We Are What We Are

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White people and our obsession with labels.

“This is not just a painting, it is art, it is expression, it is life. Don’t call it a painting!” — This is what white people sound like when they ask to not be called “white”.
Hello, my name is Erynn and I’m white.

Oh I know, you don’t see colour. Well, I’m sure you believe that. I’m going to keep talking about it though because whether you see it or not, it’s there.

Is ‘white’ an insufficient introduction?

If I weren’t white, you’d already have an idea of who I am.

As white people, we grant one another the privilege of being seen as individuals. Each a collection of personal and unique experiences too complex to make assumptions about. This is not a privilege granted to black, indigenous or people of colour. This is why white people are forever redeemable while black people are ‘criminals’. Why a white terrorist is ‘troubled’ while a brown terrorist is ‘radicalized’. That’s not really what we want to say, though.

What we really mean is ‘one of them’.

Well, white folks, we’re a ‘them’ too, and it’s about time we start seeing each other that way.

You know that uncomfortable feeling you get when you hear about white-supremacists? They’re white people too. They’re part of us.

I know, I know… I’m sure you would never do what they’re doing. I’m sure you went to a good school. You take your kids to church. I’m sure you’re a great mom/dad/sibling/grandparent/community choir member/etc. I’m sure you have a ton of labels that you use to distinguish yourself from others. Maybe you’re a feminist, or an egalitarian. Maybe you’re a vegan, or a tomboy, or a loudmouth. Or maybe you exist at one or many crossroads: trans, gay, bi, lesbian, person with a disability, cash-poor.

But… This is a big one.

You’re white. I’m white. We’re white.

You can bust out your label maker to separate yourself from those ‘other’ white folks but at the end of the day — you’re white. We live in a system that doesn’t see the many labels that also apply to black people, indigenous people, or people of colour. So why do we continue to demand space for our complex identities when we don’t offer the same to others? Why do we insist on derailing conversations about white supremacy with ‘not all white people’?

Because we never learned to see ourselves as a collective.

We never learned to take responsibility for our whiteness.

When you see a white supremacist talking about the glory of the white race, your instinct to disengage and say he’s ‘not like you’ is defensive. When you see a sign that says “White women voted for Trump” and your reaction is ‘Not this white woman!’ you are demanding to be seen as an individual.

How can we demand this privilege when we don’t afford it to those we demand it from?

You are complex, you have many labels to stick on your white team jersey. But you are capable of thinking of a group of people as a collective because of the colour of their skin. That means you too.

Sure, you can be the child of Irish immigrants and half-Jewish on your father’s side, and whatever other unique identifiers you want to give yourself . But at the top of the list, above all things you have ever been, you are white.

You’re a white person. You were born white. You even had privileges afforded to you before you were born because of your whiteness. Don’t believe me? You were more likely to be born, just because you’re white. That’s a privilege.

So here’s my suggestion: put down the label maker. Don’t get wrapped up in what you can call yourself so that others will know that you’re a good white person. Get used to calling yourself white. Get used to seeing the space white people take up — and the space we avoid. Don’t turn away when you see hateful, horrible white people saying and doing hateful, horrible things. Sit in the discomfort knowing they are representing you. You wear their hatred on your skin the same way they wear your silence. There is no escaping it, ever.

This is us, this is who we are, all of it.

We have spent our time navel-gazing and admiring our own uniqueness while lumping all those who look different into vast groups of ‘asians’, ‘black people’ and ‘maybe muslim I guess?’ People spit out the word ‘immigrant’ when what they really want to say is ‘people who look different’. As if this isn’t one of the dumbest, laziest possible ways to other someone without the use of any obvious racial slurs. At least you can do it from a block away, you don’t even need to know their names.

Are you sick yet? Good.

You don’t want white people to be demonized anymore? You’re sick of being blamed? Get out there and stop the people who are actually to blame. Slowing everything down to say “Whoa, whoa, whoa, I just want us all to acknowledge that not all white people are like so-and-so…” isn’t actually helping anyone. We don’t need a moment to think of all the special white people.

If you want white people to be perceived as better, then be better. See the collective that we are and recognize your place in it. Stop hiding from bigotry, inside and outside of yourself. Unravel it. Now is the time.

Here are the things you can do right now:

  • Join Safety Pin Box to unlearn white supremacy and support Black Women Being.
  • Diversify your media. Read The Establishment and consider a membership. I also recommend Bitch Media. Follow more diverse voices on social media. And I don’t just mean ‘diversity of thought’, I mean voices of people who don’t look like you.
  • Talk to your family and friends about white supremacy.
  • If you’re really stuck or overwhelmed and you need to work through your emotions in coming to terms with whiteness, join us below. We’ll continue to push you to take the steps above, and we can offer emotional support while you learn.

For more background on Nice White Ladies, please read:

The State of White Women Part I and The State of White Women Part II

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