Column: The People Without Colour

Rhyd Wildermuth —  October 4, 2015 — 21 Comments

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We’re screwed and all anyone seems to care about is their spiritual journey and their artesian chocolate bar made by a fedora-wearing bearded 20 year old living in #Bushwick. Only the hippest can help us. Only the rich can afford authenticity. Only those that can ignore the violence that privilege inflicts will have the most Instagram followers.

We’ve somehow forgotten that we are inherently interesting because we are human. We’ve ended up in this weird hipster hell where everything is an ironic nod to the past, to someone else’s identity or to fractions of an imitation of ours.

We need to occupy authentic.

Of course, artisanal chocolate isn’t the problem, it just points to it. It points to the lack of care of how we effect each other’s space, cultures, histories and displacements. Because when we have no sense of self it’s far too easy to colonize unconsciously. When we are able to disown what we don’t like about ourselves and buy what we do like it’s far too easy to escape doing the necessary work needed to heal our deeper wounds around our identity. Chani Nicholas

Let me tell you a story. It’s your story and mine. It’s the story of a deep trauma, a tale of sorrow and violence, and also one, potentially with a happy ending.

It’s the story of a people who lost their colours, who became blank.

It is not an easy story to tell. It’s one you may already think you know. You may already think you know what I am going to say, or fear what I might say. Maybe you’re already angry, already upset, eager to tell me what you think or to tell me off. That’s okay, really. But you won’t really know until I’ve finished my tale, and the tale is not in the end or in the beginning, but in the telling.

So I will tell you this tale.

I woke up one day and found out I was white. All my color and difference, all the connection and meaning of being human had bleached out of my existence, and I became blank.

Others already knew I was white, but like learning there’s no magic in the world or there’s no such thing as fairies or ghosts, someone had to tell me ‘the truth.’ I was not what I wanted to be, or what I could to be. I was emptiness, colourless, plain, normal.

Abnormal, fullness, authenticity, color — all those things belonged to others, not to me, nor to the people who were like me. Instead of having culture and magic and wonder, I had privilege and power and authority, malls and Empire and business suits and Christianity. I had oatmeal and turkey; mashed potatoes,untextured bread and bland pasta; blue jeans,  the Bible and Lipton tea. I had football and baseball and skyscrapers; FOX news and watered-down beer; trimmed lawns and Disneyworld

Thing is, I don’t like any of those things. But that’s what I get for being bleached of colour, bleached of meaning.

There are other things I get which are a lot better, though. Things that are supposed to make up for my loss. I’m less likely to be shot. I’m more likely to be picked for a job. I’m less likely to go to prison for a petty crime. I’m more likely to go to college. I’m less likely to get strip-searched in an airport. I’m more likely to be listened to by others.

All those things I ‘get’ for being white, though? There’s another story there. Getting more things than others and being less likely to be hurt means I was born into world where some people get hurt more often and also get less stuff.

I don’t want to live in that sort of world, but I also don’t want to off myself because it’s the only sort of world that’s around at the moment. So what I can do?

I didn’t decide to be white. It was decided for me, and not just at the moment when I learned I was white. It was decided only a few hundred years before by a really complicated series of actions, theories and wars that I had nothing to do with. My story’s gonna get a little longer, because I need to tell you about how some people lost their colour.

How The Whites Lost Their Colour

Christoph Meiners, who first used the term 'Caucasian' in 1785

Christoph Meiners, who first used the term ‘Caucasian’ in 1785 [Public Domain]

Whiteness didn’t really exist 325 years ago.

Sit with that for a moment, if you don’t mind. And if you’ve read my writing before, you maybe also remember a few other things that didn’t really exist 300 years ago. Like Capitalism. And the steam engine. And the United States of America.

What were ‘white people’ before? All kinds of things. English and French and Spanish and Scandanavian and Irish. Protestant and Catholic and Orthodox. Peasants and farmers and nobles and kings and merchants—but not really ‘white.’ There was no such thing as a ‘white race.’ In fact, ‘Causasians’ didn’t exist until a scientist who liked to measure skulls came up with the word in 1785 and divided people into races.

