I Am So Sick of White People’s Excuses (And I’m White!)

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What the heck is wrong with us, white people?

Systematic racism is all around, but we refuse to see it.

Oh, and I do mean REFUSE. It’s not a matter of being unable to see it. Our eyes and minds work just as well as anyone else’s. We can perceive reality. Too many of us just choose not to.

According to the Guardian, at least 793 Americans have been killed by police so far this year. That number includes 194 black people or 4.86 per million. That’s more than double the rate for white people at 1.96 per million.

This is not an opinion. This is an undeniable fact. Every number is backed up with verifiable data. And moreover, it follows the same pattern we’ve seen for a couple of years now since news organizations have taken up the slack from the federal government and started counting.

Why does that not worry more white people? It worries me. I don’t want to live in a country where police use lethal force so often against civilians, so much more than almost any other developed country on Earth. And I don’t want my black friends and neighbors to be targeted so much more.

I’m a middle school teacher. Most of my students are black. I don’t want to have to worry that they or their parents are going to be murdered just because of an excess of melanin. Street gangs are worrisome enough without having to add into the mix many of the very law enforcement officers that are supposed to keep us safe from those gangbangers.

But when you bring this up to white folks and other facts detailing the systemic racism that pervades our society, you get every excuse in the book.

They simply refuse to engage with what you’re saying. They deflect and redirect and change the subject – and they don’t even seem to realize they’re doing it.

Blue lives matter, they say. All lives matter. Every form of life seems to matter to white people – except explicitly black lives.

We seem to think it’s impossible to care about both police and African Americans. We seem to think any expression of the value of human life has to be universal without mentioning individual groups that are at a higher risk than others.

It’s wacko, clearly a way of shutting down a conversation white folks will do anything to avoid.

The easiest dodge seems to be talking about black-on-black crime. As if somehow that makes it right.

It goes something like this: You’re worried about police killing black people, what about other black people? Most African Americans are killed by other African Americans.

Of course what they omit is that the same is true for white Americans. White folks kill each other much more than any other race does. But you never see people wringing their hands about white-on-white crime, do you?

Moreover, it’s irrelevant. If I point to a single incident of a white person killing a black person, it is not therefore justified because black people kill black people more often. Would you think an African American is justified for popping a cap in your Caucasian mom’s ass because most of us, honkies, usually off other honkies? Of course not!

But so much for logic. One of the most popular evasions is to blame it all on inferior black culture.

It goes like this: Black people don’t suffer systemic racism. If there are any ways in which they are selected against in society, it’s because they’ve earned that treatment because of the way they act.

Black people come from unmarried parents. They are on Welfare and a host of other social ills. THESE are the reasons behind so-called racism, not unjust systems.

It’s pure nonsense.

How does coming from unmarried parents mean you deserve to be killed by police at a greater rate than white people? How does parental marital status affect the justice system handing out more severe and longer sentences for blacks than for whites who commit the same crimes? How does the Facebook status of your pops and your moms somehow translate into difficulty getting a job due to your black sounding name?

In short, the two have nothing to do with each other.

Yes, black people have children out of wedlock about twice as often as white people. So what? Some people aren’t meant to be married. Often it’s better for the children if the parents don’t stay married to people who mistreat each other, a marriage where there is no love. Would racism suddenly disappear if black people just kept their chins up and married each other irregardless of whether the relationship was healthy for them and their children?

Let’s get to what white people are really saying here. Whites aren’t saying marriage is a magical shield against prejudice. They’re saying: Damn! Look at these strangers! These others! These people who aren’t like you and me!

The fact that many of them don’t get married before having children just shows how morally inferior they are to us. They deserve their treatment because they don’t share our sensibilities.

This is a pretty heartless way to think. Not only do the parents, apparently, deserve to be selected against, but so do their kids who had nothing to do with whether daddy gave mommy a ring or not. Moreover, where did the culture of marriageless childbirth come from for black people? When their ancestors were kidnapped from Africa and brought to these shores as slaves, it was the white slave masters who forbade them from marrying. In many cases, that tradition doesn’t exist because we took it away. Meanwhile, about a quarter of white couples have children out of wedlock, too. What’s our excuse?

But this won’t be enough to convince most white interlocutors.

They’ll just huff and puff and spout some nonsense about welfare.

They’ll say Black people fall into immoral and violent behavior because they’ve been taught by liberals to exist on welfare and not get jobs of their own.

Again, the problem is black people, themselves, aided by bleeding heart liberals trying to give them a helping hand. Some white folks even go so far as to say this is real racism because by giving black folks such sweet benefits for not working, liberals purposefully destroyed black people’s natural inclination to productivity.

Think about it for about two seconds, and you can see how crazy it is.

Black people deserve to be killed at twice the rate of whites because they don’t have jobs? They deserve to be gunned down because they’re too lazy to work?

Or alternatively, they deserve not to get call backs when they turn in resumes with black sounding names because they’re lazy!? These people just handed in job applications. We can imagine they did that because they wanted freaking jobs! But being lazy makes them unqualified for the very jobs they tried to apply for in the first place?

Let’s look at the facts for a moment. Black people don’t accept the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) more than whites. It’s the other way around.

More than 40% of SNAP recipients are white. Only 25% are black.

But that’s raw data. When we look at it as a percentage of the population, black people are twice as likely to be on Welfare as Whites. Only 12% of the country is African American, after all.

So why bring up the raw data? Because if you’re upset about the sheer numbers of people on assistance, you’re mad at more white people than black people.

Moreover, black people actually need it more than whites. More than 27% of black people live in poverty compared to only 10% of whites. Hence the larger percentage of blacks on SNAP.

