POC Visibility In Plus Size Modeling: An Interview With Bishamber Das

By Sung Yim

Photos by Yours Clothing

Photos by Yours Clothing

Body positive activist and Indian/Malaysian model Bishamber Das made waves recently when she became the first British-Asian plus-size model to be signed to GC Models, as well as in the UK in general. Her determination to break barriers and redefine beauty standards as a woman of color is relieving to see in an industry where the few plus-size women inhabiting the modelling community are predominantly white.
 

Having always been on the plus-size end of things, Das has expressed how damaging it can be to internalize the negative messages the media sends larger women, especially those of color. She struggled with her body image for many years, often using food to cope with stress, and at one point facing health issues due to weight gain. With the support of her friends, she made drastic changes to her lifestyle—through regulating her eating habits, exercise, and treating herself with care and concern-as she set out to love herself unabashedly.

Armed with newly discovered self-confidence and the vision of an inclusive, loving world, Das spreads her message of positivity beyond the UK through interviews and social media. “I want to take my awareness to top mainstream publications around the Middle East and South Asia,” she told Hooligan, “as I truly believe so much positive work needs to be done in those parts of the world.” We celebrate Das’s remarkable accomplishments and message with the following interview:

 

Hooligan Mag: How did you get into fashion and what drew you to the field initially?

Bishamber Das: Fashion is a very personal thing. I have always worn clothes that have reflected who I am (my style is more modest and classy). My passion for modeling came from noticing a lack of diversity among plus-size models. I wanted to change that. So here I am two years later.

 

HM: What changes do you wish to see and influence within the fashion industry at large?

BD: Nothing annoys me more than people putting others down. When I was growing up, I was constantly reminded that I can’t be a model or an actor—basically, that I couldn’t do anything in media where my body would be seen. It made me feel like I wasn’t “normal,” and that’s the worst feeling. I just want to see women who look like me [be] accepted and given opportunities, just like a woman of a smaller size would be given. Plus-size women deserve the same respect and dignity.

HM: How has modeling shaped your self-image? Have you ever felt that certain beauty standards were inaccessible to you as a plus-size woman of color?

BD: This journey has made me realize what my real purpose is. All my life, I grew up hating my body and constantly fighting society’s negative messages. Through my modeling, I have been able to freely express what I stand for, that my imperfections are my perfections and that I am proud of them. Growing up, the only times I saw plus-size South Asian women on TV would be in a comic role where she was constantly laughed at. This always gave me the impression that plus-size women of color were not accepted or perceived as beautiful. I [wanted] to break this stereotype that has been around for decades.

HM: Do you feel your cultural heritage has an influence on your view of style and beauty?      

BD: Hell yeah! I am so proud of my heritage and culture. Over half the world can relate to my look, be it South Asian, Middle Eastern or Latin American. My culture definitely plays a big part in my look and style, even down to my accessories. I love dressing in traditional clothes, and sharing the beauty of my culture with the whole world through social media.

HM: What do you feel most beautiful wearing?

BD: I love long, flowing materials. I am a huge fan of elegant maxi dresses with Middle Eastern influences. The long dresses have kind of become my signature look—I definitely feel sexiest wearing them.

HM: Why do you think recognizing diversity is important in the modeling world?

BD: There is beauty in our differences and each one of us should be open to exploring the things that set us apart. In the modeling world, we forget how fortunate we are to be inspiring and influencing thousands of people. We learn about each other’s cultures and it allows others to relate to us. The plus-size industry is a positive movement; it’s not tied down to a particular nation or sect of people. Plus-size people come in all shapes, colors, and sizes. So should the models representing them.

So much work needs to be done for this movement. Models of ethnic backgrounds generally have done well in coming forward, but still very few are classified as “top models.” From my experience, few mainstream plus-size clothing brands are showcasing varied body shapes in their campaigns. Once we overcome these hurdles, work and exposure for diverse models will become more available.

Finish reading the interview here!

