Monday, June 15, 2015

How to be a White person

I have written in previous blog posts about my obsession with Mexican culture.  I forgot to mention that during the time I was studying in Mexico for the first time, I actually permed and dyed my hair in order to be Mexican.  Yeah.  That happened.

It's only been in the last week that this experience was recalled to my mind because of the situation with that one lady who said she was Black and it turns out, she isn't.   And then there was a blogger who explained the model for White racial identity development, in which we can see that sometimes White people lose their damn mind and try to pretend like they aren't White.  It happens, apparently.  *internal cringe*

So this blog post has been a long time coming, but I think this is an appropriate time to discuss the big question, "What does it mean to be a White person?"

When I first thought about writing this, I had hoped to give some good pointers.  How White of me.  But as time has passed, I can see that, despite my best efforts, being White in this society means that I end up being part of the oppressive regime now and then.  That should at least give me a sense of humility when I share with other White people my hopes for myself, my husband, and my kids (all White).

I should also say--this is not a sob story.  I'm not trying to garner sympathy as a White person about how hard my life is.  This is for my White brothers and sisters out there, asking, "But what can I do?"

The first time I heard a Black scholar talking about eradicating Whitenesss, I cringed.  It felt like he didn't like me because I was White.  But let me tell you, I ate Philly cheesesteaks with the man and he doesn't hate me.  He hates racism.  He hates White supremacy.

And as a theologian, he dreams of a day when Whiteness isn't a thing anymore, when we really just judge each other by the content of our character and not by any external factor.  He has a dream, but, just like Dr. King, he is also radical as hell.  And not afraid to call out the system as he sees it.

The question for White folks is how can we simultaneously eradicate Whiteness and still maintain a sense of self.  After all, I am a White woman.  What does it look like if Whiteness goes away?  Does that erase me or who I am?

Of course, it should go without saying (but I'm gonna say it), this doesn't mean I lose my skin color.  My skin color is part of me, it is beautiful, and it will only become orange if I try to make it darker in a tanning bed.

I can celebrate my appearance and not be ashamed.  

Whiteness, however, took skin color and other arbitrary features, along with ancestry, and projected value onto certain phenotypes over others.  This can be called the political project of Whiteness.  At some point, White people were categorized as "Caucasians," while other people were categorized as "Mongoloid" and "Negroid."  There was a hierarchy implicit in this psuedo-science, which is why today I dislike using the word "Caucasian."

The psuedo-science of eugenics props up an economic system that is unbalanced.  It's like in the Bible when God talks about hating the "uneven scales."  That is the system that we have created.

That is what racism is--unjust scales.

That analogy hails back to the days when people would bring their produce and other products into the market place and the vendor would set the scales so that he got a bigger profit, cheating the farmer out of his income.  But we see the same thing today in real estate, health care, law enforcement, schools, and most every other arena of society.

What can I do in this system?  Can I get rid of the privilege that I have in all of those areas I listed above?  Some people say that you can't get rid of your privilege, so you just have to use it on the behalf of others.  I think that is a realistic approach.

However, I also want to be a dreamer.

What would it look like for me to "empty myself" of my privilege?  

Isn't that what Jesus did?  What would that look like?

It might look like setting a stage for myself using my privilege, and when the time comes for me to speak, I get off the stage and give the mic to someone who has been marginalized.  I want to keep thinking of possibilities like these.

My goal for myself at this point in my life is to do the work where I am.  I am done with false dichotomies of "bad suburbs" and "good urban" churches or schools.  I'm done with my White savior complex.  The more I try to "save" people, the more I perpetuate White supremacy.

I am really interested in being an "accomplice," as I have heard some Black scholars say.

This is maybe similar to being an "ally," but it comes with idea that as White people, we have our own work to do.  We are in the business of eradicating the political project of Whiteness, which is another way to call racism.  We are ready to be done with a system that gives me, a White woman, economic advantage over my Black and Brown brothers and sisters.  We know that system damages us all.  And we are ready to talk to other White people about this.

That is how I want to be a White person.  I want to be about the business of restoring humanity to us all, starting with myself.

Share your thoughts with me.  What questions do you have?  What issues are you wrestling with?