This isn’t meant to throw anyone under the bus for being on public assistance. Times are tough and well paying jobs are hard to come by. For instance, most of the people who accept SNAP benefits actually are employed, but their pay is too small to sustain them. Thanks, Walmart.

So how much does a family of four get on SNAP? It depends on how much money the household earns, but the total income must be below the federal poverty level – $23,050. For many families it comes to about $399 a month. That’s $1.10 per person, per meal.

This isn’t exactly living high off the hog. I can’t imagine anyone making bank who would throw it all away to live so luxuriously on food stamps.

However, this is exactly what a lot of white people think about blacks.

It goes against the facts, and it doesn’t explain the reality of systemic racism.

In so many ways our society is set up to give white people an advantage and black people a disadvantage. That doesn’t mean all white people have it perfectly. There are an awful lot of dirt poor white folks out there – many of their kids are in my classes, too. But while they may be disadvantaged socially, economically or many other ways, they aren’t disadvantaged racially.

That’s the whole point.

Racism still exists and talking about it doesn’t make you anti-white. It makes you pro-black and pro-justice.

Those aren’t bad things to be.

We, white people, have to stop being so fragile when racism is brought up. Though I’ve artificially concerned myself only with black people here, we need to listen to what all people of color are telling us about how they’re treated. We need to take a hard look at the facts.

Being white and admitting racism exists doesn’t make you a racist – though you probably benefit from it. It just means that if you want to stand on the right side of history, on the side of equity and justice, you may need to bring your thinking into agreement with reality.

Why the Rich Need Racists: Prejudice as Social Control

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HELP WANTED: RACISTS
Anywhere, USA

-Must have an irrational fear and hatred of all things African American.

-Must honestly believe black people get all the breaks, have it easier than whites.

-Must believe black people are naturally inferior to whites, lazy, prone to criminality, less intelligent, etc.

-Must believe racism ended with either (1) the civil rights movement or (2) slavery.

But must hide these beliefs under a thin veneer of civility. For instance:

-must never use the N-word (in public)

-must never beat or kill a black person (unless on the police force)

-must never light a burning cross on a black person’s lawn (and get caught)

-must never tweet or express these views publicly in a way that can be traced back to you.

Enjoyment of rap music, black culture or black sexual partners optional. Fox News viewership preferred.

Bonus pay if racism is unrecognized by the applicant.

No experience necessary. Apply within.”

If you saw an advertisement like the above posted in your local shop window, it really wouldn’t be so surprising. Would it?

Well maybe because of it’s bluntness. But it’s not really that different from campaign fliers for Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump vowing to “Make America Great Again!”

Throughout it’s history, when exactly was America great for black and brown people who have been denied equal rights? When was it great for women or LGBTs or a host of other non-cis/non-male/non-white people?

A pledge to make America great again is just a pledge to make America white again – or at least to propel male whiteness back to the center of normativity.

(In fact, much of what I’m going to say about racism here could also be said of all kinds of prejudice. But for the interest of clarity, I’ll try to contain myself to focusing on racism, though I acknowledge the high degree of intersectionality of the phenomena.)

Yep. A lot of folks are riled up because the flower of white male privilege is wilting, and they think too many are suggesting we let it die.

What can they do? White people’s only remaining claim on supremacy is based on a fleeting numerical majority that is fast coming to an end. Soon they’ll be outnumbered.

They’re so mad about even an incremental loss of white power, they’re willing to blind themselves to obvious injustices against people of color.

For instance, black people are killed by the police at twice the rate of white people. Unarmed black people are killed at five times the rate. Yet somehow it’s black folk’s own doggone fault.

What if he has a legal weapon, but it’s not anywhere in use? HIS FAULT.

What if he has no weapon? HIS FAULT.

What if he’s just a child? HIS FAULT.

What if it’s a woman mysteriously found hanged in her prison cell with no possible motive for suicide? HER FAULT.

What if he’s screaming in pain from an injury sustained in the police encounter? HIS FAULT.

What if he’s complaining on video that police are choking him and he dies as a result of those injuries? HIS FAULT.

I mean come on, people! How does a brotha’ got to die before white folks will admit to some culpability by police?
And that’s just one type of example. Consider: There are more black people in prison today than were slaves before the Emancipation Proclamation. Black people get harsher prison sentences than whites for the exact same crimes. Black people are segregated into poor communities with underfunded schools. People with black-sounding names are less likely to get a job than white counterparts with the same experience.

And on-and-on-and-on.

Yet you’ll find white apologists everywhere who will see no evil, hear no evil, and speak no evil of the racial caste system under which their black brothers and sisters are forced to live. They refuse to acknowledge it, get angry when you bring it up and will actively support it at the polls.

That’s racism, people.

It’s 2016. Legal slavery ended more than 150 years ago in this country. The civil rights movement ended more than 60 years ago. Why do we still have systematic racism baked into the fabric of America?

In 1963, the African American writer James Baldwin asked the same question. He said:

“The future of the Negro in this country is precisely as bright or as dark as the future of the country. It is entirely up to the American people, and our representatives, it is entirely up to the American people whether or not they’re going to face and deal with and embrace the stranger who they’ve maligned for so long. What white people have to do is try to find out in their own hearts why it was necessary to have the n****r in the first place. I am not a n****r. I am a man. But if you think I’m a n****r, it means you need it… You, the white people, invented him, and you have to find out why. And the future of the country depends on that.”

Why do white people need racism?

Today we have an answer. The short version would be this: because it’s useful.

It serves a function in society.

