relations major Haley Clasen and junior peace and conflict studies major Noah Cordrey made up the panel. They touched on topics like how to speak out against racial injustice without speaking over minorities, how whiteness is intrinsically celebrated and the idea of colorblindness. All of the panelists were in agreement that the latter is a dangerous thing. Baum explained that colorblindness assumed we are in a post-racist society, while Shaeffer pointed out that the absence of color is white.
The analogy of looking at white privilege as an invisible backpack came up multiple times, initially by Hasler-Brooks. She explained it as something that white people carry without them without necessarily seeing or realizing it. She does, however, see a flaw with the analogy. “[White privilege] is not something you can give up or take off,” Hasler-Brooks said.
It may be easy to turn a blind eye to Messiah’s campus and assume that conversations surrounding white privilege aren’t directly applicable. Arnold spoke to the dangers of this, and said, “this campus doesn’t talk about this kind of thing; most of the white students are ignorant to the fact that their relations and their interactions with the students of color on this campus actually do cause a lot of pain, whether that’s intentional or not.”