“Could you send us an article?” Andrew Sullivan, the editor of the New Republic asked in a phone call. He was responding to a letter about how as a college instructor, I’d observed that I wasn’t sure young black men wanted to take advantage of the academic help being offered. I kept my voice calm. “Sure,” I said. Maybe this was my big break.
My writer’s group would have said, “You can’t say that racist thing,” but I’d quit going. Sullivan did not berate me. He ignored me. When I called to follow up, his assistant said they’d passed. I tremble to think how I’d be treated these days.
I was awkward with the young man I wrote about. I misunderstood some things he said, and his past interaction with another student unsettled me. I am sure I said things wrong when I spoke to my department chair. But he worked with me.
Yes, I had racist opinions born of the mug shots on TV. How did I overcome them? People like Andrew Sullivan, my chair, and my students did not cancel me. At times, my students did what Robin DiAngelo in White Fragility encourages: They confronted me. I stood, red-faced, in front of the class, apologizing for stereotyping, for forgetting their names.
But mostly I sat in front of those classes, as a rich white lady, not pretending to be someone else, and they sat around me, young people with rich stories to tell, with much to teach me about their lives. I asked for wisdom. They gave it.
I’m Katie Andraski and that’s my perspective.