David Bowie: A Eulogy and Open Letter

By Sung Yim

*This post discusses childhood sexual abuse, sexual assault, drug use, suicide, and eating disorders*

Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images) Image by Getty Images

Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images) Image by Getty Images

David Bowie,

You asked us to call you Aladdin Sane. You asked us to call you Ziggy Stardust.

Some of us called you “the most influential musician of several eras.” Some of us called you “space man and transcendent pop star.” Some of us said “everything [you] touched became warm and beautiful and open.”

Dear H—,

David Bowie’s face on the cover of Hunky Dory was so pale and strange, like the drowned Ophelia rendered in velvet and pastel. I once thought he must have been from outer space or the core of the Earth, someplace exquisite and made of moonlight.

I listened to that album on repeat, morning, noon, and night, when I was 20 and strung out on painkillers. The sad waltz of his fingers across piano keys in “Life on Mars” felt like the jingle of a phone call from the friend I lost that year. You killed yourself in a tiny apartment on your college campus. You left behind your beautiful blue eyes and lungs to two lucky recipients awaiting transplant, several pornographic DVDs that we hid from your parents, and an extensive goodbye note that named me among your family members and closest friends.

David Bowie,

You slept with a fourteen-year-old girl. Maybe she was thirteen. The details are fuzzy. It was the 70s. Quaaludes were pumping through veins and your songs through speakers. She was definitely underage. Her name is Lori Maddox and in interviews, she reminisces fondly how gentle your touch, how striking your kimono, how seducing your gaze. How you beckoned her into a bathtub to wash you, then took her over a table.

People say she looks older in photos from back then. She was eager and star-struck. She was a groupie. She was a virgin. People declare the latter two mutually exclusive.

David Bowie,

I listened to “Space Oddity” while lying on the floor of my parents’ basement, growing awkwardly into my bra and out of my braces. I didn’t know what the song meant, what any of your strange and ethereal ballads meant, but my feelings knew no other language in junior high.

Dear H—,

Before you died, you dated L—.

You didn’t fuck her. You didn’t rape her. She lived across the country.

But she was fourteen. You were almost twenty-five. You would video-chat with her about everything under the sun, and teach her how to French-kiss in the crook of a tree when you’d visit ostensibly to see her older brother.

You told her she was a genius. You told her she was so mature for her age. You told her she was the only thing keeping you alive. You made her feel special and I’m sure you thought she was. You made her feel loved and maybe you loved her. She needed that so much.

You were her first love and now she doesn’t know what love even is.

She was a sweetheart with cats. She wore big black combat boots and bangles that hid scars on her skinny brown wrists.

She said yes to everything. She was fourteen. You were almost twenty-five. She was eating five hundred calories a day when you met and now she eats a handful of pills for breakfast.

She googles “child grooming” on nights she can’t sleep. She never understood the nagging unease she carried when you were in her life, why she can only articulate it now that you’re gone, or why it feels so wrong to do so now that she knows how. She used to brush it off and call it immaturity. You did, too.

You were her first love and now she doesn’t know what love even is. The damage seems retroactive—the more she realizes today, the more she forgets of that first love; the more she forgets of that first love, the more she confuses all love.

David Bowie,

I swayed to “Five Years” in a suburban bathroom, dripping green hair dye on linoleum tiles. I was fifteen and I was just a baby.

I was fifteen when my eighteen-year-old boyfriend gave me my first kiss.

I was fifteen years old when he assaulted me on New Year’s Eve, ignoring me as I said no and hold on and I’m not sure because I was too drunk and young and confused to know I could fight, or that I shouldn’t have to.

David Bowie,

You were not the only one. You are not a lone monster. Your name is not rape culture. David Bowie, you were but one participant in an open but unspoken conspiracy. Before you there was Iggy Pop, Jimmy Page, Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis, Elvis.

You were one of numerous rock stars, all idolized by hoards of young girls whose bodies you used and threw away.

You participated in a culture that consumes young girls’ bodies without asking their hometown or birthday. You participated in a culture that puts the onus of statutory rape upon a minor’s capacity for judgment and honesty. You used young people’s bodies indiscriminately because their ability to consent, their stage of life, their life experience, and well-being were all irrelevant to you. No. You were not the only one. You were a star, like so many others. Most men get away with it without platinum records.

