Thursday, July 5, 2018

Anti-White vs Anti-White-Supremacy

Here's something I find quite interesting. The last blog post I wrote, "White Innocence: A Confession," was one I worked on especially hard because of how important I took the topic to be. In that post, I took care to explain myself as clearly as I could manage. At no point in writing it did I feel bad about being white, nor did I at any point say I felt bad about being white (or say I should feel bad about being white). After all, there is absolutely nothing wrong with having the skin that you have. In fact, the evil that I was focusing on in that blog post was nothing other than the system of White Supremacy, which treats skin color as a measure of worth. My post was a repudiation of that kind of thinking.

And yet the only comment on that blog post comes from someone who describes the post as among "the most cringy anti-white screeds" they've ever read.

What's interesting here is thinking about why a post that says nothing bad about having light-colored skin could inspire someone to label it as "anti-white."

Just to be clear, my wife and children and parents and other beloved relatives are all pink-skinned. All of my extended family is descended from (or still lives in) the very pale country of Norway--and I love them all and think there is absolutely nothing wrong with them having the skin color (and hair and eyes) that they have. Nor do I have anything against a Nordic heritage or Scandinavian culture, which I love. As I wrote my "White Innocence" piece, the very notion that I might be seen as in some way denigrating these things was so far removed from my consciousness that it never even occurred to me to mention this.

In that post, I never say there is anything wrong with pale skin. I never say there is anything wrong with the art and music and literature and philosophy that is the rich cultural legacy of Europe. I never say that having Scandinavian or Germanic or British or French heritage (etc.) is bad in any way. Nothing in the post attacks any of these things, either directly or indirectly.   

What the blog post does attack, and rather unrelentingly, is White Supremacy, which I see as something of an infection in Western societies, interfering with our ability to live up to the highest ideals of our cultural heritage--you know, those ideals of liberty and equality and justice. My confession in that earlier post is that I could do far more than I do to fight against racism--especially that "structural" and "implicit" kind that is essentially invisible to those who are advantaged by it and is most clearly seen and felt by those who are disadvantaged (meaning that those of us who are advantaged will really be able to see that it's there only by listening with compassion and empathy to those who are disadvantaged, namely people of color).

That it is so easy for some people to experience an unrelenting attack on White Supremacy (paired with a confession from a white person about their unintended complicity) as anti-white tells us something. Our culture's racial categories have nothing to do with biology or anything "real" apart from culture--which is the reason why we ought not to judge anyone by the color of their skin, since that tells us nothing. These categories were, rather, created to justify systems of oppression and domination: such things as the slave trade and the institution of slavery.

They were invented hundreds of years ago to create categories of people who were dubbed "other" and hence could be exploited without the exploiters having to feel bad about it. "Whiteness," as originally conceived, was not a name for pink skin but a name for those taken to be superior, those to whom equal respect and full moral consideration is owed. In other words, "whiteness" as a category was just a name for the judgment, embedded in White Supremacy, that the physical trait of light skin is a mark of human superiority. To attack White Supremacist ideology does involve attacking "whiteness" in this sense. It does involve attacking the idea that there is a class of persons marked by their pale skin who are superior to other persons because of that pale skin.

So what does it mean when someone calls a blog post anti-white when that blog post says not a single thing bad about having pale skin--or about having European heritage, or about the art and music and literature and philosophy that emerged out of Europe, or anything like that--but the post strongly attacks White Supremacy? I think it tells us how easy it is for some people to confuse "anti-White-Supremacy" with "anti-white."

But how does such a confusion happen? And does it only happen to people who are proudly and overtly racist? In other words, is it always a deliberate conflation of the two?

I don't think its always deliberate. I'm sure that overt White Supremacists will quite consciously identify whiteness with the White Supremacist understanding of it, and so label an attack on White Supremacy as anti-white. But others might do so too, precisely because White Supremacy is an infection that can come in more subtle forms. Implicit racial bias--bias that people don't mean to have, bias hat goes against their own overt beliefs--is one of the harms caused by the disease of White Supremacy. But another may be linked to our unconscious sense of self.

While white people don't generally define themselves explicitly as white--since being white is treated as the norm, the standard that does not even need to be named and so isn't even noticed. But that doesn't mean that being white hasn't created some implicit sense of self, an unstated sense of belonging that exists because White Supremacy has staked out whiteness as the mark of chosen-ness. According to White Supremacy, those who aren't white are "other": they don't quite belong; they aren't owed all the privileges of society. But those who fit White Supremacy's category of whiteness do belong. And that sense of belonging can become real even if a person disavows White Supremacy.

I think it is clear that many have a sense of identity that has been shaped, consciously or unconsciously, by experiencing oneself as a member of the chosen group. The sense of belonging that comes from such an identity, even if not explicitly and consciously tied to White Supremacist ideas, will feel threatened in the face of a clear and sustained challenge to White Supremacy.

The solution, I think, is to nurture resources for belonging and identity that aren't premised on hierarchy and marginalization. We need to drive home the idea that belonging does not require the existence of a class of people who are deliberately excluded. We can embrace a heritage without denigrating other heritages. We can affirm and uplift who we are without needing to beat down those who are different.

The idea that affirming who we are depends on diminishing others is an illusion. But if you are in the grip of that illusion, you won't be able to affirm who you are apart from some ideology that diminishes others. And so an attack on that ideology will seem to you to be the same as saying you have no right to affirm yourself.

This is a tragic cost of oppressive ideologies infecting people's thought-processes. But it doesn't need to be that way. We can  and we must nurture conceptions of identity and community that defy the in-group/out-group structure. We can and we must remind each other that we can say yes to ourselves and to our distinct heritage without saying yes to an ideology which privileges "our" group over others.

It is possible to say no, emphatically and remorseless, to such ideology while still affirming ourselves.

4 comments:

  1. Thank you for this beautifully written and thought-provoking blog post. I especially love this:
    "We can embrace a heritage without denigrating other heritages. We can affirm and uplift who we are without needing to beat down those who are different."

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    1. Have you seen this article? https://medium.com/s/story/how-white-people-handle-diversity-training-in-the-workplace-e8408d2519f

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  2. Have you seen this article? I found it interesting/challenging.

    https://medium.com/s/story/how-white-people-handle-diversity-training-in-the-workplace-e8408d2519f

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  3. The world today is so complex with all these politically correct things going on. Its not as simple as before.

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