illustration credit: Ricardo Levins Morales

Greetings Gentlemen,

I hope this finds you doing better than me right now. My name is Ryan Williams-Virden, I, too, am a male of European descent. Let me get right to the issue at hand as to not waste your time. Gentlemen, I find myself compelled to reach out to you, not simply because it is incumbent upon me as a European with white privilege who is concerned with racial justice to speak up at moments like this (it is not the job of people of color to constantly be the teachers) but because I truly desire to build with you. I believe that when folks like us can problematize the culture and ideology that is whiteness we can finally move towards disinvestment and begin healing from its violence. It is only when this takes place that we will truly be able to be stakeholders in the liberation that will follow the dismantling of white supremacy.

I know how you felt in that classroom. I grew up in Northeast Minneapolis, in a working-class family; I remember vividly my hostility at the notion I had any privilege, and at the racism conversation in general. But, like I hope you can, I was able to process the information, depersonalize it, and was ultimately convinced at the truth of it all. It is this truth that I would like to discuss with you.

I wasn’t in the classroom but I understand that at the center of your angst was why you had to talk about structural racism. Well, gentlemen, I would like to introduce you to Renisha McBride, a 19 year old black female who was shot in the face because the owner of the house she approached seeking help after a car accident deemed her a threat. This is intimately related to the murder of Trayvon Martin and the acquittal of George Zimmerman; which is connected to the murder of Emmett Till and the acquittal of Roy Bryant and J.W. Milam; which is connected to the brutality and murders committed with impunity during slavery, which is the very core of who we are as a country. You see gentlemen if you were not Anglo-Saxon your life mattered less, and if you had melanin your life didn’t matter at all. Sadly, not enough has changed.

If that is not enough to satisfy your collective curiosity allow me to provide several more examples. Just last night, Thursday November 7th the Washington Red*kins played here in Minneapolis, their team name is still, in 2013, a racial slur. We must talk about racism because last month the Ordway staged the play “Miss Saigon” despite vehement objections to the imperialist, racist, sexist, and generally offensive themes. We must talk about it because currently, in the land of the free and the home of the brave, we have over two million people locked up, the vast majority black and brown. We must talk about it because the wealth gap between white families and families of color only continues to grow. We must talk about it because even though the black and brown students I teach, and your black and brown classmates, are every bit as intelligent and capable as us Europeans because their names sound ethnic they will be less likely to get an interview, even with all other credentials constant; I’ll give you one guess what color the folks deciding what qualifies as ethnic are… yup they are white! We must talk about it because your asinine complaint was actually taken seriously and could cost Professor Gibney her job.

But mostly gentlemen we must talk about structural racism because of you. Because in 2013 three white men feel it is ok if they interrupt a college professor while she is conducting class. Your mothers taught you better, and if they didn’t they should have. It is hard to imagine you doing this if I, a white male, were teaching the class. You, gentlemen, are the epitome of why we need to be talking about race and racism at every opportunity. I know you feel the walls of your world closing in on you but trust me when I say those are only the walls of the box you live in coming down and the world is so much more beautiful outside that box. I want you to see that world gentlemen.

I know most open letters aren’t actually intended for the people they are addressed to but I assure you this one is. I would love to talk more about these things with you. I want to liberate you from the disease that is whiteness. If you feel so obliged feel free to email me rwvbooking@gmail.com

In hope,
Ryan Williams-Virden