Saturday, February 08, 2014

Rethinking the fight against racism

The gulf between being educated about something and ignorant of it is a wide one.  It makes the difference between understanding that subject and merely thinking you do because you have been mislead all your life.

I have always considered myself to be an educated man.  Of course, being educated, I do understand that there are huge gaps in that education of various kinds, where either the system I was educated in was deficient or I elected to take a particular direction to my education, forsaking those I wasn't interested in.

In other words, I always thought I knew what those gaps were, and was largely Ok with what they represented.

Boy, was I wrong!

Today, I clicked over to read an article whose title intrigued me as I saw it shared on Facebook.  That title, "What White People Need to Learn", sounded interesting, especially as I consider myself white, and am always interested in learning something new about myself.  I was to be rocked to the core by what I would read.  Its content was so different from what I thought it might be as to be shocking.

I know, overused word, but read on, you'll see what I mean.

The author, Mary-Alice Daniel, was writing the article as part of a series by women of color on Alternet.  What she had to say about the history of the term "white" as a racial descriptor should make every person who looks at him or herself that way sit down immediately and re-examine everything they thought they understood about race.

Including their own identity.

My ancestry is a mixed one, like many Americans.  My family comes from (in order of percentage amount) Germany, Scotland/Ireland, and England.  The last is a supposition, and has not been confirmed by research, yet.  I think my mother's father's family was English, but I am not sure, and don't know what kind of mix might have been on his wife's side.  Incomplete information.

So, when I read the following paragraph, it literally made me sit back in shock:
The very notion of whiteness is relatively recent in our human history, linked to the rise of European colonialism and the Atlantic slave trade in the 17th century as a way to distinguish the master from the slave. From its inception, “white” was not simply a separate race, but the superior race. “White people,” in opposition to non-whites or “colored” people, have constituted a meaningful social category for only a few hundred years, and the conception of who is included in that category has changed repeatedly. If you went back to even just the beginning of the last century, you’d witness a completely different racial configuration of whites and non-whites. The original white Americans — those from England, certain areas of Western Europe, and the Nordic States — excluded other European immigrants from that category to deny them jobs, social standing, and legal privileges. It’s not widely known in the U.S. that several ethnic groups, such as Germans, Italians, Russians and the Irish, were excluded from whiteness and considered non-white as recently as the early 20th century.
Emphasis mine.   Boy, is it mine!

So, as late in history as just a hundred years ago, if not quite that far back, three quarters of my family would have been considered non-white!  No wonder my grandfather changed the pronunciation of our name to make it sound less German!

I sincerely hope that this doesn't sound like I am unhappy about or somehow dismayed about my family's status.  I am not.  It does, however, make me sit back and realize that the history I've been taught was badly twisted and edited, censored and formatted to make me think about myself, my social status, and the structure of our society in such a way as to try to enlist my wholehearted compliance with making that structure remain in place.

It was designed to make me say to myself, "Man, I am glad I was born white!" whenever I see another story about how minorities are mistreated, oppressed and smacked back into "their place".

As of today, I am no longer going to consider myself "white" inside of my own mind.  Oh, I'll still have to check the "white" boxes on forms and such.  The system I live inside of insists on that, and this late in my life, I'm not sure I've the energy to fight it on that level yet.

But, I do think it is time for this knowledge to be more widely spread, and time for the Progressives in this country to begin to use this new set of facts to where it can begin to be taught to succeeding generations.  It is valuable to know, and it illustrates things "racial" in a whole new light.

For instance:
Those who identify as white should start thinking about their inheritance of this identity and understand its implications. When what counts as your “own kind” changes so frequently and is so susceptible to contemporaneous political schemes, it becomes impossible to argue an innate explanation for white exclusion. Whiteness was never about skin color or a natural inclination to stand with one’s own; it was designed to racialize power and conveniently dehumanize outsiders and the enslaved. It has always been a calculated game with very real economic motivations and benefits.
Once again, the emphasis is mine.

Now perhaps I am showing my ignorance here.  This may be something that blacks and hispanics may have intuitively known all along.  If so, if there are any who are willing to comment on this post and set me straight, please do!

[Don't get me wrong, I do understand the privilege thing, I do know race was used as such a separator - it was the loosie-goosie definition of it and how that was used so coldly that floored me.]

This is some thing we (the American people not "white folks") need to get straight, so we can begin to address the racial thing in a much better and more knowledgable way.  In recognition of that, bear this in mind from the author's last paragraphs:
My hope in writing this is that white Americans will discover how it is they came to be set apart from non-whites and decide what they plan to do about it. 
So, yes, for one month, let’s hear about white history, educating ourselves and others. Let’s expose whiteness as a fraudulent schema imposed as a means to justify economic and physical bondage. Let’s try to uncover the centuries-old machinations that inform current race relations and bind us in a stalemate of misunderstanding. Then let’s smash this whole thing to pieces.
But I'd rather this not be for just one month a year - let's make this knowledge a permanent part of our understanding of Western Civilization.  It is a critical fact that makes the whole thing make so much more sense!

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