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February 25, 2005


Shasta McNasty goes racial. I'm going racial so let's all go racial. It's all about the moral posturing of reading controversial books in public. Lot's of fun, especially if you look like either Alistaire Cook or Dr. Dre.

But seriously, I thought the issue of white identity was generally accepted and understood, and since I just posted about that, I figure that I would bring forth some more from the archives.

I contend that the most telling aspect of racism latent and present in American life is existence of what I call white citizenship. The problem is that many Americans may strive for it without giving it much thought. it probably will take a bit of doing for one to recognize this concept because white citizenship is, for the most part, considered to be neutral and the default of the American mainstream. To be able to remove what is actually racial and cultural from the concept of citizenship, we become better citizens. Constitutionally, our citizenship should have nothing to do with our race or creed.

I must admit that I have had some difficulty in formulating this argument for presentation. It seems overly harsh to say that Americans who consider themselves 'white' might be 'natural' candidates for racist ideas. Yet what, if anything, must the purported neutrality of whiteness entail which is racist? Why indeed would anyone call themselves 'white'? White as compared to what?

My own interest goes beyond some shallow vilification of the term 'white', although I believe that to be a good pedagogical device. African Americans have certainly had to wrestle with the idea of being 'Negro' or 'colored' or 'black' even in the complete absence of racial discrimination. This is part and parcel of our being. For the sake of slavery in which none of us alive has taken part we African Americans deal with that question of identity. That living white folk too, have had no participation in that institution should not exempt them from self-examination. But beyond that, I am curious to know what if any influence can be made on people who consider themselves white which works in racist ways.

In short, how are ordinary white folks who have no pathological reason to be racist, taken in by racist appeals to their identity as Americans? In doing so, I am not suggesting that there is some mysterious force visible only to the proper race man which stealthily infects only white people, but I point to racist appeals we have all seen work, such as the Willie Horton ad crafted by lee Atwater and the presidential campaign of David Duke.

M. Bowen, 1996

BTW, I can remember that BTD Steve was a bit upset with me for not going racial about 18 months ago. Some time since then I've decided that it is better not to pre-determine whether not you are going to comment on something racial or not. Just go when the conversation goes.

Posted by mbowen at February 25, 2005 07:12 PM

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Shasta MacNasty ... interesting.

"To be against royalty does not mean wanting to kill the king. It means wanting to do away with crowns, thrones, titles, and the privileges attached to them." So how many times in history has that happened without the king being killed? Duh.

From yours: "Why indeed would anyone call themselves 'white'? White as compared to what?" Well, what the heck are we supposed to call ourselves, really? I asked my daughter at age 3 what color she was, just to hear what she would say. Surprised, she held her arm out, looked at it top and bottom, and said, "I fink I'm beige." Of course she was too little to be politicized yet. It was sad when she went from referring to people as being brown or beige, to black or white.

I've read that the Willie Horton ad never actually ran on TV anywhere. True? Don't know.

Posted by: Laura at February 26, 2005 02:31 PM

I can't speak for the peasantry, but many Americans seem to get more from being white than from being Scandinavian-Presbyterian for example. If you are actually Scandinaivan-Presbyterian but call yourself white, it seems to me that you get more out of your racial identity than your ethnic or religious identity. That means when it comes to dealing with blackfolks, you are more likely to be white as in white supremacist than taking your clues from the history of Scandinavians or the precepts of the Presbyterian church.

If the political majority of Americans would have decided not to be as White as all that, then the Civil Rights Movement might have happened 50 years before it did.

The lovely thing about GWBush is that he is forcing Americans to declare themselves red or blue.

Your daughter knows to call herself white. Does she act white? What have you got to do with that?

Posted by: Cobb at February 26, 2005 06:11 PM

What constitutes acting white? I'm serious, I want to know. It's like asking a fish what it's like to be wet. I'm around black folks all day at work, and she is at school, and it's not like we're different species or anything. So what's acting white?

As to what I have to do with her calling herself white, let me tell you about that. I thought it was cute that she referred to "brown" and "beige" and that changed suddenly one day. I asked her daycare teacher about that. The daycare that my daughter was in had about a 50/50 black/white ratio among the kids. Most of the caregivers were black, as was this one. She told me that one of the toddlers had suddenly developed a really terrible attitude, being mean to other kids and acting depressed. Worried, she talked to his parents and found that they had begun innoculating this little innocent against all the evil things white people were going to do to him all his life, including his little friends at daycare. It made this caregiver mad as hell. The adults had some discussion about it and decided that they needed to talk to all the kids about racial differences in order to tell them that they were all cool and wonderful and all still friends. So I did not do that to her, and while I understood why the teacher did what she did, I regretted the necessity.

I will tell you two things I have done, not to try to be St. Laura, but in answer to your question. Once we were at Target and my kid picked out a Barbie. She liked it for the dress. The Barbie was black. I reflexively said, "Don't get that one" and then asked myself "What the hell?" with some shock. Of course I bought it for her, and subsequently a Greek and a Hispanic Barbie too. (She had one Ken doll. He must have been in heaven.) The other is that when my daughter was about age 10 and in "summer camp" (daycare for older kids) she made a friend whom I never got to meet during the summer. When school was about to start up again, she told me that this friend's mom was taking a day off work and told her to pick one little girl and that they would hang out together. The girl picked my daughter. I said, "I don't know these people!" She said, "I have their phone number." It crossed my mind, Cobb, to ask whether they were black or white. I admit it. I refrained because (a) I didn't want her to think it was important and (b) it wasn't important. I called and talked to the other mom and she didn't strike me as an ax murderer, so I gave permission. As it happened, they were black. The kids had a great time, and when I went to pick mine up the other mom and I had about a 2 hour discussion about childraising. She was and maybe still is a child psychologist with the county schools, so it was a very interesting discussion. So have I taught my daughter to act white? I don't know.

Now I'm not going to be disingenuous and tell you that I don't notice any difference between the white and black folks at work. The difference I see is that they tune in to different radio stations and that my black coworkers have their radios on LOUD. I prefer not to have the radio on at all when I'm trying to think. It's distracting to me. Is that a white thing? I think it's more likely an adult ADD thing. Oh, and some of the black coworkers occasionally reference race on their T-shirts - Black Family Reunion, "The Blacker the College the Sweeter the Knowlege" and so forth. I've never seen a race-referring T-shirt on one of my white coworkers. OK, that's it.

Posted by: Laura at February 27, 2005 07:03 AM