Science had a lot to do with the creation of white people. The Enlightenment and “Age of Reason” turned loose an orgy of men measuring and theorising and writing and advising on the inner scientific truths of nature and the human body and our origins. Capitalism and factories and lots of other awful modern things were created from their ideas. Some of these ideas we keep around because they make sense (Darwin’s ideas, for instance) and others we’ve mostly gotten rid of, like lobotomies or removing women’s ovaries to calm them down.

But whiteness didn’t get widely accepted until it got written into law and became ‘truth.’

Scientific theories are meant to explain a process, but when they become politically useful, they take on a life of their own. Race, especially whiteness, was a really useful political theory. During the colonial period of America, governors needed a way to make sure property was distributed only among certain people, and they were also having trouble keeping the lower classes in line.

Traditionally, the laws defined people by their wealth and their Christianity as opposed to ‘others.’ But because indigenous peoples and African slaves also converted to Christianity, extra definitions of what the laws meant by ‘Christian’ (that is, people who got rights and wealth) were required. As pointed out in a really good essay by Quinn Norton:

…a growing American peasantry was proving as difficult to govern as the European peasantry back home, periodically rising up in riot and rebellion, light skinned and dark skinned together. The political leaders of the Virginia colony struck upon an answer to all these problems, an answer which plagues us to this day.

The Virginians legislated a new class of people into existence: the whites. They gave the whites certain rights, and took other rights from blacks. White, as a language of race, appears in Virginia around the 1680s, and seems to first appear in Virginia law in 1691. And thus whiteness, and to a degree as well blackness, was born in the mind of America.

The ‘whites’ appeared during the colonial period, during the same period of the birth of Capitalism, and in response to the difficulty of ruling over people. It was a political tool, later strengthened by irresponsible scientists, and was a way to divide the poor against each other.

I don’t have space to tell you the rest of the story about the creation of whiteness (and as I’ve suggested, others have done it very well). What’s important here, especially for Pagans, is what came before whiteness, and what can come after whiteness.

The story we hear about America was that it was founded by people fleeing religious persecution and filled by immigrants looking for opportunity. The first part of that story’s really silly. The pilgrims were Puritans who were fleeing backlash from their horrible attempts to regulate society according to their ideas of what the Christian God wanted (no dancing, no drinking, church like, all the time).

The second part, though… Ever stop to wonder why there was no opportunity in the places those immigrants came from?

The answer is the one no one likes to talk about. Capitalism was re-arranging European society. The Enclosures, the Highland Clearances, the Irish Famines, industrialisation, the closing-off of forests in what is now Germany, and wars for resources during that time all destroyed the ability of the lower classes to survive. So, they went where they might have a better chance to find a way to eat (and even, possibly, have some land to farm on). An ethical decision most of us might make, even if we didn’t want to help make life miserable for the people who were already living on that land. Hungry people will do some awful things for food.

Irish famine monument, Dublin (photo by author)

Irish famine monument, Dublin [Photo Credit: R. Wildermuth]

Those people who left weren’t really ‘white’ yet, not until they became integrated into the American political and economic system. And there was an order in which that happened: people from the same lands as those in power became white first. Later, other people became white, too — Germans, Irish, Italians, and eventually Hispanics and Eastern Europeans.

The thing to remember, though, is that white was a new kind of person, a new label. By becoming white, all the other cultural identities of that white person were mostly erased. Also, remember that creating a legal category of person called ‘white’ was done to prevent poor people of European descent from mixing, intermarrying, and allying with slaves (freed or otherwise) from Africa or with First Nations people.

White basically meant not Black, or Indian, or Chinese, or anyone else we were supposed to not trust or share stuff with. For awhile, it didn’t mean Irish or German or Italian, and then eventually it did.

White also became a symbol. A symbol of power (because those in power were white). A symbol of authority. A symbol of normality. A blankness, empty, a void waiting to be filled with profit and privilege.

And whiteness became a way to get the a large group of the poor to identify with and fight for the rich, instead of identifying with people in similar economic statuses, or people suffering from similar ancestral trauma.

Ancestral trauma is an important bit, actually, and one only Animists and psychoanalysts can really quite allow. The secularism of Western society can only talk of material processes that would affect the children of people who became white, not the spiritual or cultural traumas.

