If you're registered to vote in Multnomah County, you may have heard about Measure 26-196, a bond which would continue to provide funding to Portland Community College for improving facilities and bunch of other really great things. It's literally the only thing on the ballot and there's a good number of arguments in support of the measure. Read Willamette Week's endorsement here.
However there were only two arguments in the Voters' Pamphlet that were against 26-196, both of which were chock full of enough racist dog whistles and Eurocentric revisionist history that I could write a column about it every week for the remainder of 2017. I probably won't do that to you, though, so this week I'm only going to talk about one itsy-bitsy, teeny tiny part of that whole mess, and that's learning about whiteness.
One of the reasons given for why voters shouldn't support Measure 26-196 is that in April of 2016, Portland Community College had the audacity to sponsor a whiteness history month.
The goal of the event was to explore the racial hierarchy here in the United States, specifically from the white side. This made a lot of people very angry then, and it's clear from the opposition arguments that this issue is still creating a lot of anguish for those who don't see the point or are actively resistant to talking about what it means to be white in this country.
While the opposition arguments might be tempting to dismiss as an Old Man Yells At Cloud moment, the anger that many white people have around discussing the racial hierarchy in the United States exists across political spectrums. People don't want to talk about whiteness and what it means for them, to which I say, suck it up, you'll be alright.
Now I know it's hard for some of you to hear without freaking the fuck out, but Native genocide and African slavery were huge parts of how the United States came to be today. To put it very simply, part of the reason why these two things were possible was because racial classifications imposed by colonists from Europe designated African people and Natives as less human than "white" people.
To ignore these basic historic facts means leaving out a huge part of the story of why we're in the position we are today. The fact that some people can't stand to hear about the founding of the United States as anything less than a divine achievement is proof enough that we need all sorts of discussions around this social construct that continues to dictate people's lives with both advantages and disadvantages.
But why does the discussion of the racial hierarchy make some people, specifically the people who benefit from whiteness, really, really mad? Like so mad they'd ignore an entire genocide and slave trade because it doesn't support their idea that they've been really fucking awesome with no bad consequences for anyone else since the beginning of time?
Well, there's lots of answers to that, and I won't go over every single reason, but for one nobody likes learning that their position in life may be due to unearned advantages that came at the expense of others. This doesn't mean I feel bad for someone when they find this out for themselves. Not even close. I'm more worried about racism killing me in some way than I am about someone's feelings over learning their idea of America's founding isn't as rosy as they want it to be.
You can learn about whiteness and you'll be okay. You can learn about your privileges and where they came from and you'll have a good chance of being okay. If your justification for not learning about whiteness and the actual history of the founding of this country is that it might make some people feel bad about themselves, well I don't think there's a big enough safe space for you.