“White Fatigue: Rethinking Resistance to Social Justice” author to speak at campus
In wake of events that took place over the summer following the death of George Floyd, many people are calling for more conversations about race and racism, yet they’re uncertain how to discuss the topic. The Minot State University Equality club wants to help solve this issue by hosting an event on Oct. 22. A faculty presentation will occur at 3 p.m., with a student presentation to follow at 7 p.m. in the Wellness Center. At the event, the club will sell copies of the book “White Fatigue: Rethinking Resistance to Social Justice” by Joseph Flynn Jr., who will be speaking with Daniel Conn, Minot State associate professor, on his podcast.
Flynn grew up in Peoria, Illinois and attended Michigan State University where he received his undergraduate and doctorate. He teaches at Northern Illinois, where he is also the associate dean of African American studies. In the past, he has served as president of the American Association for Teaching and Curriculum.
In his book, Flynn talks about his life as a Black man and explores the ways in which white people get tired of talking about race and racism. Conn explains that, in the book, Flynn breaks down what is going on with race relations in a real academic and theoretical sense. Conn states that conversations about race often include multiculturalism classes that lack the authenticity and the realness of the experience.
“I think it makes kids awkward because they don’t know, and the teacher is awkward. It’s just a lot of awkwardness,” Conn said. “Joe mentions they want to help, but they don’t want to say the wrong thing. They want to be a good ally, but they don’t want to offend, and in doing that, it kind of traps them. They feel helpless, and in many cases, develop a fatigue where they just don’t want to talk about it, they don’t want to deal with it.”
Conn met Flynn at an academic conference eight years ago, and since then, Flynn has been a mentor to him. Conn says that Flynn has helped him become aware not only of his identity as a white man talking about race, but also of the lack of proper teaching of race and racism to students.
"As a former social studies teacher, I know sometimes multiculturalism was reduced to learning about Martin Luther King’s ‘I Have a Dream’ speech, not really learning about the nuance and the details,” Conn said. “I think something that white kids don’t get in the curriculum is that white people can help. I think the way the curriculum is written, you think about slavery through the Civil War and not necessarily about the actual slaves. You don’t really go into depth of Jim Crow or sharecropping, and there is a lot to be explored. Black Wall Street, a lot of kids don’t even know what that is. I think by having somebody like Dr. Flynn here, it will help us to think about multicultural education in a different way. In the case of college students, hopefully you realize you could very much be a part of the solution, you could very much participate and be a co-conspirator of civil rights and all these important things before us.”
Conn believes that Flynn’s visit to campus will help students become aware of how they can talk about race and justice and have a better understanding of both in general.
“We don’t want to be hateful or offensive in our language, but we don’t want to be so scared that we can’t talk either,” Conn said. “We need to be real about it. Joe is going to keep it real. He says it like it is, and he’s insightful. He’s all these things. He’s also blunt. He’ll tell the truth, and he’ll speak about justice, which I think is an important message for today — truth and justice.”
Conn feels that even though North Dakota is a state known for their politeness, the state still needs more of an academic drive towards understanding race in the universities.
“I think in a place like North Dakota, where we’re so polite and civilized, it’s kind of a different culture. But I do think we could take part in talking about race, whether we’re professors like myself thinking about curriculum and how to put race in there in authentic, meaningful ways,” Conn said. “As students, how can you become more racially literate? How can you become part of the solution and educate yourself and others that racism hurts everyone? It doesn’t just hurt black people, it hurts poor white people, it hurts women; racist policies hurt everybody. It makes society worse.”
In response to potential misconceptions of the book and the writer, Conn added that Flynn has had a personal attack on him in the past. Flynn shared that recently someone spray painted offensive words on the outside of his apartment. Conn feels that this is misunderstood as only something that can happen in Illinois, but it in fact proves that racism is still alive, and most people only see that through their white privilege. Despite this, Conn states that Flynn is excited to share his beliefs and stories with Minot.