How to Be White (at #PoCC12) – Part 4

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Chris Thinnes


If you want to check out the earlier items in this series, look for links in the navigation menu to your right.


Dear Reader:

Sorry about that last one. Actually, that’s not true. I’m not sorry. But I figure someone’s going to want me to be sorry, so I’ll look into it.

And now for something completely different. . .

I’ve been thinking about this one for a while, and wasn’t sure where to slip it in. Where better than in an effort to construct a non-binding “Code of Conduct for White Folks at #PoCC12” with a series of invitations for us to keep ourselves in check?

Here’s the list so far:

  1. “This is Not a Diversity Conference. This is Not an Educational Conference.”
  2. “Do Not Expect to Be an Honored Guest”
  3. “Attend and Embrace Affinity Group Sessions”
  4. “Shift Your Attention from ‘Sensitivity’ to ‘Skills'” and
  5. “Create These Kinds of Spaces at Your School”
  6. “Don’t Pretend to Understand the Experience of People of Color. Above All, Do Not Make Jokes About It.”

Here’s another strong suggestion, that came to me as much from the example as in looking for an example:

7. Explore Representations of White Privilege in Popular Culture 

Nobody’s a stranger to explorations of how people of color are represented in literature, music, television, film, and so on. But how often do we purposefully examine images of whiteness in our culture? It’s easy for us to identify an ‘other,’ but in ascribing that alterity, we inadvertently reinforce misconceptions about what is otherwise ‘normal.’

In any case, sometimes it’s difficult to give language to how we understand what it means to be white in our own lives — and finding representations outside our own experience can help to give us that language.

Okay, I’ll stop myself from getting all geeked out about this and cut to the chase: find images of what it means to be ‘white’ in American culture and explore them. In writing by yourself. On the phone with an ally. Even better: in person with a person of color.

Several weeks ago, Louis C.K. hosted Saturday Night Live. He and the folks at NBC came up with what I consider to be a masterpiece. Check out the first few minutes in particular, and have a conversation with somebody.

You’ll laugh at Louis C.K. playing Abraham Lincoln in a bar. But as Henri Bergson wrote in an unbelievably great essay called “Laughter: An Essay on the Meaning of the Comic,” laughter always has a social function. The ‘purpose’ of laughter is often “an unavowed intention…to correct our neighbor.”

Consider this examination of privilege, and ask yourself why you’re laughing. Do it with other funny stuff about white folks. Lord knows there’s plenty out there, whether it’s intended to be funny or not.

(Can’t embed the video because of copyright restrictions. Here’s the link if you didn’t catch it:


You can follow Chris Thinnes on Twitter at @ChrisThinnes