I’ve been wanting to write so many posts that none have gotten written at all. One blip of an idea leads to a torrent of narration, stories, and deconstruction that I just get totally lost and forget where it started – by the time I get to a computer or even a piece of paper, it’s too late. Sometimes I wish my brain had a “track changes” option. I think it’s going to be an outpouring for while, until I get the major emotional stages and initial blurting out of the way. Maybe then I’ll be able to actually sit down intentionally.
Lately, I’ve been struggling with my whiteness. I know, I hear you, blah blah blah, white girl’s sitting down to complain again, blotting out the other voices she claims she wants to uphold, listen to, and equally value. Not trying to blot out other voices here. As for the talking?
I have to do it. You don’t have to read it. Here, run away to cuteness instead. There’s just no other way to deconstruct white privilege (all the flavors!) from the inside without thinking about it. Struggling through the cottony layers of sweet, sweet ignorance, constantly flagging your own thoughts assumption, stereotype, hey white people do that too!, where did I learn that? where did that thought come from? oh my god did I really just think that? assumption, stereotype, thoughtless idiotic remark…
A Persian friend of mine, who’s been involved in some social activism, once told me I need a White Ally. Not a White Ally as in “my ally in being white and defending white privilege.” White Ally: another white person who also wants to be an ally to people of color. Someone I can talk to freely about my lingering traces of carefully inculcated prejudice (someone who would equally fervently tell me “that’s fucked up, dude”) without inflicting my residual assishness on those who already deal with so much, and also someone with whom I can talk about the struggles of being a white person and an ally, without being disrespectful to those whose struggles are much harsher than mine (however much I don’t have any right to be upset about people of color being suspicious and hostile, that doesn’t mean that I enjoy it). Someone with whom, essentially, to pick apart white privilege with from the inside. Because you only have to peek at the, I dunno, INTERNET, to get the hint that POC are really, really sick of trying to crack through our cocoons. (And that was just the stuff I was reading ANYWAY for other reasons, not any of the stuff I went ON to read. Every word in this sentence could be a link. When I have more time I might do that.)
Anyway, my friend was right. (side note: as someone who grew up with deeply flawed “diversity” programs at both mostly black schools and at mostly white schools, this would be a good tool to use selectively – as long as there was plenty of guidance, I guess. Randomly throwing together two clueless white kids and telling them to talk about their whiteness strikes me as a bit…of a step in the wrong direction.) So I’m asking this blog to be part of my White Ally Complex (taking a WAC at privilege, lolz!) on a part-time basis. A place to think and write about and through my issues without letting them eclipse my larger goals. ‘Cause finding another white person with the brains and energy and passion for doing this kind of thing…let’s put it this way: my weekends for the past 3 months have involved beer and being mocked for being a feminist by people who profess to be liberal lady-lovers and equality advocates. Some of these people are women. Cue facepalm. Also, I’m starting to believe that 80-90% of human beings have the analytical capacity of a loofah.
I am struggling with my whiteness both because of its invisibility and its extreme visibility. Let me give you some examples of what I mean:
Einstein. Brilliant. Never really thought about his whiteness as a feature about him before. Invisibility. Looking at a science history book, I don’t notice at all that most of the faces are white. I notice women, and people of color, but somehow miss the implication thereby that most of the others are white and men. Even I think of white men as default human beings.
On the other hand? White settlers (including some of my own ancestors, I suspect, although I don’t know much about them) slaughtered the American Indians (Native Americans? First Nations? Sorry, not sure what collective term to use is, since I can’t name the specific groups my ancestors might have been involved in the eradication of. But hey, I’m white! Let’s just say: All of them!). Whiteness? Very visible to me. And however much institutionally, politically, socially, and culturally that history has been down-played, ignored, sanitized, and downright hidden in the USA, that whiteness and the atrocities those white people committed and/or sanctioned has always been very visible to me as white violence.
I admit when I was very young, I thought of it as the strong, morally upright and peaceful native inhabitants (the Fetishization of the Natives is strong with this one!) brutalized by depraved, technologically-advanced deathmongers-with-no-respect-for-the-sanctity-of-human-life from another country. I’m not sure when I cottoned on to the fact that the deathmongers looked like me and the American Indians didn’t, but it was at least by the time my school visited a specific tribe’s museum for the first time.
