Resist Whiteness

In order to envision a future in this country without systemic racism and white supremacy, we must teach the history of racism, the history (and perpetuation) of whiteness and unequivocally challenge and combat the language and ideology of race.

As I process the horrific events of this past weekend in Charlottesville, I think of the number of reactions I have read that in fact solidify systemic racism’s most essential tenant — that of an inherent difference between white people and people of color, and their lived experiences.

Whiteness, as an ideology, is at the core of systemic racism, and why systemic racism has flourished for so many generations. Too many people have been allowed to adopt whiteness as their shield and protector, at the expense of people of color, most specifically, at the expense of black people.

I read an account of one white supremacist at the rally named “Peter Cvjetanovic,” who spoke of the importance of “white European culture” and “white heritage.” He also claims not to be the “angry racist” his image depicts him to be. I read his words and I ask, when did his family become white? How many generations ago? And I wonder how he can state that there exists such a thing as a “white European culture” and “white heritage.” Whiteness was constructed in this country, to justify slavery, and has continued to be constructed in order to perpetuate systemic racism against people of color. There is no such thing as “white heritage.” I can see there being such a thing as “white American culture,” but there is no such thing as “white heritage,” or “white European culture.”

At a rally in my neighborhood yesterday I saw a sign that read “Resist Whiteness.” That is precisely what we as a society need to be doing. I am not saying people cannot or should not identify as white — my saying that would be erasure — but I am saying that people need to stop identifying with whiteness. Without whiteness, there would be no white supremacy or systemic oppression of people of color.

Whiteness needs to be deconstructed and decentered. I am tired of white allies who more than anything speak about their whiteness. In doing so, those same allies center themselves in the efforts to ostensibly dismantle systemic racism.

If we as a nation are to ever envision a future without systemic racism, we must rid ourselves of the ideology of whiteness and of racial difference. I say this with conviction because if I do not combat the ideology of whiteness and of racial difference, I will in fact be teaching my son (who presents as white) that he is not only entitled to a life of privilege due to his physical appearance, but that we are inherently different. It would be laughable if it were not so terrifying.

The language our society currently uses in fact solidifies the notion that my biological son and I are inherently different. He is to walk through the world as a white boy, despite his whole truth, and I am to walk through the world as a woman of color, despite my whole truth. I am supposed to want to surround myself by communities of color that understand and support me, and my son, I suppose, would have to surround himself by white people in order to learn how to challenge systemic racism as a white person.

I will have none of it. And I say so based on my lived experience. My father, an educator, civil rights advocate and peace corp volunteer, was a white, Jewish American. He married a dark-skinned Ecuadorian and sired two children who know and understand their totality, and will never allow a divisive system and erroneous ideology to define them.

My husband and I are teaching our son to resist whiteness. My son may present as white but that is not his totality, and at 6.5 years old, he already understands this. He sees himself in me and his maternal family, despite constant questions and comments about our relationship to each other. He is bilingual. He has a name spelled and pronounced in Spanish. He attends a dual language school where there is no ethnic majority. Nearly all of the administrators at his school are people of color. My son is learning that power and privilege do not only belong to white people, and that skin color does not define who we are nor should it define what our experiences will be.

As our nation moves forward from Saturday’s white supremacist march and the hateful, destructive, ignorant rhetoric from our current administration, I hope we will begin to truly dismantle the ideology at the root of systemic racism. We have waited far too long to do so and we cannot afford to wait any longer.