For Pale Folk by Pale Folk (A Letter from Michael Doyle) [Guest Post]

Jose Vilson Guest Posts

This next writer is still one of my favorite thinkers (not just in education) out there, and contributed the epigraph to my book This Is Not A Test: A New Narrative on Race, Class, and Education. Without further adieu, here’s Michael Doyle.

José has been kind enough to let me share words in his space.  If you look up “José” in Wikipedia, you’ll learn that “José is a predominantly Spanish and Portuguese form of the given name Joseph.”

A few years ago I would have read that sentence as it was meant to be read by people like me written by white folk for white folk. (If you’re more comfortable substituting “dominant culture” for “white folk,” feel free. I want you to be comfortable.)

Mr. Vilson has gone done turned my eyeballs inside out, through his quiet but fierce tutoring. Jose is a predominantly Spanish form of the given name ????—turns out the original Joseph was not European after all.

True story.

Back around 1975, Elwynda and I went to the Red Barn, our suburban (code word for white) school’s local deli hangout just down Tindall Road. We both ordered similar sandwiches—been a while, don’t remember what, but when we got them, mine was easily twice as thick as hers.

Elwynda said nothing, and didn’t look much surprised.

I dramatically swapped the sandwiches, taking the skimpy one, feeling pretty damn proud of myself for righting a wrong, announcing through my actions that I was an anti-racist.

Elwynda still said nothing more than a polite thank you, and didn’t look surprised, deflating me a tad—she knew then what I would not know for a few decades yet. I am a no risk anti-racist racist (NRARR).

If you are white in America, chances are pretty good that you’re a racist. Maybe not hooded version, at not publicly anyway, but it’s not the yahoos doing most of the damage.

I am a NRARR—if you’re a progressive white in America, chances are you are, too. The first step to recovery is admitting to your powerlessness over your ingrained privilege.

“My name is Michael, and I am a racist.”

Not sure if you’re a NRARR? Here’s a (very incomplete) checklist:

    • You proudly wear colorblind glasses, announcing to anyone who will listen that you do not see skin color.
    • You have a “TOLERANCE” bumper sticker yet commiserate with your friend with a “COEXIST” bumper sticker “If only they had more grit.”
    • You donate to the Southern Poverty Law Center even though you’re not too clear on exactly what they do. And you make sure your friends know this. Especially those friends.
    • You spend more time worrying about whether you used the right term for people of color than you do about the obscene differential in incarceration rates.
    • On black friends
      • You feel special when a black friend comes over.
      • You never had a black friend come over.
      • You have no black friends.
        • You spent considerable time contemplating the last three points.
    • You believe white privilege exists, but not in your case—you worked hard to get where you are.
    • You take it personally when someone even thinks you might be racist.
  • Talking about race makes you “uncomfortable.”
Photo: Graeme Main/MOD via Wikimedia Commons

So are you a NRARR?

“Not me”—yes, you. You’re likely a racist, but not incorrigibly so. Take the first step. Own your racism, observe the world around you, not just the one in your head.

And once you do, have a chat with your “COEXIST” friend.


Do the work, the real work.
Get used to being “uncomfortable.”