I have been exploring some new topics in my anti-racism self-work and one of them is how “White people” became White. My creative writing piece in my last update touched on this somewhat. The reframe, after understanding the origins of whiteness, is to see the connection with economics, with class. I had left class out of most of my work so far because much of the content I had found in anti-racist work pushed race as the single-most oppressive factor for marginalized people, so I focused on race. My mistake was in neglecting the connection between race and class, a situation I’ll be rectifying from here forward. I have not been serving you as well as I would like, so I’m here now to correct my perspective and approach. There is always more to learn!
I want to share some key takeaways from some readings from White Awake’s “Roots Deeper Than Whiteness” online course, which I cannot recommend highly enough. As you will see in the next few of my updates, it has been life-altering and significantly perception-shifting, especially about the role of capitalism in oppressive systems in our country:
The first one I want to highlight is Chris Crass’s article “Anti-Black Racism, the Minstrel Show, and the Making of Whiteness” (we read pages 22–25, but the whole thing is worth a read):
“White supremacy in the United States is primarily about organizing the economy and the political system to serve the interests of elites at the expense of the vast majority of people. White supremacy is a divide-and-rule strategy to maintain structural inequality and the logic and culture of supremacy systems that normalize and rationalize inequality.” (p.23)
“…white racist rage and white resistance to Black equality is rooted in white anger and pain for not achieving the American Dream.” (p.23)
The creation of whiteness has its roots in the desperate migration of displaced and impoverished European people who traveled or were sent (under indenture) to the American colonies. This process required assimilation, abandonment of traditional cultural practices, in the name of survival (sound familiar?).
When landed, wealthy people of European descent encountered solidarity among poor people from many different cultures, they adopted a divide and conquer solution, one that is still in operation today, to prevent the majority from rising up against the minority. They created whiteness to bestow slightly better conditions and opportunities on people of European descent and removed resources and opportunities from everyone else, creating a hierarchy of human value. This persists today.
Did you know that many southern, non-slaveholding White men resisted the Confederacy and hid from or fled the Confederate Army with enslaved and free blacks in the Deep South swamps of Georgia? (see Keri Leigh Merritt’s “War Happens in Dark Places, Too”) Connect this to the way history is taught in our country and why this narrative and others of solidarity among working people are not the stories we share with our children.
White people have been and are still morally and materially harmed by white supremacy. We all are.
This is why anti-racist activists talk about collective liberation and what they mean when they quote Fannie Lou Hamer’s “nobody’s free until everybody’s free.” Much of the antiracism narrative talks about white privilege, implying strongly that White people have something to lose by engaging in anti-racist work. It turns out that it’s more complicated than that. More on this next time.
Listen. Amplify. Follow.