It is often said that white people cannot understand the racism black people have to endure. The experience of racist discrimination is the unique possession of those who undergo it. In our world today it is the experience of the non-white marginalized. White people can try to understand what it is to be discriminated against at such a systemic level, but, since it is not their experience, they can only look at it from the outside.
As a white person who is against racism, I experience this discrepancy between my desire to be an ally to black people while at the same time being an outsider to their struggle. While it is good to deeply empathize with the other, trying to see the world from the other’s perspective, there is always a certain lack.
Enter Into Your Whiteness
Yet there is a very effective way for whites to understand racism in all its violent ugliness. And it is a good deal more confrontational than the attempt to see the world through the eyes of the oppressed. As much as black people are privy to their own black experience including systematic racism, oppression, marginalization, white-on-black violence, white people have their own experience too.
White people can enter into their whiteness. As whites, they have their own private experience that no one else can understand. They are fully capable to embody their whiteness with its attendant privilege, assumed superiority, and justification of violence.
Of course the majority of white people do this on a daily basis. Hence systemic racism on all levels of society. But what I advocate is that white people enter into their whiteness consciously, knowing it is whiteness, acknowledging their sense of superiority. Entering whiteness, while being conscious of it being whiteness, embodying the status of oppressor, knowing it is a position of oppression, gives white people the true and unique experience of what it is to be white.
And then wait and see what happens.
Speaking Out Of Whiteness
Entering into whiteness reveals the fact that in this world today to be white is to be racist! Not because of some intrinsic malfunction in the white race–because race does not exist on a genetic level–but because to grow up white is to be conditioned into whiteness.
While I cannot identify with the experience of George Floyd I can make that look in Derek Chauvin’s eyes, the officer who murdered Floyd, my own. Not because I’m murderous but because I know whiteness in the core of my being. I can’t speak with authority on the black experience but I can speak out of my own, recognize my own, and resist it with everything I have.
It happened to me a number of years ago. What it did for me was not so much understanding my black neighbor’s perspective of being oppressed. That came later. No, what did it for me was seeing my own whiteness in all its white nakedness and it shocked me. It was not what I wanted to be, not what I wanted to look like, not what I wanted to belong to. But I simply had to see it. I had to see what I was part of. I entered my whiteness and this was how I got healed (as I’m being healed from it even now).
Seeing Whiteness As Whiteness
The hardest part in the struggle against racism is not to make whites pronounce statements against racism. They do this all the time from platforms, in blogs, behind microphones. Even a basic empathy with the plight of black people may occur from time to time. No, what is really and truly hard is to make white people see their whiteness for the curse it is. They don’t want to enter their whiteness with open eyes.
Please note, I don’t disparage the so-called racial distinctiveness of being white. Self-hate is never helpful. Beside, race doesn’t exist; it’s a mental construct created by… indeed, whiteness. Whiteness, then, is the cultural construct developed by Western European nations in order to economically exploit so-called non-whites. Even though the colonial period is over, whiteness persists on all levels in our economic systems and in the social stratifications that exist within our societies.
My dear fellow white neighbor, I advise you, enter into your whiteness. Name the privilege that is yours. Acknowledge the ugliness of a system that offers you advantages that is doesn’t offer people of color. Do so, until you get nauseated. Until you want to flee from the social disease called whiteness, until you want have nothing to do with the privileges the system automatically accords you.
As beneficiaries of a system of white privilege it is not our first task to understand the nature of the oppression. We have the difficult task of seeing ourselves for what we are. Only then will we be truly free to embrace our black sisters and brothers and join hands with them in the struggle for justice.
Image: Mike Von