In the midst of the 2016 election writer, journalist, and astute political commentator Farai Chideya posted a draft essay on what she calls The Call to Whiteness. In her view, an appeal to White Nationalism is one of the powerful forces behind Trump’s rise, and even whites who don’t identify with it at all have to grapple with it. Because it’s being issued, wanted or not, in their name. The whole short essay is well worth reading, but I’ll highlight here the closing section:
“It thus remains very much up to white America to control the baser urges of the call-to-whiteness. You are not above it, particularly if you have not bothered to learn about it — and especially if you claim it doesn’t exist or doesn’t concern you. The call-to-whiteness is being invoked in your name. Can you hear it now? And how will you respond? The world is waiting to know.”
So, for the record: I am rejecting the Call to Whiteness.
I’d like to talk about why. There are, of course, the vitally important and obvious “whys”:
- Heeding it puts one on the wrong side of some of the worst events and systems of the last few centuries.
- Race, biologically, is an unfounded fiction. It’s a social construct.
- Race, as a social construct in America, is part of a structural system of Racism that benefits white people in so many ways that it’s practically invisible. Saying we should all be colorblind without taking further action to dismantle the system isn’t equality. It’s an attempt to keep the inequality invisible.
- The idea that there’s oppression against whites, and especially against white men, is patently ridiculous in an America in which more than 80% of all top-level positions in business, government, and media continue to be help by white men. A small reduction in that total doesn’t constitute oppression. It’s just a slight re-balancing toward demographic reality.
But there’s also a series of experiential reasons that the Call to Whiteness makes no personal sense to me:
- Having grown up in Coastal California in the 70s and 80s, there was literally never a time in my life that multiple colors, cultures, and languages weren’t a part of my everyday experience.
- Being a bookish, uncoordinated, nearsighted boy with no aptitude for or interest in sports in American public school taught me a little something about how it feels to be a denigrated “other”.
- Spending about 10% of my life living in various parts of Asia gave me plenty of experience of being someone who sometimes needs the comfort of their original language, who everyone else on the train is staring at, who people cross the street to avoid running in to.
- In my working life I’ve been, variously, the only white person in an all-Chinese office, a straight employee at an LGBT-focused media company, and, quite frequently, one of a minority of men at the table in a non-profit or educational institution with largely female staff and managers.
I don’t pretend for a moment that my experiences equate to what it’s like to be the racial, gender, or sexual “other” in America. As a straight white male, I have experienced, and will continue to experience, many advantages and forms of ease I’m hardly even aware of. But my particular slice of life has given me an instinctive sympathy for the experience of those on the flip side of the American “Dream”.
I’m reminded in this respect that Bubble is as Bubble does. Yes, living in a multicultural urban setting constitutes a “bubble”. But, as several commentators have noted lately (here and here, for example) coming from a rural or predominantly white world is no less of a bubble.
All of the above is why I am rejecting the call to whiteness. White friends, what about you?
While you contemplate your answer, the last word goes to a true American hero: