“Sometimes people hold a core belief that is very strong. When they are presented with information that works against that belief, the new evidence cannot be accepted. It would create a feeling that is extremely uncomfortable, called cognitive dissonance. And because it is so important to protect the core belief, they will rationalize, ignore and even deny anything that does not fit in with the core belief.” -Frantz Fanon
WHITE MAN'S GUILT
by James Baldwin
I have often wondered, and it is not a pleasant wonder, just what white Americans talk about with one another.
I wonder this because they do not, after all, seem to find very much to say to me, and I concluded long ago that they found the color of my skin inhibiting. This color seems to operate as a most disagreeable mirror, and a great deal of one's energy is expended in reassuring white Americans that they do not see what they see.
This is utterly futile, of course, since they do see what they see. And what they see is an appallingly oppressive and bloody history known all over the world. What they see is a disastrous, continuing, present condition which menaces them, and for which they bear an inescapable responsibility. But since in the main they seem to lack the energy to change this condition they would rather not be reminded of it. Does this mean that in their conversation with one another, they merely make reassuring sounds? It scarcely seems possible, and yet, on the other hand, it seems all too likely. In any case, whatever they bring to one another, it is certainly not freedom from guilt. The guilt remains, more deeply rooted, more securely lodged, than the oldest of fears.
And to have to deal with such people can be unutterably exhausting for they, with a really dazzling ingenuity, a tireless agility, are perpetually defending themselves against charges which one, disagreeable mirror though one may be, has not really, for the moment, made. 0ne does not have to make them. The record is there for all to read. It resounds all over the world. It might as well be written in the sky. One wishes that Americans -- white Americans -- would read, for their own sakes, this record and stop defending themselves against it. Only then will they be enabled to change their lives.
The fact that they have not yet been able to do this--to face their history to change their lives--hideously menaces this country. Indeed, it menaces the entire world.
White man, hear me! History, as nearly no one seems to know, is not merely something to be read. And it does not refer merely, or even principally, to the past. On the contrary, the great force of history comes from the fact that we carry it within us, are unconsciously controlled by it in many ways, and history is literally present in all that we do. It could scarcely be otherwise, since it is to history that we owe our frames of reference, our identities, and our aspirations. And it is with great pain and terror that one begins to realize this. In great pain and terror one begins to assess the history which has placed one where one is and formed one's point of view. In great pain and terror because, therefore, one enters into battle with that historical creation, Oneself, and attempts to recreate oneself according to a principle more humane and more liberating; one begins the attempt to achieve a level of personal maturity and freedom which robs history of its tyrannical power, and also changes history.
But, obviously, I am speaking as an historical creation which has had bitterly to contest its history, to wrestle with it, and finally accept it in order to bring myself out of it. My point of view certainly is formed by my history, and it is probable that only a creature despised by history finds history a questionable matter. On the other hand, people who imagine that history flatters them (as it does, indeed, since they wrote it) are impaled on their history like a butterfly on a pin and become incapable of seeing or changing themselves, or the world.
This is the place in which it seems to me most white Americans find themselves. Impaled. They are dimly, or vividly, aware that the history they have fed themselves is mainly a lie, but they do not know how to release themselves from it, and they suffer enormously from the resulting personal incoherence. This incoherence is heard nowhere more plainly than in those stammering, terrified dialogues which white Americans sometimes entertain with the black conscience, the black man in America. The nature of this stammering can be reduced to a plea. Do not blame me. I was not there. I did not do it. My history has nothing to do with Europe or the slave trade. Anyway it was your chiefs who sold you to me. I was not present in the middle passage. I am not responsible for the textile mills of Manchester, or the cotton fields of Mississippi. Besides, consider how the English, too, suffered in those mills and in those awful cities! I also despise the governors of southern states and the sheriffs of southern counties, and I also want your child to have a decent education and rise as high as capabilities will permit. I have nothing against you, nothing! What have you got against me? What do you want? But on the same day, in another gathering and in the most private chamber of his heart always, the white American remains proud of that history for which he does not wish to pay, and from which, materially, he has profited so much.
On that same day in another gathering, and in the most private chamber of his heart always, the black American finds himself facing the terrible roster of his loss: the dead, black junkie; the defeated, black father; the unutterably weary, black mother; the unutterably ruined, black girl. And one begins to suspect an awful thing: that people believe that they deserve their history, and that when they operate on this belief, they perish. But one knows that they can scarcely avoid believing that they deserve it: one's short time on this earth is very mysterious and very dark and very hard. I have known many black men and women and black boys and girls who really believed that it was better to be white than black; whose lives were ruined or ended by this belief; and I, myself, carried the seeds of this destruction within me for a long time.