I’ve been there twice, and each time I left with the narratives and images of white bodies doing violence to non-white bodies gashing at my insides. Not just for the violence itself, but also for the rift it has permanently put between our peoples. That was my racism-aha moment, in spite of years of Black History Month activities – I thought for a long time (until middle school at least) that Martin Luther King Jr. cured racism against black people, and Gandhi had pretty much proven that pompous white people were shitheads and all people of color should have the inherent right of self-determination. I had the privilege of not knowing from the other side that this was very much not true. I was also totally clueless about the modern plight of America’s native peoples. That is not the sort of thing cocooned children often notice on their own. So I contracted a case of white guilt about abuses past.
The museum hypersensitized me to whiteness, although sadly it didn’t confer any critical faculties that could have made this road a little easier or a little shorter. I started to see and hear about and investigate contemporary racism. During discussions of slavery, the Civil Rights Movement, the Japanese internment during World War II, the Vietnam War, the Korean War, Iraq I and II, Afghanistan, ANYWHERE, when someone says “White Person” in almost any context, to this day, my head comes up: “Yes that’s me! What did we fuck up now?” Baring my teeth at the other white people, wanting to hurt them for causing such pain and then whining about it so hard. Because it causes me pain. Not in any proportion to that actually suffered by the victims, but as much as it can.
I’m horrified at the way these kinds of atrocities – from extreme acts of violence to casual insults – can not cause people pain. Actual emotional pain that lingers and festers and causes you to constantly pick fights with people you already know don’t agree with you, because you can’t understand why they don’t think it’s important (and fucked up) that American casualties in Iraq were measured in the handfuls while Iraqi casualties were measured in the hundreds (this was when I was in high school, when the war first started. Currently there are around 4,400 documented American casualties and about 100,000 documented Iraqi casualties). My sympathies to the American victims and their families aside, I was boggled by the idea of treating American casualties as any more important that Iraqi ones, even just in the news. It became, to me, another instance of white people doing that stupid shit they always do – invading, pointing the finger (“but they attaaaacked meeeeee!”) and then slaughtering with much more lethality. Or letting them slaughter one another. I’m thinking of a quote I read in a book about the eradication of the native Tasmanians. The quote I remember is from a letter to a newspaper by a white woman who basically said “well, they attacked us, and anyway, we never killed more than 45 of them at one time.” I can’t find the book, but I think it might be Guns, Germs and Steel.
I know that white people don’t have anything near an exclusive patent on being homicidal shitheads. But we have a much better documented history, and the tools to conduct such enterprises on an unprecedented scale, and did it to a bunch of people of different colors in a bunch of different countries (whose population demographics we totally altered! Like all the Nations of the USA! New Zealand! Australia! Hawai’i! South Africa!). This struck me hard when giving cultural presentations with a South African and a Korean colleague. My native peoples slide? Various pictures of old and modern tribal gatherings. South African colleague’s native peoples slide? The major black peoples of the region. My Korean colleague’s slide? Koreans. That was a real “holy fuck, how can I possibly relate to these kids?” moment. I’m living in a country that my ancestors stole from people they massacred and marginalized and continue to marginalize, alongside a bunch of people my ancestors kidnapped, brutalized, treated as commodities, and continue to marginalize, and a bunch of other people who came over looking for work only to be (you guessed it!) continually marginalized!
And now I’m in feminist spaces and spaces dedicated to pointing out, analyzing, and deconstructing racism (what is the equivalent term to feminist? I’m positive it’s not racist), and I read articles like these. I’m not denying what they say. I’ve done some of the stupid and hurtful shit described in those articles. They are absolutely and totally right to call us out on it. It’s sad that they continually have to. And it makes me kick myself, and other white people, and say, yet again, “whisky tango foxtrot, why are we all such awful fucking screwups?!” No one has the duty to educate us white folks. But realistically I don’t think we’d get far without you. It’s true some people take an almost pornographic interest in the suffering of the marginalized. But for some of us, the sympathetic pains those stories stimulate is the most powerful transformational tool of all. Like it or not, it is what it is.
