Sunday, August 24, 2008

see no problem with being surrounded by other white people

As I sit alone in my office, in the dark, in the middle of the night, the idea of atonement seems hollow and fruitless. Only the personal, everyday choices I make in the world of racial interactions, and not some abstract or ritualistic gesture of apologizing or of being forgiven, will really make a difference. In the process, I realize, I will always be watching myself.

I just spent the last couple of weeks with members of my family who live a half a day’s drive or so north of where I do. As I drove there, I knew that my vacation would be a very “white” one—I was going to be surrounded by white people. I was also going to be “on vacation.” These two facts made me a bit conflicted.

I wondered, as I have before: When I get up there, how much should I question and examine the whiteness of the people and the settings around me? How much should I keep in mind, and try to tell other people about, what I've come to realize so far about what whiteness means? Shouldn’t I just relax and take a break from such things, in the hopes of reinvigorating myself for a continuation of that struggle when I go back home?

I was driving along an interstate highway, blithely sailing along at my usual ten miles over the speed limit. I realized that because I’m white, I don’t feel at all concerned about how my race might register to traffic police, either as I drive by them, or if they stop me (I’ve never been stopped for going ten miles over a highway speed limit). I also don’t have to be aware of certain localities that have more racist traditions than others, a racism that’s reflected in more frequent traffic stops for non-white people.

Then it occurred to me that I often realize those benefits that come to me from Driving While White. So that means that I’ve escaped, to some extent at least, the “false consciousness” of whiteness. A false sense, that is, that my race doesn’t matter much at all in my life.

So (my thoughts continued), if I’ve escaped to some degree the false consciousness that my society had previously lulled me into about my racial status, being “on vacation” would not mean taking a break from a truer consciousness. Being aware of whiteness in these rural northern spaces, and of my own white tendencies as I move through them, should come more naturally to me than it used to.

My parents came from a small northern lumber town. After a few decades of life in the city where I was born and raised, they moved back to their hometown, and my father still lives there. He now works in same lumber mill where he had his first job, which consisted of stripping the bark from poplar trees (machines do that now). He and I did a lot of hunting and fishing together as I grew up, and although I rarely do either anymore, we recently started an annual tradition of taking a summer fishing trip together. This year that trip was delayed for a couple of days, since I arrived in his hometown just as its birthday celebration was getting started.

The town’s celebration included a musical review of the town’s history, full of local “actors,” and a parade, which included an Elvis imitator, refurbished old cars, mobile advertisements for local businesses and politicians, the high school marching band, members of the state college marching band, floats constructed and ridden by members of especially large local families, fire engines, a nostalgic outhouse, people throwing candy, honking horns, blasting cannons, and more. There was also a lumberjack demonstration; a beard contest; booths selling pies, sausages, crafts, t-shirts, memorabilia, and beer; a musician who played a saw and told moldy jokes; an outdoor dance party; a “lumberjack breakfast”; and a closing fireworks display that went on for twice as long as almost everyone expected.

As I walked around amidst the hundreds, perhaps thousands of visitors who came for the birthday festival, I was surrounded by almost exclusively white people, in a town that had always been almost exclusively white as well. And yet, despite so much whiteness, I felt myself getting lazy about white awareness. I was, after all, “on vacation,” and so were a lot of the people around me. And a lot of them were people I knew, and even loved, and thus not people I especially felt like giving a hard time about their racial status and their racial beliefs and attitudes.

But there was also more to my struggle to remain vigilant about whiteness. It’s been my experience that in settings like this, where the whiteness is so unrelenting and nearly uniform, none of the white people present seem to notice the lack of non-white people, and they certainly don’t have anything to say about that. As for me, I now get kind of creeped out when I’m in such extremely white settings, because I know that’s not an accident—the exclusion was, and often still is, deliberate, and ugly.

That racial homogeneity, which is probably glaringly evident to any non-white participant, is almost invisible to the white ones, as taken for granted as the air around them, or the availability of electricity or running water. So when I say there’s more to my struggle to remain vigilant about my whiteness than my own laziness in such settings, I mean that there’s a sort of passive-aggressive pressure in such places to avoid the topic of whiteness, and even to stop thinking about it. Mostly because no one else seems to even notice all that whiteness, and also because most of them would take it badly if anyone were to broach the topic critically.

