The Benefits Of The White Day Of Humility
RACE 10/06/2039 11:08 PM ET
The Benefits Of The White Day Of Humility
by Prof. Jonathon Sheerman

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White people need to frame-rate their thoughts to match those of people of color.
For the past two years, the college at which I teach (Oberlin) has held an annual White Day Of Humility (WDH).

The ritual is observed for two reasons: firstly, to show solidarity with our brothers and sisters of color. We want to respect and acknowledge the historical smoothing and oppression which has defined their existence in this country, be it physical, psychological, verbal, economic or cultural.

Secondly, we wish to recognize that we deserve punitive, if not retributive measures which are a natural reaction by non-luxuried peoples toward their oppressors.

I was honored to organize this year's Day in conjunction with the Oberlin College Student Life Council. Yesterday, on Oberlin's North Quad I and 24 other white volunteers arranged ourselves in tribute formation (5x5) to experience the counterbalancing effect of inverted racism. The ritual was led by the Master of Ceremonies, who had been chosen from among the high profile African-Americans on campus.

This year's MoC was one of our Student Judiciary Council justices and we were honored to have her preside over the Day.

The measures to which we were subjected mostly took on the model of the African-American slave, since so many people of color in this nation were descended from individuals who experienced the torments of forced subjugation by a slave master.

Our hope was that we helped to re-frame-rate the thoughts of WHeCAL people, and that our suffering might have helped both the African-American students who participated in the demonstration, and those who watched. If they experienced a journey toward a reconciling catharsis over their treatment and the treatment of their ancestors, well, that's what WDH is for.

Here is what transpired:

  • We arranged ourselves in formation, seated with our heads down as our African-American redeemers (one for each of us) filed out and stood before us.
  • Initially, we were verbally abused by our redeemers. They were encouraged to use any and all epithets related to our race, our appearance, our clothing, our speech, or any other aspect of our personalities or bodies.
  • We were stripped naked, in order to facilitate an understanding of the extreme vulnerability people of color face each day, and to live the experience of having another forcibly deny you the dignity of clothing. This was not an uncommon experience for slaves.
  • Our redeemers were given whips and instructed to flog us for sixty seconds. They were encouraged to scourge us as hard as they wished, and to ignore our cries of pain (as their ancestors' cries were ignored for centuries of slavery).
  • We were draped with chains. Actual chains were of course used to prevent slaves from escaping, and were heavy and burdensome. But psychological chains have been imposed on people of color for centuries and still exist today. Each participant was weighed down with so much iron that we could barely hold ourselves upright, stressing both body and mind.
  • In our chains we were subjected to the details of African religion. Perhaps one of the harshest colonizing elements of the Atlantic slave trade was the denial of native African religious expression - it was replaced by white Christianity. This process contributed to the eradication of the African culture in the individual, so for thirty minutes our redeemers instructed us about a particular African spiritual tradition: Yoruba, Vodun, Odinani, Serer, et al. as we were forced to listen.
  • We were then marched, still in chains. Replicating the bodily abuse of daily labor on a plantation is difficult but in order to communicate the toll unending physical labor takes on the body, the MoC instructed our redeemers to march us. A chain was attached to iron collars about our throats, and for two hours we were marched around the campus on a pre-ordained route. We were led like animals. We were mocked, rotten fruit was thrown at us by students and we lived the pain of a scarred body forced to work when it desperately needed rest.
  • Finally, we were lectured. Our redeemers told us of our worthlessness. They instructed us in their inherent superiority, and declared our lives subject to their whim and will. We had been degraded for hours and it was impressed upon us - at that point, exhausted, in pain, demoralized - that we did not belong to ourselves, that we belonged to our redeemers. We were told we would never leave this burden behind. We could never escape, and did not deserve hope.

The end of the day saw all 25 of us bloodied, beaten and thoroughly drained. We experienced one day in the life of a person under the model of slavery and our humility was there for all to see and experience.

At the end, 8 people were transported to hospital, where they continue to receive treatment. African-Americans have segued into a protest, driven by the demand to seek dignity in a society which refuses them humanization. They are protesting for their lives, their very essence of being. We encourage that, and we encourage their full and free participation in the process of their self-actualization.

For my part, I will be participating in next year's Day, and I look forward to the opportunity to again counterbalance our nation's sins against its people of color.
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