The Danger of White Innocence Lecture by George Yancy, PhD Starts New Conversations
March 11, 2020
By Cierra Frantz '22
George Yancy, PhD, a North Philadelphia native, spoke to students, faculty, staff and some community members from the College of Nursing and Health Professions addressing the Danger of White Innocence. On February 26, 2020, Yancy, the Samuel Candler Dobbs Professor of Philosophy at Emory University, a Montgomery Fellow at Dartmouth College and the University of Pennsylvania’s inaugural fellow in the Provost’s Distinguished Visiting Faculty Fellowship Program, was invited to speak as the second guest in the Distinguished Presenters Series sponsored by the CNHP Board of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion about how racism affects our everyday lives. Around 220 students, faculty and visitors gathered in the New College Building on Drexel’s Center City Campus to learn from Yancy, a renowned philosopher, with 20 published books and articles in the critical philosophy of race and whiteness. Along with these publications comes numerous accolades and distinctions from universities and colleges including University of Pittsburgh, Yale University, Duquesne University and New York University.
He began by prefacing his lecture to the crowd, “I’m not here to make white people feel comfortable.” He pointed out where we can see racism ingrained into the fabric of the country and how it can manifest in the lives of college students. Yancy gave examples of how racism is formed into systemic structures that institutions rely on. He shared the results of an activity he asks his students of his philosophy courses to do—to keep a journal of racist or ethnic incidents in the community they witness. At the end of the semester many of the journal entries illustrate how racism is still prevalent in U.S. culture much of which goes on to be disregarded, ignored or even accepted. Yancy offered and defined several terms with which the audience may not have been familiar like opacity of racism, anti-racist racist, whiteness and backstage racism. This enabled the audience to be on the same page for the subsequent presented material.
He delineated how important the approach we take to change is and suggested that to make progress we must be open to being wounded. “Change demands the courage to speak the truth despite the danger.” Yancy stressed that open discourse is very beneficial to institutions and professions.
Yancy’s final question before taking questions from the audience was, “Does whiteness get to live because black bodies get to die?"
If you missed the lecture or you want an opportunity to view it again, please look out for an email with a link to the recording. The video illustrates a very dynamic and engaging talk focused on illustrations of divisiveness that can splinter a campus and larger communities. And because there is work to do, topics to discuss and questions to answer, the Board of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion is actively planning Continuing the Conversation sessions based on the presentation contents and impact on the CNHP community.
*Cierra Frantz is communications/PR student in the College of Arts and Sciences.