S2 E6: That’s Not Us, So We’re Clean

April 26, 2017


When it comes to America’s racial sins, past and present, a lot of us see people in one region of the country as guiltier than the rest. Host John Biewen spoke with some white Southern friends about that tendency. Part Six of our ongoing series, Seeing White. With recurring guest, Chenjerai Kumanyika.



Image: : New York City during the Draft Riots of 1863. Credit: Greenwich Village Society of Historical Preservation.

Download a transcript of the episode.

Shannon Sullivan’s books, Revealing Whiteness and Good White People.

Thanks to Chris Julin, whose 1991 NPR report on the Wisconsin fishing rights dispute we featured.

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18 comments on “S2 E6: That’s Not Us, So We’re Clean

  1. Shel Anderson Jul 5, 2017

    I’m listening little by little. Such a major hit to what I thought I knew. Brilliant, just wonderful.

  2. Amber Jul 20, 2017

    I am catching up on this series. I am a white girl from rural Illinois, who moved to Madison by way the Chicago suburbs. I worked at golf courses near Madtown, and holy moly, yes. “Those people from Chicago”. Rural Illinois, and Chicago itself, ain’t got much to brag about. But. the amount of subtle *elbow nudge* those Chicago welfare people youknowwhatimean that I got from the (mostly) men sitting on the other side of my bar in an upper crust golf course bar.

  3. Liam See / Patrick Elijah Nov 7, 2017

    Patrick Elijah described this segment as about ¨camouflage.¨ Unpacking the meaning of this word, is the tactic of pretending to be something we are not. That is, that we are not willing to show publicly what our real attitudes are as we live these values out in our everyday lives. The instance cited of Abraham Lincolnś posting his statement in a public newspaper demonstrates that although Lincoln is remembered by most Americans (including American history teaching and in our textbooks) as being the great liberator who worked to free all slaves is contradicted by Lincolnś public statement that he would do whatever it takes to preserve the Union, whether this meant freeing all the slaves or, by ceding to some slave owners that they had the right to reclaim their slaves under the authority of the Fugitive Slave Act. So, we learn that Lincoln is clearly not an abolitionist.

    William See. My response to this segment is largely to the incident of the Draft Revolts of New York City in the year 1862. These Draft revolts, originally were focused on an unwillingness on the part of newly arrived immigrant groups (such as the Irish) to participate as members in the military service of the Union. This response to the draft entailed including the hanging of 120 black men in New York City. This clearly exposed the undercurrent of the element of racism present at that time.

  4. Brian K Freeland May 22, 2020

    The historical research used in this podcast is exceptional, and I truly appreciate your hard work.

  5. Nicholas Cheranich Jun 5, 2020

    I am White and from Napa CA, which is about an hour North of San Francisco. When my family moved here in the late 1960’s from Phoenix AZ, it was mostly a White population, including many Hispanic families who were primarily migrant farm workers. Twelve miles away in Vallejo, CA, that city was over 70% Black. Napa did its best to keep Black families out. They must have broken several federal laws in the process.

    In my middle-class neighborhood, one of the worst things you could call somebody was the N-word. My family had always raised me to be anti-racist, so I would cringe when I heard my friends call each other that word. I would not however, try to correct them. Once, I was so angry at one of them, I yelled, “You NEGRO!” The friend ran into his house and told his John Birch Society parents what I had said. I could hear the laughter emanating from their kitchen. I felt so stupid.

    Since then, Napa has changed from what I would consider a very conservative majority to a mostly moderate/liberal one. As a result, it currently has a whopping 0.98% Black population. The point of this podcast is very well taken.

  6. Melissa E Sungela Jun 5, 2020

    White woman – raised 25+ years in Fort Worth, Tx and about 20+ in New Jersey –

    Agreed! 100% to tonality.

  7. Catherine Giannetti Jun 19, 2020

    As John is talking to Chenjerai, telling him about what it was like to grow up in Minnesota as a white man, as he says “the standard sensibility was ‘we don’t have a need for any kind of deep transformation, not like those people in Birmingham or Charleston or Jackson, Mississippi, who have so much more to answer for and so much work to do.” A chill went down my arm, knowing what has happened in the “enlightened” state of Minnesota in the past month. Everyone should listen to this series and examine their frame of reference and ask themselves “what does it mean to be a more active anti-racist?”

