This month, the CCC Book Club will be discussing the first two episodes of Scene on Radio’s Seeing White Podcast Series, which was nominated for a Peabody. Their website describes the series as
Just what is going on with white people? Police shootings of unarmed African Americans. Acts of domestic terrorism by white supremacists. The renewed embrace of raw, undisguised white-identity politics. Unending racial inequity in schools, housing, criminal justice, and hiring. Some of this feels new, but in truth it’s an old story.
Why? Where did the notion of “whiteness” come from? What does it mean? What is whiteness for?
Scene on Radio host and producer John Biewen took a deep dive into these questions, along with an array of leading scholars and regular guest Dr. Chenjerai Kumanyika, in this fourteen-part documentary series, released between February and August 2017.
The first episode, “Turning the Lens,” provides an overall orientation to the project, which focuses on what it means to be White. As you listen to the podcast or read the episode’s transcript, consider the following:
- When is the last time you thought about your race? In what ways has whiteness been invisible?
- What do you think about Hughley’s quote?
- How has whiteness been the elephant in the room?
- How often do you hear news reporters mention race when the person is White versus another race?
- What have been some of your blind spots when it comes to your whiteness?
- What do you think when you ponder Biewen’s questions, “Where did this idea of a white race come from? God? Nature? Or is it man-made? And if somebody manufactured the idea, why, for what purpose? How has the meaning of white changed over the centuries, and how does it function now? The stories that we carry around about whiteness and what it means—stories we may not even know we’re carrying, but we are, all of us—are those stories true?”
- In which systems/structures have you noticed institutionalized racism?
The second episode, “How Race Was Made,” focuses on how we characterized those like us and not like us prior to the development of the concept of race and how and when the concept of race arose. As you listen to the podcast or read the episode’s transcript, consider the following:
- What were you taught about race?
- If we have a common ancestor, are 99.9% genetically the same as humans, and have more in common genetically with other races than with many within our own racial group, why do we focus so much on our physical differences?
- In what ways have we assigned negative characteristics to those who don’t act/look like us and positive characteristics to those who act/look like us?
- Biewen states, “Aristotle said nature intended for some people to be enslaved by others. Alcidamas wrote that: ‘God has left all men free; nature has made no man a slave.’” In what ways have you noticed people and yourself acting in ways consistent with Aristotle’s views? Alcidamas’s views?
- Kendi points out, “And blackness of course cannot really operate without whiteness.” What does this bring up for you?
- In what ways are classifying people by races problematic?
- Biewen articulates, “in the piece we heard Suzanne Plihcik from the Racial Equity Institute say that race is not scientifically real and yet it’s very real politically and socially.” How do you make sense of this?
- According to Biewen, “we’re sort of in the habit of thinking that the problem with race and racism starts with attitudes, that people look at other people and they look different or come from a different place, and so there’s this tendency to look down on that person or to have prejudice toward them and therefore to think well I guess it’s okay to exploit or mistreat this person. And that’s the history of racism, that’s how this all has happened. And his argument is that it goes exactly in the other direction.” Kumanyika sums this up by noting, “exploitation comes first.” Which do you think comes first? What leads you to support your position?
The series has a study guide, which posits the following discussion questions for the first two episodes:
- Chenjerai Kumanyika says that he hopes the Seeing White project will focus on systemic, structural racism, not individual bigotry or “race relations.” What does he mean? What’s the difference? Can you give an example of each kind, individual and systemic racism?
- How does whiteness fly beneath the radar? Think of the institutions that you are part of or belong to. In what ways does the idea of whiteness act as the norm within institutions?
- John Biewen asks, Where did whiteness come from? What’s the answer that he finds?
- Who invented whiteness, and when? For what purpose?
- Why would you say that race as we know it – “blackness,” “whiteness,” etc. – was not invented until the 15th century?
- Before hearing this episode, how would you have imagined that the notions of “black” people and “white” people came into being? How does it change the way you think of your racial/ethnic identity to know that race was invented to justify the exploitation of other human beings?
We look forward to discussing some of these questions together on Monday, August 13, 2018 at 6:30 PM at Carnegie Library in Angola.