People say she’s just a groupie. People say she must have lied about her age. They say she’s fine with it, so why should we care?

Lori Maddox wasn’t just a groupie.

Lori Maddox wasn’t just a liar and she is free to discuss your relationship however she prefers. She’s an adult and she has a right to her own story.

But back then, Lori Maddox was a fourteen-year-old girl. She didn’t just lie about her age as your apologists theorize. You didn’t bother to ask with appropriate concern.

Dear H—,

I still miss you all the time and part of me will always be running from the full picture. The person I knew, the person L— knew. It’s difficult trying to fuse them into one whole person we can both still love.

I will never quite put it all together. How the boy who consoled me to sleep every night after failed relationships and fresh assaults, was also the man who ensnared an underage girl into complete and irreparable dependence on him. How a girl could trust her most intimate traumas, most shameful thoughts, even calorie intake with a man who said he’d love her forever, then grow up wondering just when it was she realized the consequence of yes or no or if she ever did.

Yes or no draped across the laps of men who didn’t bother to ask her or themselves with appropriate concern.

I will never quite put it all together. How I could have kept taking your calls after you told me how old she was. How I kept trying to shave the picture down to make it fit when L— would shudder as she’d recall how you asked for pictures, asked for this or that, asked if she’d get bigger breasts for you one day, all the private things she would do for you one day. Save her virginity for you, one day. How I negotiated an inappropriate relationship with a minor down to loneliness, told myself the reason you couldn’t stand life on Earth must have had something to do with why you couldn’t stick with girls your own age. As if one excuses or explains the other. As if one could soften the other.

I will never quite put it all together.

How I sat frozen at a bar as someone who bought me a drink bragged about “sucking a pair of 14-year-old tits.” How I raised my brow but said nothing as a friend in his thirties told me he snuggled up to a fifteen-year-old girl and almost had sex with her. How I stood at the edge of a roller rink as a group of male friends, all in their twenties, chased around a gaggle of teenage girls in knee socks. How I have watched these things happen, over and over, all my life, to me and others, unable to articulate my discomfort because I didn’t know it had a name.

Because I didn’t know you could save my life and destroy someone else’s in the same breath. I didn’t know how to know both those things at once.

David Bowie,

I blasted “Lady Grinning Soul” while snorting rails of crushed Xanax in a trashed bedroom while my parents were at church. There were days, especially in the winter, when one track switching over to the next was the only marker of time I understood. Your vibrato like the tightening of a cord, the tinny whisper of your vowels, the riffs I know you’d close your eyes to play. My memory was growing holes like weeds, but there you were. Frozen in time, frozen in lasers and plastic, a button and a dial away. You were proof of a world outside my crumbling skull. Your music gave me a foothold on reality. Nobody sang my loneliness to life like you.

But I’ve never met you and we’ve never spoken.

I want the fact that you were not the only one to be reason enough to shatter our culture of silence and complicity around the exploitation of young girls. Not excuse it. I don’t want to burn your records. I don’t want to demonize you.

I want all adults to be accountable.

I don’t believe in kill all rapists. I don’t believe in either/or. I don’t believe in David Bowie, Monster as much as I don’t believe in David Bowie, Hero.

I want us to strive for honesty and precision of language when we speak about you and other idols who have taken advantage, over and over, of ample social capital to get what they want from girls too young to give permission.

I want us to strive for the whole picture. I want us to freely love what good we know of our brothers, fathers, and uncles, enough to unflinchingly tell them the truth they need to hear. The truth young girls need them to hear.

I want us to know that we all carry the potential for harm. I want an end to black-and-white thinking. I want an end to oversimplification in either direction. I want all of us to have the capacity for understanding two starkly different people as the same person. I want to look my rapists in the eye and see not only the stark differences in our actions, but the shocking similarities between our potential.

I want a world where our honesty serves a greater advancement. I want a world where we can accept and learn from the fact that what good a person does can never excuse what harm. And what harm a person does won’t eclipse the good.

