written by Andrea Malagón

This past spring, our Executive Director taught a course in the Department of American Ethnic Studies called Race, Ethnicity, and Education. They invited some of their students to submit their reflections and essays. This is the first of several. Below, Andrea Malagón, reflects on their learning from a study called “Abby as an Ally” that follows a white student enrolled in a Native American Literacy course and their journey of unlearning Whiteness.

I didn’t think I would like the reading Abby as an Ally. I thought this piece was going to be about white fragility and what white people need from movements. It’s hard for me to read about whiteness because I never know where it’s gonna go. I really like the approach of the author. I’ve never read an academic paper where there were paragraphs about the technical stuff and then vignettes about Mrs. Bee’s classroom. That structure was very new to me. I would like to write my academic papers and dissertations like that. It feels nice to know that the author had that option. If he had it then maybe I can too. 

I’ve never read about whiteness in this way. I never thought an article about a Native American literature class would center around a white student. It sounded dumb to me in the beginning. Especially since the class had Native American students. “Why would you do that?”I asked my computer screen. I wanted to stop reading, but I kept reading instead to figure it out.

This article showed me how one person reflected on their whiteness. How her privilege moves through spaces, lives, hearts, and minds. Her privilege was moving and working to her benefit even at that young age. She saw that. She thought about that. She got uncomfortable with her past. In adulthood, to me at least, it sounds like she was able to reconcile with her identity as a white woman. A white person. It takes time. I could have read this and thought, “Why can’t every white person be like Abby?”That’s not productive thinking. Not everyone cares to learn about the weight their identity carries. Some people don’t want to face guilt and let it settle in. They react negatively instead. While that is weak, it’s what they have on them. Weakness. Those people are in their own psychosis.

While I relate to the Native American students from the reading when they are angry that their land and people were taken away from them, I also relate to Abby because sometimes it’s hard to be mad when you don’t know the whole story. I have to agree it sounds crazy that the land I go to work, school, and walk on used to belong to someone else. It’s hard to get over those thoughts of, “Wow. I can’t believe life used to be like that,” to then think, “The US came to be by stealing land and labor.” It’s ugly, but it’s true. Everyone consumes knowledge differently. The intersections of our identities are a reason for that. 

It’s hard to read about whiteness because I don’t have it the way white people do but I have something close to it. I think I struggle with liberating myself from the white gaze because I despise the whiteness in me. I’m not trying to uplift or flaunt it. I want to be aware of it. Whiteness is a privilege. Any proximity to whiteness is a privilege. Neutrality is a tool used by those with white privilege.

Silence is never neutral.

Silence is never neutral.

Silence is never neutral.

Silence literally kills people.

When you discuss racism as a white people problem instead of something that people of color have to endure you’re holding white privilege and white supremacy accountable. To be honest, I’m starting to see these two concepts more similarly than before. I thought they were like peanut butter and jelly. Two spreads that go together.

Now, I feel like they are in the same jar (pictured above). They’ve always worked together. In a perfect world, we would all be sweet like fruit salad and sprinkle cinnamon on orange slices and marvel at the abundance. We don’t live in a perfect world, but there’s a lot to learn from it.

Abby as an Ally showed me that there’s nothing wrong with trying again after feeling uncomfortable. There is nothing wrong with having feelings after hearing and taking in someone else’s point of view. It’s no wonder I have such a hard time trying to reflect. When I have uncomfortable feelings I tend to deflect. There is work that can be done there. I just need to stop rejecting it. I wish I could reflect on my emotions to the same caliber I reflect on history and public policy. It’s definitely a missing puzzle piece for me. This class and AFRAM 101 with Brukab Sisay really have shown me the power of reflection. While I might not be “good at it,” maybe there’s something meaningful happening when I notice I can improve that skill.

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