“If you can’t talk about something, you can’t think about something. I've worked with students who could barely let themselves think, they were so scared of thinking the wrong thing.”
This conversation was inspired by Eula Biss’s stunning New York Times essay “White Debt,” which had this metaphor at its core: ”The state of white life is that we’re living in a house we believe we own but that we’ve never paid off.” She wrote that in 2015, she spoke with us last year, and we might just put this conversation out every year, as we’re all novices on this territory. Eula Biss had been thinking and writing about being white and raising white children in a multi-racial world for a long time. She helpfully opens up words and ideas like “complacence,” “guilt,” and something related to privilege called “opportunity hoarding.” To be in this uncomfortable conversation is to realize how these words alone, taken seriously, can shake us up in necessary ways — and how the limits of words make these conversations at once more messy and more urgent.
Eula Biss teaches writing at Northwestern University. Her books include On Immunity: An Inoculation and Notes from No Man's Land: American Essays.
This interview is edited and produced with music and other features in the On Being episode "Eula Biss — Let’s Talk About Whiteness." Find more at onbeing.org.