When people conceptualize each other into these highly dubious and unjustifiable categories of black and white, it provides a valuable service to the status quo. In fact, we couldn’t have the status quo without it.

When historians look back at the ancient Spartan empire of 900 -192 BC, there is little confusion why their society was so highly militarized. Few historians wonder why such a small population organized themselves into a military state. They needed to control the vast network of slaves dispersed throughout their community. The conquerors were massively outnumbered by the conquered so they resorted to militarized fear to keep their social structure intact. They weren’t afraid of invaders from without. They were afraid of invaders from within.

Likewise, if humanity survives our current moment in time, historians of the future will undoubtedly be in agreement about the reasons for American racism. It’s the same reason found in ancient Sparta. We need it to keep our society together.
In America today, the top one percent own more than the bottom 90 percent. The richest 85 people have as much wealth as the bottom half of the country. And it’s only getting worse.

A country with such vast wealth inequality cannot survive without a scapegoat – black people. The majority of the population would not let the top one percent gorge themselves on our riches unless they had distracted us with something.

Don’t pay any attention to the Wall Street bailout. Look at those welfare queens, which is code for black people sucking away our wealth.

Don’t pay attention to the overt militarization of the police force. Look at those violent black criminals they have to deal with by pulling their service pistols and shooting them into submission.

Don’t pay attention to the inequitable distribution of education funding to your public schools. Look at how these black kids don’t pull up their pants, and if they manage to graduate, they’re given undeserved preference over more qualified white people through affirmative action.

Think about it. Why do we have a sizable black population in the first place?

Slavery. The very presence of a substantial black population is attributable to market forces. We needed a cheap workforce for our agricultural industry – especially tobacco and cotton. It was a labor intensive process and the only way to make a substantial profit at it was immoral thrift. And you can’t get much cheaper than forced, generational servitude.

Why weren’t black people treated equally after the Civil War?

We still needed that cheap workforce. The wealth of our nation depended on it. We needed legal ways to keep them subjugated. We needed to keep them on the farm or in prison so the economic engine of agriculture could continue unabated. If they all had the right to vote or could protest their conditions, that would hurt the bottom line. They’d gain freedom, but we’d lose money. Not gonna’ happen.

Why didn’t equality come after the civil rights movement?

Agricultural mechanization had decreased the need for cheap labor, but having an underclass is profitable for whoever can take advantage of them. The invisible hand of the market will preserve human subjugation for as long as it can and as long as it turns a profit.

Moreover, throughout the entire history of this country, the rich have needed something to keep white labor in check, too. Fair wages, overtime pay, child labor laws, vacation pay, workplace safety – all of these rights had to be fought for tooth and nail – usually by the most demonized of social institutions, the labor unions. We needed something to stop the rising tide of economic fairness. Giving white workers someone to kick around made them more satisfied with their own lot in life and less willing to fight for a larger share of the pie.

It went something like this: You may have to work in the factory all day, but at least you aren’t one of THEM. You might be bone tired while the bosses get rich off of your labor, but at least you can feel proud of your race.

What an amazing swindle! The rich have actually convinced many hard-working white people to feel proud of the pigmentation of their skin! No. Not their cultural heritage. Not the struggle of their moms and dads, their ties to a homeland across the sea, their religion or ethnicity. No. The color of their skins!

If intelligent aliens ever crossed light years of space and time to investigate the intellect of human beings, that one fact would have them rushing back home shaking their tentacles and multiple heads in disbelief!

Just look at how racism has been used to justify the actions of the wealthy throughout history!

Europeans discover a New World in 1492 full of riches to plunder and exploit. But how do you justify doing that when it’s already populated? How can you do that morally? After all, doesn’t our God command we love our neighbors as ourselves? Isn’t murder and theft a… gulp… sin?

Well obviously the indigenous peoples don’t count. They’re not like us. They’re not Christians. They’re heathens.

But wait a minute! The church is forcing them to adopt our religion. This justification has a sell-by date. It won’t last long enough for us to suck every drop of wealth out of the Americas.

So we came up with a new way to dehumanize people – racism. It’s not just that they’re heathens. They’re subhuman, too. FWEW! Problem solved.

Then comes 1776. The American colonies revolt and write up some high minded language about all men being equal. If we actually believed that, it would necessitate a new social order. Much easier to find new justifications for the old one.

Well we already agreed the Native Americans are naturally inferior. These African slaves we stole are likewise beneath our high ideals. The same with women. And the poor. And immigrants. And homosexuals. And whoever else we need to subjugate. They just don’t count.

When idealism and capitalism have come into conflict, the rich have invariably chosen capitalism. And when the rest of us choose racism, prejudice, sexism, xenophobia and homophobia, we’re doing them a favor. We’re backing up their interests.

Stop being such chumps, white people!

A racist is invariably a traitor to his own class. A sexist is a sycophant to the smart set. A xenophobe is a diversion to the hands buried in your pocket robbing you blind.
Your interests have much more in common with all those people you’ve been taught to hate. You could be coming together in common cause with all those black and brown people. You could be rising up and demanding your due. We could join together and demand a fair shake, an equitable piece of our gross national product.

But instead we are content to protect an ever shrinking share of our national wealth if we can just keep that ridiculous and childish pride in our lack of melanin.

During the same interview, Baldwin was asked if he thought there was any hope America would change it’s ways. He said:

“I can’t be a pessimist because I’m alive. To be a pessimist means that you have agreed that human life is an academic matter, so I’m forced to be an optimist. I’m forced to believe that we can survive whatever we must survive.”

I agree.

It’s all up to us, white people.

