S2 E1: Turning the Lens

February 15, 2017

Events of the past few years have turned a challenging spotlight on White people, and Whiteness, in the United States. An introduction to our series exploring what it means to be White. By John Biewen, with special guest Chenjerai Kumanyika.


Download a transcript of the episode.

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28 comments on “S2 E1: Turning the Lens

  1. Bunny Goree Feb 15, 2017

    I am a 74 year old white woman and I am sick with sorrow. I too flinch at my whiteness. I was in Tuscaloosa Alabama when George Wallace stood in the door at the University of Alabama. I was there when my President, John F. Kennedy was assassinated. The white children cheered in their all white schools. I stood in the kitchen of the kindergarten where I worked with my only friend, Zolina. She and I clung to each other, crying and praying when it was still unclear whether he would survive or not. Oh, such horror and heartbreak. I am a white woman. She, a beautiful black woman. I can’t imagine her heart was breaking any more than mine. But I know that can’t be right. She went home to cross burnings, hopelessness and terrors I can’t even imagine. And then, all these years later, the miracle of President Obama! I was over joyed and amazed and he proved to be a very great President. Maybe even the best ever. Now, here we are. What does it mean. How can we change this? Can we change it? As I said, I am sick with sorrow. I know love is the answer. But how and when?

    • Johnny O. Jun 29, 2017

      The greatest President ever?! LOL!

      • Mark Lakeman Jul 17, 2017

        Yes, in so many ways the best ever. That’s not just because so many of the white presidents were lame. It was because of all that he really did accomplish. The areas where he deserves great criticism involved dynamics that deserve great scrutiny, involving the military industrial complex for instance, or vast corporate power.

    • >”I too flinch at my whiteness”
      So you are racist, based on skin color.

      • Mahina Nightsage Apr 9, 2020

        There is no such thing as reverse racism, or white racism. She cannot be racist against herself. Racism is not just personal, but a system that privileges some people while disadvantaging others. The system in the US is based on white supremacy, so as long as that is the case, only white people can rightly own the label of racist and white people do not experience racism. And understanding how that system has harmed black people, and continues, any intelligent, aware, compassionate white person should feel ambivolent about their whiteness. That you don’t means that you are lacking in awareness and understanding, and possibly empathy.

    • Boston Dee Feb 26, 2020

      Thank you for your comments. I live with that sorrow all the time. I grew up in Boston during the school bussing crisis (white around 16 years old). We had always gone to catholic schools (from money we earned in the summer) because the Boston Public school system in poor neighbor hoods were terrible and violent. I was there the first day of bussing and I was appalled to see parents & neighbors (not my parents) throw those rocks as the busses carrying black students. There was nothing I could do, I couldn’t cry, I couldn’t talk to someone about it (did trust anyone any more). I felt like an alien in my own community. I left the Boston area a year after high school graduation and never moved back. Racism is everywhere but I couldn’t live in such a hateful community. They did not ever buss students form “nice” “richer” neighborhoods in to poverty areas they only pitted the poor families against the poor families. that was over 45 years ago….

  2. Shelly Musgrove May 3, 2017

    Thank you, thank you.
    I’m a white woman. My hero growing up was MLKjr.
    I’ve never understood the attitude about skin color.
    I have many moles on my skin. Growing up I was secretly proud of being both white and black.
    I live in CA in a very diverse area.
    I have tried explaining what I can to my f/b page.
    I’ve graduated in intercultural communication. I’m passionately curious about society.
    This is the perfect page for me to listen to and post.

  3. terry allen Jun 30, 2017

    Cant get the podcast on pocket casts, on android. is there any alternative other than itunes?

    • cdsduke Jun 30, 2017


      We send the podcast to Stitcher, IHeartRadio, and a couple of other places — there are so many that we frequently can’t catch them all! I’ll look into PocketCasts, but in the meantime if your podcast catcher of choice allows you to subscribe using an RSS feed, our RSS feed is: http://cdspodcast.libsyn.com/rss?

      You should be able to pop that into any podcast catcher.

      Thank you!

  4. This whole series has been outstanding, and inspiring. I come away each time with more thoughts and questions, and I wish I could encourage every person I know, of any color, and any culture to hear this. I also think it’s been educational in the sense each episode I hear, feeds from the last, and I don’t know if I had heard this episode, Turning the Lens, in the first couple of installments, that I would have got as much out of it because it hurts your head, the amount I have missed or dismissed being white, So much to think about. So much to ask. Thanks to John, Chenjerai and all participants and contributors for this remarkable piece of work.

