Hello and welcome back. Everyone seems really fired up here at the beginning of 2018, and so I'd like to take the opportunity to revisit a column I wrote a while back called "You Can Talk About Whiteness and You Won't Explode Into Flames." As far as I know, nobody exploded into flames as a result of reading the article, so thank God for that.
The point of the column was to discuss how people are resistant to even the idea of talking about the origin of whiteness and how it benefits white people, and a lot of the comments more or less proved my point. I was actually the racist one for bringing this up. I was only promoting racial divisiveness. #Notallwhitepeople. And so on.
These types of reactions come up repeatedly, almost on cue, in discussions of racism and how white people benefit from it, like some sort of really fucked up version of Groundhog Day. And even though I know none of you are going to burst into flames because of reading this, I'm only going to talk about a handful of those responses here. So take a deep breath, because here we go.
Talking about whiteness is actually racist against white people
I re-read the initial piece a number of times because I love to read my own writing, and didn't see any slurs used against white people, nor did I advocate for the systemic discrimination of white people. I was simply pointing out that racial classifications in this country were created in part to help justify taking Native land and using Africans for slave labor. To this day those classifications continue to determine things both good and bad about people's entire existence, and sorry to break it to you, but it's something that needs to be examined. I should also point out that I can't be racist against white people because my neighbor in college was white, and one time I let him use my phone when he got locked out of his apartment, which was a really nice thing for me to do.
Talking about racism is divisive
Yeah, no shit. You know what else is divisive? RACISM. Your problem (talking about racism) only exists because racism exists. This has been said over and over again by people much smarter and better than me. I am aware that talking about issues of race makes people uncomfortable and even downright hostile, I can literally watch my follower count and friends list dwindle in real time as I discuss these issues on various social media platforms. However, that anger over talking about whiteness and racism is ridiculous compared to actually experiencing racism. So if my talking about racism makes you hate me more than you hate the racism, I don't know what to tell you other than have a nice life.
Oh yes, the ever present "Not all Something" response. It comes in many forms. Not all men. Not all white people. Not all Catholics. Not all BMW drivers. You name any random demographic group and there's people shouting that not everyone from that group does something that people find unpleasant. The thing is, the people talking about racism and other issues know that it's not ALL the people who do one thing, but it's enough that it's a thing. Pointing out "Not all white people" when someone is talking about these things is completely useless. Racism is something that happens on a systemic level and a personal one, so even though not all white people would call ICE if they saw a Mexican guy dropping his kids off at school, all white people benefit from systemic racism at the expense of people of color. Writer Chauncey Devega outlines this in his article "Matters of Race and Class: How 'Whiteness' is One of the Greatest Scams in Modern History."
"In all, Whiteness is a new invention. The ways in which it has been naturalized signals to its powerful role in an American society that was built upon a foundation of white supremacy, and that continues to maintain institutionalized systems of white advantage over people of color in the 21st century. Of course, all white people do not benefit in the same way from the racial ideology known as Whiteness: class, gender, sexual orientation hugely impact their lives, among many other identities. However, as a group, all white people benefit from Whiteness relative to non-whites."
And there you have it, I can't really think of a more concise, inoffensive way to put it.
Racism doesn't effect you if you don't want it to
Now this comment is particularly insidious because it's often hidden behind a veil of concern and seems to encourage self empowerment. Just don't worry about racism and it won't bother you. If you work hard, implying that you don't, then you too can reach that magical plane where racism and white supremacy have no effect on you. I really don't know what to say about this other than that it's a super shitty thing to tell someone. Racism is not something that is always overcome with individual virtues, especially when we're talking about systemic issues. Framing racism as an obstacle that simply needs to be overcome with hard work and a smile, rather than questioning why that obstacle even exists, places the problem on the person experiencing it and not the system that perpetuates it.
That's all for now. Just remember that even though race is a social construct, ending racism requires acknowledging how it has impacted everyone's lives, whether it's with benefits or disadvantages. Hopefully you haven't exploded into flames and if for some reason you do, it's not because you talked about whiteness. Thanks for stopping by this week, you're going to be ok.