Racism doesn’t serve us. It subjugates us just like it does everyone else.

They throw us a bone and we jealously guard it like its a prime cut of steak.

When are we going to wake up? When are we going to put away hate and choose love?

When are we going to join our brothers and sisters in the struggle and demand what’s ours?

The rich may need racists, but we don’t.

Without Black Culture There Would Be No American Culture

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“We’ve been floating this country on credit for centuries, and we’re done watching and waiting while this invention called whiteness uses and abuses us, burying black people out of sight and out of mind while extracting our culture, our dollars, our entertainment like oil – black gold, ghettoizing and demeaning our creations then stealing them, gentrifying our genius and then trying us on like costumes before discarding our bodies like rinds of strange fruit.”

With these words, Jesse Williams absolutely floored the crowd at the BET Awards Sunday night.

His acceptance speech for the Humanitarian Award was jaw dropping.

Here was a black actor on “Grey’s Anatomy” just telling it like it is on national TV.

He wasn’t afraid a business dominated by white people would take offense (and some white people did). Or if he was, he wasn’t going to let it stop him.

The activist who recently produced a documentary “Stay Woke: the Black Lives Matter Movement” said, “The burden of the brutalized is not to comfort the bystander… If you have a critique for the resistance… then you better have an established record of critique of our oppression.”

No more tone policing. No white fragility. Just if you’re with us, stand up – otherwise, sit down and shut up.

It was beautiful. And it got me thinking.

There are so many obvious truths about our country’s relationship with race that hardly anyone ever gives voice to – especially a white person like me.

So I’m going to add my voice to Jesse’s. I’m just going to say it.

It’s past time we admit it, white people.

American culture would not exist without black culture.

I don’t mean to say that white people are incapable of culture or that if black people had never been kidnapped and brought to our shores as slaves that white people wouldn’t have been able to devise a unique national character.

But if that had happened, it would have been a very different character than what we have today.

It might be America, but it would not be our America. It would be some other thing. I will leave it to speculative fiction to attempt to determine what that might have been like.

However, we need not resort to fantasy to see all the incredible things black people have given us. They’re everywhere, in everything – though usually staring back at us through a white face, heard from a white voice and monetized by a white industry.

The hundreds of years of struggle from slavery through Jim Crow through the modern prison state have given black people plenty of fertile ground with which to build our national culture. Traditionally white people have served as both oppressors and appreciators of the fruits of that oppression.

The most obvious example is music.

There is very little American music not based on black traditions. Even if it is performed by white musicians, even if it is written by white musicians – almost all American music owes an overwhelming debt to black people.

Take rock n’ roll, a style usually associated with white people. The majority of rock musicians are white. The majority of rock stars are white. The majority of rock listeners are white.

But it couldn’t exist without black music – specifically blues and jazz.

Rock n’ roll was invented during the second great migration, when black people from the southern United States came into contact with large groups of whites in big cities such as New York, Chicago, Cleveland, Buffalo, etc. It was the first time many white people heard black music like blues, work songs, etc. It was also the first time many black people heard European instrumentation. The resulting cultural collision was extremely fruitful.

Rhythm and blues (sometimes called “race music”) evolved into distinct new styles – country, jazz, gospel, folk and rock. In many ways the different styles had less to do with actual differences in the music than in rebranding black music for a white audience. When a black musician became known for a particular kind of music, the fledgling music industry tried to monetize it by finding a white musician who could do something similar and thus reach a larger audience.

They figured if X number of white people will listen to this music played by a black musician, X plus thousands more will listen to it if played by a white one. And they were right.

Black musician Chuck Berry was one of the first to play what we’d recognize as rock n’ roll. He took standard jump blues and played the two-note lead line on his guitar that until then was typically performed on piano. He put guitar at the center of the sound, amplified it, electrified it and rock was born.

The genre developed organically with many black musicians taking the lead – Fats Domino, Sister Rosetta Tharp, Goree Carter, Jimmy Preston, Bo Diddley, Little Richard, Joe Hill Louis, Guitar Slim, Howlin’ Wolf and many others.

However, the first certified rock hit “Rock Around the Clock,” was recorded in 1954 by an all white band, Bill Haley and His Comets. With this recording, the die was cast. The music was invented and developed mostly by black musicians, but it wasn’t a major success until it was recorded by white musicians.

The same thing can be seen with Elvis Presley, the so-called “King of Rock n’ Roll.” He wasn’t breaking any new ground. He was just the first white person who could sing like the black blues musicians who came before him. They toiled in obscurity. He cashed in.

This isn’t to say that no black musicians succeeded playing rock n’ roll. But it was predominantly white musicians who popularized the style that their black forebears had created.

To understand this, perhaps it is best to turn to the insight of Amiri Baraka (formerly known as LeRoi Jones). In his classic book “Blues People,” he dissects the complex American relationship of race and music through the 1960s.

Baraka writes that white and black America have different value structures. As such it is a very different thing for a black American and a white American to play the same music.

When a black musician like Louis Armstrong played jazz music – another invention of black culture – he was fulfilling the ideals of his culture. By contrast, when a white musician like Bix Beiderbecke played jazz music, he was rebelling against his.

There is something jarring and revolutionary when white musicians play black music, Baraka writes. In doing so, the music becomes devoid of race. It is no longer black music. It is just music.

However, the musicians who created it are not likewise freed from the ghetto. They’re still black even if their music no longer is.

So what are black musicians left to do but create new music that they can call their own?

This may explain why so few black performers play rock music anymore. It was taken from them. They had to move on.

