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39

How To Be White

1
terms
5
notes

Christman, P. (2022). How To Be White. In Christman, P. How to Be Normal. Belt Publishing, pp. 39-74

(noun) an expression of real or pretended doubt or uncertainty especially for rhetorical effect / (noun) a logical impasse or contradiction / (noun) a radical contradiction in the import of a text or theory that is seen in deconstruction as inevitable

40

Ending racism, a vast set of institutionalized practices, is hard enough, but “destroy whiteness” hits my ears as though it were a koan or aporia—a thing you say because you want, for some spiritual or other purpose, to make thinking itself grind its gears

—p.40 by Phil Christman
notable
1 year, 3 months ago

Ending racism, a vast set of institutionalized practices, is hard enough, but “destroy whiteness” hits my ears as though it were a koan or aporia—a thing you say because you want, for some spiritual or other purpose, to make thinking itself grind its gears

—p.40 by Phil Christman
notable
1 year, 3 months ago
48

In more mainstream forms, such attempts to define whiteness as pathology often focus on the character traits that accrue to “unearned” privilege. (As soon as we say “unearned,” we have baked in the idea of meritocracy—which is some white bullshit.) The white person, especially the white man, is inescapably mediocre, as if by hereditary taint. She or he or they are entitled, neurotic, fragile, narcissistic, vain. He is named Bryce or Heath or Connor and wears shorts in the winter—so severed is he, at a basic level, from the truth of things. (Perhaps he just doesn’t care if his knees are cold.) She is named Karen unless her hair is good.

This approach, too, has a crude descriptive power. Stereotypes often do. In an extension of this process, “white” becomes a name for certain varieties of bad politics: the conservative, the nationalist, the NIMBY progressive, the can’t-we-talk-about-this-later socialist, the you-looked-at-me-so-I’m-calling-the-cops feminist. In all these cases, “white” functions as a name for a kind of secular American freedom: freedom-from that has become freedom-over. It’s the freedom of the minor aristocrat—this being the type of person who gave us far too much of the Enlightenment political thought that permeates our institutions—or the freedom of the children of the southern rich, the group that disproportionately, has given us that bizarre and misnamed American political tendency known as “libertarianism.” (The word has a far nobler meaning in European contexts.) The libertarian is, spiritually speaking, a plantation owner’s son. He wants his taxes lowered, his employees free to work for free, and—with an eye toward those employees’ daughters—his age of consent abolished. His freedom requires that no one else be free of him. But all of these are positions, not traits. Many whitened people reject them, and many people of color buy into one or another of them. Given that the forms and shapes of exploitation are likely to shift in a world that America no longer dominates, this is important to keep in mind.

—p.48 by Phil Christman 1 year, 3 months ago

In more mainstream forms, such attempts to define whiteness as pathology often focus on the character traits that accrue to “unearned” privilege. (As soon as we say “unearned,” we have baked in the idea of meritocracy—which is some white bullshit.) The white person, especially the white man, is inescapably mediocre, as if by hereditary taint. She or he or they are entitled, neurotic, fragile, narcissistic, vain. He is named Bryce or Heath or Connor and wears shorts in the winter—so severed is he, at a basic level, from the truth of things. (Perhaps he just doesn’t care if his knees are cold.) She is named Karen unless her hair is good.

This approach, too, has a crude descriptive power. Stereotypes often do. In an extension of this process, “white” becomes a name for certain varieties of bad politics: the conservative, the nationalist, the NIMBY progressive, the can’t-we-talk-about-this-later socialist, the you-looked-at-me-so-I’m-calling-the-cops feminist. In all these cases, “white” functions as a name for a kind of secular American freedom: freedom-from that has become freedom-over. It’s the freedom of the minor aristocrat—this being the type of person who gave us far too much of the Enlightenment political thought that permeates our institutions—or the freedom of the children of the southern rich, the group that disproportionately, has given us that bizarre and misnamed American political tendency known as “libertarianism.” (The word has a far nobler meaning in European contexts.) The libertarian is, spiritually speaking, a plantation owner’s son. He wants his taxes lowered, his employees free to work for free, and—with an eye toward those employees’ daughters—his age of consent abolished. His freedom requires that no one else be free of him. But all of these are positions, not traits. Many whitened people reject them, and many people of color buy into one or another of them. Given that the forms and shapes of exploitation are likely to shift in a world that America no longer dominates, this is important to keep in mind.