Now, if I as a black man profoundly believe that I deserve my history and deserve to be treated as I am, then I must also, fatally, believe that white people deserve their history and deserve the power and the glory which their testimony and the evidence of my own senses assure me that they have. And if black people fall into this trap, the trap of believing that they deserve their fate, white people fall into the yet more stunning and intricate trap of believing that they deserve their fate and their comparative safety and that black people, therefore, need only do as white people have done to rise to where white people now are. But this simply cannot be said, not only for reasons of politeness or charity, but also because white people carry in them a carefully muffled fear that black people long to do to others what has been done to them. Moreover, the history of white people has led them to a fearful baffling place where they have begun to lose touch with reality--to lose touch, that is, with themselves--and where they certainly are not truly happy for they know they are not truly safe. They do not know how this came about; they do not dare examine how this came about. On the one hand they can scarcely dare to open a dialogue which must, if it is honest, become a personal confession--a cry for help and healing which is, really, I think, the basis of all dialogues and, on the other hand, the black man can scarcely dare to open a dialogue which must, if it is honest, become a personal confession which fatally contains an accusation. And yet if neither of us cannot do this each of us will perish in those traps in which we have been struggling for so long.
The American situation is very peculiar and it may be without precedent in the world. No curtain under heaven is heavier than that curtain of guilt and lies behind which white Americans hide. The curtain may prove to be yet more deadly to the lives of human beings than that Iron Curtain of which we speak so much and know so little. The American curtain is color. Color. White men have used this word, this concept to justify unspeakable crimes and not only in the past but in the present. One can measure very neatly the white American's distance from his conscience--from himself--by observing the distance between white America and black America. One has only to ask oneself who established this distance, who is this distance designed to protect, and from what is this distance designed to offer protection?
I have seen all this very vividly, for example, in the eyes of southern law enforcement officers barring, let us say, the door to a courthouse. There they stood, comrades all, invested with the authority of the community, with helmets, with sticks, with guns, with cattle prods. Facing them were unarmed black people--or, more precisely, they were faced by a group of unarmed people arbitrarily called black whose color really ranged from the Russian steppes to the Golden Horn to Zanzibar. In a moment, because he could resolve the situation in no other way, this sheriff, this deputy, this honored American citizen, began to club these people down. Some of these people might have been related to him by blood. They are assuredly related to the black mammy of his memory and the black playmates of his childhood. And for a moment, therefore, he seemed nearly to be pleading with the people facing him not to force him to commit yet another crime and not to make yet deeper that ocean of blood in which his conscience was drenched, in which his manhood was perishing. The people did not go away, of course; once a people arise, they never go away (a fact which should be included in the Marine handbook). So the club rose, the blood came down, and his bitterness and his anguish and his guilt were compounded.
And I have seen it in the eyes of rookie cops in Harlem--rookie cops who were really the most terrified people in the world, and who had to pretend to themselves that the black junkie, the black mother, the black father, the black child were of different human species than themselves. The southern sheriff, the rookie cop, could, and, I suspect still can, only deal with their lives and their duties by hiding behind the color curtain--a curtain which, indeed, eventually becomes their principal justification for the lives they lead.
They thus will barricade themselves behind this curtain and continue in their crime, in the great unadmitted crime of what they have done to themselves.
White man, hear me! A man is a man, a woman is a woman, a child is a child. To deny these facts is to open the doors on a chaos deeper and deadlier and, within the space of a man's lifetime, more timeless, more eternal, than the medieval vision of Hell. White man, you have already arrived at this unspeakable blasphemy in order to make money. You cannot endure the things you acquire--the only reason you continually acquire them, like junkies on hundred-dollar-a-day habits--and your money exists mainly on paper. God help you on that day when the population demands to know what is behind that paper. But, even beyond this, it is terrifying to consider the precise nature of the things you have bought with the flesh you have sold--of what you continue to buy with the flesh you continue to sell. To what, precisely, are you headed? To what human product precisely are you devoting so much ingenuity, so much energy?
In Henry James's novel, The Ambassadors, published not long before James's death, the author recounts the story of a middle-aged New Englander, assigned by his middle-aged bride-to-be, a widow, the task of rescuing from the flesh pots of Paris her only son. She wants him to come home to take over the direction of the family factory. In the event, it is the middle-aged New Englander, the ambassador, who is seduced, not so much by Paris as by a new and less utilitarian view of life. He counsels the young man "to live, live all you can; it is a mistake not to", which I translate as meaning "trust life, and it will teach you, in joy and sorrow, all you need to know." Jazz musicians know this. The old men and women of Montgomery--those who waved and sang and wept and could not join the marching, but had brought so many of us to the place where we could march--know this. But white Americans do not know this. Barricaded inside their history, they remain trapped in that factory to which, in Henry James's novel, son returned. We never know what this factory produces for James never tells us. He conveys to us that the factory, at an unbelievable human expense, produces unnamable objects.