Even so, their fingerprints are all over everything that came after. The Beatles, Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, Metallica, all the way through the White Stripes and Black Keys. Ask any hardcore fan to name the best rock guitarist who ever lived, and the answer is bound to come back – Jimi Hendrix. Yet, Eddie Van Halen made an awful lot more money.

Perhaps the most incredible thing is that black musicians have continued to develop new and more creative music after every appropriation. Funk, Rap, Pop, Hip Hop, modern R&B. One can see all of it as a progression of gentrification and subsequent creation.

It makes me wonder: why do we love black culture so much but not black people?

As Williams said to end his speech this weekend, “…just because we’re magic doesn’t mean we’re not real.”

Black people have achieved amazing things in America. But white people rarely give them their due.

For instance, people generally think of rap as a black thing. But the largest audience for the genre is us, white folks.

There’s something jarring about white teenagers singing along with every n-word in the lyrics of a black rapper’s song as if these kids had the right. We don’t, people.

As Baraka might say, it’s a very different thing when we say it. But it’s more than just rebellion.

Too often white people turn to music that is characterized as black as a way to mock that culture. We demand black culture be commodified in a way that makes sense to our vision of what black people are. And when someone like Williams comes forward to call us out on it, we resent it.

Look around, white folks.

We love our culture, but we’re ignorant of our history.

We enjoy living vicariously through a marketed vision of black struggle but we don’t do anything about the actual struggle before our eyes.

Our black brothers and sisters are crying out in pain. And we’re the cause.

No, we probably didn’t light any crosses afire on anyone’s lawn, but what about our attitudes? What do we say when race comes up? Do we indulge in gut reactions of colorblindness or do we actually listen to what black people have to say? Do we do anything but shrug?

This isn’t about white hate or white guilt. It’s about accepting our responsibilities.

We owe black people much of our very idea of what it is to be an American. Isn’t it time we started paying it back with love and action?

Whiteness: The Lie Made True

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“The discovery of a personal whiteness among the world’s peoples is a very modern thing,—a nineteenth and twentieth century matter, indeed.” – W. E. B. Du Bois

 

 

What color is your skin?

 

You don’t have to look. You know. It’s a bedrock fact of your existence like your name, religion or nationality.

 

But go ahead and take a look. Hold out your hand and take a good, long stare.

 

What do you see?

 

White? Black? Brown?

 

More than likely, you don’t see any of those colors.

 

You see some gradation, a hue somewhere in the middle, but in the back of your mind you label it black, white, brown, etc.

 

When I look, I see light peach with splotches of pink. But I know that I’m white, White, WHITE.

 

So where did this idea come from? If my skin isn’t actually white – it’s not the same white I’d find in a tube of paint, or on a piece of paper – why am I labeled white?

 

The answer isn’t scientific, cultural or economic.

 

It’s legal.

 

Yes, here in America we have a legal definition of whiteness.

 

It developed over time, but the earliest mention in our laws comes from the Naturalization Act of 1790.

 

Only 14 years after our Declaration of Independence proclaimed all people were created equal, we passed this law to define who exactly has the right to call him-or-herself an American citizen. It restricted citizenship to persons who resided in the United States for two years, who could establish their good character in court, and who were white – whatever that meant.

 

In 1896 this idea gained even more strength in the infamous U.S. Supreme Court decision Plessy v Ferguson. The case is known for setting the legal precedent justifying segregation as “separate but equal.” However, the particulars of the case revolve around the definition of whiteness.

 

Homer Plessy was kicked off the white section of a train car, and he sued – not because he thought there was anything wrong with segregation, but because he claimed he was actually white. The U.S. Supreme Court was asked to define what that means.

 

Notably the court took this charge very seriously, admitting how important it is to be able to distinguish between white and non-white. Justices claimed whiteness as a kind of property – very valuable property – the denial of which could incur legal sanction.

 

In it’s decision, the court said, “if he be a white man, and be assigned to the color coach, he may have his action for damages from the company, for being deprived of his so-called property. If he be a colored man and be so assigned, he has been deprived of no property, since he is not lawfully entitled to the reputation of being a white man.”

 

Plessy wasn’t the only one to seek legal action over this. Native Americans were going to court claiming that they, too, were white and should be treated as such. Much has been written about the struggle of various ethnic groups – Irish, Slovak, Polish, etc. – to be accepted under this term. No matter how you define it, most groups wanted it to include them and theirs.

 

However, it wasn’t until 1921 when a strong definition of white was written in the “Emergency Quota and Immigration Acts.” It states:

 

“A White person has been held to include an Armenian born in Asiatic Turkey, a person of but one-sixteenth Indian blood, and a Syrian, but not to include Afghans, American Indians, Chinese, Filipinos, Hawaiians, Hindus, Japanese, Koreans, negroes; nor does white person include a person having one fourth of African blood, a person in whom Malay blood predominates, a person whose father was a German and whose mother was a Japanese, a person whose father was a white Canadian and whose mother was an Indian woman, or a person whose mother was a Chinese and whose father was the son of a Portuguese father and a Chinese mother.”

 

So there you have it – whiteness – legally defined and enforceable as a property value.

 

It’s not a character trait. It’s certainly not a product of the color wheel. It’s a legal definition, something we made up. THIS is the norm. THAT is not.

 

 

Admitting that leads to the temptation to disregard whiteness, to deny its hold on society. But doing so would be to ignore an important facet of the social order. As Brian Jones writes, the artificiality of whiteness doesn’t make it any less real:

 

“It’s very real. It’s real in the same way that Wednesday is real. But it’s also made up in the same way that Wednesday is made up.”

