Read: The false promise of anti-racism books
Emily Hellstrom, another council member who wants to end screening, criticized Wrocklage as well. “What you did, it was purposeful, it was knowing,” she said in the meeting that went viral. “The premeditated obnoxiousness you started off with, with the whiteboard … You had a smirk and a grin on your face when you pulled that child in, and … in a joking tone, you said, ‘My living room’s integrated right now,’ as if the hundreds of years of segregation were nothing, because you happened to have a Black friend. It was so belittling. It was so snide … Perhaps you didn’t intend it to be racist. And that does not matter. It was perceived as racist by many people … You need to look deep inside and say ‘I hurt a lot of people.’”
If Wrocklage hadn’t annoyed them with the whiteboard, made the flippant comment, and taken a position on the resolution that they see as racist, other council members may not have perceived the mere act of holding a baby in his lap as harmful.
Wrocklage retorted, “I was laughing at the absurdity of the cognitive dissonance of people like you who are telling people of color how they should feel.” As he sees it, integrated elementary schools and interracial friendships like his own are how desegregation starts. “I suggested that schools should be integrated during elementary school,” he reminded everyone. “We’re starting too late. I was not laughing at the thought of integration. I was laughing at the absurdity of your position.”
Another council member, Vincent Hom, who is Asian American, said: “I likewise did not understand what the racist behavior was that initiated all this … There was nothing I saw that was overtly racist … I would like to hear exactly what was racist about what happened, without having to read a book.”
Tanikawa responded that his confusion illustrates the need for anti-racism training. “All of us, including myself, don’t have the language to really talk about this in a way that’s constructive,” she said. “I have done my own work. And some of you have done work … but clearly we need more of it.” She told Maron, “I don’t see you doing the work,” explaining, “your actions have not shown to me that you understand what racism is at the structural and institutional level––which is fine because I don’t claim to understand it. I’m still learning.” If Tanikawa doesn’t believe she fully understands the nature of structural racism, then how can she be so confident that others don’t understand it, or that “work” will help them see the light? Turning back to Hom, she said, “Vincent, there’s no way around it, you have to read. If you’re not willing to read, then you’re not doing the work.”
For the record, I have read White Fragility and How to Be an Antiracist, and I don’t recall any passage in either text that clarifies why it would be racist for a white man to hold a Black baby in his lap. Tanikawa continued, “You can disagree with people. But this is not an ideological difference. This is how Black and Indigenous people and people of color see the world. It’s not for you and me, an East Asian, affluent person, to deny that reality, to deny what these people are telling us.” In fact, anti-racism as Tanikawa understands it is an ideology––it is “assertions, theories and aims that constitute a sociopolitical program”––and it is not “how Black and Indigenous people and people of color see the world,” as all those groups are ideologically diverse.