Thursday, January 22, 2009

Dear White People

I was inspired to write this post from the following comment, left on a post entitled, "Go Ahead Say Nigger."

 I think your premise is really weak and holds no value. I am caucasian, proud to be so and would never use the word "nigger" in any context. I don't know about this rule that espouse I have a desire to hold onto but I've never ruled anything but my own mind. I am offended by your righteous indignation because you think every white person wants to use this offensive term in a way that is only reprehensible. Well, let me take the opportunity to correct your alarmist thought process, I've had others say to me "James, you my nigga." I don't like the word but I understood the fact that I was regarded as someone close enough to be referred to in this way. I hope some day you move beyond your antiquated impression of the caucasian mindset. The existence of such intolerance is only evident in small pockets and is reviled when it's expressed.

If there is a critique of whiteness and it isn't about you, don't make it about you. I don't know how many times this has been said.  Whiteness, like racism is a systemic force and while it seems that commentary is said in vague generalities, in actuality, it is a critique about the way whiteness is experienced and functions throughout society.  Though not all white people are alike and benefit differently from privilege based on connections to other isms, what cannot be denied is an inequality of worth and value.  Whiteness is a hegemonic force and acts in its defence daily.  While said defence may take different forms, its goal is to maintain unearned power.

It is a fallacy that the word nigger is only used by blacks as a term of colloquial friendship.  While you will never hear the word from the lips of mainstream media, it is hardly as disciplined and regimented as projected. It may not be your circumstance to interact with those that choose to wield that word as a weapon; however blacks have continually testified to being called that word or over heard themselves, or other blacks referred to as nigger,  Had you taken the time to ask people of colour what their experience with this word is, I suspect you might find that whiteness is not nearly as intolerant of racism as you perceive. 

While using the word nigger is seen as one of the most virulent ways in which racism expresses itself, it is hardly the only offensive terminology.  How often have you heard pundits ask if someone was playing the race card, or heard black women referred to as angry for having the courage to speak their truth?  I cannot tell you how many times in the comment section of this blog alone I have been referred to as angry for having the courage to be critical of whiteness.

My impressions of whiteness are far from antiquated, rather they are based upon by daily confrontations with it.  Unlike you, I do not have the choice as whether or not I will engage with people who do not look like me; whiteness permeates every moment of my existence.  It is like an invading force blocking, burning, and pillaging, all in its path.  Often times it is presented in a paternalistic form to make it seem benign, but to those of us that must negotiate it, the false constructs work to severely hamper our life's chances.  Blackness exists primarily as a spoiled identity to ensure the perception of whiteness as good.

I find it interesting that you would take the time to lecture me on all of the ways in which I am wrong, as though what I have lived is somehow less genuine than your life.  Of course, I am not meant to view your paternalistic attitude towards race as ultimately racist. White people cannot resist the urge to tell POC, about our lives as though they have a modicum of understanding of what it is to exist as an "othered"body in this society.  You cannot know our truth, and therefore the desire to tell us that we are reading a situation incorrectly stems from a deep felt belief that whiteness owns truth.

What I write may seem controversial to some; however unless you can approach these intersections from the point of view of a racialized body, you are bringing to bear all of your privilege in your analysis. One may strive to be an anti-racist, or fight to end oppression, but the fact remains, that being socialized in a racist society one cannot completely decolonize your mind from what which has become dominant discourse.  It may be disturbing and cause a visceral reaction to see a critical approach to white hegemony but this stems from your unacknowledged desire to maintain a racial advantage.

Just as I am shocked when I find that I have been abelist, or homophobic because my intent is liberation and equality, I cannot reverse a lifetime of being steeped in a society that privileges certain bodies.  Working in the cause of justice means realizing that no matter the efforts of the individual, unpacking privilege requires a daily effort. Growth is certainly possible; however we quite often will fall back on the familiar, not only because it privileges us, but because it is comfortable.


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