“Dear White People…
I get that being reduced to a race-based generalization is a new and devastating experience for some of you. But here’s the difference; my jokes don’t incarcerate your youth at alarming rates. Or make it unsafe for you to walk around your own neighborhoods. But yours do. When you mock or belittle us, you enforce an existing system.”
-Sam, Dear White People, Netflix 2017
If you’re reading this, you probably know about the post. You were either in support of the post, offended by the post, or curious about my recent post about that post.
I am writing this to address it head on. This is not a retraction and this is not an apology. If I didn’t stand by what I wrote I would not have uploaded the status. Could I have been more tactful? Sure. It would have saved me some trouble if I had taken some extra time to expand or rephrase the post before I hit post. While it’s too late to take back the impact it may have had, I’ve decided to revisit the post and make some clarifications for those who are interested.
First, a recap. The Post, Thanksgiving 2017, 9 A.M.
Politics on Holidays
We all know the joke by now. Family gatherings bring political dissent that no one wants to deal with. My family is fortunate enough to not have any major disagreements that make our holidays tense. This Thanksgiving was no different, so there was no real catalyst to the post. Originally, I had planned to just make a comment on how even though Thanksgiving’s origins may not sit well with many Indigenous people, my family still celebrates and has a good time. I thought about putting am explanation as to why I celebrate the holiday despite my heritage, but I didn’t really have any other explanation besides tradition. I wasn’t going to share one of the videos that explore why Indians would have just cause to hate it. I’ve seen so many of them over the years that they’re kind of cliché. My original intent was not to offend. I was just going to spread some holiday love and reflections while cooking a good meal.
Instead I chose my usual route of radical dissent and blunt honesty.
Though I aimed the salutation directly at Indigenous people, I guess I should clarify that I did not mean to suggest the opposite, that I wished non-Indigenous people to not have a good meal. I can’t pretend to have all the solutions to what I believe are problems, and I believe the perpetuation of the Thanksgiving myth is a problem. That doesn’t mean I think white people shouldn’t celebrate Thanksgiving or be solemn and guilt-laden about it. I’ll admit, I don’t know a great solution to deromanticize the holiday.
Honestly, I’d just be happy if we could banish Black Friday for good. I’ll accept Thanksgiving plays about Squanto and the Pilgrims if it means getting rid of the epitome of consumerist indulgence.
Fuck America, Fuck Imperialism
I am not, nor have I ever been, nor will I ever be a patriot. I will never stand for the national anthem or salute the flag. I am not proud to be an American because I know this is not the land of the free. This is the land of mindless nationalism and discrimination towards minorities. The United States is a country that was founded and built on the exploitation of black people, indigenous people, and people of color, and in its entire history has never ceased being exactly that. Some look at Old Glory and see their values, freedom, honor, veterans, whatever.
When I see the American flag this is what comes to mind for me:
The flag represents a country that was founded in blood and genocide. A country that at its founding declared Indians to be savages and blacks as three-fifths of a human, and treated all non-whites as bad or worse than they treated animals.
“But that was hundreds of years ago!” you might say.
Yes it was, and that same flag that flew above the bodies of dead Indians while white soldiers who killed them received medals for it, it flies high today. It has been less than 100 years since Indians were legally allowed to be citizens, less than 50 years for religious freedom. It’s that same flag, now with a thin blue line, that continues to abuse and kill Indians and other POC today.
We’ll “get over” Indians being mistreated by the United States when the United States stops mistreating Indians.
Was it perhaps too harsh to write “fuck America and fuck imperialism?” I certainly don’t think so, otherwise I wouldn’t have wrote it, but if what I’ve described above doesn’t offend you but saying “fuck America” does, I’d consider that your issue, not mine.
But if I must, I shall rephrase to something more nuanced:
America is a deeply flawed nation that I will likely never respect, not only because it has yet to take responsibility for its mistreatment of the Indigenous peoples, but because it continues to be an imperial force all over the world and exploit people in pursuit of resources.
