About that time before white people

Sam McKenzie Jr.
Mar 29 · 5 min read

When you look at voting patterns and surveys, a tempting and recurring thought says, “If only white people would stop reacting like they’re white, America would be great.”

That tireless thought has so many cascading events and plenty of history on its side. Looking back at several progressive movements, our history captures and captions white people doing everything possible to protect their privileges — legally, illegally, and lethally.

What function and purpose do “white” people have in America?

In his book The Invention of the White Race, the scholar Theodore Allen gives answers.

By citing history, he says the ruling class invented “white people” as a social-control formation — using racist policies and privileges — to protect the interests of the ruling class.

Theodore Allen points all his fingers at Bacon’s Rebellion as the impetus for the “peculiar institution” of white people.

In 1676, Bacon’s Rebellion was a deadly uprising, by a cross-section of people, against the elites in Virginia. That unified rebellion was big trouble.

After the rebellion, the elites worked harder to create white people to fill the gap and to protect themselves from an overthrow. At first, it looks like the elites only made whiteness to start trouble, but the elites also made whiteness to stop their trouble.

That means whiteness isn’t a response to Blackness alone. Whiteness is also a response to redness. The redness of flames; the redness of blood; the redness of profit loss — all that running and raging redness is why the elites made whiteness too.

Among many deeds, definitions, and descriptions, whiteness is an oppressive form of class collaboration.

According to Theodore Allen, who first analyzed the concept of white-skin privileges, the elites invented white-skin privileges as “bait” — to abate working-class solidarity.

Thus, white-skin privileges are more about being suckered than receiving succor. Much more than checking, sharing, or using their suckered status — the suckered people must disabuse themselves from their suckered status. Whiteness is a steady state of being suckered.

Since Bacon’s Rebellion, the white masses in America still fulfill that stuck and suckered role of social control. America’s core of whiteness lives in the middle as a buffer between the ruling class and the most oppressed.

That whiteness does its primordial work just by being in the way. That whiteness, in the middle ground, is always a middle finger.

That swing-voter whiteness — which rides high in the middle seat — is the middling moderate who moderates — in the ways Dr. King described and decried.

It’s a whiteness that’s here for — the law, the order, the constitution, civility, culture, Christianity, gradualism, patriotism; its own freedom; its own mobility; the American Dream, and its privileges.

But, there’s a big but!

The absence of that whiteness before Bacon’s Rebellion didn’t make the colonies on stolen land a great place.

Even with no whiteness, the people in the colonies still had reasons to resist and to rebel. The English were cruel to their own people, even the kids! History shouts down anyone who thinks America was ever great for everyone.

In the grim and grimacing shadows of American history, we see more than one skin color wielding the oppression of slavery. Some Native American tribes supported chattel slavery. One tribe enslaved Black people in line with the number of white enslavers in Tennessee.

And over 3,000 Black people, albeit sometimes for benevolent reasons, held thousands of Black people in slavery.

Here’s the point — with or without white people, the supremacist can still be there. The supremacist always finds ways and invents ways to be supreme.

The slain leader of the Chicago Black Panther Party Fred Hampton stressed that “pigs” and imperialists can be of any color.

For certain, whiteness makes the world worse beyond words. We must abolish whiteness. But abolishing whiteness isn’t enough to transform society. Our society won’t change entirely with fewer white people or no white people.

We can’t forget — they called themselves English and Christian before they called themselves white.

For thousands of people, the concepts that cut and killed first — were male, English, Christian, and property. (I’m sure there are more for the list.)

It’s not enough to change the names and the color of the guards. It’s still about power. And oppression by another name still counts.

In her book Writing Beyond Race, the cultural critic and scholar bell hooks uses the phrase, “imperialist white supremacist capitalist patriarchy” to name the US political system.

Bell hooks says, “the phrase is useful because it doesn’t prioritize one system over another.”

She uses those words altogether to show the connected and collaborating nature of what she calls the “cultures of domination.”

We can’t stop erasing at race and racism. The question that goes beyond race and racism has to ask — in what ways do we serve as social-control formations to support the systems of domination for the elites?

The answer to domination isn’t necessarily, or only, a “democracy” as we know democracies.

The answer is what the elites don’t want — big trouble. The communal spirit of anarchy, which resists and rejects hierarchies, is an answer to domination.

Many forms of oppression are about order and ordering. People who oppose oppression must be anarchists to some degree. Why aren’t we talking more about anarchy?

Someone has to refuse the order.

Someone has to trouble the waters.

Someone has to set fire to the crops.

With or without “white” people, that someone could be anyone, and that someone should be everyone.

Be the trouble not the help.



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Sam McKenzie Jr.

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I combat racism and whiteness with verbicide and literary devices. https://www.patreon.com/SamMcKenzieJr | http://ko-fi.com/sammc

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