The facts of electricity, running water, and a nearly uniform whiteness seem so natural to the white people in such settings that they don’t have much of anything at all to say about all three of them. And electricity and running water are of course thought of as good things, when they’re thought of at all. At one point, as I watched the performing “lumberjacks” ham it up for the kids in the audience, I wondered if being surrounded by white people is also thought of as a good thing, as something as beneficial, and “hard to do without,” as electricity and running water.

I decided that actually, yes, whiteness is often thought of that way here—if the more general topic of race comes up. My evidence was a conversation earlier that day with a cousin, who asked where I was living these days. When I told him about the place, he said he’d been there, but he didn’t like it.

“Why not?” I said.

“Because they had lots of coloreds down there.”

Coloreds? I hesitated—where to start? And how much did I want to alienate this person I’ve known all my life?

“I guess you mean black people? African Americans, as people also say these days?” I tried to make the point more palatable with humor. “Come on, man, get modern! People don’t say ‘colored’ anymore.”

He didn’t see anything to smile about. “Around here they do. Some do, anyway.”

“Well, around where I live, they don't, and they don't in most other places either. I like living with different kinds of people. And it’s not dangerous, if that’s what you’re thinking. Hasn’t been to me, anyway. You’re just being prejudiced.”

My cousin looked doubtful, but he didn’t say anything. Then he shrugged, saw someone else to talk to, and walked away. I think he does feel safer living away from “all that crime” in more populated places, and I’m sure that he associates that crime with people who aren’t white, not with how much more crowded such places are. So he’s happier to be away from “cities,” but he’s also happy (probably without thinking about it all that much) with being surrounded by white people.

When the lumberjacks had finished beating each other at hand-sawing, log-rolling, and chainsaw sculpting, they cleaned up their area for another show, and members of the crowd got back to talking to people they knew. I was with my father, and we fell into conversation with another relative, or rather a soon-to-be one, the fiancé of another cousin of mine (my father had five brothers and sisters, so I have lots of cousins). I’ll call him Bill.

I hadn’t met Bill before, and he was connected somehow with a kid I also hadn’t met, a blond-haired boy of about eight who was fascinated by the lumberjacks.

“Can I go ask them for an autograph?” he asked Bill.

“Sure, I guess, but I don’t know what they’d write it on.”

We all watched as the boy ran over and shyly approached a lumberjack, who nodded, reached down for a flat piece of wood, and signed it with a fat pen that he had in his pocket.

The boy came back to us with a huge smile and showed us the signature. “He did it!”

“Great,” said Bill, tousling the boy’s hair. “That was mighty good of him!”

As the boy went off to show others, Bill added to my father and I, “I was going to say ‘that was mighty white of him.’ But, you know . . .” He shrugged and laughed a little, almost nervously.

I did, of course, want to say or ask something about that expression he’d just used, or maybe almost used—“that was mighty white of him.” But someone else was approaching to talk to Bill, and I didn’t know if whatever I would accomplish by calling him on his use of that old expression would outweigh whatever would come of my doing so. I usually call people on such racist terms, but sometimes I still fail to do so. I’m not an especially aggressive person, for one thing, and for another, I don't know how much good it would do to point out the racism of someone who may well have a whole lot of other things to worry about instead.

My father and I raised out eyebrows at each other, worked our way around to saying good bye, and then turned away toward his house.

“I bet you were just itching to say something about that one,” he said, “weren’t you?”

“Yes, I was. Something. I'm not sure what, though, or if it’s really worth it.”

“Right. You can’t change those kinds of attitudes with just one comment.”

“Well, maybe he’d think twice before saying it again. And what a weird thing to say, actually. I haven’t heard that one since I was kid.”

“Oh, I have. People at the mill still say that sometimes.”

“Really? What do you think they mean by it? Do they really mean ‘white,’ as in racially white?”

“Actually, no, I don’t think they do. I think it’s usually just a compliment, or a way of saying thanks. It used to work in a more racial way, of course, back in the fifties or sixties, but now it’s pretty much detached from race.”

“But then, Bill knew it was wrong. He didn’t want to say it in front of that kid.”

“Right. But I don’t think he necessarily knew it was wrong because it’s racist. He just knew it had some kind of bite to it, so you shouldn’t say it around kids.”

“Reminds me of the word ‘gay.’”

“Gay? How so?”

