Dear White Colleagues

I’ve learned a lot about your race being employed at a PWI (predominately white institution) as a FOC (faculty of color). The experiences of FOC aren’t unique to Davidson except for the details perhaps. I’m grateful to my fellow FOC colleagues and accomplices. What’s an accomplice you say? Learning about it from a colleague has crystalized, clarified, and articulated what used to be vague, lingering, and bothersome thoughts about white allies. White colleagues are slated for one of three categories in my mind – racist, ally, accomplice – and I drew inspiration from Jeff Foxworthy’s comedy routine “You Might Be a Redneck If…” and Peggy McIntosh.

You are a racist if…

  • You think that FOC and SOC (students of color) are on campus due to affirmative action. Davidson doesn’t have the program. You probably don’t know that white women have benefited the most from affirmative action.
  • You practice white silence. You choose silence and collegiality over calling out the racist. You don’t see yourself as an enabler, a part of the problem, a part of the large resilient web that upholds structural racism and racists. Your silence is deafening and complicitous to POC (people of color).
  • You think that diversifying faculty and students is at the expense of sacrificing quality, standards, and excellence. You use statements like “yes we want to diversify the college but we want excellence.” Diversity and excellence are mutually exclusive to you.
  • Your research, courses, or discipline have nothing to do with race, ethnicity, and diversity. Therefore, you don’t think it’s your business to learn about those things, much less think about them.
  • Many FOC and SOC say you’re a racist. You don’t know about it.
  • SOC advise other SOC to stay the hell away from your classes. You don’t know about it but FOC do.
  • You believe that SOC can’t perform as highly as white students can and have accused SOC who excelled on an assessment of cheating. You have deficit ideology and probably won’t read up on it.
  • You truly believe that your department or discipline doesn’t have FOC because there aren’t qualified POC. You say there are no POC in the pipeline. Your own department is a gaping hole in this pipeline and you may dislike or even resent the equity advising initiative and Student Initiative for Academic Diversity.
  • You select one or a few POC for tenure-track job searches and set them up for failure. You include POC because it’ll look badly otherwise and you can say you tried.
  • You hire POC for visiting or adjunct positions but not for tenure-track positions.
  • Your white fragility stops you from self-educating on issues POC care about deeply.
  • You put the onus on SOC for not majoring in your discipline or not performing well academically in your class. You say things like “lack of preparedness in high school” and this works nicely with your narrative “SOC got in because of the race card.”
  • You advocate for initiatives that disadvantage POC and advantage white people because you want equality.
  • You remove the context of a racist incident and focus on the facts. This conveniently removes possible discussion of equity.
  • You conflate women with POC in underrepresented and predictably hire a white woman. You call it a job well done in the diversity department.
  • You get irate or imaginary roll your eyes every time racial diversity is brought up.

You are an ally if…

  • You take up space and often use “diversity” and “inclusivity” and other academic buzzwords in your rhetoric. You never say anything noteworthy that’s racist. That’s it.
  • You attend a workshop on inclusive pedagogy and specifically include it in your CV but not under teaching or research.
  • You get a pat and a nod from colleagues for being a white person who says or participates in something that relates to “diversity” or “inclusivity.” You don’t think about POC who do the work daily without recognition or rewards.
  • To you inclusive pedagogy means think-pair-share, flipped classroom, and clickers.
  • You think that inclusivity is creating a welcoming and respectful learning environment for all and every student should feel safe in your class to share their unique perspectives. You don’t realize that this is a low bar. It’s just called common decency.
  • You believe in treating everyone equally.
  • You say you support diversity and inclusivity. Action speaks louder than words. Words are cheap. Statements can ring hollow.
  • You rarely show up to events that have to do with racial injustice unless it’s an egregious, national, news-worthy incident.
  • You balk at the accusation that your colleague or your department is racist. You think that the word is too harsh.
  • You vent about a racist or a microaggression with a FOC.
  • You ask FOC to inform you about microaggression, racism, diversity, etc.
  • You vote liberal and think that absolves you from further labor.
  • You were genuinely surprised by #45, Keith Lamont Scott, Ferguson.
  • You sign up for diversity work and it comes with an incentive like a stipend or a course release. FOC have been doing it anyway.
  • You think you’re an ally and hope FOC think you’re on their side.
  • You’re disappointed that a person whose identity is a marked category is simultaneously a racist.
  • You lump all marginalized identities, including POC, into one diverse pool. You dilute race in the pool of gender, sexuality, religion, ethnicity, class, etc.
  • You say something positive about the racist, like the person is a good person and has done good work with students from ______ backgrounds. You’re suffering from white fragility.
  • You use working with SOC during office hours, lab, project, or other circumstances as evidence that you care about diversity and you’re inclusive. A SOC just happened to land your way.
  • You use equality and equity interchangeably. You’re confused why this is a case of all lives matter versus black lives matter.
  • You exercise the privilege of seeing things from both sides and gathering all facts before passing judgment on the racist incident.
  • You participate in discussions about race and racism and help to derail it into an ivory tower, academic exercise on topics like free speech.
  • You hold sidebar conversations with individual POC to voice your support. It’s inconceivable that this passive approach is counterproductive. You risk nothing. You take up POC’s mental energy and time.

You are an accomplice if…

  • You are anti-racist.
  • You decolonize your syllabi. You include readings and vignettes and examples from POC and other marginalized voices.
  • You’re honest about your own ignorance, prejudices, blinders, and privileges as a jumping off point.
  • You create space for POC in a Eurocentric field or a discipline dominated by white people.
  • You speak up and risk the ire of your white colleagues.
  • You call out white colleagues for racism and you’ve developed your own style.
  • You read about diversity, inclusivity, and equity in academia. You use language that POC and anti-racists pick up on. We see you.
  • You support equity, and hear from white colleagues in the other two categories that it’s unfair.
  • You sacrifice time and mental energy away from your area of specialization. Much of it is invisible labor and can’t be articulated in a CV or an annual professional activities report.
  • You hear first-hand from FOC and SOC about bigotry. POC appreciate and trust you for talking the talk and walking the walk.

As you see from the list, I take most issue with the middle group, the well-meaning, passive, and risk-averse allies. I can deal with racists better than I can with allies because racists are made that way to the core and that is unsurprising. To the allies, please know this. Intention and impact are two different things and over the years you’ve depleted my patience. I simply don’t give a damn about your intentions anymore. I’m tired of pushing against structural racism while dealing with allies, so if you want to move up to being an accomplice, instead of seeking me or another POC out, please see the checklist I provided.


Helen Cho, Ph.D. is a professor of anthropology and has been at Davidson since 2002. She’s a biological anthropologist interested in human osteology and population variation and teaches courses on human evolution, medical anthropology, primatology, human ecology, race, bioarchaeology, and forensic anthropology. On campus Cho has been involved with faculty diversification and supporting issues of equity and inclusion. She is the founding chair of the Faculty of Color Caucus at Davidson College.

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