Thursday, August 31, 2017

No, "Whiteness" is Not Under Attack

...White Privilege is.

The White Supremacist march and Heather Heyer's murder ripped the bandage off a still-open wound in America:  racial hate.  The backlash against anyone that equivocated on the issue, up to and including our president, was immediate and clarion-clear.  No.  Just, no.  But, with almost Newtonian precision, the equal and opposite reaction inevitably came.

There is a small, but insistent counterpoint in America that asserts that "Whiteness" is under attack.  First of all, I'm not sure, and never have been, what "Whiteness" is supposed to entail.  But I do see the very real pinpoint pressure that is inevitably penetrating the white bubble.  And that is being met with strong resistance among many who don't want that bubble popped.

This article is for the ones in their bubbles.  From a white man who had his popped and lived to tell the tale.  My message: stop fighting it.

If I had to define "Whiteness" I suppose I would have to use the word naiveté.  Our history and heroes are carefully disinfected and sanitized to remove any of the warts of reality or controversy.  Our holidays and patriotic remembrances are purged of any burden of conscience.  And our systems are inoculated with isolated examples of transformation, just enough to let us off the hook.  And, sustained by this cocktail, we can walk through life with rose-colored glasses, completely blind to the much larger and more complex reality of the American fabric.

I've always struggled with my German heritage.  My family came to the US well before WWII and my grandparents served in the US Armed Forces during the war.  As an Army brat, I was raised in Germany on an American base, an army of occupation still, in a 2,000 year-old city surrounded by relics both ancient and modern.  I learned that Germans had not erased their national shame, but confronted it and placed it centrally in their culture, so to never repeat it.  It didn't make me proud, exactly.  More like determined.  

Then I moved back to the states.  And, for the first time in my life, I was relentlessly tormented as a "Nazi".  There was no explaining to these people that (a) I was an American, (b) came from a multi-generational family who served in the American military (c) modern Germans are more determinedly anti-fascist than they could conceive.  They wouldn't hear it.  I retreated socially and kept my head down until we were tapped to move to our next base.  I didn't realize it at the time, but I'd just had my first brush with "otherness".  

I don't tell you this to evoke your sympathy or to ingratiate myself to any person or group.  I say it because what I learned was the importance of confronting one's history head-on.  Of owning it.  Of realizing that it is beyond my power to take back from the pages of history, but it is my duty to both carry it forward and make sure those lessons are not forgotten or re-lived.

That's where American "whiteness" fails us all.  Instead of confronting and coming to terms with our history and its very real ongoing impacts to people of color, we sink into our bubbles.  We deny, deflect, and "whatabout" with ridiculous statements like "all lives matter" and - the absolute worst - "political correctness."  When you don't treat a wound, it festers.  It gets infected.  And your problems multiply beyond the point where the original wound is no longer even recognizable.

My white friends who are struggling with this often say "I shouldn't have to keep apologizing for something I never did!"  Yet they continue to celebrate their white-sanitized version of America, not realizing that their continued denial is, in itself, doing damage.  Let me explain something.  People of color don't want Bob Smith to apologize for the sins of your ancestors.  They want Bob Smith to acknowledge that those things happened and still happen today.  They want Bob Smith to be an ally.  When you wake up.  When you pop the bubble.  When you SHOW UP in support for people that are still struggling against institutional and cultural racism and acknowledge it for what it is, that whole "apologize for my ancestors" thing goes away.  Take it from a German.

No comments:

Post a Comment