… White people who are actively engaged in antiracism — but I also think that progress isn’t linear. What a backlash against progress we’re in now, right? The only “good” thing I can see about the current political climate is that it at least exposes the gleaming white underbelly of racism in this country (though many White people still deny it). All the postracial nonsense after Obama’s 2008 election is exposed as nonsense, but there are real life-and-death consequences playing out.
Megan Dowd Lambert
Exactly. The last part of 2016, I’ve lamented to many, “I feel like, what I imagine the Jews felt like at the beginning of the holocaust.” Which is to say, I have just felt under attack. I cried two times last year- and I am not a crier. But I literally cried over the death of Philando Castile - one of many victims of race-based police brutality. What was really behind all this crying, was that so many white people, were bending over backwards to try and make this murder of this man- normal. I mean that really bothered me. Thinking back on it, I guess what bothered me about it so deeply, is I had never really seen such extreme racial violence, so normalized, at least not in my life time. I had never, in my experience, encountered white people who were like, “Yeah they killed that nigger- and they should have because he’s a nigger!” And to be fair, I still wasn’t really encountering any of them, as this commentary was on social media. But, social media actually makes this all much scarier. To know that these white people are out there and they could be anyone. They could be anywhere. They could be my neighbors. They are all connecting up and they are becoming more powerful, with each passing day. Along comes Trump with his dog whistling and coded language and (uncoded language) and winking and nodding to the extreme racists, this actually has made everyone less safe. And then there are his legions of white defenders who, emphatically and nearly psychotically insist that he is not racist, or sexists, or just against anything not white and male. But it’s even worse than that. This man is generally and deeply limited in the realm of emotional intelligence; and that these limitations do allow him to treat anyone decently. A little under half the country refuses to recognize that. WTF? It just feels like war is inevitable. A lot of destruction is going down and a lot of self-destruction is going down; and a lot of this is tied up into race identity — but at this point, that is almost beside the point. I find myself wanting to say to so many people - where is your humanity? Your basic sense of decency? What about, what is right? But that is all getting lost in the rage. There is so much of it these days.
In America we have never really stopped fighting this war amongst ourselves, based on race and white privilege. The country was founded amidst this severe conflict over whether or not it really meant all men are created equal. And women of any race, were never considered to be a part of the whole pursuit of life, liberty and happiness equation. It was just a given, that we would always be subordinate. Now, we are living through times were everyone is getting pissy over the hypocrisy of it all, and rightly so! I say. But these are challenging times.
George Mason was one of the more important founding fathers- who actually wrote the Declaration of Independence. He has almost been written entirely out of the history of that, except here in Virginia, were I live. Why is that? Because he was opposed to slavery. He tried to end it from the very beginning. He said, hey, fellow white people, this whole slavery thing, it’s not cool; and it’s damaging to us. It makes us a tyrannical sick kind of sort — and we don’t want this. This right here will tear us apart. He didn’t say it exactly like that, I’m paraphrasing of course, but that was the gist.
What was his reward for speaking his truth? He got written out of history…somewhat, though not entirely. His name is on a lot stuff in Virginia, because he wrote the Virginia constitution, which he then gave to Thomas Jefferson, for the U.S. constitution — and T.J. basically copied it conceptually, but with a more eloquent vocabulary T.J. provided a certain swagger, that Mason’s documents lacked. But the documents are very similar.
My point is, he was a huge part of the establishment of this nation- and because he spoke out so eloquently against the institution of slavery, because he used a clear moral logic that could not be denied; and yet- he was written out of history.
As a nation, we do not talk about George Mason, the role he played in establishing the nation and how he was subsequently written out of history, because of the stand he took on slavery. Where did I learn about all of this? Ironically enough, on his plantation! On his tobacco plantation! Where I learned that he was one of the more progressive slave owners, because he educated his slaves, treated them fairly decently- for the day and time- and wanted to free them. But, he had conditions, and said to all the other slave owners, I can only afford to do this, if you do this too.
I think this is an important story for the nation to know- but especially white people. White people need to know that there have alway been white people- educated, affluent and progressive ones, who have said — this is not me. This not who I am. I am not this ugly, racist monster who delights in dehumanizing people. I will not stand for that.
The historians who worked that plantation were all white — and it’s funny, this was a field trip that I went on with my son; and as soon as I learned we were going to a plantation, I groaned. I was not pleased. I did not think it would be a pleasant experience at all. And I was annoyed with the white teacher who selected this particular event.
But I was pleasantly surprised; and I told her so. The dedication to the truth- the real truth about what went on, on that plantation was refreshing. The historians didn’t white-wash it. They told us that slave children picked bugs off of tobacco leaves and that they did it for as much as 12 hours a day and many of them got sick and died. They told the whole truth about it — and they stood in that truth- the whole truth- about Mason’s battle with the rest of the founding fathers, his losses, his ambivalence about slavery — and it was powerful. That is what white privilege, used well- looks like. That truth, should have never been suppressed — and it’s only white people who have the power to bring that sort of truth to light, because really that is their story.
Race relations in America…oh I could go on and on and on. Especially since living on the colorline (that’s is how I have always thought of myself) has provided me a tremendous amount of really interesting experiences. To see me alone, people don’t know quite what I am. It can be a bonus- as everyone let’s me in a little bit — and I mean everyone, even Asians, which I find odd, because I’m like really? I’m not - I’m pretty sure I am not any parts Asian. I have actually had this argument with Asians trying to convince me otherwise. But no one (except my family) accepts me entirely for what I am or what identify I with (which is African-American.) And so, at 45, I have begun to detatch somewhat from that identity, not because it is an identity that is stigmatized, or because I am always initially rejected by other African- Americans, I don’t really mind that so much, but because it is an identity that has become limiting to me. (For example casually chatting with a white woman from New England, on race relations is not something the typical African-American woman from my generation would do.) Now as for those millennials? They are a lot more swirly! So they seem to be trying harder to have these kinds of experiences. More power to them!
But I am definitely going to follow Embrace Race - as it seems that the writers here are speaking to experiences I have either had or struggled with my entire life, because, truth be told, I too am swirly- and by that I mean multiracial. For most of my life, I have resisted that classification, because technically, there are no white people in my family, just a really long line of very light African-Americans. But there is just no denying that this light skin comes from somewhere…and with this light skin comes certain characteristics, both good and bad, that are European. I know how to show up somewhere on time; and understand that when white people say be somewhere at 3, what they really mean is 2:50, 3 at the latest, but not 3:30, and god forbid you show up at 4. When you do that, they get really pissy. In mainstream America, understanding the importance of precision with time is a good thing — and that European DNA allows me to adjust to those time requirements quite easily. But, you know I have this joke I tell about myself, which is that I’ve got far too much European DNA to dance “on the beat” or to play jacks, or jump double-dutch. (Which I wonder why it’s even called that, can the Dutch do it? I sincerely doubt that they can.)
Being on the colorline gets more difficult, these days as race and issues around it become so polarized. All my life, one group or the other has called upon me to reject parts of myself — and I have decided within the last few years even, I’m not going to do it.
I am all of it. Yes I am African. (Screw you Nigerians who arrogantly have told me different.) And I am European too. (God bless the German woman who eagerly told me about all the good things Germans had done, as I did not want to think of myself as related to a people who I equate with Nazism.) I suspect there are some Native Americans lurking around in the DNA as well. (God bless Rose of Sharon who told me to shut up with all that intellectual European jibber-jabber at the Pow-Wow- cause, she was right. That wasn’t appropriate there.)
But, I am all of it. I will embrace all of it. It is what it is - swirly.