“Do You Feel White?”

my friend asked me, and it hit me like a ton of bricks.

It took me a while to answer.

Do I feel white? Do I feel white?

I think I finally said something to the effect of “no….. and yes?”.

The question has stuck with me for months.

“Do you feel white?”

White folks have been conditioned to not *feel* whiteness. We’ve been conditioned to think of it as something that simply is, as a condition so closely tied to universal humanness that often goes unacknowledged. It’s a construct we’ve never had to sum up into words and bring into consciousness, because it simply, invisibly, unconsciously is.

For white people, of course. Folks of color have been experiencing whiteness; undeniable, visible, conscious whiteness, only to have these experiences invalidated in the face of All-Lives-Matter type faux-placating rhetoric crap.

“Do you feel white?”

I mean, here’s where things get tricky. I wasn’t born in the States. I didn’t grow up here. English isn’t my first language. I’m Greek. I grew up in this small town in the Peloponnese, where 99% of folks were Greek/white. In an environment as homogeneous as rural Greece, after the waves of immigration in the 90’s, our intercultural differences were made to feel so real- real enough to forget that this construct of “nationality” and “citizenship” is socially woven, that these crafted borders are efforts to safeguard an identity that feels powerless in the global setting it is situated in. People’s greekness felt fragile in the 90's with the influx of Albanians who were of Muslim faith and it feels fragile now with the influx of Syrian refugees who also happen to be Muslim. Culture was and is still conflated with ethnicity and religion in our region, all of which is to say that in Greece we are made to think of our whiteness even less, as our race is thought of more as one’s nationality rather than the color of one’s skin. It is even more normalized in rural areas, where few folks of color reside, and where whiteness usually only becomes a reality when using it to create false nature vs. culture type dichotomizations with Romani folks, for example. Minorities represent a symbolic threat to the greekness Greek folks essentialized; especially when those minorities refuse to assimilate.

“Do you feel white?”

I recently finished watching the Sopranos for the first time. During one of Tony Soprano’s therapy sessions, the following dialogue takes place:

-Dr. Melfi: Am I to understand that you don’t consider yourself white?
-Tony: I don’t mean white like Caucasian. I mean a white man, like our friend Cusamano. Now he’s Italian but he’s American. He’s what my old man would’ve called a wonder bread WOP. He eats his Sunday gravy out of a jar.

So this dude Cusamano is his next door neighbor, a wealthy Italian-American doctor who Tony thinks has sacrificed his “Italianness” for his “Americanness”, which he equates to whiteness. On a random note, it is really funny to watch the Sopranos because I finally get why they say that Greeks and Italians are “una faccia, una razza” aka one face, one race. The values of family, loyalty, a very contextual sense of honor, and of course the fat shaming, racism, and sexism (even if behind the macho paradigm ruling the culture lies a passive-aggressive matriarchal archetype figure pulling the strings). So, one face, one race- once again, nationality is equated with race. But back to our question.

“Do you feel white?”

When Tony Soprano doesn’t acknowledge his whiteness in an effort to show the stark contrast between himself and Dr. Cusamano, he fails to realize the privilege that comes with being white in the States. Whatever discrimination the Italians, Greeks, Polish, Irish, other European folks faced during the mass immigration to the States, they did actually end up embodying and perpetuating this construct of whiteness colonialists had already established. White folks, even working-class immigrants, were still better off than folks of color in the States.

“Do you feel white?”

When folks equating nationality and race denounce their whiteness and create this new category for themselves, one they uniquely occupy as “non white” white people, they are essentially facilitating the whiteness naturalization process. When we start distinguishing between different shades of white, as Tony Soprano was attempting to do, we are bound to start distinguishing between various levels of accountability.

“Do you feel white?”

So,

my greekness does not erase my whiteness.

Despite any feeling of otherness I might internalize, I am still white. I’ve got white skin, blonde hair, green eyes, a passable American accent. And due in large part to all of the above, I have experienced moving to the United States with a great deal of privilege. Because of the way my image is reflected back to me, as one that can belong, that can assimilate, that is seen as an individual and an individual that can succeed in the United States, I have been able to make my transatlantic move fairly seamlessly.

My greekness does not erase my whiteness.

Do you feel white?