 

You couldn’t go around saying, “I don’t believe in Wednesdays.” You wouldn’t be able to function in society. You could try to change the name, you could try to change the way we conceptualize the week, but you couldn’t ignore the way it is now.

 

 

And whiteness is still a prominent feature of America’s social structure.

 

 

Think about it. A range of skin colors have become the dominant identifier here in America. We don’t like to talk about it, but the shade of your epidermis still means an awful lot.

 

 

It often determines the ease with which you can get a good job, a bank loan or buy a house in a prosperous neighborhood. It determines the ease with which you can go to a well-resourced school, a district democratically controlled by the community and your access to advanced placement classes. And it determines the degree of safety you have when being confronted by the police.

 

 

But to have whiteness as a signifier of the good, the privileged, we must imply an opposite. It’s not a term disassociated from others. Whiteness implies blackness.

 

 

It’s no accident. Just as the concept of whiteness was invented to give certain people an advantage, the concept of blackness was invented to subjugate others. However, this idea goes back a bit further. We had a delineated idea of blackness long before we legalized its opposite.

 

 

The concept of blackness began in the Virginia colonies in the 1600s. European settlers were looking to get rich quick through growing tobacco. But that’s a labor-intensive process and before mechanization it frankly cost too much in salaries for landowners to make enough of a profit to ensure great wealth. Moreover, settlers weren’t looking to grow a modest amount of tobacco for use only in the colonies. They wanted to produce enough to supply the global market. That required mass production and a disregard for humanity.

 

So tobacco planters decided to reduce labor costs through slavery. They tried enslaving the indigenous population, but Native Americans knew the land too well and would escape quicker than they could be replaced.

 

Planters also tried using indentured servants – people who defaulted on their debts and had to sell themselves into slavery for a limited time. However, this caused a lot of bad feeling in communities. When husbands, sons and relations were forced into servitude while their friends and neighbors remained free, bosses faced social and economic recriminations from the general population. Moreover, when an indentured servant’s time was up, if he could raise the capital, he now had all the knowledge and experience to start his own tobacco plantation and compete with his former boss.

 

No. planters needed a more permanent solution. That’s where the idea came from to kidnap Africans and bring them to Virginia as slaves. This was generational servitude, no time limits, no competition, low cost.

 

It’s important to note that it took time for this kind of slavery to take root in the colonies. Part of this is due to various ideas about the nature of Africans. People at the time didn’t all have our modern prejudices. Also it took time for the price of importing human beings from another continent to became less than that of buying indentured servants.

 

The turning point was Bacon’s Rebellion in 1676. Hundreds of slaves and indentured servants came together and deposed the governor of Virginia, burned down plantations and defended themselves against planter militias for months afterwards. The significance of this event was not lost on the landowners of the time. What we now call “white” people and “black” people had banded together against the landowners. If things like this were to become more frequent, the tobacco industry would be ruined, or at very least much less profitable for the planters.

 

After the rebellion was put down, the landed gentry had to find a way to stop such large groups of people from ever joining in common cause again. The answer was the racial caste system we experience today.

 

The exact meaning of “white” and “black” (or “colored”) was mostly implied, but each group’s social mobility was rigidly defined for the first time. Laws were put in place to categorize people and provide benefits for some and deprivations for others. So white people were then allowed to own property, own guns, participate in juries, serve on militias, and do all kinds of things that were to be forever off-limits to black people. It’s important to understand that black people were not systematically barred from these things before.

 

Just imagine how effective this arrangement was. It gave white people a permanent, unearned social position above black people. No matter how hard things could get for impoverished whites, they could never sink below this level. They would always enjoy these privileges and by extension enjoy the deprivation of blacks as proof of their own white superiority. Not only did it stop whites from joining together with blacks in common cause, it gave whites a reason to support the status quo. Sound familiar? It should.

 

However, for black people the arrangement was devastating.

 

As Brian Jones puts it:

 

“For the first time in human history, the color of one’s skin had a political significance. It never had a political significance before. Now there was a reason to assign a political significance to dark skin — it’s an ingenious way to brand someone as a slave. It’s a brand that they can never wash off, that they can never erase, that they can never run away from. There’s no way out. That’s the ingeniousness of using skin color as a mark of degradation, as a mark of slavery.”

 

All that based on pigmentation.

 

Our political and social institutions have made this difference in appearance paramount in the social structure, but what causes it? What is the essential difference between white people and black people and can it in any way justify these social distinctions, privileges and deprivations?

 

Science tells us why human skin comes in different shades. It’s based on the amount of melanin we possess, a pigment that not only gives color but blocks the body from absorbing harmful ultraviolet radiation from the sun. Everyone has some melanin. Fair skinned people can even temporarily increase the amount they have by additional solar exposure – tanning.

 

If the body absorbs too many UV rays, it can cause cancers or produce birth defects in the next generation. That’s why groups of people who historically lived closer to the equator possess more melanin than those further from it. This provided an evolutionary advantage.

 

However, the human body needs vitamin D, which often comes from sunlight. Having a greater degree of melanin can stop the body from absorbing the necessary Vitamin D and – if another source isn’t found -health problems like Sickle-cell anemia can occur.

 

That’s why people living further from the equator developed lighter skin over time. Humanity originated in Africa, but as peoples migrated north they didn’t need the extra melanin since they received less direct sunlight. Likewise, they benefited from less melanin and therefore easier absorption of Vitamin D from the sunlight they did receive.

 

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That’s the major difference between people of different colors.

 

Contrary to the persistent beliefs of many Americans, skin color doesn’t determine work ethic, intelligence, honesty, strength, or any other character trait.