David Bowie,

You died of cancer at age 69. We’ve never met and good or bad to the core, I couldn’t say. You were no god or angel, you weren’t extraterrestrial royalty, you weren’t a spiritual experience, and you were far from perfection. You were not a concept. You were a person. You were capable of loving people. You were capable of hurting people. Just like all of us. You touched some lives, you destroyed others. Just like most of us.

Tangerine: Challenging Respectability Politics Through Media

By Sung Yim

Courtesy of Netflix

Courtesy of Netflix

WARNING: Post contains spoilers.**

Tangerine opens with a scene inside an LA donut shop. Two broke girls sharing a single donut and gossiping. From here unfolds a vibrant world of girl talk and theatrics amidst pockets of economic devastation in one of America’s wealthiest cities. The plot is pretty basic stuff—Girl A discovers her boy’s been cheating, so she goes after Girl B, who he’s cheating with. Well, Girl A, or Sin-Dee Rella (played by Kitana Kiki Rodriquez), happens to be fresh out of prison. Sin-Dee also happens to be a transgender sex worker, and her boyfriend Chester happens to be a drug-dealing pimp, and part of what’s got Sin-Dee riled up is that he’s rumored to be cheating with a cis white woman. So whenever I bring this movie up, people inevitably question whether or not it perpetuates harmful stereotypes.

It’s understandable in some ways. Main characters Sin-Dee and her friend Alexandra (played charmingly by Mya Taylor) are both trans, both black, and both sex workers in Hollywood. These girls are rough around the edges. Sometimes they have to be ready to throw down when a john tries to skip out on the bill. Sometimes they lock up in a bathroom stall to smoke meth. They’re brassy, they’re loud, they’re unapologetic, they’re out on the streets selling sex and surviving.

Much of the action in Tangerine takes place in cars, which frequently serve as a workplace. We learn about the kinds of men our girls are dealing with day to day, we learn what these transactions are like, we get glimpses of the potential for danger they face now and again, and we even see moments of real connection. Still, given the subject matter and the unflinching way Alexandra and Sin-Dee’s lives are laid out for us, it’s understandable why movies like Tangerine are saddled with the responsibility of representation. Considering the current state of American media, where trans women are regularly played by cis men onscreen, where varying degrees of black, brown, red, and yellow face are still disappointingly common, where narratives across all mediums predominantly center the lives of white, middle-class cishetero people-- I can understand why this movie might seem dangerous. When there is such a woeful lack of representation for you and yours, it might be instinctual to demand respectability of what scraps you have.

I can’t honestly argue the movie’s accuracy because I haven’t lived this life. I don’t know what a brothel looks like and I don’t know how johns pick their girls up on a corner or on which corners. What I know is the release of Tangerine broke new ground in the chokingly white world of contemporary indie cinema. This is a movie that stars two black trans actresses as black trans women—something that is, unfortunately, a revolutionary decision. Not only that, Mya Taylor actually has experience with sex work in Hollywood, like her character Alexandra. She could probably tell you more about how accurate or ethical the writing is than I can attest.

But speaking from the perspective of the average film enthusiast, Tangerine doesn’t play up Sin-Dee or Alexandra’s gender or profession for laughs. The comedy largely comes from characterization and everyday circumstance—perhaps "everyday" looks a little different for Sin-Dee and Alexandra, perhaps the intersections of race/class/gender and so on more often than not will drastically skew the meaning of "everyday" depending on who you ask. But that’s what makes these characters so compelling. They capture the world-weariness of people whose everyday is harder than most, while maintaining a sense of humor about it that only the jaded can. Rodriguez is hilariously glib and feisty as the self-professed “upper-hoe” Sin-Dee, who spends the better part of the movie dragging around the white girl her boyfriend’s purportedly cheating with, singularly focused on confronting him with the evidence. Mya Taylor’s straight-faced reactions to Sin-Dee’s outrageous shenanigans make for a classic comedy pairing. Tangerine isn’t a movie about being trans

This movie is in many ways your typical zany slice-of-life romp. It allows Sin-Dee and Alexandra’s transness to simply exist as an honest and integral part of their backdrop, but never hog the stage as the only distinguishing trait about them. Take for example, a moment when Alexandra is consoling Sin-Dee after the revelation of Chester’s infidelity. Alexandra recalls how as a young girl, she had a Barney doll that sang the “I Love You” song, which she cherished dearly until it broke when she took a bath with it. “The world can be a cruel place,” she says. And Sin-Dee replies, “Yeah, it is cruel. God gave me a penis.”