I told him about how the many kids I hear using that word in a negative sense, rather than a positive one, to mean stupid, wrong, uncool, and so on. He hadn’t been aware of that.

As the festival wore on, I did see a couple of non-white people. One was a black man with dreadlocks, holding hands with a white woman (I assumed she was the one with relatives in town). Another appeared when a person I was sitting with in the beer tent, another relative of mine, pointed out the long, shining black hair of a woman walking past us.

“Look at that,” she said. “Her hair is so beautiful! It’s so shiny, and smooth, and it’s so black!”

As the woman turned around briefly, we saw that she looked like a young Native American woman. She was walking alone.

I never saw any other such people. There are some “Indian reservations” nearby, and the mill workers often spend whole paychecks at the casinos there. By the looks of things, though, this white town’s celebration of itself wasn’t an attraction for the local indigenous people. Which should be no surprise to any white person who might stop to think about such things.

I also attended the historical musical review, curious to see just how far back in history it would go. A master of ceremonies began by telling us that the town was “carved out of the virgin wilderness” over 100 years ago, when a rich man (a white man, it went without saying) set up a mill, a railroad line, and a company town, complete with company houses, a company store, and company money for the workers. All of the forty or so performers in the musical were white, as were all the stories they acted out. No recognition was offered of those people who occupied the so-called “virgin wilderness” before the town was “carved out.”

My father stayed away from all three performances of that musical, and he refused to say why. After I saw it, I asked him again about the peculiar name of an area out in the woods. The town is surrounded by many miles of forests, lakes, rivers, and streams, and many of these areas have names that all the locals know. One area has a name that I’ve heard all my life, with a word in it that I don’t think white people should use—“The Ni**er Camps.”

People in that town still refer to that area of the woods that way, saying it just as matter of factly as they do the other named places out there. My father and I have driven out to where those camps used to be, and nothing at all remains of them. Also missing, it seems, is anyone’s solid memory of them. My father doesn't remember any actual camps or black workers there, nor does anyone else we've asked in town. It’s just a place in the woods where, presumably, such camps once existed. And they existed out there because such workers, while welcome as laborers, were not welcome to sleep or live in town.

“Have you found out anything yet about those camps?” I asked. I’ve been asking my father for years about them, and about who the workers were and how long they were there. I’ve also visited libraries in towns all over that area in search of information about them, but without success.

“I’ve asked around,” he said, “but like me, no one knows when that place had actual camps. Or how many workers there were, or what they did. I suspect they came up to build the railroad, then left when that work was done.”

“Hmm. More whitewashing.”

“Whitewashing?” Another raised eyebrow.

“This place is whitewashed. The Indians, the black people, probably Latin American people—“

“Right! I picked cherries with them when I was a kid. Migrant workers. I haven’t seen any around since then.”

“More migrants. ‘Hands.’ Unwelcome, except for what they can do, temporarily, with their hands.”

The people in that town clearly think of themselves as good, honest people, but like most white Americans, they live in communities that are anything but good and honest when it comes to their relations with, and their thefts from, people who were and are not white. And once you realize that, and you realize how that knowledge can alienate or separate you from people you otherwise know and even love, it can be uncomfortable, and even despairing, to be surrounded by other white people. It can also be easy to fall back into the common white habit of not even thinking about that knowledge, let alone speaking it or acting on it.

The day after the closing fireworks, my father and I traveled further north in search of new places to fish, and to see some places that we’d never seen before. Everyone we encountered in our travels was white, except a man with long black hair who was walking alongside a highway. I considered diluting the racial homogeneity by visiting some reservations, but that seemed intrusive.

"And anyway," I thought lazily, and perhaps, whitely, "we’re on vacation."


  1. Good to have you back! I have missed starting my day by reading your blog. I think it is a good way for me to "set the tone" for how think about and handle my simple day to day experiences at work and whatever activities are on my calendar for the evening.