  5. Miguel Jul 22, 2017

    Do you have links to the books of the authors you had on as guests for this 3-part series?

  6. Jen Margulies Sep 11, 2017

    Part of what we who have been raised and trained into whiteness need to learn is how to be rigorous in our practice of researching and crediting where people of color have done things and had ideas before we have. Here, for example, the first episode of NPR’s Codeswitch podcast, from May 2016: http://www.npr.org/sections/codeswitch/2016/05/31/479733094/the-code-switch-podcast-episode-1-can-we-talk-about-whiteness

    (Sara Ahmed has recently discussed this politics of citation; older discussions from the early 1990s include Norma Alarcón’s work on Anglo-American feminist appropriation and Katie King’s work on feminist bibliography.)

    That said, I caught an episode of Seeing White after Charlottesville and am now going back to the start of the project and looking forward to listening to the rest of the episodes..

  7. Jena Doolas Sep 11, 2017

    I was wondering if there are transcripts for this wonderful series. There are many people I’d like to pass this on to and not all are connected to ‘listening’ devices. I am so grateful for what I am hearing and learning and understanding and the DKDK (didn’t know I didn’t know).

    • cdsduke Sep 11, 2017


      We’re currently working on getting full transcripts for the Seeing White episodes ready — when they are, they’ll be posted on the series page (podcast.cdsporch.org/seeing-white) and I’m sure John will tweet/Facebook about it.

      Thanks for listening!

  8. Julie Elhard Dec 8, 2017

    Thank you!

  9. Pat Adams Dec 9, 2017

    Thanks for this.
    I have one alternate view.
    Seems you say that this racism is institutionalized, and that it continues under its own power. I’ve encountered this thought before, that institutional racism has a power of its own, that it continues unless stopped. Perhaps so.
    My view is that institutionalized racism is a fragile construct, requiring continuous maintenance and shoring up. It is a diaphanous sphere appearing solid, massive, ubiquitous. But like all lies, like all untruths, it has no substance. It requires continuous attention, continuous tweaking, continuous patching, continuous and consuming energy.
    This effort is expended every day, indeed every minute by white people who cannot allow the fallacy of white supremacy to collapse.
    I know that my children and grandchildren have access to superior education I know that my children and grandchildren have access to better nutrition. The list goes on and on. I know that the children and grandchildren of poor black parents have access only to inferior education and to variations on starvation. This is the way to make white superiority real. I know this is wrong. I know that I continue to support this lie every day in every way, in countless decisions I know are wrong, as if my children’s lives depend on it. . I spend my life actively blocking the opportunities of black children in order to give my children an advantage. The lie lives because I feed it. The lie has no power except that which I gladly give it.
    It is not necessary for me to resist. It is only necessary for me to stop supporting the lie. But like the addict, I have no idea what I might do instead. It’s the only thing I know how to do.

    Or something close

  10. Pete Haskell Dec 17, 2017

    I voted for Obama twice and Trump once in fact statistically many of the same people who voted for Obama voted for Trump so this idea that somehow or another it was a white Lash as van Jones put it is ridiculous

    • George Newman Jan 28, 2018

      Now one year later, how on earth do you justify your vote?

  11. Andrea Velox Jan 22, 2018

    Love this show, wish you had more input from your audience.

  12. anne martin Jan 26, 2018

    So far, I’m moved, awed,and frightened.

  13. Dana Friedel Feb 12, 2018

    Excellent series!

  14. Jan Girard Feb 21, 2018

    So helpful. Thank you.

  15. You didn’t show Oprah’s show interviewing Donald Trump. He has been awarded by Jesse Jackson for his contributions. Being biased against him, based on his skin color, is racist.

  16. Richard Canalori Jul 11, 2018

    Well presented. Artificial labels to justify actions.

  17. Sharon Wallace Feb 20, 2020

    Great podcast.
    Where can I find the sources used for reference so that I can explore for further reading?

  18. Amanda May 7, 2020

    I think that Seeing White is an accurate and descriptive title for this series. Thank you for doing this.
    – a white woman who wants to be better

  19. Russ Layne May 11, 2020

    Very important stuff here. Take that from a white guy.