—p.48 by Phil Christman 1 year, 3 months ago
52

The third most common response, among the people designated “white,” to the radical critique of whiteness—the most common is to dismiss the whole issue or to fly to the defense of the assailed white man—is a wholesale adoption of this way of defining it: as a kind of shared sin. Because the concept of whiteness both excuses and inspires some of the worst and longest-running crimes in human history, every person we call “white” has a terrible, Faulknerian secret, which they must publicly acknowledge, describe, and lament in classes, trainings, book clubs, personal essays, and inappropriately anguished conversations with the nearest Black acquaintance. It’s as though we developed an excellent structural account of society just so that we could turn that, too, to the task of enumerating personal flaws while the boss takes notes.

lol

—p.52 by Phil Christman 1 year, 3 months ago

The third most common response, among the people designated “white,” to the radical critique of whiteness—the most common is to dismiss the whole issue or to fly to the defense of the assailed white man—is a wholesale adoption of this way of defining it: as a kind of shared sin. Because the concept of whiteness both excuses and inspires some of the worst and longest-running crimes in human history, every person we call “white” has a terrible, Faulknerian secret, which they must publicly acknowledge, describe, and lament in classes, trainings, book clubs, personal essays, and inappropriately anguished conversations with the nearest Black acquaintance. It’s as though we developed an excellent structural account of society just so that we could turn that, too, to the task of enumerating personal flaws while the boss takes notes.

lol

—p.52 by Phil Christman 1 year, 3 months ago
57

I have taken to using the term “shit-eating allyism” to describe these sorts of emotional display. Shit-eating allyism has two main manifestations. On one hand, it consists of simpering declarations of deference, testaments to the oppressed groups’ superior and hitherto historically unexampled virtue, or laments about one’s own privileges, even when these have barely been enough to keep one alive. In its other form, shit-eating allyism names those occasions when a person of privilege suspends, at least rhetorically—most of the time it is only rhetorical—their own, or their family’s and community’s, claim to basic self-respect or human rights. (Consider, for example, a woman who regrets that she is bringing a white baby into the world and is willing to be quoted in Vogue to that effect.) Shit-eating allyism is often but not always associated with the more extreme forms of what Matt Bruenig calls “identitarian deference” and Olúfémi O. Táíwò calls “epistemic deference”: the idea that whiteness, maleness, or some other form of privilege has so corroded one’s ability to assess reality that any judgment marked as coming from the oppressed community in question, however outlandish, unsupported, or unrepresentative, would automatically be better than whatever judgment this person reaches after research and careful consideration.

haha yes

—p.57 by Phil Christman 1 year, 3 months ago

I have taken to using the term “shit-eating allyism” to describe these sorts of emotional display. Shit-eating allyism has two main manifestations. On one hand, it consists of simpering declarations of deference, testaments to the oppressed groups’ superior and hitherto historically unexampled virtue, or laments about one’s own privileges, even when these have barely been enough to keep one alive. In its other form, shit-eating allyism names those occasions when a person of privilege suspends, at least rhetorically—most of the time it is only rhetorical—their own, or their family’s and community’s, claim to basic self-respect or human rights. (Consider, for example, a woman who regrets that she is bringing a white baby into the world and is willing to be quoted in Vogue to that effect.) Shit-eating allyism is often but not always associated with the more extreme forms of what Matt Bruenig calls “identitarian deference” and Olúfémi O. Táíwò calls “epistemic deference”: the idea that whiteness, maleness, or some other form of privilege has so corroded one’s ability to assess reality that any judgment marked as coming from the oppressed community in question, however outlandish, unsupported, or unrepresentative, would automatically be better than whatever judgment this person reaches after research and careful consideration.

