Rebecca worked at the institution. It was built chiefly of red bricks. On some days, the institution was a bank, on others a software company, on still others a college, and so on. This variation of professional pursuits made the institution an exciting place to work, like a middle-class carousel.
When Rebecca arrived each morning, she discovered what her job was that day--loan-officer, professor of history, project-manager, and so on. Changing from one job to another was easy for her. The jobs--or rather, positions--all involved talking, projecting some mild authority, and more or less acting the part.
The more difficult aspect of the institution for Rebecca was that it was white--80% to 90% of the employees were white, and the ethos of the place was white. So was Rebecca; however, she thought more people from different ethnic backgrounds should work there, provided they wished to do so. She thought greater diversity would improve the institution, rescue it from the bubble of the past in which it seemed to exist, and make it more just.
But Rebecca had tried to change the institution in this regard for so long that she was realizing it wasn't going to change. It liked to promote itself as interested in persons not white; it hired a few a few of these and it brought visitors who were Black, Asian American, Indian, and Latino. But in all the important, self-conscious, structural, and reflexive ways, the institution remained white.
--Because it liked itself that way: Ockham's Razor. It was comfortable being white, and being white, it valued the comfort. Everybody was fluent in whiteness, especially those who weren't white, for their jobs--positions--and safety depended upon such fluency.
Rebecca's co-workers like to congratulate themselves on being white using oblique methods. But in these instances, the translation of the gesture, speech, proposal, or attitude was apparent. "Hi, Bob--you and I are white--can you dig that?" "Jenny, I like what you said yesterday in the meeting--white on!"
Occasionally Rebecca's efforts to change the situation were complimented. Otherwise they were easily finessed or opposed. Rebecca was discouraged now. She didn't think she had the right to give up trying to change the institution, but at the same time, trying meant constantly attempting to lift a dead white weight, an enormous, heavy blob.
Rebecca was experiencing fatique. The fatigue of an activist and ally. Institutions remain forever young and often forever white, and all they have to do to thwart anyone proposing real change is to smile and not change. Eventually the one wanting change will wear down.
However, Rebecca also didn't want to make the white activist's and ally's mitake of complaining to one or more of her friends and colleagues who weren't white, for, in fact, innumerable people had seen the trouble she'd seen, and much worse, obviously.
She pressed on, doggedly, making proposals, raising issues in meetings while people rolled their eyes.
Then one day she came to work, and she was astonished to find that the institution had painted all the red bricks white. The entire facility glowed in sunlight now. That wasn't the only surprise. Signs, memos, mission-statements, and websites proclaimed, "We are no longer a multi-professional institution. We are no the Institute for the Study of People (Who Are White)."
In more detailed documents, Rebecca learned that "in this post-racial society, it's important to study people (who are white)."
"But," said Rebecca to a colleague, "it's not post-racial--we're 80% to 90% per cent white here."
"That kind of talk is so yesterday," the colleague said. "We're 100% people! Black and White are old news. We have no white people here. We have people!"
"That's a remarkably white thing to say," Rebecca said quietly.
"Get on board or say goodbye," said the colleague.
On her last day of work at the institution, Rebecca stripped naked in a quadrangle between white buildings and quickly painted herself a medium brown. Getting her back grown was tough, but she'd brought a long-handled paint-brush.
People (who were white) from Security came. Three were white. They waited while the municipal police arrived. Rebecca was given a long coat to cover herself and arrested for public indecency. She said, "Medium brown is not an indecent color."
Rebecca is sad ow because she's unemployed, although she has prospects. She misses talking to her colleagues, especially the ones who used to be not-white, back in the racial era. She imagines telling these colleagues, "White people are amazing. They never stop." And she hears the knowing laughter of her colleagues.
She doesn't miss trying to lift the dead white weight of the institution. Sometimes she puts on a hat and sunglasses and visits the institution after business hours. She walks up to one of the red-brick walls now painted white, and she pushes, hard. The white wall doesn't move. She hums, "Joshua fit the battle of . . . ."
A Black person comes by, Linda, whom Rebecca knows well. Linda says, "Hi, Rebecca."
"How did you know it was me?" asked Rebecca.
"Because you're pushing on a white wall."
"Come," says Linda, "walk with me for a while."