Friday, April 25, 2008

Good racial conversations

You have to like a campaign that sparks this kind of racial conversation. Michelle Obama's first roommate at Princeton, a white woman from the South, has come forward to the Atlanta paper to discuss the drama around finding out her roommate was black. Catherine Donnelly (left, with her mother), now living in Georgia, disclosed how her mother "stormed down to the campus housing office and demanded Donnelly be moved to another room."

Donnelly is very thoughtful about how the racism she and her mother had grown up with had permeated their thinking at the time, and how it still affects them today. I was very impressed with their openness and willingness to take on these topics.

As the newspaper's public editor notes, Donnelly :
decided to tell her story to prompt conversation and reconciliation among people of
different races — something Barack Obama has also stressed.

"I tread very lightly with this because it's not something that I'm particularly proud of," she said. "With all of the blogging that's going on [about the story], there are
some really angry people out there."

Donnelly might be referring to some of the nasty criticism of Michelle Obama based on her senior thesis, a sociological study of the experiences of black Princeton graduates before, during, and after their college years. (For those of you who want to read the actual thesis, has it available online. It isn't the fount of anti-white hatred some "freepers" might claim; honestly, it is a fairly decent sociological study--with a nice response rate (22%) for a mailed survey--looking at black students' connectedness and identification with black and white communities. It won't set the world on fire, but it is good for an undergraduate thesis.)

My gf (a proud Southern, Christian, white woman and active anti-racist) is proud of Donnelly and her mother, as Southern white women who are choosing to engage in a conversation about the influence of race and racism, past and present. Perhaps this can be part of the positive legacy of the campaign, one I hope will end in Obama's nomination and eventual election as President.


One a lighter note, one last thing. As a lesbian, I was incredibly amused that one of the most lasting impressions Donnelly (also a lesbian) had of Michelle Obama was of her very long fingers. I was not surprised. We lesbians notice a woman's hands. ;0)


Academic said...

It's amazing how many people never get the proverbial wake-up call that clues them into their own discriminatory attitudes. Thanks for the post.

Jennifer said...

I've been thinking about some similar things that you just blogged about--that one of the things that has emerged from the battle over the democratic candidacy is an attention to race and racism that, quite frankly, has been long in the making.

I had been planning to blog about this myself in the coming week and would love to link to your blog--if I have your permission. If not, I totally understand--but I wouldn't want you to think I was plagarizing from you! :)

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