Specifically, I want to talk about a little phrase that’s become all too popular in recent years: “it’s okay to be white.”
This is important to discuss because no, no it is not okay.
Now before you get all flustered and pull out your homemade victim card and scream ReVeRsE rAcIsM, let me explain.
First, let’s get some basic definitions out of the way as they’ve been historically defined rather than as they’re perceived today. We’ll start with the concept of “race.” This concept is far newer to humans than we assume it to be, really only a few hundred years old. It didn’t officially gain mainstream, legal traction until the 1800s when it was defined as “people from the same nation with similar facial characteristics and physical presentation.” Originally, race was not defined solely by skin tone, though skin tone could be a contributing factor.
This concept of race made it easier to group different ethnicities into the same category. Two different ethnicities with radically different cultures located in different regions of the same colonial state could now be grouped together according to things like what they wore, the shape of their eyes, what government they’re living under, and increasingly, over time, skin tone.
As this concept was growing and becoming more and more established, so was the mainstream acceptance of science as a trustworthy mechanism for establishing truths about the world. It wasn’t long before the two melded, and the concept of race became intertwined and justified by “science” (meaning by a bunch of untested hypotheses from people who did not engage the scientific method in good faith). Talk of bloodlines have always been prevalent across human cultures, but suddenly the idea of bloodlines was beginning to have less to do with family trees and more to do with rabidly developing and intensely inconsistent ideas of what “race” was.
This all ended up being the perfect foundation for one of the most insidious and hateful inventions in human history: the invention of the white race. I say invention because for all purposes, that’s truly what it is. From its inception, the distinction of white, much like the original definitions of race, was not dependent on skin tone. It was a social category. To be white was to be a capitalist from a valued ethnicity. For instance, throughout American history the label of “white” has included certain First Nations peoples, Mexican cowboys, a freed slave here and there, and other people we would not consider white today. The Irish were legally classified as “black” by the government in the 1800s. Arabs, not viewed as white by many so-called political leaders today, have been legally defined as white since the 1950s.
It’s weird, huh? Our culture raises us to believe race is a very clearcut binary: based on skin tone, you are white or you are black (and if you’re “mixed race,” you are black). This is a lie. It’s a carefully crafted and maintained, purposeful lie. It serves an extremely important function for the colonial capitalists who’ve been stealing the world’s wealth for hundreds and hundreds of years. It arbitrarily divides the populations, conveniently using definitions that can be altered whenever deemed necessary. It gives the masses a label to strive for, a magic category that if they can get into, they’ll get a bigger slice of a better pie. But it’s still all crumbs, and while we squabble over the one bite that has a bit of frosting on it, we don’t see all the unused goods being stolen and hoarded from all of us.
It was amazingly convenient at the time, to be able to tell poor European Americans: “hey, you’re just like me, you’re white (even though you’ll never own property or experience luxury or have a political voice that matters); aren’t you so proud you’re not black?” To have the threat of suddenly being defined and treated as black looming over people was a powerful tool, just as powerful as the false sense of superiority it created in an otherwise oppressed population. And of course, it all grew from there and it never got any less evil or manipulative.
But anyway, that’s why it’s not okay to be “white.” Because white is not a culture or ethnicity–it’s a power structure. It’s a justification for the oppression of the global population at the hands of a few dozen families. It’s okay to be Irish or Scandinavian or an East-coaster. It’s okay to be a country boy or a hipster or a hippie or a metalhead. It’s okay to love the part of your identity that is tied to your family, friends, and surroundings. Being “white” is none of those things. It never has been and the biggest contributor to the success of its myth is getting people to believe it is a vital part of anyone’s identity to know for sure whether they’re white or not. It’s not. Fuck wipey pole.