The Victim Becomes The Abuser

White people in this country will have quite enough to do in learning how to accept and love themselves and each other, and when they have achieved this—which will not be tomorrow and may very well be never—the Negro problem will no longer exist, for it will no longer be needed –James Baldwin

There isn’t really a white culture. We’ll certainly laugh when we hear jokes about ‘what white people eat,’ but “white culture” is whatever people without ethnic and cultural ties to their origins have cobbled together and created in this new state of blankness. Humans without culture create culture, because culture is part of what makes us human.

So whites came up with a patchwork of cultural forms, pasted together from what was around. Some of it was surviving bits from Europe. Some of it was technically stolen. Some call it borrowing, but whites don’t actually give it back. Some call it ‘copying’ or ‘exchange,’ but the only thing whites ever exchange in return is money, or Coca Cola, or expensive plastic bits made by people who aren’t white.

The important thing here is that culture went from something humans create to something that can only be bought or sold. That’s Capitalism’s trick, taking away our meaning and selling it back to us for profit. Worse, Capitalism often sells us stolen goods, the spoils of colonization.

That’s the whole ‘cultural appropriation’ bit. But let’s be clear  — most people don’t do a good job of talking about appropriation because they don’t mention Capitalism and Empire and power. It’s not easy to explain those things in a heated conversation, and not so easy on the internet, either.

Whiteness is a theft of color, a theft of history of the people who become white, a theft of all the ancestral cultural and spiritual forms of a people. They all become whitewashed, and become a people who don’t know who they are, don’t know how to have spirituality and culture without stealing it from others.

Whiteness can be—and maybe should be—looked at as a trauma. Fleeing European lands because of famine, enclosure, capitalist displacement and war, many of the people, who would later become white, were not just immigrants, but refugees. This is less traumatic, certainly, than being hauled in the bottom of slave ships, or being forced-marched across America so other people could have your land. But, loss of land, culture, language, and identity is a trauma nevertheless.

Traumatized people can be compelled to do horrible things. People who have lost everything often steal. People who live in abject poverty can often be bribed into performing heinous acts. And most horrible of all, people who suffer trauma often re-enact that trauma in others, perpetuating abuse in even worse forms than the original trauma.

Whiteness is, itself, a trauma treated not with healing, but with bribes and rewards to shut you up. Accept the abuse of whiteness and your kids don’t get shot, your bandages will be closer to your skin-tone, and the rich will let a few more scraps fall on the floor in front of you and maybe, just maybe, let you one day sit with them too.

The answer to curing the trauma of whiteness isn’t to deny it never happened, and that trauma doesn’t excuse any of the things whites have done because of it. We don’t help victims by denying they were never victimised, nor do we forgive people who sexually abuse children if they were abused as children, too. Both are forms of denial.

The End of Whiteness and the Beginning of Everything Else

We must look directly at the trauma that caused and causes whiteness, heal the wounds it causes (inside the white and outside), overthrow the Capitalist system that needs whiteness to survive, and then abolish whiteness altogether. And that’s where Paganism is very important.

Paganism can be seen as an attempt to create a culture and a system of meaning from the ruins of Capitalism even as Capitalism isn’t over yet. In fact, by creating a culture than can withstand the assault of the market and all its voracious greed, by insisting on the right of individuals to choose their own identities and worship their own gods in their own ways, Paganism could actually help cause the end of Capitalism and whiteness.

But there are two very large dangers here.

There are those who want to make Pagan a white religion. They make the mistake of accepting capitalist racial distinctions as natural or gods-ordained, and are often led by demogogues eager to exploit the trauma of whiteness into more virulent forms of hatred. They confuse European heritage and European gods with whiteness, even though there were no whites when European gods were worshiped.

In creating or reclaiming new identities, whiteness sometimes carries over as the blueprint for these constructions. Heathenism and Celtic Reconstruction often falls victim to this danger, sometimes pasting ‘Germanic’ or ‘Celtic’ over whiteness. Instead of salvaging what can be Celtic from the ruins of whiteness, they sometimes just dress up whiteness in Celtic garb.

The other danger is that we dress up our Paganism in salvage from the ruins of other still-living cultures, cultures in the process of being destroyed by Capitalism. That’s always been what Cultural Appropriation actually means, and why it’s important to talk about.  By taking cultural forms from other exploited peoples we are not borrowing or exchanging–we are continuing the abuse done to our ancestors.