  2. Thanks for such a great post. Talking about whiteness and vacation (particularly in the very white northern wilderness) struck a chord with me. Some years ago I was in a long term partnership with a white man whose family liked to vacation in a small northern town. At least twice per year for several years I went on these vacations with my partner and his family. It was absolutely hellish for me. Constant stares from the locals. Children - some of whom had never seen a black person before - wanting to touch my skin or hair. Bad service at the local diner. Getting stopped by the local sheriff when I drove. But the worst part was definitely the staring. Basically white people who felt that I invaded their whiteness, their space of whiteness, their aura of whiteness, with my black presence. While the stares from children were of curiosity, from the adults the stares were indignant - "how *dare* you come into *my* space?" Over the years I began to decline invitations to the vacations, since there was nothing even remotely relaxing or enjoyable about these trips for me. Ultimately, my discomfort on these trips and refusal to go after a while contributed to the breakup of the relationship since my white partner could not understand why I 'allowed' the ignorance of others to ruin my 'vacation'. Sadly, he never understood the spiritual and emotional violence done upon me by whites who saw me as an invader of their white space.

  3. a very good post - and on something i've experienced, too.

    i take notice of all white spaces often - sometimes i deliberately choose to ignore it, but it's hard to do when you're the only person of color in the space. a few years ago, at a jon stewart concert, i said aloud 'Wow, I'm the only black person in this arena.' my friends immediately began to look around; soon, a couple of guys in front of us who overheard me started to look around, too. before the lights went down, we had counted only 20 easily identifiable brown people in the crowded arena and one of the two guys said to his partner, 'Wow, I never really noticed that before.'

    even in a city like chicago, all-white spaces are all around me: summer festivals, art fairs, Lollapalooza, bars and pubs. there's no easy way to deal with it or bring attention to it.

    (@ Anonymous - I hear you; I've been on those family trips, too, and it's a sad thing when they reveal how wide a gulf sometimes exists between us and our intimate partners.)

  4. What's interesting is not just that they see no problem being surrounded by other white peopl, but that they resent the presense of people of color and what's maddening, to me at least, is how bent out of shape they become about "all black" spaces.

    Especially since I know where I live that any white person who longs to be in an all white space can get there pretty quickly and with no trouble. But too many white people complain about spaces that advertise themselves as being especially for blacks. As though 1- they wouldn't actually be allowed in and 2- as though whites don't have their own exclusive spaces even if they aren't named as such.

    As far as the unspoken history of the all white town where you vacationed, Macon, have you read Slavery by Another Name? It's engrossing.

    @2nd-Anon - Just personally and in general, I find it incredibly offensive when white people refuse to empathize with the black experience. They either act as though no problem exists or that it's up to us to "ignore" it. I was fortunate enough to have a couple of platonic white friends who did make the effort to make me feel comfortable in all-white spaces and speak out or reassure me if something offensive had taken place.

    Also Macon, good to have you back. You're rssed on my blog. ( And I like when my rss feeds update.

  5. Macon D, welcome back! I did not read the entire post, it is long, so I'll finish it up later. But, I want to add, from what I have read thus far, and from the clues in your post, that the area from which your family is from, probably had a helluva lot of native people (Indians) there before the white man came there and wiped them [pretty much] all out. I found it interesting, that in your description of the town's history celebration that you did not mention that the town included Indians as a part of that history. It is funny how with white Americans that history only begins with when they appear on the scene.

  6. Wow. Yeah, I've noticed that white people are always in favor of segregation, albeit not explicitly. They always go on "vacation" to whites-only locales, and don't like living in big cities, where the racial mix makes everyday life more "complicated." Great post, and welcome back!

  7. What a splendid post! Well done! And you just helped me get what was so frustrating to me about my nearly all-White class on race relations. It wasn't just that the make-up of the class will mess up my usual gameplan. It was that I will now be forced to spend the whole semester locked in a room twice a week with only White folks (if the two African-American women there on day one don't drop the course, I'll be really impressed). I get veeeeeery uncomfortable when I'm with only White folks. And I now suspect that this is the primary reason I got a little aggressive with my lecture that day. Maybe I was kind of punishing them for the fact that African-Americans don't take that class. Not that it's their fault personally (necessarily). But I doubt they have a problem with it. I don't know if they're going to get much out of the class, but I bet I do. One way or the other. Sigh.

  8. I've lived in Atlanta all my life, so when I travel to other places (excluding New York & Cali) I am always SHOCKED at how white these places are.

    The only time I can recall this having a negative impact or actually being afraid of being in an all white space was when I was on a road trip and stopped at a truck/gas station. I recalled a very distinct feeling of what're YOU doing here?

    Living in Atlanta and it's surrounding suburbs, I've had experiences when parents of my white friends didn't want them to go Atlanta, especially after dark. According to one of my white friends her father was afraid she would be robbed and rapped....cause you know, black people live there.

