When Talking About Racism It’s Time for Your Program to Do Better | An Open Letter to WXXI’s Connections by Calvin Eaton

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Listen to the Connections episode here

Dear WXXI Connections,

When talking about racism it’s time for your program, producers, and host to do better

I am a daily listener and sometimes guest on your show so when I read the synopsis for the first hour of your September 6th program (on Saturday morning September 7th) I already knew my eyes would roll back so far into my head that I just might need to go back to bed.

From the show  titled: How to better discuss race in America

John Calia says he’s tired of being blamed for all the ills of society, simply because he’s an older white man. He wrote a piece for the Democrat & Chronicle, arguing that the generalizations about white men are unfair and harmful. Calia is an executive coach and author, and he’s hoping his views will spark a conversation about better ways to discuss race in America. Frank Staropoli is also an older white man, and he’s the author of the blog “A White Guy in Rochester.” Staropoli has a very different view


My immediate thoughts were:
  • not another fragile ” old white guy”
  • not this white supremacist rhetoric again
  • why is whiteness centered on a discussion about race and racism?
  • why isn’t there a black person or POC (person of color) on the panel?
  • why isn’t Rachel DeGuzman on this panel?
  • please  please let this episode not trigger my post traumatic slave syndrome
  • I can already feel my blood pressure rising
  • can they come up with something else?

I started the episode and immediately hit pause because I wasn’t  sure if i could muster up the spirit of objectivity. I wasn’t sure if I could stomach another white privileged man who for decades has at the least; positively benefited from the structure of racism, tell me and countless other black Americans that he is offended by white privilege and doesn’t understand it (thereby implying that it doesn’t exist), how we need to work together, why we need to stop playing identity politics, that we need to find better ways to discuss racism in America, and so much more of the same rhetoric and talking points that white men like John Calia and so many others have told us (black Americans ) about race and racism since the Reconstruction Era.

I wasn’t sure if I could handle the cognitive dissonance, the blatant lies, the contradictions, the back peddling, the misrepresentation of history, the blind spots, the arrogance, the white fragility. I simply wasn’t sure if I had it in me. However, I pushed myself to listen anyway. I forced myself to turn up the volume and hope for the best. I challenged myself very publicly in another open letter to #speakoutnow and so by listening to the show (in its entirety) I knew that this would equip me fully to craft a response to the bullshit my spirit told me I was in for. Black people in America have always had the burden to prove the legacy and trauma of racism, no matter how obvious its effects permeate every single institution in the United States and this time it would be no different. When it was all said and done, John Calia said everything that I knew he would say.

It is almost as if white supremacist thinking “old white men” like himself have read and speak from the same How to Think Like A White Supremacist book so to be honest, I cant even be fully upset with him. His false equivalences, butchered history, contradictions, fragility,  and clear lack of expertise on the matter were eloquently called out by caller and elder Howard Eagle. The fact that I’ve already given John Calia five hundred and seventy five words is enough waste of my time as it is since “old white men” like him think what they think, say what they say and aren’t going to change. So I’m left to send my disappointment to no other place than to producer and host; Megan Mack and Evan Dawson respectively. You gave this man the platform and for this you deserve to be called out and implored to do better.

Do Better

I’ll make my request simple and share it first. When having discussions about race moving forward WXXI Connections, writers and producers have to do better.

When having discussions about race moving forward WXXI Connections have to do better.

It is perfectly acceptable to talk to old white men, white men, white women, white people about racism but you cannot do this with their whiteness solely at the center. White people created racism and have for centuries upheld it, maintained it, and executed it systemically, institutionally, and individually. They have denied its existence and gaslit black people and other groups that their perspective about racism is wrong. However they do not not get to tell Black people how to feel, how it impacts us,how we should act regarding it, or how we should talk about it. When talking about racism, the lens of those impacted by it should always be squarely at the center. John Calia on so many points was just wrong. In fact, he mentioned on air that when initially asked by your team to be on the panel, he told you if it was about race perhaps he was not the best person to be at the table. You had him any way. 

  • Where was the person or people of color and Black people on the panel?
  • Did you consult the black community of experts and elders when you decided to book these two old white men?
  • Did you get consultation and feedback from a black audience to make sure that you, a white woman and a white man respectively would give this very serious and real issue due diligence?
  • What is the racial and ethnic make up of WXXI’s board? And the production team?
  • Who are you consulting with when deciding to have programs about race?

It is clear from this episode that you do not have a diversity of voices at the decision making table when you are discussing race and racism at Connections and this needs to change. You used your privilege, “your whiteness” to make decisions about a system that doesn’t affect you in the way that Black people and others have been affected by it. You used your white privilege to think you knew best, just like white people always do.

To have an entire episode where John Calia is allowed a platform to be seen as an expert about race is not only problematic but dangerous. No matter how much you or he says that he is not an expert, when “old white men” have the microphone (like they always have) they are perceived by the public (especially the racist leaning public) to be an expert.

Stop having conversations about race without editors, producers, writers and guests of color are not at the table. Stop! As a media institution you have an obligation to do more than due diligence when there is a racist, sexist, xenophobic President in Office, when Mexican Americans, Muslim American, and brown Americans are being told to go back to their countries, are being detained by ICE, and when black and brown bodies are being gunned down by white officers in Rochester and around the nation. When you center white voices hold yourself accountable for this on the air. Be transparent and intentional about which white voices you do have on your program. Stop making it your mission to attempt to change the mind of people that think like John Calia. His racism is the worst kind of racism. The implicit and covert style of racism that pretends that it is not racist. You as a media institution have an obligation not to promote this voice and rhetoric but to be antiracist. When racism and black lives are being lost daily because of a system rigged segregation to keep black people in poverty we do not care about the promotion of all voices. 

This entire show made me so angry, so tired that I want to stop listening to this program altogether. But what comes of this this? As a black man in America it has become my burden to carry the burden of dismantling racism that I did not cause whether I want to or not and especially because programs like Connections make decisions such as this in 2019.

“As a black man in America it has become my burden to carry the burden of dismantling racism that I did not cause whether I want to or not”

I demand you as producers and as a radio educational program to do better in this area. You have a bigger audience, a bigger reach and you are an NPR station for godsakes. You are either antiracist as a media program or you are proliferating white supremacy, anti-blackness and racism; there is no in between. Do better. 

Books to help you and all white people do better when talking about racism:

Blindspot: Hidden Biases of Good People by by Mahzarin R. Banaji  (Author), Anthony G. Greenwald (Author)

Race Manners:Navigating the Minefield Between Black and White by Bruce Jacobs

White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk about Racism by Robin DiAngelo

Resources to help you and all white people do better when talking about racism:

  1. Ten myths white people believe about racism | The Christian Century
  2. What Is White Privilege, Really? | Tolerance.org
  3. Speak Out Now: A Campaign Against Injustice | 540WMain
  4. What Is Whiteness? | New York Times

Published by Calvin Eaton

(he/his/him) Calvin Eaton is a disabled community educator, content creator, and social entrepreneur, whose area of expertise includes antiracism, equity, justice, instructional design, and program development. In 2016 Mr. Eaton founded 540WMain, Inc. a non-profit online and community-based organization for accessible education and events that promote justice for all.

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