Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Tunnel Vision

White American: "It's really not so great being White."

Black American: "Whites have no idea what the word 'struggle' means."

White and Black Americans alike tend to suffer from racial myopia. People within each group tend to live American experiences that are somewhat shaped by the actions and reactions of the other group.

Whites have been granted so much privilege from birth, that many find it impossible to appreciate or gauge the sheer breadth and depth of it. A few Whites are more aware than usual, but even then, what's needed for Whites to broaden their perspective on their privilege, is repeated consultations with non-White people: Whites asking non-Whites, including Black people, how White privilege has created problems for them, and listening carefully without automatically getting defensive. 

Recently I heard a White poster on a talk forum state that “It's really not so great being White, you know”, not understanding that a lot of people don't imagine that Whiteness is inherently great. It's often more that a lot of non-Whites envy the access Whites have to all sorts of societal power - power originating from a stolen colonialist inheritance. 

That's not to say there aren't non-Whites who are self-hating Europhiles. Due to forced White acculturation and the effects of colonialist tradition, there are, but for someone White to make a "Whites aren't so great" statement while looking into a non-White person's face, is to downplay the huge advantages that come with being White. 

Another expression of White racial myopia is a White person stating that “Whites have no culture”, overlooking the fact that White culture dominates America. Some Whites tend to “exoticize” cultures that don't fit into mainstream White American culture, and in doing so, become fixated on and/or envious of what they view as novelty. After a while, so many non-White American cultures are “discovered” by White Americans, that the White culture they had previously paid soul attention to looks bland or dull in comparison. “Exoticizing” others' cultures comes with the danger that some of those Whites will take things one step further and appropriate non-White cultures, rebranding those cultures as White. This is why it's important for Whites to stay alert to how their behavior and attitudes about their Whiteness affect themselves and others. 

Black Americans do struggle in a way and to an extent that is difficult or impossible to fully grasp without actually being a Black American. I'm half-Black with an ambiguous racial look, and on a visceral level I understand there's some missing lived information about being a Black American that can only be had by being mostly or fully Black. So what informs me in the following remarks are what I've witnessed from my own limited "Halfrican" experience, plus what I've witnessed or heard from my Black kinfolk, friends, co-workers, or from Black acquaintances. Here is a comment I frequently hear:

Whites have no idea what the word 'struggle' means.” 

That statement is hyperbolic, but my subjective opinion is there does appear to be a stark difference in how Black Americans are perceived and treated relative to White Americans. Societal expectations are entirely different. 

The racial tension and political disparity that still exists, is a direct legacy of Black slavery and all the political and legal turmoil that followed slavery. Racism is like a multi-layered onion: some expressions of racism and White privilege are more overt, but many are subtle. 

Yes, as a country we managed to get it together in the year 2008 and elect a half-Black president. We managed to do it again four years later. And in this same time period, we are still managing to have a whole Hell of a lot of racists speaking out against a “Black” president. When someone Black claims that Whites have no problems, it's a reminder that as a country, and as individuals, we still have plenty of work to do concerning racism and race relations.

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