White People Ignore, Sugar-Coat
Before I go on, let’s review some simple things: Racism refers to a system of oppression. Reverse racism isn’t a thing. White people are fragile.
Wait, let’s back up. That last one might be a little too spurious. What if someone said “Indian people are fragile?” Isn’t that a double standard?
On the surface, yes, it can look like critiques aimed at white people are being racist. But remember, racism is a system. Racism isn’t getting caught up in labels and making sure our words to each other are as neat and inoffensive as possible. I am not someone who speaks against the mythical “political correctness” monster but I don’t believe that speaking in general terms about white people is racist.
Explaining that starts with the essay “White Fragility” by Robin DiAngelo. It’s something that I think every American should read. From the first moment I read it, I’ve been noticing more and more how common the points DiAngelo makes are in society.
I could restate all them or annotate the essay, but for simplicity’s sake I’ll just quote a few lines.
- – White people in North America live in a social environment that protects and insulates them from race-based stress. This insulated environment of racial protection builds white expectations for racial comfort while at the same time lowering the ability to tolerate racial stress, leading to what I refer to as White Fragility.
– Although mainstream definitions of racism are typically some variation of individual “race prejudice”, which anyone of any race can have, Whiteness scholars define racism as encompassing economic, political, social, and cultural structures, actions, and beliefs that systematize and perpetuate an unequal distribution of privileges, resources and power between white people and people of color (Hilliard, 1992).
– Whiteness itself refers to the specific dimensions of racism that serve to elevate white people over people of color. This definition counters the dominant representation of racism in mainstream education as isolated in discrete behaviors that some individuals may or may not demonstrate, and goes beyond naming specific privileges (McIntosh, 1988).
In my future rhetoric, I will think twice about some of my words on the chance that someone may take my words as race prejudice towards white people, but I do not believe that anything in the post comes close to that. When I said “white people ignore,” I was referring to Whiteness as defined by Ruth Frankenburg:
“Whiteness is a location of structural advantage, of race privilege. Second, it is a ‘standpoint,’ a place from which White people look at ourselves, at others, and at society.”
Because the United States has been predominately white in terms of power structure, privilege, social advantages, and culture, it is not a stretch to say that certain aspects of history have been muddled or revised to make white people look less bad. This is what I meant when I said white people ignore/sugar-coat history. Whether the claim is about the peace and love that inspired the first Thanksgiving, how black people felt about slavery, what the Civil War was about, or the disgusting fact that people still celebrate Columbus Day, American history’s default setting is amelioration.
There is one more part of the essay that I believe is key to understanding why some may have reacted as they did when reading my post:
- In the dominant position, whites are almost always racially comfortable and thus have developed unchallenged expectations to remain so (DiAngelo, 2006b). Whites have not had to build tolerance for racial discomfort and thus when racial discomfort arises, whites typically respond as if something is “wrong,” and blame the person or event that triggered the discomfort (usually a person of color). This blame results in a socially-sanctioned array of counter-moves against the perceived source of the discomfort, including: penalization; retaliation; isolation; ostracization; and refusal to continue engagement.
I believe this is what it comes down to; the phenomenon of white fragility painted me as the aggressor and breaker of racial comfort by those who saw the post and took offense. So, if you were offended by me generalizing white people, I’m very sorry that white privilege hasn’t prepared you to deal with racial discomfort.
But that’s something I’ve had to do my whole life. It’s how I was able to ignore the two old men at the gym who mocked how the Ojibwe people say hello. It’s how I was able to stay on good terms with peers from college who willingly admitted that they “just don’t like Native people, but you’re different.” I am fortunate enough that I haven’t had to deal with instances of prejudice that had the potential to escalate into a serious matter, but I have experienced and witnessed it firsthand.
I hope this helps put some things into perspective.
Also, the views of this post are my own and don’t reflect the views of my school, m employers, or any other organization I’m involved with, etc.