From the aforementioned moment, we are flippantly informed that yes, Sin-Dee’s mad about her cheating boyfriend, but there’s a lot more where that came from. As we watch Sin-Dee stir up drama (against Alexandra’s hopeless pleading), we grow more and more conscious of what’s beneath the surface of Sin-Dee’s manic confidence and self-absorption. We watch her rudely accost friends for information and take a dude’s cigarettes without asking, strutting around with a teacup-sized backpack and flaunting that Mean Girl-type of bitchy grace. Yes, she’s mad he’s cheating, but he’s also cheating with a white girl. He’s also cheating with a cis girl. There are things she’ll just never be and she’ll never have, and there’s this unspoken sense that a lot of her bravado is masking vulnerability. It’s what made me forgive her for committing an assault and an abduction. As ludicrous as it might sound, I had to. She’s not perfect, but neither is anybody. In this movie or in the world.

A lot of this film’s tension rests upon the potential for violence that our girls face. There’s one moment where Alexandra gets cheated out of money by a john. Their altercation is witnessed by cops, who misgender Alexandra in the squad car before getting out to diffuse the situation. Nothing monumental happens here, no arrests are made, but Alexandra has to walk away unpaid and the fact that a cop misgenders her, albeit privately, is unsettling.

At the heart of it, this movie is one that centers female friendship above all else. I would argue that Sin-Dee and Alexandra’s friendship is the main character. Throughout the film, we see Alexandra trying in vain to calm Sin-Dee down. There’s a little bit of anxious energy to the way Alexandra pleads with her friend, and we quickly learn that she’s eagerly promoting the show she’s playing at a club that night. It’s clear, judging by their dynamic, that Alexandra rightfully fears she’ll be ditched with no audience. She’s running around digging up cash and handing out flyers while Sin-Dee drags her boyfriend’s side piece halfway across town for a wrought confrontation. Then very abruptly, it occurs to Sin-Dee that it’s almost time for Alexandra’s performance. She drops everything (except the white girl) and runs over to the club to show her support. Nobody else shows up and Alexandra’s waiting outside dismayed when Sin-Dee barrels down the street shouting and waving, still dragging her abductee around by the wrist. It’s not perfect, but it’s what they’ve got.

This is largely how Tangerine functions. The characters’ motivations are frequently interrupted by one another, by the world outside, and sometimes they have to drop everything they care about to deal. The movie builds these whirling, kaleidoscopic scenes on top of each other. It never takes itself too seriously and it functions a lot like life, making room for the random. There’s the everyday hustle, the drama, the antics, Sin-Dee at it again and Alexandra putting up with it still, until suddenly a car full of transphobes passes by shouting slurs at them.

These sharp notes of violence strike without warning, realistically sudden and disruptive. Sometimes the girls scrape by and the worst thing is getting misgendered. Sometimes the worst thing is having a stranger’s urine hurled at your face, which is exactly what happens towards the end of the movie. And there’s always this looming sense that it could be worse. It could be worse.

Tangerine ends with a girlfriend moment, much like how it began. Tender and private. Alexandra walks a jarred Sin-Dee into a laundromat, where they wash her clothes. Sin-Dee takes off her urine-soaked wig and laments that she can’t afford new hair. Alexandra then takes off her own wig and lends it to her friend. Sin-Dee smiles and says they can both be bald together. There’s this sense that the wig wasn’t the worst of it, and they’re working to recover the real loss together. They sit and gab, they laugh softly. It’s not the best way a night could go, but they’re in it together. Their love and support for each other is at once hapless and steadfast, possibly the one safety net these girls have in a world brimming with potential danger.

