An Open Letter to the Three White Men that Complained about Discussing Structural Racism

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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

Published by

ryanwilliamsvirden

Ryan is from Northeast Minneapolis. He is an educator, organizer and artist.

33 thoughts on “An Open Letter to the Three White Men that Complained about Discussing Structural Racism”

  1. you want to dismantle white privilege? start with yourself, move into the blackest ghetto in detroit or chicago. see if you can live through 3 months of it. lol

  2. Anglo-Saxons merged with their Norman conquerors to create the English about 800 years ago. They had nothing to do with America whatsoever. Also everyone has melanin. Your opinions are amazingly arbitrary.

    1. Actually the English trace their ethnic origin to the Anglo-Saxon people.The English colonized America and many of the founding fathers trace their ancestry directly to Anglos. You should read Ralph Waldo Emerson for a prime example of this. As far as melanin, yes we all have some but the shade of brown we are is directly the result of our level of melanin: the more you have the darker you are. Thanks for the comment though.

  3. “I want to liberate you from the disease that is whiteness”
    Fighting against racism – OK, I’m all for that. You seem to do something different. Stuff like this is just giving the “anti-racist is anti-white!”-crowd more ammunition. And frankly, that sounds very racist (as in, the “racist” people use everyday, not the “privilege + power” or whatever definition SJWs like to trot out during times like this). Just my 2 cents.

  4. You do what you do to have summers off and get paid for “work”. When your “classes” get taken off required content see how many students actually take them. STEM graduates can’t hear you over the sound of all the money in their pockets no matter their racial/socio-economic background.

  5. It’s good to see a white dude speak up on this, and give warning to other white boys who perpetuate racism, but in all honest PoC do not NEED you to speak on they behalf. It’s time for white ppl to ‘Shut up and Listen’ so to speak. You are still taking a college slot that should be going to a more deserving person of color. When you graduate you will probably take a job that will be taken from a more deserving person of color. You will make income that was stolen from the backs of persons of color. Quite frankly these posts are everywhere and they reek of privilege. Your college professor was, lemme guess, White?!?! You are not doing enough! Actions speaks louder than words. I would love to see these white people step back and allow their more deserving PoC take their spots but I know they will never do that. smh

    1. puh-lease you ditsy idiot. if you actually believe that university entrance should be based on anything but marks you are a racist / sexist / ableist piece of scum. it doesn’t matter what colour you are. if you do well in your SAT’s (or whatever bloody test you burgerclaps do) you should be able to go to uni. it doesn’t matter if you’re black, white, male, female, trans or cisgendered, if you do well you deserve tertiary education. What an absolutely racist fool you are. for shame.

    2. Totally! White people don’t deserve shit. Even those of us that aren’t racist and have worked very hard to get where we are. You make all the senses.

    3. I wouldn’t hold your breath waiting for white people to step aside so “more deserving” (that’s rich) blacks to take their spot. If you don’t have a spot it’s because you aren’t qualified. My law degree trumps your gender and racial degree every day of the week. I also don’t choose to live my life as an angry and bitter woman no one wants to be around for more than 10 consecutive seconds. I suppose the end of affirmative action looming on the horizon must really drive you nuts, eh? Wake up and smell the coffee sweetie. Your hatred of white people will get you nowhere and nothing. If you don’t like the way things are in my country I will personally purchase a one way ticket for you to the African country of your choosing. If you decline my offer I suggest you shut your hole and be thankful for what this country has provided you.
      Good day, bigot.

  6. this post is the absolute epitome of white guilt. why should those 3 innocent back down because a TEACHER decided it was not her job to EDUCATE THEM PROPERLY on an important issue without making the whole environment hostile to them? You are trying to shift the blame onto the white male, further increasing the stigma that these young innocent boys are facing more and more, simply because they were born with a certain skin colour. Saying that someone is not guilty of racism because they are not white is the literal DEFINITION of racism. I know you won’t respond because you can’t logically argue anything said here, so i’ll finish by saying that you are a spineless piece of scum for trying to make others feel bad simply for the colour of their skin in a time like this. absolutely disgusting

    1. Michael – It seemed to me that those white males were uncomfortable about the topic of institutional racism. Frankly – I can’t recall a time when I interrupted my professor even when I disagreed with them. The arrogance of interrupting not only once but multiple times implies something very nasty. (I would like to know what the other students observed. The white students have a motive to “race bait” and the black professor has a reason to suspect that her race may have been a factor for that level of disrespect.)