    IN fact, we have a real intense yet carefully non-spoken problem with public transportation. Surrounding counties/suburbs don't want to extend the MARTA train they start their own.

    More than once I have heard "we don't want it to bring criminals into our neighborhoods".


    Anyway...Macon I have wondered what you would think about MTV's new "reality" show "Exile"

    Where they send some of the spoiled kids from "Super Sweet Sixteen" and send them to remote place in the world FOR A WHOLE WEEK! To have them learn....something.

  9. OK. I have a couple of thoughts while reading this post. The first being welcome back from vacation. I hope you and your dad had a good time and caught lots of fish.

    When I listen to you relate the history of this town, I feel like you’re missing a couple of really big pieces of the puzzle. Given that the town was founded in 1890/1900 I think one of the things you’re missing is population. Per the US census the African American population was approximately 10 million. (I’ve already rounded up that number to account for undercounting) Per the same US Census, the population of the what would become the US was approximately 76 million. Also per the census the African American population was mostly concentrated in the South. This bit of historical information leads me to the first of a couple of questions that I think you should be asking and aren’t.

    1) Where would the African American population come from? How would they have even found about this town?

    2) What would have been the historical economic incentive to move?

    Based on what you’ve said about this town and frankly I may be filling in details here that aren’t borne out by reality, but where are the non-agrarian jobs, circa 1900, that would cause a population to move? This town sounds like it has lots of great farming jobs and other natural resources jobs, but circa 1900, those jobs would have been easy to find in the South as well. Why move?

    In terms of the economy in 2008, I see even less reason to move into this town. It sounds like the primary industry are either logging or natural resource intensive jobs, including farming. What is the compelling economic reason to move into that area? Maybe the question to ask is not why are there no African-Americans living there, but why is anyone living there? And yes, I’ll admit to a city bias—life on the farm has little to no appeal to me—but looking at this from a strictly economic standpoint there are easier ways to make a living than farming. And once again, if you’re already a farmer, why would you leave one farm for another?

    In regards to migrants workers, I have some of the same argument, why would they stay? They have access to a paying job the next town over, why would the trade the potential economic sacrifice of staying in one place for the almost guaranteed financial results at the next town. Game theory covers some of this decision making far better than I ever could. But I think it bears thinking about.

    Finally, I think your cousin is just an ***hole who was probably jerking your chain to see what you would do. While I applaud your efforts to look at whiteness and racism, good luck on getting rid of ***holeism.

    While your thinking about whiteness, can we have some more discussions from an economic view point? Why is the black middle class virtually unseen? What happened to the large number of small black owned businesses that I heard so much about (not sure if it is true) that disappeared after the end of segregation. In the end was that a good thing or a bad thing?

  10. Thanks anonymous (X 2), ding, redcatbiker, and Shaina, I'm glad you liked my report on What I Did on My Summer Vacation.

    changeseeker, after reading the description of your class on your blog, I suspect most or all of the white students will get a LOT out of your class. You sound like an excellent teacher-activist, and I wish I could take that class.

    no1kstate, thanks for RSSing my blog on yours, and I see what you're saying about the common white consternation over all-black (and other all-non-white) gatherings. FWIW, I did a post on the topic awhile back that generated a long comments thread: "misunderstand non-white gatherings." In the case of this small town I wrote about, though, I want to point out that most of the people there actually have no problem with gatherings that exclude white people. They're just fine with black people, and even "Indians," staying out of their (white) town and instead, sticking together like birds of a feather, somewhere else. These white people don't have enough contact with, especially, black people to get bent out of shape about being excluded from all-black gatherings.

    Slavery by Another Name is on my list, thanks for reminding me of it. I do think Blackmon's book could be helpful for spelling out racialized labor practices in small northern towns like this one.

  11. roxie, thanks for recommending that mtv show--I'm not familiar with it, and from what I've read about it, it's yet another waste of airtime. Molecular Shyness has more to say about it, and actually, the quote there from mtv suggests there might be something redeening about it--it's the Sweet 16-ers that viewers of the other show "love to hate the most" that are being inflicted on Third World people. So maybe the show itself critiques blithely privileged world-traveling, rather than merely promoting it. But I doubt it--there's a lot of money to be made by catering to (largely white) viewers' tastes for the mildly dangerous and exotic "Other." Anyone else here seen it?