  8. Chris Jul 1, 2020

    After listening to these 6 episodes and researching other race educational material, I am seeing the non-racist perspectives in my own household! I want us to be anti-racist not non-racist because silence really does promote bad things. Thank you for educating us, the whites, about our appauling behavior not just in the past, but still prevailing today; so sad we are so blind. Thank you for helping us see.

  9. Rochelle Jul 9, 2020

    Another impressive installment. Thank you. As someone who grew up in Indiana, I’m in touch with this description of North/South stereotypes. My parents, children of the 1950s, remember a large influx of poor, white Southerners who moved to the state in the 50s to take factory jobs. The new arrivals were desperately poor, often sleeping along the edges of fields and in shacks. Food and clothing drives were common, with signs up in my dad’s school that read “Help the Kentuckians.” That generation grew up associating the southern twang with backwardness, poverty and helplessness. I then grew up in the 1980s hearing phrases like, “don’t work with hillbillies—you can’t count on them” to more vague comments like, “well, he’s one of the good old boys, if you know what I mean.” I no longer live in Indiana but can easily think of a dozen vague or explicit ways of communicating that someone is a “certain type” of white person, that bad kind, the racist kind. I’ve come to understand how this prejudice against that “type” of white person has helped Trump galvanize a base that feels dismissed, pitied or simply looked down upon. Thanks for the great piece and for helping me analyze my biases, once again. Scapegoating won’t get us anywhere for racial justice.

  10. Thank you for another eye opening episode. Keep it coming.

  11. Edith Ann Costanza Jul 27, 2020

    Just can’t stop listening. I am so appreciative. Thank you. By the way, you are doing a good job of drawing in both male and female scholars. I am hoping to hear other voices as well.

  12. Louisa Aug 11, 2020

    So enlightening….need to know stuff.

  13. Monique Aug 17, 2020

    I am enthralled with this series and have shared it many times. It’s always timely because it’s America. I am glad the world is looking. Thank you for excellent work.

  14. Kelly Aug 23, 2020

    Thank you so much for this powerful episode!

  15. Myrna Hathaway Sep 13, 2020

    These have all been good, but this one I have lived. I grew up in Hampton, Virginia in the 50s and 60s. We moved to the Detroit area in 1977. I had always thought the North was void of racism, but holy cow Detroit is the most prejudiced and segregated place I’ve ever been! I am really being educated by these podcasts! At almost 70 that’s pretty great.

  16. Kevin OKeefe Oct 25, 2020

    I live in southern VT. The same “ those people” code is used here for blacks and Hispanics from Springfield MA or “ white trash” from NH come g over here for the great social welfare benefits. This series is soooo good at waking me up.

  17. David Reich Nov 5, 2020

    “Seeing White” is the perfect name for a terrific series. Eye-opening. Like Jim Biewen, the journalist who led this radio project, I grew up in a progressive family, and in Southern California, educated in “good” schools attended mostly by middle and upper middle class Jewish kids. While we were very insulated from families of color, I’ve felt very proud of my heritage, which taught me profoundly about both oppression and hope. I’ve always related to the history and current plight of black people. However, this series is teaching me that I, like most other whites, have not recognized before listening to this series my white part in institutional racism.

    Just like most other white people, I deflect any honest self-inquiry by off-loading blame onto the 11 southern states and differentiating myself psychologically from southerners. It’s very hard not to do so. After all, how many people can separate themselves, their identity, from the manmade constructs that create fundamentally long-held racist conditioning baked into our economy and social interactions. (I’m thinking about what the professor said about how Christopher Columbus was an agent for European values, and a strict transactionalist, bringing back indigenous people as chattel.)

  18. Carolyn Peterson Nov 7, 2020

    Fantastic series!!!!!!! Thank you so much! I am hoping to find an effective way to share it with more people! I learned about it from Krista Tippett – “On Being” on MPR on Sunday, Nov. 1. We have so much work to do, and today’s election results give us more encouragement to do all we can to address “our original sin”.