Lecturer shines light on America’s ingrained white narrative

By Scott Somerville

Robin DiAngelo, an author and professor of racial and social justice, came to Mayo Concert Hall on Tuesday, April 11, to suggest a new way of looking at racism. Her goal was to expose people to the unconscious power of the “white narrative” in America, so the audience could be more racially sensitive.

Her goal for the audience was for them to realize that despite being educated, they have never really learned about racism.  

“You can get through graduate or law school without ever discussing racism in class,” Diangelo said to a nearly full auditorium of students and faculty, the vast majority of whom were white.

DiAngelo discusses that racism and segregation is self imposed. (Kimberly Iannarone / Staff Photographer)

In today’s America, racism is still prominent and getting worse, according to DiAngelo. Communities are segregated not because of laws, but because people do it themselves: They regularly come up with reasons to move to homogenous neighborhoods that are filled with people of the same race as them. DiAngelo believes that people lie to themselves by saying that they move because of better schools.

“How can we teach race doesn’t matter in (the midst of) segregation?” she said.

DiAngelo said while all white people seem to have an opinion on racism, all those opinions are uniformed. The audience was asked to remember the first time they had a teacher who was the same race as them. Many of the white students in the audience had such an experience when they were very young.

DiAngelo emphasized that this is important because teachers are role models for students. For people who are not white, this experience happens much later in life, if at all, driving diversity within the teaching profession down. This exacerbates the problem further, according to DiAngelo.

DiAngelo emphasized the idea that Americans are constantly subject to a “white” narrative that is not recognized because it is always present. She brought this concept to life for the audience through a PowerPoint presentation of familiar cultural examples.

In the darkened auditorium, DiAngelo showed ads and images that portrayed a “white” ideal, which has a powerful subliminal effect on people and their way of thinking, she said. Images of the final five contestants at the Miss Teen USA beauty pageant, all white, alongside white images of God, Jesus and the Virgin Mary were used to buttress the point.  

Another example of the white narrative was made by showing Facebook’s picture for 2015’s Women’s Equality Day, which portrayed nine women, seven of whom were not white, celebrating women’s right to vote.

DiAngelo pointed out that while women won the right to vote in 1920 through the 19th Amendment, black women in the South were disenfranchised by poll taxes, literacy tests, harassment and other obstacles. These problems were addressed in the Voting Rights Act of 1965, 45 years after the 19th Amendment was passed.

The Facebook picture perpetuates an inaccurate rendering of how history was experienced by non-white persons and keeps social media users in the dark about racism.

The movie “The Blind Side” was used as an example of a poor black male who is saved and mentored by a plucky and wealthy white woman. DiAngelo commented on the stereotype of the white savior, which, in this film, is portrayed through a white suburban woman teaching a black high school senior how to play football at the highest level.

DiAngelo wanted the audience to realize that today’s society still has a white ideal and that people are still not being educated on the issues of racism. She said in many parts of the U.S., a white person could go their entire life without ever having a meaningful relationship with a black person. DiAngelo’s intention is to challenge and change this process.

The lecture ended with a question regarding combating racism.

“What about your life has allowed you to not know what to do about racism?” DiAngelo asked.

Her belief is that when people answer this question honestly, they will know what to do to stop racism.