Let me be clear: this is not me whining about experiencing discrimination. I think I can deal with one or two instances of race-based judgment in no-risk-to-me situations that others experience on a daily basis in threatening situations. And by “think I can” I mean I TOTALLY CAN. Just in case that wasn’t clear. Internet lacking a sarcasm indicator, or something.
I just feel lost. Lately, I only see the bad in white people. I think I’ve been trying, to some extent, to blend into the Korean population (good luck with that, six foot tall busty bebooty’d fat American white girl with a nose piercing and blue eyes!) and spend more time with Korean friends because I don’t want to look at white people anymore – because I am always, always looking into the face of my own whiteness. I am hearing things that I used to say – prejudicial and hurtful and ignorant things. I was there once. No one emerges from the womb with encyclopedic knowledge of the anatomy of the kyriarchy. I don’t want to be white anymore (although if I knew what real racial discrimination felt like, I might feel differently). It’s tearing up my insides and I have no idea what to do. Like I said, lately I only see the bad in white people. I can’t think of any white role models who inspire me and who I want to emulate (at least in the area of being not a ignorant racist asshole). I’m not sure where to find one. I think I would be very suspicious of anyone held up to me as a white role model. Either they would be offered by a white person, and probably thereby be someone who coopts and silences people of color to tell their stories her or himself or zieself, or they would be offered by a person of color and I would be afraid to find out about them because what if the only good role models held out to me by people of color are people I don’t like? What if I don’t like them and don’t want to be like them and am doomed to racist hell? That’s how it goes in my very-not-rational head, anyway.
Right now I feel like white people are worthless. I am white, ergo I am worthless, even though I am trying (unlike a lot of shitheads). I can never get it right, I can never understand, so (other than not giving up and shutting up and being an accomplice through silence, which I will not do) where do I go from here? I’ll always be mistrusted and suspected and unwelcomed by the people my ancestors and society and culture and race have horrifically abused, so…what do I do? I don’t want to beat people of color, and I can’t join them. I have no cultural history or ethnic ties to grab onto, I’ve always felt somewhat uncomfortable about living in a stolen country, so I don’t really feel rooted there (just slightly less uncomfortable than anywhere else) and not really anything to be proud of white people for, I’ve got more work to do on myself and deeply embedded racial and cultural stereotypes and fetishizations I’ve contracted over my life. Where do I belong? How can I be okay with my own whiteness, and other white people? How do I live with what my race has done, and how do I live with the walls those things have put between me and other people(s)?
A lot of white people assault those walls. I guess they don’t see that those walls are a still-necessary and entirely justified means of self-defense. They just know they’re not really allowed, at least officially (or maybe better – explicitly), to put up walls anymore, so no one else should be able to either. Although they put up cultural and racial barriers all the time, by being ignorant dingleberries. I’m coming to terms with that instinct as a sign and symptom of privilege.
I remember in middle school, there were a lot of jokes at my expense. A large number of them referenced my whiteness, which explained, apparently, my lack of fashion, disinterest (then) in music, inability to dance, and basic lack of any “coolness” whatsoever. I remember crying at home in my room, wondering why white people long ago had to be so evil so that I had to suffer now for something I’d never done.
I’m not surprised that a lot of white people drop the ball on racism in spite of expressing good intentions (as if intentions help). To feel like this? Ekkkhh. It’s a feeling I’ve backed down from before. And one I’ll take breaks from in the future. Before I sat down to write this I was planning what I was going to say and got so emotional thinking about it that my fingers reached to turn on the TV and tune out before I even noticed. When all that sticks with you is that your race is a bunch of ignorant, genocidal, racist, corporate-whore-sell-out, wealth-hoarding, xenophobic murderers and childsen of murderers who continue to deny the humanity and dignity and history of those they have oppressed – and the very history of that oppression, well…you want to stop taking in messages like that. At least for a while. Otherwise your heart breaks and you want to set yourself on fire to expiate some of the collective sins of your people. Which is silly. Not that I haven’t thought about it. I’m a Buddhist. I believe in karma. I just don’t think setting myself on fire would generate all that much positive karma for the universe. Plus it would really, really, really hurt.