Originally published in Ebony, August 1965.
Find research that..
has nothing to do with what you’re working on, but is interesting
looks like what you’re interested in, but is different in content
is similar to what you’re interested in, but is very different
is in a very different discipline or medium, but has a similar idea to what you’re interested in
is written by someone else who made something similar
is from a different perspective experiencing your work (a viewer, etc)
is deep within academic research understanding what you’re interested in (academic papers, journals)
is on twitter or instagram or other social media, writing about what you’re interested in
is self-published, a zine, word on the street
wikipedia articles that are related to what you’re talking about
is historical work, written at least 10, 20, or 40 years ago about your topic
is written by someone who is least connected to your topic
written by someone who is most connected to your topic
written by someone who isn’t white
written by someone who isn’t a cis man
written from an adjacent industry
Context: Often/ideally used as a way to start a meeting, in a group of < 30 people when there's limited time, and the intentions are cooperative/collaborative.
Intention: An exercise in listening to others, an exercise in speaking and feeling heard by the entire group, an exercise in waiting your turn, an exercise in expressing and listening personal emotions, an exercise in wordplay.
(It's a little cheesy, but incredibly nice/effective/helpful, especially in a cooperative or classroom setting, and has a marked effect on how people communicate/listen to each other).
1. Explanation: "Let's do a one-word check-in ritual to start the meeting. What's one single word that represents (a shape that represents about how your body is feeling / a flavor to represent your past week / an adjective that represents your day so far?). We'll then pass it on to another person."
Example: "I'll start: my word is 'octagon / salty-sweet / juicy'. (pause) I'll pass it onto Taylor."
(This example step is the most important; without an example, other social norms will prevail. E.g. "I'm working on a startup about flavor, actually...". But by starting and setting an example that feels especially like a playful non-sequitur, there's a chance to suspend existing social patterns and establish new ones. By explicitly passing it onto another person, a social tone is set for everyone to look and listen to Taylor to say their word, rather than jumping in and interrupting each other. Also, if this is a new group that doesn't know each other that well, go clockwise in a circle, or open a space to be apologetic by passing it onto someone you don't know: "I'll pass it to you.. in the red shirt. I'm sorry, what's your name? Okay, I'll pass it to Astra!"
Everyone participates. Occasionally, the ritual creator may have to step in to remind people that they should nominate the next person to say their word "(Who do you nominate to go next?)", or in some cases, to reduce their response to a single word. ("Can you try condensing it into a single word?")
End. ("Great! I'm glad to be here with you all. Let's start the meeting.") Depending on the group, you can all take a deep breath together, meditate, or just start.
- Chris Chavez of Prime Produce
While on a zoom call, have a globally editable Google Slides link!
Helpful affordances of Google Slides:
- No login required
- Everyone is anonymous
- Easy navigation: you can say "let's look at Slide 8" and everyone knows where that is.
- Unstructured content: drawing tools - lines / symbols
- Video / images are easily addable
- Ask everyone to write down ideas -- each idea in one box
- Offer a theme/shared topic of the brainstorming has a goal
Highlighting collective ideas
- After writing, ask people to write “+1” in a box that they liked, then move all of the boxes with many “+1”s together
- Isolate shared topics.. then ask people to put their names/emails in the box if they're interested in talking about it
- Narrow down the boxes to the top 3 for breakout groups
- because the host assigns breakout groups, you have to assign people manually pretty quickly in zoom, so doesn’t work well with groups above, say, 20 ppl
- Alternately, you can give everyone co-host privileges so that they can move in and out of breakout rooms. Do with caution!
- A review where people gave feedback via Google Slides: the work might be displayed, and people roam around the slides for a while and leave comments/feedback.
All of this is really fun and kind of like choreography.. too much structure and you feel like a robotic dancer, too little structure and then everyone’s just moving awkwardly on their own
sometimes, you need to facilitate.
sometimes, you don't need to facilitate.
sometimes, a group needs facilitation and doesn't know it.
sometimes, a group doesn't need facilitation but the facilitator doesn't know it.
sometimes, a group needs strong facilitation, such as when we're all trying to reach a goal together, touch the top of that mountain, and we need to support each other so that we can reach the top.
sometimes, a group wants strong facilitation, so that we can have a rare space where nothing is allowed to happen, and so that things can emerge and bubble up to the surface as they need be. release.