In the 19th through the 20th Centuries, we created a whole field of science called eugenics to prove otherwise. We tried to show that each race had dominant traits and some races were better than others.

 

However, modern science has disproven every scrap of it. Eugenics is now considered a pseudoscience. Everywhere in public we loudly proclaim that judgments like these based on race are unacceptable. Yet the pattern of positive consequences for light skinned people and negative consequences for dark skinned people persists. And few of us want to identify, discuss or – God forbid – confront it.

 

And that’s where we are today.

 

We in America live in a society that still subscribes to the essentially nonsensical definitions of the past. Both white and black people have been kept in their place because of them.

 

In each socio-economic bracket people have common cause that goes beyond skin color. But the ruling class has used a racial caste system to stop us from joining together against them.

 

This is obvious to most black people because they deal with the negative consequences of it every day. White people, however, are constantly bombarded by tiny benefits without noticing they’re present at all. White people take it as their due – this is what all people deserve. And, yes, it IS what all people deserve, but it is not what all people are receiving!

 

We are faced with a difficult task. We must somehow both understand that our ideas about race are man-made while taking arms against them. We must accept that whiteness and blackness are bogus terms and yet they dramatically affect our lives. We must preserve all that makes us who we are while fighting for the common humanity of all.

 

And we can’t do that by simply ignoring skin color. That kind of colorblindness only helps perpetuate the status quo. Instead, we must pay attention to inequalities based on the racial divide and actively work to counteract them.

 

In short, there are no white people and black people. There are only racists and anti-racists.

 

Which will you be?

Beyoncé Upstaged by White Fragility at the Super Bowl

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SANTA CLARA, CA – FEBRUARY 07: Beyonce performs during the Pepsi Super Bowl 50 Halftime Show at Levi’s Stadium on February 7, 2016 in Santa Clara, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)


Black women’s bodies are scary.

 

That’s the lesson we learned this Super Bowl Sunday.

 

When Beyoncé and 30 backup dancers performed a brief rendition of her new song, “Formation” during the halftime show, talking heads all over the country exploded.

 

Oh my God! Are those pro-black lyrics!? Are they making an allusion to the Black Panthers!? Was the music video to this song critical of overzealous police murdering black folks!?

 

Turn off the TV! This is too political for family entertainment!

 

When did we become so squeamish in this country? Can’t we all just sit back and enjoy seductive women gyrating in unison anymore?

 

I guess not. Not if they’re black.

 

Sleek female bodies in tight leather outfits displaying every curve of their anatomy – if their skin is black and their hair is Afro-ed and their fists are briefly in the air, it’s way too scary for white male libidos.

 

And that’s really the problem here.

 

Who was this performance supposed to be for? Fifty years of Super Bowl logic would suggest the target demographic was light skinned, heterosexual and possessing a penis. But these women had something to say – maybe. They had a message beyond “Look at me! I’m hot!”

 

How am I – as a red-blooded American male – supposed to commodify and objectify these women’s bodies if their brains are trying to convey a message that goes beyond mere consumerism?

 

That’s what the Super Bowl is, really. Some people say they watch it only for the commercials, but that’s all there is. It’s all a big advertisement for the American way of life.

 

Sit back, drink beer, eat pizza, watch an essentially meaningless contest and – whatever you do – don’t think about the way things really are. Don’t think about the problems we have and how we might fix them. Stay asleep. Watch the game and stay fast asleep.

 

And please don’t tell me this has nothing to do with race. If they were white girls with a message about world hunger, the outrage would be demonstrably more muted. If there’d be any outrage at all.

 

No. This was a direct assault on our tacit consent to be colorblind in all things. As a society we’ve silently agreed to refrain from mentioning anything about race in public.

 

Why are you even bringing up the fact that those dancers were black, someone is bound to ask.

 

My answer: because I have eyes.

 

Denying the pigment of their skin does no one any favors. And talking about it doesn’t denigrate them in any way. In fact, it acknowledges a key component of their being.

 

But Beyoncé’s performance didn’t let us forget her skin color. She made it important, and our white male society doesn’t want to admit it.

Or at least that’s what the 24-hour news cycle has made of it. Did Queen B really intend her routine to be taken as such a revolutionary display of black power? It’s hard to say.

 

In the actual performance, there is nothing much that is overtly political. Vaguely martial outfits? Dancing in an X-formation? A raised fist? Maybe.

 

The only somewhat rebellious moment occurred after they had already left the field. A few dancers held a sign offstage asking for justice for Mario Woods – a black San Francisco man gunned down by police. If you blinked, you missed it.

 

But the same cannot be said of the recently released music video for the song. It contains many images of black oppression from police brutality to the slow response to Hurricane Katrina. However, if you never saw the video, would you make that connection?

 

I didn’t. It went right over my head.

 

To be fair, I’d had a few.

 

It wasn’t until the next day that I read about the media’s hyperventilating all over it. Viewers had to actively search out the video to find any revolutionary content. Maybe that was Bey’s intent. Maybe not.

 

 

Either way, I find it hard to believe that most people’s immediate reaction was the same as that of the pundits.

 

At first, it was only a vocal minority that made a big deal about it. Then it snowballed into the center of our public discourse. I’m not sure why it’s gained such purchase. Maybe it’s because the halftime show always elicits strong emotions. Maybe it’s because it’s an election year. But without a doubt, a lot of folks’ white fragility is showing.

 

People of color are often stereotyped as having a thin skin about these issues. If black or brown folks bring it up, they’re criticized as “playing the race card.” But this situation shows how reactionary we, white people, really are.

