“Why Race?”

Credit: wildpixel

In my work as an aspiring co-conspirator helping to “call in” my fellow White* folks and explicitly supporting equity and justice efforts within my community and beyond, I am often asked in conversations–most often by fellow White folks–why I (frequently) choose to “focus on race.” Why not draw attention to all kinds of oppression? they ask. We don’t have those problems here, they often argue, “those problems” being a semantic proxy for the kinds of interpersonal conflicts that make it into national headlines or viral TikToks.

Let’s set aside for the moment that “those problems,” which more often than not take the form of microaggressions, are often invisible to the vast majority of White folks until their neighborhoods, their schools, and their businesses find themselves on the receiving end of the enlightened public’s disapproving gaze. Let’s also set aside the facile notion that “focusing on race” is done so to the exclusion of (or is decontextualized from) other kinds of oppression–e.g., misogyny, homophobia, anti-fat bias, etc.

I am certain, in talking with others who engage in equity and justice work in predominantly White spaces, that I’m not alone in being asked such a question. And because I have been asked “Why race?” a lot, and foresee this not stopping anytime soon, I thought I would lay out my usual answers here in an effort to 1) conserve my (future) time and energy, 2) help others, potentially, who often face this same question, and 3) open myself up to feedback in the event that I am missing something important.

That said, the following encompasses how I most often answer this enormously complex question when working in these kinds of spaces.

This, in its most simplistic form, is how I answer the question, Why race?. What am I missing? How would you answer it?

*Note: In this piece I have chosen to capitalize the words White and Whiteness in order to acknowledge these terms as racial and political concepts and to signify their racial and political significance. Many thanks to my colleague Lorena Germán for alerting me to this practice.

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Shawna Coppola🏳️‍🌈

I am an educator, a writer, an artist, & a troublemaker. Website: https://shawnacoppola.com/ Twitter: @shawnacoppola #blacklivesmatter She/Her/Hers