By: Thomas Jones, Staff Reporter
Today in America many of the most divisive and contentious issues are related to topics involving race. On January 18th, African-American Professor George Yancy spoke on the issues of whiteness in America and the continued racism perpetrated by white people against black people to the Regis community. Dr. Yancy was invited to Regis by the Philosophy Department who was able to invite him as a speaker through the generosity of an anonymous donor who created the Philosopher Stone Endowed Fund. Dr. Yancy’s presentation took place in the Regis Chapel and started at 7 PM, with a book signing proceeding the talk. He is a professor of philosophy at Emory University as well as an author, editor, and co-editor of over 18 books. His most recent book is titled, “On Race: 34 Conversations in a Time of Crisis,” which came out in 2017; he is also coming out with a book entitled, “Backlash: What Happens When We Talk Honestly about Racism in America,” which is expected in April of this year.
Dr. Yancy began his speech by illustrating the idea of ‘Parrhesia,’ which is a sort of freedom of speech which means to tell all. He went on to explain though that telling all isn’t safe and, “Along with freedom of speech we need fearless or courageous listening.” When he speaks on the issue of courageous listening he is specifically referencing one listening to issues of racism, furthering his previous statement by saying, “We must be daring, we must be vulnerable, we must be open to be wounded.” He also often used the word ‘crisis’ to describe the state which he finds suitable for one to be considered open to these ideas and engaging in courageous listening.
Dr. Yancy offers his listeners this plea to be courageous due to his central opinion, which the large majority of his speech focused on, being quite controversial as well as even offensive by certain people’s standards. His central idea which he expounds on throughout his speech, as well as defends and explains, is that all white people, by virtue of them simply being white, are inherently racist. He first proposes this idea by admitting something himself, stating to his audience, “Just as I am an anti-sexist, I am also a sexist.” In this case, his inherent sexism being linked to him being a man. After he states this he furthers, “So to, to be white, and to be an anti-racist, is to be a racist.” His statements stem from the existence of white privilege in society, and the lesser status in which black people are viewed in comparison to white people. He explains this through a personal story of his.
In December of 2015, Dr. Yancy published an article in the New York Times titled “Dear White America,” in which he laid out the same opinion that all white people are racist. He starts the article and ends it with a statement of love, saying that his writing of the article comes from a place of love and care. He also admits in the article that he considers himself a sexist, the same way he did in his presentation here at Regis. The article received immense backlash and hatred from many white people who sent Dr. Yancy threatening and incredibly insulting messages via email, phone, and even snail mail. The vast majority of these letters, at the very least, called him numerous racial slurs and told him to “Go back to Africa,” and at the most, threatened his well-being by people stating different ways they wish they could physically harm him.
After this backlash to his article occurred, he spoke to colleagues of his, that had also written controversial pieces over the years, on the type of backlash which they encountered. Dr. Yancy states, “The specifically white racialized hatred that I encountered, how my black body was assaulted, the white bodies of my colleagues were threatened sure; but not on account of them being white. So, my black body was further concretized at the level of the epidermis.” Dr.
Yancy emphasized that “The objective here is not to judge who suffered more, me or my white colleagues,” but rather to show that “none of my white colleagues had experienced, what we might call, racialized trauma.”
As Dr. Yancy’s speech drew to a close the floor opened up for people to ask him questions. During the Q and A, Dr. Yancy ended up expressing some disappointment he has with Regis, stating, “If I’m not mistaking, there’s roughly 82.6% white faculty [here at Regis], so my question is: how in the hell are you guys going to really begin to think seriously about whiteness, if everyone’s white!” He furthered his discontent when fielding a question a while later on the topic of tokenization, saying, “I took a look at one of you all’s brochures, and it was really nice! It was like this Latino in the middle, a Black face on the side, and I thought ‘man this is diverse!’ and then I checked the stats and I was like ‘what the hell, it’s like a bait and switch!’” The audience in the chapel responded to Dr. Yancy’s comments with bouts of both cheer and laughter.
Though there were moments in the Q and A that people pushed back on bits and pieces of Dr. Yancy’s view, it seemed to be quite largely accepted, or at least face very little open resistance. Selihom Andarge, a Sophomore at Regis, stated, “I loved the Yancy talk! Before the talk, Dr. Yancy spoke to my class and it was great to hear the philosophical process behind his theory of whiteness. It was a huge eye-opener.” Dr. Yancy’s presentation was also very well attended as the chapel was mostly full. The attendees were mainly Regis students and faculty, however, many other community members came as well, along with several students from North Glenn High-school. The entire event in the chapel drew to a close around 8:45 PM, at which point a reception for Yancy’s presentation was scheduled to take place in Main Hall.