Eli Steele: Jodi Shaw and the Racial Mask of Whiteness

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Over dinner in an Arizona diner, I told two friends that I would soon be traveling to Northampton in the western part of Massachusetts to interview Jodi Shaw, the former Smith College staffer who rebelled against the college’s mandatory racial indoctrination program, a program designed to reduce her humanity to whiteness. My friends then told me a story.

In the 1940s, a black teen left the deep South for the summer to earn college tuition money working the tobacco fields in Connecticut’s Farmington Valley, a short drive from Northampton. The teen marveled that he could sit in church alongside whites, dine in restaurants with whites, and when he faced discrimination, other whites stood up. 

After I secured my rental car at the Hartford airport, I drove through Farmington Valley and its fields that no longer produced tobacco. I saw several barns that stood in the 1940s and I imagined, to the best of my abilities, what it would be like to be that teen who found unexpected freedoms in these lands. Down South, he had to hide his rich humanity behind the racial mask of inferiority to conform to the violent racial order of

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