But we can avoid both of these dangers by questioning whiteness, healing its trauma, and then destroying it completely. Paganism can’t be a white religion if we get rid of whiteness, nor can it be a white religion if we stop excluding people who have color from Paganism. And to destroy whiteness, there will have to be a culture to replace it—what better culture, then, than one reforged from what existed before Capitalism?

And this is yet another way that Paganism is also important—like soul retrieval, restoring what was lost to those traumatized by the nightmare of whiteness will make them whole again, end the cycles of abuse, and return the colors to their world.

Perhaps as we finally begin to know ourselves, face and heal the trauma of whiteness, our own and especially that of others whiteness was weaponized to hurt, perhaps we can reclaim what could have been and what has been along with all the other peoples of the world.

  *    *    *

This column was made possible by the generous underwriting donation from Hecate Demeter, writer, ecofeminist, witch and Priestess of the Great Mother Earth. 

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Rhyd Wildermuth

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Rhyd often lives in a city by the Salish Sea in occupied Duwamish territory. He’s a bard, theorist, anarchist, and writer, the editor of A Beautiful Resistance and co-founder of Gods&Radicals, author of Your Face Is a Forest and a columnist for The Wild Hunt. He growls when he’s thinking, laughs when he’s happy, cries when he’s sad, and does all those things when he’s in love. He worships Welsh gods, drinks a lot of tea, and dreams of forests, revolution, and men. His words can be found at Paganarch.com and can be supported on Patreon (patreon.com/Paganarch
  • Gerrie O.

    Excellent article. I’ve felt this even as a child, but never had the words. You see, my maternal grandmother was second generation Polish, spoke the language, had an accent, and we celebrated Easter and Christmas with Polish-American customs. I would go to my mother’s relatives homes and would hear the accents and smell the Polish food and it was home to me. And then I would look at my classmates and hear their stories and I realized how different it was for them. Back then I called it WASP – white anglo saxon protestant. Bland is another good word for it too.

    You make many excellent points in your article, but this part was something I could directly speak to. Thank you for helping me find some language around my experience.

  • Friday

    This, I think, is finally actually taking a Pagan approach to what’s been so much talked around in our community lately. Very good job. 🙂

  • Crowess

    I’m “white,” primarily English, Scottish, Irish, Welsh, with the attendant Germanic ancestry along with *some* Blackfoot–but not to the federally recognizable levels the US government would, well, recognize. I certainly wouldn’t feel *comfortable* or *ethical* using that Blackfoot ancestry as justification for what I would see as appropriating Blackfoot culture. I’m in many ways an American mutt with a very strong WASP background. And I can see how I reflect many other people in paganism in these regards. And I’ve seen many folks wonder what the hell they’re supposed to do to find some tradition or practice or faith that speaks to them without feeling they HAVE to go with what they are racially or culturally allotted into through birth and birthplace. I mean, I happen to have strong “Germanic” and “Celtic” leanings as far as my paganism in the first place, but I can see folks responding, “Why do I have to be Celtic or Germanic–Lugh or Odin don’t inspire me like this other culture’s stuff does?” And I think it’s vitally important that we define and call out cultural appropriation, but I think we also need to talk about what people should do instead without locking us into neat culturally appropriate categories that can become just as problematic. I have the feeling that many people don’t *want* to engage in cultural appropriation, but they can’t see or imagine how to find a practice or faith or philosophy that matters to them that doesn’t involve cultural appropriation and that doesn’t involve reinventing the proverbial wheel.

    • Crowess

      Of course, much of this problem amongst the “white” population reflects the extensive erasure of alternative spiritualities over the last several centuries (and which Westerners sought to impose on the rest of the world) even as 19th century imperialism and capitalism commodified and exported/appropriated colonized cultures’ beliefs for white capitalist consumption–and continues to do so. Don’t let my comments here seem to suggest that I don’t see the same problem, but if we keep calling attention to the problem without offering pragmatic solutions, then the persons we hope to convince will likely feel we’re punishing and stigmatizing them for wanting spirituality from others’ cultures. Which we are, in many ways, but our shared greater enterprise should also focus on offering them paths out of the worldview they occupy.

      • Friday

        True, though not really mentioned is how much of the culture of European-ancestry folks actually has *become* rather more amalgamated than they likely ever were originally. I mean, even if I weren’t part Italian, I’d still be a native of a culture much-derived from the Classical/Mediterranean world as well as, say, the British Isles. That’s true, too.