      I don’t believe that People of Color want our guilt. I think they want us to just acknowledge that we do have a skin color benefit and try to rectify that in a real and honest manner. When you dismiss people of colors assertion that racism exists, you are perpetuating the racism. Why? Because you refuse to acknowledge that their reality is every bit as valid as yours. I bet you notice racism when it affects you for that 5% of your life. It’s surprising that you can’t recognize it when it is affecting other people.

      But you can rest easy in the knowledge that when you interview for jobs, you will most likely meet a white male boss, when you interact with a police officer, he will most likely be a white male, when you vote, you will choose between white men (especially for the presidential elections). In fact, you will never be called out for getting a job or any position because of your skin color. You will never be considered a potentially violent criminal, even though most mass shooters and serial killers are white males. When you get into an accident and need help from strangers, you will never be shot because you appear “threatening”. That’s what white privilege is all about.

      1. this woman has literally no reason to suspect that these boys are racist apart from the colour of their skin. do you know what discrimination based on skin colour is called? a funny, overused buzzword called, gasp, RACISM. Do you personally know this professor? do you know her intent on the class? these boys had clearly been put through multiple lectures about why the white man is the devil, and when they finally have the balls to speak up and ask questions (as is expected of people in an institution of learning), they are accused of racism and told “if you don’t like it, go and complain”. this professor, presuming she was invincible thanks to “muh political correctness”, is honestly surprised that these boys would do what she told them to.

        also don’t lecture me on racism, my grandma was part of the stolen generation, but your movement has probably got its head so far up America’s ass to even know what that is. why is it that instead of pursuing equality American PoC’s pursue some sort of vengeance against the grand children and great grandchildren of racists from the 60’s, who have LITERALLY ZERO ABILITY to choose who birthed them. You think you have experienced racism? try being of aboriginal decent anywhere outside of inner Sydney/Melbourne. By the way, i voted for Labour in our past election (Julia Gillard’s party), so go get fucked trying to make this about male privilage and your imaginary “patriarchy”.

        This woman committed an act of racism, whether you want to believe it or not, and i hope she gets punished to the full extent of the law.

  7. Dear Ryan,

    If you think white people are villains by birth who need to suffer for something totally unrelated people of the same skin color did, you have to include yourself in this:

    Follow Carly Jackson’s advice and give everything you have to more deserving PoCs, for example your family’s money from all the slave-owning your ancestors did.

    If you took your white guilt seriously, you would live off $10k per year and donate the rest to pro-PoC organizations instead of exploiting their struggle for your grubby white selfish needs.

  8. Thank you for this post. It is interesting and informative. I would caution you to be careful that in the process of liberating persons of color, you don’t inadvertently oppress women. Mothers are no more responsible to teach their sons to be polite and respectful than fathers are. Your assertion that their mothers should have taught them lends itself to clearly defined gender roles, sexism even. But I thank you for your thoughtful comments overall.

  9. White people need to get out of the way. This isn’t the end of the world; it’s a new world and we’re not the fucking kings of all we behold anymore. Personally, I think it’s better that way. Anyone that says otherwise is just clinging to a shitty, old past. It’s gone. Let go.