sometimes, a group needs light facilitation, when the connections of trust or habit are well-worn, and we just need a little reminder here and there so that we can do the thing we want to do anyways.
sometimes, a group needs light or no facilitation, so that it's clear that we're in this together and that the only reason we gather together is because we choose to. this could go any way we want. this could move in any fashion.
sometimes strong facilitation looks like a really clear set of structures.
sometimes, strong facilitation just means 'making real sure people don't interrupt each other / everyone gets a chance to speak'
note to self and others: if you like to facilitate, also NOTE that we are slowly and surely exercising muscles of control and guidance. Not every meeting must be facilitated. it's important for us to also exercise muscles of flow, following, and play to see where the conversations lead. sometimes this looks like Not Facilitating. sometimes this just looks like being.
this is important too. probably the most important. remember to not facilitate.
facilitation in the service of letting us be together, in the ways we wish to be.
Written feedback (from a co-teacher, Violet Whitney):
Projects are presented, with blank pieces of paper next to them. Everyone rotates around the room once, just looking at the work. Then everyone is asked to write plus-delta feedback on the blank pieces of paper (what’s good, what they would change).
So female staffers adopted a meeting strategy they called “amplification”: When a woman made a key point, other women would repeat it, giving credit to its author. This forced the men in the room to recognize the contribution — and denied them the chance to claim the idea as their own.
“We just started doing it, and made a purpose of doing it. It was an everyday thing,” said one former Obama aide who requested anonymity to speak frankly. Obama noticed, she and others said, and began calling more often on women and junior aides.
My PhD dissertation was on the philosophy of place, so I'm in a good place to tell you that there's really a lot out there that might be of interest.
Some of the authors that first came to mind have been mentioned already. Seconding Yi-Fu Tuan and (especially) John Brinckerhoff Jackson. Jackson's work, I think, really fits what you're looking for. His writing is wonderfully clear and diverse. I'd look into A Sense of Place, A Sense of Time, which has an entire section on 'Towns, Cars and Roads' and an essay called "Roads Belong in the Landscape". I loved everything I've read by him.
As for my own suggestions:
Edward Casey's Getting Back Into Place is, to me, the single best philosophical work on issues of place and our relation to the environment. As such it also deals with roads and paths. Also check out his The Fate of Place, a philosophical history of the concept of place.
Tim Ingold is a philosophically inclined anthropologist whose interpretation of the relation between person and place is based on the idea that we are constantly 'on the road'. He wants to re-orient our understanding of our spatial surroundings towards flows and paths, rather than boundaries and edges. I've read parts of The Perception of the Environment: Essays on Livelihood, Dwelling and Skill and Being Alive: Essays on Movement, Knowledge and Description, but just a short glance at his bibliography might pique your interest. Somewhat related to this approach: Christopher Tilley, A Phenomenology of Landscape: Places, Paths and Monuments.
Then there's (arguably) the philosopher whose thinking about place and paths has been most influential: Martin Heidegger. As a short introduction, consider his essay "Der Feldweg" yt . The best text about Heidegger's thinking of place is Heidegger's Topology by Jeff Malpas. (Casey, too.)
Finally, some authors that I haven't read myself but might be of interest: Henri Lefebvre, Michel De Certeau, David Seamon, E.V. Walter's Placeways, Rebecca Solnit's Wanderlust. Oh, and Lucy Lippard's The Lure of the Local (have read that one, also contains parts that you'll find interesting I think).
Some search terms which might help to track down even more literature: 'human geography', 'environmental aesthetics', 'architectural phenomenology' (there's a newsletter edited by David Seamon which is potentially a great resource as well.)
posted by Desertshore at 9:10 AM on September 28 [6 favorites +] [!]
“To show compassion for an individual without showing concern for the structures of society that make him an object of compassion is to be sentimental rather than loving.”
– William Sloane Coffin, Credo
I used to say, in fact I still say, if you want more people of colour in architecture you need to change the mission. You need to focus the mission on creating the everyday fabric of the environment. And if you look at it that way, you would not need eight years to get your degree and another three to get your license. If you looked at architecture as preparing people to do a variety of different things, not just the hero buildings but the buildings that support people’s lives, that form the fabric of the city, you would have a very different field that would look more like nursing than architecture.
-Dr. Sharon Egretta Sutton
Written Questions for a panel:
Questions are asked via index cards, spread throughout the audience via volunteers. A moderator/facilitator receives them, scans them, and asks particularly interesting/wise/helpful ones of the panel.
The facilitator can summarize, condense, and combine multiple questions; they can also get a sense of importance or weight by finding similar/shared questions.
The facilitator can scan for bad questions, and also gender/race representation of question-askers isn’t ever a problem, and it also stops runaway questions.