And whatever it says to the wrong people, whatever stereotypes it might reinforce for the wrong audience, whatever role this movie plays as one of such few opportunities for trans women in popular media, don’t these girls deserve love, too? Don’t these girls deserve compassion, understanding, and adoration? Don’t these girls embody tenderness and feminine love, too? Who says you can’t smoke meth and love somebody in the same breath? Who says you can’t throw some punches and own your girlhood in the same day? Aren’t these girls more than the stereotypes their lives overlap? Isn’t their friendship an act of revolutionary survival, too?

On White Guilt in the Classroom

By Sung Yim

Photo Courtesy of  The Conversation

Photo Courtesy of The Conversation

So I’m sitting in class, minding my business, when the teacher brings up racism without any prompting. Let’s call him Prof. H—, for what I like to call the hard H in White.

It’s a writing class and Prof. H— is apologizing for the severe dead-white-maleness of his reading list. I’ll admit I had some feelings, but nobody had challenged it. Nobody had questioned it. That’s kind of the typical experience for a lot of non-white students.

Prof. H—’s eyes are darting from mine to my classmates’ to papers in his lap. His voice is a hoarse vibrato.  He’s mixing up tenses, he’s mixing up names and dates. At one point he refers to Sandra Bland’s passing as an indisputable suicide, unaware that the Waller County DA’s office had declared investigations of her death as that of a possible homicide—weeks and weeks ago, in the wake of dodgy circumstances and their resulting public outcry. When I correct him, he goes on about how calling it a murder robs Bland of her personal agency. Oh, never mind the suspicious conduct of the police department! Never mind the triumph this declaration symbolized for countless weary people.

Fact deflected with philosophy, a hallmark of fragile dominance.

At another point Prof. H— quotes Attorney General Eric Holder and calls him, repeatedly, Eric Garner. When he realizes his mistake, Prof. H— says I’m not good at talking about race through a jittery correction. He says we are not good at talking about race and proclaims how important it is to keep the dialog of racism in America going. He says Eric Garner and victims like him are killed because people like us in classrooms like this, we dodge the questions and fail to linger on the answers. Because we’re not good at talking about race.

He’s saying we, we, we in a room occupied by several students of color who are exchanging tense glances and negotiating whether to let it go, like so many small feats of discomfort throughout our days, or to say something because bless this nervous son-of-a-gun for trying, but this discomfort in a classroom environment, let me tell you, is some bullshit.

Look, racism, anti-blackness, police violence, these are more than crucial subjects for all citizens to engage with. Especially those of us who interact regularly with the Chicago landscape of urban living and injustice—whether in the form of community segregation or gentrification or yes, police brutality, the cover-ups and protests thereof. I firmly believe that artists must be up-to-date and in-touch. Artists must be conscious cultural critics, must engage with the world around us and the times we live in not only to stay relevant, but to dig out what good purpose our work can serve for the world.

But this white dude with a PhD is stammering through matters of race with the kind of shakiness and manic unease you see from a kid who broke their mom’s favorite vase playing catch inside. Y’know, there’s this feeling like they’re trying to do the right thing by apologizing and addressing the issue, but they’re trying to cover some shit up at the same time. Like, I didn’t mean to. Like, please don’t be mad. Like, I swear I wasn’t throwing that ball inside.

Y’know like nobody asked for an explanation, but they just keep rattling one off.

That’s what white guilt looks like to me. It’s a grown man with an education behind him struggling through explanations nobody asked for.

It looks like a lot of other things, too. It looks like me handing in an essay that challenges the woefully dead-white-male academic canon that I know is far from finished and receiving no notes of criticism. Page after page of clipped comments like good, or nice, or great. It looks like the acerbic all-nighter taste of acid reflux from too much coffee and not enough breakfast while I bust my ass trying to work something out, and all the satisfaction of turning that shit in dissolving the minute I flip through pages of nothing useful for my next round of revisions. It looks like self-doubt, it looks like me questioning Prof. H—’s motives and my own credibility because maybe the work unpacked too sore a subject for him to argue or engage with as a crafted object. It looks like impostor syndrome through a racial lens. Like I’m drifting through academia trying to school myself because people are too afraid of looking racist for schooling me.

