'Witnessing Whiteness': Learning to witness

by Mary Ann McGivern

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I got Shelly Tochluk's Witnessing Whiteness out of the library and ordered a copy from my local bookstore because I want to mark it up as I read. On the first page of the preface, Tochluk notes that for the most part, white people lack "(1) the desire to see ourselves as part of a racial dynamic and (2) the skills to navigate racial terrain successfully." I don't intend to review this book, but to read it slowly and blog about learning to be part of this racial dynamic and practicing the necessary navigation skills.

The book is about witnessing how, among other things, if we are in an accident, we want a witness to call for help. Tochluk says in the preface, "Basically, white people must be able to bear witness to the overt and subtle ways that issues of race and dominating whiteness continue to emerge in our daily lives if we are going to able to do anything about it."

So on the evening of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, I tried to be a witness. The local news gave six or seven minutes to MLK events, but five of those minutes went to a demonstration by 10 protesters at a local college who delayed the opening of a program by 15 minutes. Nobody was arrested. There weren't even news cameras to catch the protest. But the banner proclaiming the protest covered pictures of thousands marching and of hundreds working at a homeless shelter. The protest was the hot topic.

So I called the newsroom and tried to sound as white as possible, complaining about the distorted coverage. It was a very small action, but I think it's what Tochluk means by witnessing. I'll know more as I read more.

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