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"Raise your hand if you're a racist"

"White people don't make it easy for each other to talk about race," says writer Eula Biss. Instead, "we punish each other and police each other."

One white person who tries to improve this state of things is Jen Graves, who covers art for Seattle alt-weekly the Stranger. Graves also teaches art history, and in a recent article she begins with an anecdote from class:

I was focusing on James Baldwin and Glenn Ligon, both gay men, both African American, and it hit me that because there wasn't a black person in the room, things were getting abstract. This art is valuable and has to be taught-there really is no arguing against Baldwin, and Ligon's painting Black Like Me #2 was one of the first President Obama brought to the White House-but how do you teach someone to have a relationship to it?

So I throw it out there: Raise your hand if you're a racist.

As my students do that thing where they sort of just look at you, perplexed, I raise my own hand. I am deeply embarrassed, but I feel I have to be honest if I am asking them to be.

"You've never had a negative thought based on racial bias?" I ask.

Very slowly, arms begin to rise. I understand their confusion. Theirs is a generation in which we have elected a mixed-race president, but affirmative action has been struck down for being racist.

Read it all.


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