Here’s the thing, I don’t have a concrete solution to that. This isn’t something I can outline in a bulleted list of demands and submit to every white educator. Not with the expectation of success or even peaceful discourse. Because so often, the alternative is a flurry of whitesplaining and overt racism. I’ve had teachers do far worse than Prof. H—. One white teacher felt so threatened when I pointed something out that had never occurred to him as racist before, he told me people of color were inherently too biased and sensitive to credibly identify racism. That same teacher tried to resolve the conversation by saying he’s married to an Asian woman, so he gets it all the time.

Another white teacher of mine consistently bowed and said thank you in butchered Korean every single time I left a conference.

Another white teacher rolled her eyes and demanded I repeat myself in terse hisses any time I spoke or asked a question throughout my ESL years. I was nine years old. She once shouted at me for asking how to pronounce something—like, everybody knows that. Like, figure it out yourself. Like, I don’t have time for you people.

Look, as much as I throw the word white around and as much as the fragility that word evokes might make the average white feel vilified, I love me some whites. How can I not and expect to survive life in the Midwest? Midwestern America whose mascot may as well be a Minnesota white boy with an Eminem poster on his wall and good table manners.

I won’t apologize on behalf of whites and I refuse to pardon whiteness so simply. But for me, for my own personal growth, I hold that there’s value in diving deeper than the surface of whiteness. This in itself is survival. This in itself is my meditation, my reconciliation, and yes, I love my white husband, white friends, white teachers, but I will never forgive whiteness as a social construct.  Whiteness as a tool of oppression and cultural dominance. Those feelings and ideas aren’t necessarily at odds.

Prof. H— might embody all these fragile, defensive, clueless splinters of whiteness, but he’s also a brilliant linguist. A class-act nerd with more intuitive knowledge about the craft of writing than most anybody I’ve ever met. I have loads of respect for him. It may be tempting to frame his nervous, tactless, imposing whiteness as separate from his more commendable qualities, but this is oversimplification at its worst. Just as he rattles off an explanation of racism and his complicity without anybody having asked, fingers shaking, the quake in his voice beseeching our approval, he will rattle off an explanation of ekphrasis, modular essay forms, onomastics, and the love he has for such compartments of language with that same desperate quake and shake.

We’re all the best and worst of ourselves. Not as self-contained segments and sound-bytes running in perfect sequence, but at the same time. All the conflicting versions of ourselves run parallel to one another, a loud and cacophonous chorus of personhood.

But all that? How do I articulate all that in a room full of people on a fixed schedule? How do I challenge his anxious expression of whiteness physically in the face of his anxiety? I might be so bold as to write, but I’m not cruel. I don’t want to be the bad guy. I don’t want to shout kill whitey in his own classroom, and that’s something left largely unspoken too—the power dynamic not just between white and non-white, but also between an educator and a student.

So where does that leave me when, in a room full of people, a white dude with a PhD mixes up names and dates as if Black Lives Matter is just a catch-all catchphrase?

Where does that leave me when, on a draft full of room for improvement, I read nothing constructively critical? Where does that leave me when the same white dude who so eagerly wants everyone to know he’s one of the good guys hands me nothing nuanced beyond static praise? When I wonder if that desperate apprehension and guilt also skews his response to my work?

Where does that leave me, when in a room full of people, Prof. H— says we but the W stands for white?

What I want is for him to know I have many warm, tender feelings for him and what he’s about.

I want for him to know I’m a dedicated worker who cares about more than the buttress of ideology in their work.

I want for him to know nobody asked him to explain his whiteness and giving an explanation apropos of nothing is a self-service that falls short of true accountability. I want for Prof. H— and all the Professors W, I, T, E, et al. to do the good work of racial justice in the classroom quietly. Instead of telling us how much you give a shit, give a shit. Instead of bemoaning how white your reading list is, build a better one. Rest in knowing that students of color will take notice. Realize the tragedy in the fact that we will, the tragedy in how those silent acts of simply leveling the playing field are actually so loud and remarkable to us.

Don’t guilt us into absolving your complicity for nothing but words.