If college admissions brochures are to be believed, American universities are thriving havens of not only racial diversity but also of racial harmony. Diverse student groups study and socialize together in marketing photos where everyone smiles, wears complementary colors, and inexplicably laughs during group project meetings. Anyone who has ever done a group project knows that there is scarcely any laughter at these abysmal gatherings. And anyone who has ever gone to college with their eyes even halfway open knows that racial harmony is hardly a mainstay on American campuses. As incidents in Ferguson, Oklahoma, and more recently South Carolina shine a spotlight on racial tension in America, many are turning to universities to find answers on how to make white Americans unlearn their prejudice. One of the most common answers is that students of color can be integral to helping their white peers overcome their racial prejudice. But like many anti-racism efforts, it is a well-meaning but ultimately wrong-headed approach that makes white feelings the focal point of discussions about race and instrumentalizes students of color in the white transformation.It is not the job of people of color to teach their own humanity to their white peers.A February study on race perceptions at the United States Air Force Academy is one of many that examines roommate pairings to study racial understanding. It used existing data on how white men chose their roommates for their sophomore year to determine whether exposure to racial minorities in their freshman year impacted their decision to room with black men. The study determined that white men would choose to have black men as roommates and have more favorable opinions of black people because of exposure to black peers, especially if these black peers were of “high-aptitude” as measured by grade point average.The assumptions of this study erase black agency by making roommate selection seem like it is the exclusive decision of a white student whom black students are just clamoring to live with. On top of that, the fact that “high-aptitude” was a standard that black students were held to but that was not controlled for in the white students whose attitudes were being studied indicates that the researchers consider white students the arbiters and judges of acceptability and respectability of other races. To celebrate a white man for having a high-achieving black roommate as evidence of racial progress is only a few steps removed from believing an Internet commenter who claims he had a black friend once and therefore isn’t racist. These micro-transformations of individual white people don’t translate into broader racial tolerance as evidenced by the fact that greater exposure to black people at the city and state level consistently yields more punitive and hostile conditions indicative of mistrust by white majorities.Advertisement — Continue reading belowIn these frameworks that focus on individual interactions, people of color are reduced to serving as plot devices in the lives of young white people. Programs designed to make white people less racist ask people of color to be endlessly patient, unoffended, and gentle with the fragile white egos before them. But it is not the job of people of color to teach their own humanity to their white peers.A particular case in point is the reception to a 2006 study in the American Economic Review that revealed how black roommates made white students more likely to approve of affirmative action and have minority friends in the future. When the New York Times cited the study, the paper interviewed a black and white roommate pair at North Carolina State University, leading the relevant section with the line, “Courtney Jones is a case study in empathy.” Jones was the white student. The article devoted 154 words to her experience. Her black roommate Melanie Paige’s story began, “Ms. Paige says she was changed, too.” It is told in 47 words. In this context, Paige is little more than an afterthought in the transformation narrative of her white roommate.And while there are many students of color willing to actively engage with their white peers on issues of race, there are many for whom this is little more than unpaid and emotionally taxing labor. Ethnic and racial minorities have every reason to believe that white peers will be hostile to the idea that they’re behaving in racist ways.A 2012 study from the Public Religion Research Institute reveals a lot about how whites view other races and ethnicities. Among 18- to 24-year-olds, 56 percent of white Millennials believed that the government “paid too much attention” to the problems of blacks and other minorities. Fifty-eight percent of them believed that discrimination against whites is just as big of a problem as discrimination against other minorities.

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Source: Transforming White People Is Not the Job of Minority Students – Pacific Standard

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