haha yes

—p.57 by Phil Christman 1 year, 3 months ago
67

The scholar Noel Ignatiev had a beautifully simple and hard solution to the problem of whiteness. White workers must simply refuse to be bought off, even when this means, for example, that a union must turn down an informal “first-in, last-out” deal with management. White workers must respond to any attack on Black workers as they would to an attack on themselves. (This is harder to do if you are continually reminding yourself, as white allies are supposed to do, that you could never, ever understand the uniquely horrible pain that is being a Black person.) What white people lost by doing so, they would soon gain back, and more, when the entire working class, undivided, grew strong enough to conquer. In the world that resulted from this overturning, racial categories would dissolve and ethnic differences would assume their true proportions, or at least, different proportions. Microaggressions, since they would no longer carry the reminder of a vast interlocking system that might kill you, would become, at worst, the routine human pain of being misunderstood. Residential segregation would lose on one side its sting and on the other its point.

—p.67 by Phil Christman 1 year, 3 months ago

The scholar Noel Ignatiev had a beautifully simple and hard solution to the problem of whiteness. White workers must simply refuse to be bought off, even when this means, for example, that a union must turn down an informal “first-in, last-out” deal with management. White workers must respond to any attack on Black workers as they would to an attack on themselves. (This is harder to do if you are continually reminding yourself, as white allies are supposed to do, that you could never, ever understand the uniquely horrible pain that is being a Black person.) What white people lost by doing so, they would soon gain back, and more, when the entire working class, undivided, grew strong enough to conquer. In the world that resulted from this overturning, racial categories would dissolve and ethnic differences would assume their true proportions, or at least, different proportions. Microaggressions, since they would no longer carry the reminder of a vast interlocking system that might kill you, would become, at worst, the routine human pain of being misunderstood. Residential segregation would lose on one side its sting and on the other its point.

—p.67 by Phil Christman 1 year, 3 months ago
70

And so now the Left is riven by a pointless debate between a supposed “class-only” Left and an “identity” Left. There are valid criticisms to make of “identity politics,” the most obvious of which is that it tends to toggle between being a theory of everything and being a set of simple commonsense observations. But no sensible person should seek to altogether do away with identity politics in a society as riddled with invented divisions as this one; it would be like asking every country to disarm except the biggest one. And while it’s true that the accusation of “class-only” leftism befalls anyone who talks about class, that is no reason to lean into the stereotype. Many on the left point out that identity politics is often used by “capital” to keep the working class apart; when critics of capitalism become hostile to the mere discussion of racism, though, they are playing out the other side of capital’s little plan.

Most people who are not simply saying indefensible things to build their brand will agree that racism originated in class exploitation but that it now operates somewhat independently. The question is how much, and as this is not a question that can be answered in the abstract—it can only usefully be assessed about particular situations—the general “class vs. identity” question should be given a wide berth. Suffice to say that if you are truly worried about workers, you will always try to notice who they are and which of them is worst off. You will, if you do this, find yourself fighting racism, and also sexism, transphobia, homophobia, ableism—every systematized cruelty.

—p.70 by Phil Christman 1 year, 3 months ago

And so now the Left is riven by a pointless debate between a supposed “class-only” Left and an “identity” Left. There are valid criticisms to make of “identity politics,” the most obvious of which is that it tends to toggle between being a theory of everything and being a set of simple commonsense observations. But no sensible person should seek to altogether do away with identity politics in a society as riddled with invented divisions as this one; it would be like asking every country to disarm except the biggest one. And while it’s true that the accusation of “class-only” leftism befalls anyone who talks about class, that is no reason to lean into the stereotype. Many on the left point out that identity politics is often used by “capital” to keep the working class apart; when critics of capitalism become hostile to the mere discussion of racism, though, they are playing out the other side of capital’s little plan.

Most people who are not simply saying indefensible things to build their brand will agree that racism originated in class exploitation but that it now operates somewhat independently. The question is how much, and as this is not a question that can be answered in the abstract—it can only usefully be assessed about particular situations—the general “class vs. identity” question should be given a wide berth. Suffice to say that if you are truly worried about workers, you will always try to notice who they are and which of them is worst off. You will, if you do this, find yourself fighting racism, and also sexism, transphobia, homophobia, ableism—every systematized cruelty.

—p.70 by Phil Christman 1 year, 3 months ago