        Ancestry’s something, but it’s not the *only* thing.

        I mean, if anyone thinks, say, President Obama doesn’t have as much right as I tohearken to *his* Irish roots or our ….where we get the concept of a Republic, and so much else, anyway… Well, they’re not paying attention to *either.* (Even if he *were* entirely of African ancestry, *culturally* he’d be as much an heir to the cultures that have gone into this nation as anyone. )

        As correct as I think the author’s being in this article, there’s also another level to things… there *is* a bit more than ‘whitewash’ to Western culture/s. As Pagans we find and live more of that texture than we may even often take notice of.

        • Would you describe or define your use of texture above? I’m not feeling the answer popping from my database.

  • Juniper Jeni

    Honest question here:

    The Pagan community is mostly white people, this should be obvious before joining. In its simplest definition, Paganism is a modernized recreation of the indigenous spiritual traditions of EUROPE. That’s what Paganism is. By definition, it’s white people trying to get back to their roots after 2,000 years of Christianity.

    A POC joining the Pagan community and being surprised and feeling uncomfortable about how many white people there are. How white centric and Eurocentric it is, is like a goth kid walking into a famous sports bar and being surprised by all the jocks doing sporty things.

    If you decided to become a Rasta, would you be upset by how African the Rasta community is? If you became a Jew, would you be hurt by how Jewish centric the Jewish community is?

    Why are we expecting Paganism to not be Eruo-white centric?

    • White is not a category as Jewish, Rastafarian, or Pagan is, to start with. Paganism is a lot of things, but the definition you gave for it isn’t the simplest nor, especially, the most accurate.

      Paganism is an umbrella term for religious communities that believe in, revere, worship, and/or interact with many Gods, Ancestors, and/or spirits, may have some degree of belief of, reverence of, worship of, and/or interaction with these Beings, or, alternatively, do not believe in, worship, and/or interact with Gods, Ancestors, and/or spirits at all. This is dependent on what has been popularized as the Four Centers of Paganism, around which the term Pagan has come to be defined by many of its members. These Centers are: Nature-Centered, Self-Centered, Deity-Centered, and Community Centered, with varying degrees of overlap between them dependent on one’s theology, ideology, and identity within Paganism itself. For more info, look here:
      http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnbeckett/2014/05/the-four-centers-of-paganism.html

      This means that a person may not believe in Gods, per se, does not practice or engage in their religion with other people, but may believe in spirits (i.e. as/is an animist) as Beings with agency, identifying with Self-Centered and Nature-Centered more than Deity-Centered or Community-Centered.

      Another person may be what is commonly called hard polytheist and believe in many Gods as distinct Beings as well as Ancestors and spirits as discrete categories of Beings unto Themselves (with some believing in overlap, i.e. syncretized Gods, apotheosis of human beings into Gods, divine Ancestors, etc.), and practices with a group, thus having more of a presence in the Deity-Centered and Community Centered poles.

      Yet another person may identify as a complete atheist in regards to divine beings, Ancestors, spirits, etc., and enjoy the philosophical aspects, social aspects, and similar interactions with community, identifying more with the Self-Centered and Community Centered poles of the Pagan communities.

      We’re expecting Paganism to not be Euro-white because white as a racial category is relatively recent in its use, and it was specifically formulated to divide people along arbitrary racial lines to make them more pliable to the financial and political elite, i.e. rich white wealthy landowners in colonial America.

      If you came into Heathenry and expected it to be about worshiping Gods other than ones from the Norse, Anglo-Saxon, German, etc. you’d be disappointed, but that is because Heathenry is about these Gods as a religious category/religions, rather than Gods from other regions of the world. What Heathenry is/should not be about is whiteness.

      POC have been among the various European nations for time out of mind, and to not acknowledge this is active erasure of their identity within these places, and their places in history. POC have been and are European. Modern Paganism, and the various revival and reconstructionist religions that are often placed with/identify within and without its umbrella of religions should not be whitewashed. We should not expect Paganism to be white-centric because there is no reason to believe the various ancient Pagan religions were white-centric to begin with, and even were they, there is no reason to continue such a practice today.

    • “By definition, it’s white people trying to get back to their roots after 2,000 years of Christianity.”