  10. I just wanted to comment to some of the commenters.
    1) This teacher was wrong and this conversation did not belong in her classroom.
    2) She is not the first professor to do this, after graduating from an HBCU to attend graduate school at a university in Michigan where Blacks are 1.3% and there are no Black professors I have had to sit through too many one-sided lectures on everything from cultural diversity to White privilege and how it doesn’t exist.
    3) When I think of White privilege I think of the Fulton County School System in Atlanta, GA where I grew up and how I grew up constantly thinking it was a modern day example of “Separate But Equal.” The system constantly referred to us as North Fulton and South Fulton, but the students knew that simply meant “White schools and Black schools.” The White schools were bigger, cleaner, and had more languages offered, more AP classes, SAT prep courses, basically way more tools to succeed. When my brother was in High school, he was part of the Minority to Majority program that bussed students from South County to North County. Unfortunately the students they really wanted to bus ere the White students who lived in South County. Once too many Black students were involved they stopped the bus and required students to find their own way. The Black parents car pooled. So, eventually they did away with the program and the White students in South County opted for private school. After that, Black parents who were forced to send their kids to the mediocre South County schools complained about the differences I the schools and the system said there was no demand for those programs in South county (even though the parents were demeaning them.) By my senior year instead of offering the AP courses at our school, they simply had our classes of 30/40 students video call into a class at a North County school. To me, that is what White privilege means. It means many Black students will never have a chance at an even playing field no matter how hard they/ their parents try. Some people say just neglect the public school system and go to private school, but why should Black students have to pay tuition for the same public education that White students get?
    4) The main people who benefit from any type of minority programs at my current university are White women. The institutional diversity center focuses so much attention on them that by the time Black students get our voice heard of course we are now angry, upset, and sometimes confrontational. No one has THAT much patience. Also, being a TA here (The only female and only Black TA in the department) students, mostly White males, constantly question my authority and go over my head to my supervisor With concerns that I am not knowledgeable. It’s like they just refuse to believe a woman, especially a Black one is qualified to teach a Materials Testing and Manufacturing course and lab.

    I know my comment doesn’t have much to do with the current story, but I am really sick of people saying White privilege doesn’t exist when I lived/ live through it.

  11. “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.”

    Talk about turgid crap, perhaps worse than Gibney. (Though she’s pretty bad: See the incoherent verbiage in her Gawker article, particularly appalling in that she has a position on the faculty of an English Department and gets paid to teach that which she cannot do, which is write well.)

    Gibney was “shocked” when the “White males” (her capitalization) decided that her “leading a discussion” (her mischaracterization) of “White male supremacy” (her characterization of what she experienced when the poor schlubs – taking her junk course at this junk school in the attempt to get a junk credential – took her up on what she offered as the only alternative to sitting down and shutting up, never mind that the reprimand for creating a hostile environment for white males was issued by a female administrator who agreed, contrary to fact, that they needed her instruction on this point) a/k/a (by anti-White racists like her and Virden) “Whiteness”.

  12. This is fun. I agree wholeheartedly that white males have a distinct advantage in life because they are white males. Buuuuut… the irony is that in the current era, white males have that advantage less so because of the past racism that permeated society, but more so because too high a number of black males (both overall and percentage wise) spend their time in destructive activities for which their peers are apologists. They cite all the drivel about being disadvantaged and held back and oppressed instead of being outraged that facets of black culture promote and perpetuate their sense of victimhood. It’s a vicious circle perpetuated by blacks on blacks who then blame whites. Reputation is everything. Clean up your house and improve the reputations of young black men and black women and they will experience less and less racism. When Jesse Jackson admits that he was relieved when saw that the person following him at night on a dark street was white instead of black, you know you have a reputation problem. Fix that reputation problem! Band together and support black achievement across the spectrum of endeavors. When the preponderance of black role models comes from athletics and rap music, there might be room for improvement. Spend money in businesses where the hiring is color blind and all employees are hired, evaluated, and promoted on their merits. Celebrate academic achievement and community involvement and focus efforts on pushing the best and the brightest to the highest levels of achievement. Make them your biggest role models and beacons. Stop tolerating thugs. Chastise them, condemn them and shame them. Not to hold them back, but in order to make them see the light in becoming productive citizens. Eliminate the pockets where the adoration of gangsta culture and aberrant behavior is advocated. Take charge and move forward as a collective community and change the dynamic and the world. Now I’m sure I’ve really p1$$ed a lot of people off, but, again, the irony is that I don’t have a racist bone in my body. I love every man, woman, and child on this earth and believe in my heart that each has the potential to be a wonderful, productive, and admirable person regardless of their past or current situation and regardless of their ethnicity or color or gender. A lifetime criminal in prison for life could use his time to counsel and mentor those who will someday get out of prison. He may never be free again, but he could shape hundreds or thousands of others who will someday be free again. A person with no education can defy the odds and be a successful entrepreneur or visit a library and start learning and follow the path to a college degree. A drug addict can struggle past addiction and turn his or her life around. All things are possible. So many people have overcome the oppressive circumstances of their life and triumphed. Is it easier for the white male. Absolutely! But don’t overlook the blame the black community bears for perpetuating the status quo by not stepping up to the challenge of changing the reputations of segments of society that hold everyone back. Just the 2 cents from a privileged white guy.

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