by Christian Diaz, News Editor
I want to thank Freesia McKee for being a good white person.
Over Winter break we, along with eight other undergraduate students, engaged with the prestigious MFA program.
For ten days we attended lectures and readings given by faculty and graduating students. In the afternoons the undergrads discussed the lectures.
Our low residency program, which ranks first in the nation, was unexpectedly de-centering to all of us: just as focused on “living” as a writer as it was on developing voice and constructing form.
The program director said it beautifully during her opening remarks in Fellowship Hall. Writing is a process of externalizing the self as a means to illustrate the internal.
For me, the process of tuning in to my emotional life took me somewhere unexpected.
Like a kettle, I felt my insides revolt, the steam hissing to a fever pitch.
The readings from the faculty, I felt, lacked something visceral, though I couldn’t name my discomfort. After sitting through 15 readings, it hit me. I noticed that none of the speakers looked like me. If creative writing is meant to speak the human condition, then the scope which I saw at this residency is grossly limited. All but two of the faculty were white.
When I confessed my unease I felt more vulnerable than I had in a long time. Freesia listened when many others didn’t.
Even my boyfriend told me to get over myself, to appreciate the beauty in the writing, to not dismiss it because the readers are white.
But he didn’t understand that he couldn’t understand.
Racism is an upsetting word, and I didn’t use it. But I will now.
At the MFA, and on this campus I see racism. I can count the people who look like me with my fingers. At the residency, I could count them with one hand.
And when I spoke about it I felt like a crazy person.
Such is the ineffability of modern racism. We would like to believe that it’s gone.
If it wasn’t for Freesia McKee, I would’ve felt even worse. Let me explain what makes her a good white person using Damali Ayo’s rules for white people who want to end racism.
- Freesia admitted it. She admits that she’s white, that white is a color and a race. She acknowledged who was in the room at these readings, and who was the center of attention: white people.
- Freesia listened to me. She listened as I shared my experience without filtering my message through any defense mechanisms, without excusing or dismissing my feelings. She didn’t make it about herself. She honored my experience and my outrage.
- Freesia educated herself. She learned about people of other colors because they are a part of her society, not because they’re exotic. She’s educated herself about the racism of the United States, and how racism is perpetuated by our institutions.
- She has broadened her experience. She’s registered for Building Bridges, an initiative in Asheville that brings people together to learn about race issues, and how to talk about them. She’s learned about other cultures, not by asking people of other colors about their culture, but by spending time with them.
- She’s taken action. Apart from attending Building Bridges, she’s helped organize a community meeting focused on race here at Warren Wilson. She’s identified herself as a white person who confronts inappropriate behavior and language, who rejects unearned privilege.
Participating in the the MFA was an illuminating and powerful experience. I learned as much about writing as I did about myself.
Unfortunately the program is not much different from others when it comes to the racial education gap. Neither is Warren Wilson. But being in that intimate environment made inequality all the more explicit.
If Freesia hadn’t echoed my feelings to our group, I would have felt even worse. So I thank her for being an ally.
Students interested in Building Bridges should contact the Service Programs Office, who are coordinating a weekly trip for students and subsidizing registration and transportation costs.