      That’s not a definition I’ve ever heard before. It’s definitely not why I’m a Pagan. I’m a Pagan because I worship gods and like forests and don’t like Capitalism

      And again, if you read my essay, you’d notice that there were no white people 400 years ago, let alone 2000 years ago. How can Paganism be a return to white roots if there are no white roots?

      It’s only Euro-centric currently because that’s the only people who tend to get accepted in many Pagan circles. Of course, most of ’em aren’t even European themselves, but American, or Australian, or Canadian. We’re attempting to revive forms that existed in Europe, yes. But my gods live everywhere and show up everywhere, not just in the places where they were first worshiped.

    • Clio Ajana

      I am a POC and joined a specific tradition. There are ancestors for every group of humans on the planet. There are indigenous spiritual traditions throughout the continents of Africa, North America, South America, Asia and Australia. Would you call Native Americans who worship spirits and ancestors European? No. A part of the discomfort I know that some POC feel is due to the ignorance on the part of others that we have a place at the table of worship under the umbrella term of “Paganism”. We worship our ancestors,we pray to and listen to Gods who call us, or feel drawn through nature to the larger community of Paganism, in spite of the accepted stereotype of “Paganism” is white-Eruocentric in modern times. This notion of the white Eurocentric Pagan may be of comfort for those who value a quick label for a very complex reality and for those who refuse to see color beyond what is present in very specific European traditions. Please remember, however, that many of us practice traditions that are far older than when “whiteness” became an issue. Personally, I expect Paganism not to be Euro-white centric because I have seen so much that contradicts this stereotypical image. I also know that what you present in your question is the safe option and the one that is least threatening to the masses. To acknowledge that there are those who rank as Pagan, yet not as white means the locus of perceived control has to shift. Thank you Rhyd for your generous and pertinent historical observations on whiteness and its effect upon the fruition of Paganism as a larger movement, if only to remind and to educate the Juniper Junis of the world.

      • In the SF Bay Area, there is an American Magic Umbanda House. It’s an African Diaspora religion. There might be one PoC in it–I think he used to be nicknamed Snowy, but I could be wrong.

        It’s never called me, and my tendency is not to investigate spiritual paths for inclusion that don’t call me (leftover Catholicism? “Many are called, few are chosen”–and if I’m not called, is there a point to pursuing, save additional data and experience?)–and I’m really not quite certain why there are so many whites, and so few people of African descent in that group. Is a puzzlement.

        I’m beginning to think there are Wiccan archetypes (the God, the Goddess, triple or not), as well as those of “hard polytheism” in my belief patterns. I think of it as parallel to our Elements (4, 5, however many) and chemical elements of the Periodic Table: they each have their place in my world.

        Before I was aware of deities as separate personalities, I only had the Archetypes: now I know more, and Know More.

        Only four beliefs/facets of my world, not six, not impossible, and not before breakfast.

  • Donald L. Engstrom

    Thank you, Rhyd. A brilliant addition to the discussion. Keep up the good work.

    Donald

    http://wearewalkinginbeauty.org

  • Trickster3

    This is intriguing. Well thought out. Intellectually challenging. Lots to think about, process.

    I applaud this article and hope it causes growth and change.

  • *squirming uneasily*

    I do NOT think this is what you’re saying here, Rhyd, but I am concerned that your article could be read as affirmation of being “race blind” or “color blind.” And given how well it works for white people wind to rationalize, minimize and avoid thinking about racism, racism because they claim they “don’t see color,” that makes me uncomfortable.

    Again, I don’t think you’re advocating that. Pointing out the origins of the whole pseudo-scientific concept of race in the political and economic goals for social control in the early modern era? Oh, yeah–absolutely. The clear association between Bacon’s rebellion and the beginnings of racial laws in the American colonies is pretty telling. “Race” was constructed for political and economic reasons, and it’s good to remember that.

    But I worry that your real point is going to get lost here.

    There’s a whole lot of white people out there who believe that being colorless is the goal, and that talking about race–in order to notice and challenge racism–is itself divisive or even racist.

    I worry that those folks are going to misread your essay.

    Maybe I’m just a worrywart. Or maybe there’s nothing to be done for those who are that far lost in a white bubble… I don’t know.

    But this essay… Makes me restless, for what it does not discuss.

    • I mentioned this elsewhere, but it definitely is worth repeating here.