    Thanks for the questions, Elizabeth. I don't have time to answer all twelve of them, but here are some answers. Regarding the two questions you think I should be asking: I don't know if the black workers in that camp came as early as 1900 or so, but if they did come to build the railroad, as my father suggested, then they probably did come close to that time. Where did they likely come from? The South, I'd guess, as an early part of the ""Great Migration," in search of better work and living conditions in the North.

    So that's where I think these workers would have come from, and the economic incentive to move would have been better, higher paying labor and better living conditions than those available to them in the South. (Do you know much about conditions for blacks in the South at that time, during the "Nadir"? There were a LOT of reasons to seek a better life in the North, even though blacks were treated horribly there as well.) How would black laborers have found out about this lumber town? Probably through word of mouth, and through advertising by the bosses who wanted to sell their labor.

    I wasn't asking myself about these large pieces of the puzzle because I'd already answered them for myself--they seem pretty obvious to me. As for why I didn't write about them in the post, it's probably too long already, as at least one commenter has already pointed out.

    Some of your other questions are about farming today in that area. Not many people there are farmers anymore--agribusiness has wiped most of them out. Most of the work there now is connected to the lumber industry. The town is now very small, under 1000 residents; some work in the town's mill (the ownership of which has changed many times), some work with lumber in various independent ways, and many are retired. It's a very cheap place to live, which is one attraction for some people (as is the vast forest surrounding the town).

    You also asked:

    In regards to migrants workers, I have some of the same argument, why would they stay? They have access to a paying job the next town over, why would the trade the potential economic sacrifice of staying in one place for the almost guaranteed financial results at the next town. Game theory covers some of this decision making far better than I ever could. But I think it bears thinking about.

    Migrant workers often haven't, and don't, stay because they're not welcome, not because they're pursuing well-paying work in various places. Many would have liked to stay for BETTER paying work, in the lumber mill for instance, but again, they often weren't welcome nor even allowed to do so. This is another reason why, as I said in the post, the monolithic whiteness of that town is hardly the coincidence, nor the mere tendency of "birds of a feather to stick together," that many of the town's residents think it is. It is instead the result of a history, and an ongoing (if less overt) practice, of racial exclusion.

    Finally, yes, economic (and educational) issues do also account for this town's white racism; few of the people there are especially well-off, with the exception of those whose homes, and/or second homes, encircle many of the nearby lakes. However, I didn't mention that as a factor in this post on how white people tend to "see no problem with being surrounded by other white people" because I think that particular xenophobic tendency cuts across class lines. And also, again, the post was getting too long already. But yes, a more extensive analysis of whiteness anywhere should factor in the matter of socioeconomic status as well.

  12. @ Macon - You're welcome. I've read your post about whites "misunderstanding" all-black spaces. It's certainly a must-read for those who haven't. And when you take the two post together, the hypocrisy is front and center.

    @ Elizabeth - There were lots of "sundown" towns where blacks could work so long as they were out by sundown.

    And there were several cities where black owned businesses were thriving. They failed, not so much because of integration, but because in "renewing" the cities or building highways for suburbs, the areas with the businesses were destroyed. People who were forced to more weren't always paid for the land or giving money to start-over. I wish I could suggest a book for you, but nothing comes to mind. I just know there used to be a Hyatt (sp?) street in Durham, NC and a "black" Mich Ave in Chicago.

  13. Oh Roxie, the stories I could tell you about being a white boy living on Bankhead HWY back in "95.

    Great post man. The new racism of the South, and probably the normal racism everywhere else, is the ignoring rather than harassing non-whites. Hence you have "that flag just means I'm proud of my heritage. It has nothing to do with race." crap.
    To be fair, it is not safe to assume that all, all white places are a result of overt or recent racism. There are many western towns founded in non-peopled places (Vegas) that never had an industrial draw during southern black exodus. As a result you have many people who are two to three generations removed from any live interraction with black people. For example, Twin Falls Idaho does not have a history of discrimination, there were never any black people there to discriminate agains, and the original people did not retreat there to escape the browning masses.

    Of course these locals are in no way sin-free, but they do deserve honest and accurate investigations into history. Both the negative and simply ignorant, aspects of history.

  14. this post was outstanding. I loved your point about how many all-white communities became all-white. It's very rarely by accident that occurs.