 

No one decried Coldplay for starting the show with “Viva la Vida” – a song featuring the lyric, “When I Ruled the World.” People of color aren’t theorizing that the song by the whiter-than-white Chris Martin is really a Caucasian lament about the loss of white power.

 

“I used to rule the world

Seas would rise when I gave the word

Now in the morning I sleep alone

Sweep the streets I used to own”

 

Why? Because it would be just as ridiculous! Black folks have more important things to worry about – like the very things that white people are mad at Beyoncé for bringing up!

White Fragility Frames the Media Narrative of the Million Man March Forward

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White people will go a long way to avoid talking about racism.

Not only does it seem invisible to most melanin deficient folks like myself, but we refuse to acknowledge it when someone tries to bring it to our attention.

That’s not racism. There is no racism. Stop stirring up trouble.

Unless someone is wearing a white sheet and burning a cross on a black person’s lawn, most Caucasians close their eyes, stick their fingers in their ears and stay willfully blind.

Sociologists call this White Fragility, and it was on full display in the media response to the Million Man March Forward on Saturday.

Thousands of African Americans and a smattering of people of other races and ethnicities gathered in the National Mall in Washington, D.C., to demand “Justice or Else” and commemorate the 20th anniversary of the original Million Man March.

Like during that 1995 gathering, today’s media was quick to frame the narrative in a way that silenced legitimate black concerns while benefiting White America.

First, most media outlets refused to cover the event at all. I guess to them there was nothing newsworthy going on. Just tens of thousands of black folks gathering in the nation’s capital. No saggy pants. No guns. Nothing to see here.

When the mainstream news covered it at all, it was to minimized its importance. Short articles basically saying – Here were some black people. Remember that time they did this before? In other news…

I remember the first march back in the 90s. I wasn’t there, but I remember how white folks talked about it. At first there was a genuine fear – black people with a united purpose coming together to better their social standing!? But we quickly found a way to negate everything they were doing.

How? Math.

Har! Har! Look at all those black folks gathered in front of the Capital steps. They held a Million Man March and didn’t even get a million men!

And therefore by the logic of white fragility we can ignore everything they did and said.

Institutionalized racism? Sorry not a million people!

Racial prejudice in hiring and firing employees? Not a million. Can’t hear you!

Police brutality? Come back when you’ve got more people!

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Of course it’s still a major point of contention exactly how many bodies showed up that first time. Estimates of the original rally put between 400,000 to 2 million folks on the scene. Unsurprisingly white people almost always go with the smaller number. I guess they don’t think black people can count that high.

But what if the lower estimation is true? Is there some racial math that bestows relevance on a moral crusade based only on sheer numbers? Is it okay to deny a handful of people their rights, a thousand or even a hundred thousand – but somehow a million is the tipping point where I have to say “No more”?

Even if only hundreds of thousands of people showed up, that’s something. Quite a lot, really. Doesn’t that demonstrate an attempt at racial unity, at addressing a shared list of problems? After all, how many people need to attend for White America to take them seriously?

This weekend journalists were careful not to make estimates of the number of attendees at the March Forward. But they’d subtly state that it was less well attended than the previous rally which – given the pictures I’ve seen of both events and the above mentioned disparity – seems somewhat hard to corroborate.

Still the media didn’t stop there. They found other ways to invalidate the event.

For instance, who is leading these marches? The Nation of Islam? Louis Farrakhan? Oh my! White people don’t approve of that! Therefore the whole gathering is unjustified. Poof!

Funny how that works. Black leaders must be perfect. White leaders? Not so much. George W. Bush was a C-student. Bill Clinton had extramarital affairs. Both men served as two-term presidents, and somehow the Republicans and Democrats go on.

Finally there was the rhetoric. This rally was subtitled “Justice or Else.”

That just won’t do. Angry black people demanding justice? No, white people simply will not respond to that kind of tone. If only they had been more polite about it, we might listen, but “Justice or else”!? Nope.

Any rational human being should be able to comprehend why black folks are demanding justice; They aren’t getting much of it from our courts. Unarmed black people are increasingly being murdered by the police and white citizens which prompts the debate of whether a crime has even been committed – a debate in which the answer is often, “No.”

The Black Lives Matter movement has grown because of just such concerns and the group was even represented at the rally.

But white folks – in the guise of analysis – ask what that phrase means “justice or else.” Are black people threatening to attack white people if they don’t get justice? What justice is there beyond a court of law? Do they really expect us to change our laws and hold our courts accountable?

No. Nothing to see here, folks. This throng of humanity peacefully assembling clearly has no valid points to make. Turn the cameras off. Let’s go home.

But had these thousands suddenly thrown bottles, overturned cars or started fires, the spot light would have been turned on full force.

“Another black riot,” newscasters would have proclaimed with glee. CNN would have devoted 24-hour news coverage. Expensive graphics would show the exact extent of the damage between interviews with scared white folks wondering why black people were allowed to misbehave so!

But a peaceful rally of African Americans coming together to share their pain, commemorate their history of struggle and commit to solutions?

Who cares about that? It doesn’t fit the media narrative. It doesn’t help white people ignore their black brothers and sisters problems. It doesn’t help our system of white supremacy remain invisible.

As a representative of the white race, may I make a suggestion? Could we possibly consider listening to what these people have to say? And before rejecting it out of hand, might we look at it objectively and even find a valid point or two? Could we then try to offer our black brothers and sisters a hand?

But the answer is always the same from white folks. Excuse after excuse to ignore, reject, repulse and keep our fragile white eyes firmly shut.

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NOTE: This article also was published in the LA Progressive and on the Badass Teachers Association blog.