      We’re in a state of deadlock. Liberal/Progressive logic doesn’t quite allow the full weight of the socially-constructed nature of race to act in discourse precisely because of the reasons you fear. In essence, it becomes a Denkverbot (forbidden thought) because we fear the idea will be misused.

      The difficulty is that it’s already misused by the proto-fascist The New Right. It’s undeniable that there’s no such physical thing as race. It’s also undeniable that people who became whites were subjected to Capitalist forces which displaced them like refugees. These are anti-Capitalist ideas (from post-colonialists and Marxists) which don’t get used any longer in American ‘progressive’ discourse because progressives aren’t out for the abolishment of Capitalism or America, only to make both ‘a little better.’

      So, those ideas were stolen by proto-fascists and used against progressives. By abandoning anti-capitalism, the American Liberal-Left ceded powerfully liberating truths to those they are trying to fight (you can see the same thing in gay politics, where ‘born that way’ is a liberal certainty despite the fact that we’re otherwise anti-essentialist on gender and race and disability).

      So, I’m trying to steal them back. But it makes me uncomfortable and restless too.

      Also, we should be clear. Calling race ‘pseudo-scientific’ gives scientists a pass for their horrible contribution to this wretched myth. Eugenicists were scientists, so were the folks who decided woman should have their ovaries removed or homosexuals should be treated with electro-shock. Science has some shit to answer for here.

      • When I read the statement about removing ovaries, it seemed to me that the great percentage of women with ovaries are more calm than the percentage of men with testes, but no one ever advocated removing the testes–those with testes making the laws wouldn’t think of it *for that purpose*. Not getting into eunuchs, castrati, MtF, or extreme punishments.

        In the first paragraph, you have an amusing typo: artesian chocolate. I would dearly love a chocolate well in my yard! The second instance is spelled correctly.

    • I would also add that the goal is the annihilation of the myth of race; I mentioned in the article that this can’t be done until the trauma race has caused is healed and Capitalism is dismantled. I’m pretty sure such statements won’t go down very easily for liberals who want to be ‘color blind’ nor proto-fascists who want to deny race ever caused a problem. 🙂

  • Richard Cardone Blackcat

    This reads to me as a self-loathing opinion piece masquerading as expository essay. You report information here as-if it were fact. Your readers accept the information and then think what follows makes logical sense. But the information is not fact. It is your own selective bias, culled from the Internet to match whatever point it is you have thought up. Most troubling is your willful attribution of causality where none exists. “Whiteness” may not have existed 325 years ago but outrageous racial and ethnic inequality did. In fact, much of what you write as the source of modern ills were grand improvements on what came before. The work for a more just and equitable society continues and the “whiteness” as distinction should end in my opinion. As for trauma, I’d say the trauma that needs your healing,dear author, is your own.

  • Sarah Sadie

    Provocative. One thing that occurs as I read is the invisibility of culture as it is handed down through the Mothers. (Calling out patriarchy as partner and part of the race and culture and class oppressions you name here.) Stories, foods, songs, private rituals large and small…if we can find a way to see, hear, value the culture of family, largely conveyed by mothers, aunts, grandmothers…that may well help monolithic “white” culture disappear into a variegated pattern of identities. In other words, the revolution may consist of seemingly small gestures.

  • Dee Romesburg

    This answers a lot of questions I’ve always had. Growing up in a very “ethnic” town, I learned all my ancestors/ethnicities early in life. Certain family traditions came from my various great-grandparents and I learned that they had not been considered “white” when they came to the US in the 1910s and 20s. Much like Gerrie O., I never identified as “white” because that was those bland WASP kids over there. 🙂

    Thanks for the history and the food for thought. I definitely prefer being Polish, Italian, German, Welsh, English and Cherokee to being “White”.

  • My mother’s parents were Lebanese immigrants with moderately dark skin. I sometimes which the various forms & questionnaires added Middle-Eastern, because in general, Middle-Easterners, North Africans, the island populations between Africa and India don’t think of *themselves* as white, nor those from Pakistan east to Bangladesh think of themselves as Asian.

    Certainly none of them are seen by most Europeans/North Americans/(white) Australians/(white) New Zealanders/(white) South Africans as white.

    Perhaps we should be looking at ethnicity rather than “race”.