  15. Macon, where are you from? We just went "on vacation" for a weekend in Mille Lacs, Minnesota, and had the segregation there highlighted even more because we went onto the reservation for the powwow.

    I was so uncomfortable to be with my (white) parents and see how they behaved as tourists among people of color. Listening to the white audience members share everything they "knew" about Indians without a care that actual Indians were 1) there in the crowd and 2) dancing & explaining the spectacle over a loudspeaker.

    We are never ever moving out of the city. I do not want my child growing up that ignorant.

  16. brohammas, by "original people," do you mean white people, or the conquered, largely vanquished first people? You wrote of "overt or recent racism." Do you mean that historical white racism, which resulted in an almost exclusively white place in Iowa, doesn't matter anymore? If so, I disagree. It matters because, as in the town I wrote about in this post, that early racist white history has been repressed and largely forgotten by the white population, and the result is a belief that the overwhelming whiteness of the place is just a sort of coincidence, when it's not. Another common result is the false belief that a place's "original people" were white people.

    Thanks big man, I'm glad you appreciated that point (which I guess I'm again trying to make in my comment to brohammas).

    rosa, I'd rather not say where I'm from, but the town I wrote about is in an area a lot like that. I think it's great that you were a critical observer of the white tendency to self-servingly "eat the Other," as bell hooks puts it, instead of an unwitting or careless participant.

  17. By orginial I meant humans. I picked two places that had never been populated by American Indians. Sure whites did not "discover" these places (Vegas and Twin Falls) but when American and Euro exiles settled these cities as we know them now, the land was empty. Of course this is not usually the case, but to assume that all predominantly white place are the direct result of exclusion, ignores how numericly dominant whites are.
    An even bigger issue might be something along the lines of why black history is not the dominant story of a place like Charleston SC when from it's founding it was predominantly black?

    Of course I don't think, nor did I say, that recent racism doesn't matter. We are on the same team here. As I said at the opening, white people tend to gloss over racist past (no matter how past it may not be)hence the confederate flag example.

    What I was saying is that finding out why things are the way they are NOW is a matter for study not assumption. This can work to educate a people of their roots, be they clean or not..we all should know.

  18. Thanks for the compliment. Sorry to press you on the place.

    I have been trying for a long time, when I'm in the minority, to just sit with any uncomfortable feelings and watch people and try to figure out how to behave.

    But doing that with my mother along...that's a whole other level of learning. I don't know how much of that we're going to do.

  19. I just started reading your blog and there are many things in this that I have found made me uncomfortable, as you suggested it might. I cringe when I find that there are some of those things that I do and read how it is viewed by non-white people. I am learning a lot from reading it.

    This post is interesting because it chronicles the racist acts/racism that you experienced when you went home looking at it through a different lens since you removed yourself from it.

    I also grew up in a primarily white town and have exposed myself to many situations that were much more diverse that at first made me uncomfortable (going to school in Philadelphia, studying in Turkey, working in Baltimore, and currently volunteering in South Africa).

    I too experienced the awkwardness and sometimes uncomfortable feeling of going back to a primarily white life. I felt extremely out of place going into a primarily white Target in my hometown and had to just smile and give a polite answer when I got questions like "you didn't sleep with any natives, did ya?" or "what's it like living in a hut?". This is primarily because it was my sister's wedding and I didn't want to create a scene or embarrass anyone amongst friends and family.

    Evidently, your experiences of racist acts/racism when you were on vacation in your hometown were similar to mine.

    I read your post titled misunderstand non-white gatherings" and I understand the reason for those and why white exclusion from certain non-white events should be considered ok.

    I however disagree with the title of this post. "See no problem with being surrounded by other white people" suggests that there is a problem with being surrounded by white people as a white person. There is nothing wrong with a white person being surrounded by other white people.

    An event may not be appealing to non-white people and attract primarily white people and that doesn't make it bad; granted your event may have had racial overtones and excluded the history of the original inhabitants. It is a whole different thing if it intentionally excludes non-white people.

    I would appreciate it if you changed the title. Maybe "see no problem with intentionally surrounding themselves with only white people". Which would highlight the points I think you are trying to make about white people feeling unsafe because they feel that all black people are inherently dangerous. And the fact that non-whites were whitewashed from your town's view of their history.

    Regardless of your decision, I will keep reading your blog because it offers an interesting perspective that never gets said.


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