Red and yellow, black and white
In all that time off my feet, I did a lot of reading, even for me. As I've gotten my fingers in more pies, my internet time has fallen off, most days amounting to a quick update from my core favorite sites, a peek at my email, and not much else. Being confined to a seated position gave me plenty of time to catch up.
One evening in the midst of all this doing-nothing-on-my-feet, I read most of the archives of stuff white people do (not to be confused with stuff white people like--one is far more giggle-inducing than the other). I don't know much about this Macon character, but his blog gives me the sense that he's young, earnest, and tends toward self-flagellation in the guise of academic inquiry. I went to college with a couple hundred Macons. Nonetheless, he's generally got some fine points to make and/or link to. I can forgive the occasional reach, like when he frames an appreciation of deadpan humor as latent racism or suggests that the Obama jack-o-lanterns that populated my neighborhood last October are symptomatic of racism and not a simple convergence of enthusiasm and a squash billboard.
I'm about as white as they come, and I grew up in an overtly, unapologetically racist environment. We're talking a county with an active KKK membership, where people seriously used "War of Northern Aggression" when referring to the American Civil War, where there was a photo of a lynching still hanging in the courthouse, where "nigger" was a term used unflinchingly and without embarrassment in any company.
I also grew up poor, and that complicates any discussion I have about race. I can't separate the two. The older I get, the more anti-capitalist and anarcho-socialist my politics become, and the more I think about race within this framework. Marketing taught us to equate diamonds with love for corporate benefit; marketing also created the white race for corporate benefit. Tossing the Irish and Italian and German under the same umbrella and calling it White, calling it clean and good, was capitalist evil-genius at its finest. Were the working poor to unite, we might have been a force for considerable change. But as long as the "white" poor can be kept fighting for scraps with the nonwhite poor, the real opponent escapes with reputation intact (he's white, so he must be on our side, right?) and profits still roll in.
Any discussion of race is also a discussion of class, for me. The upper-middle class black folks I encountered when I changed high schools were, to me, as much from another planet as their white socioeconomic counterparts. Certainly, I missed nuances of privilege, but to my perception at the time, class trumped race. Money and parents with letters behind their names gave those kids something (many, many things, actually) that my white skin alone never brought me. I felt a considerably more distinct kinship with poor classmates of any race or ethnicity than I did with rich kids of any heritage. Still do, come to that. I don't pretend to know how many more barriers my nonwhite peers have faced, but I do know that we as the multicolored poor are all pissed upon by those who profit from our labor. The Man and his machine may be the closest we'll come to that beloved American myth of the colorblind society--we're all green to him.
But I still do know that white privilege exists. I see the preponderance of white faces in the media and the corner offices and the history books. I know that I'll probably never be asked where I'm "really from." My color lends me a certain amount of automatic credibility within the dominant society.
I know this.
So now what?
Here's my biggest stumbling block when it comes to race: When an accident of genetics makes me part of a group that has perpetuated inequality and hatred, is there really anything I can do about it? However much I'm able to cull insidious racism from my psyche, my skin will always make me an unwilling participant in the racism of other people. And what in the world am I supposed to do about that?
You know I can't stand feeling impotent. Show me a problem, I want to fix it, or at least believe that I'm not making things any worse. But walking around with white skin in a world that punishes others for not also having it makes me the conspirator I never asked to be. What's a white gal to do about white privilege?
And let's not forget that living in New Mexico adds an interesting dimension to this issue. Living in this state, I don't see only my own skin color reflected back at me everywhere I turn. I would love to say that the experience of having a preponderance of nonwhite bosses and neighbors and coworkers means that white privilege is slipping a little here. But the problem is that New Mexico, as multi-cultural as we are, is still part of an always-on America. I don't know that seeing so many brown faces in positions of respect and authority here in our little town can compete with the sea of white faces that barrage us from television and film and billboards and book covers. My technically minority status here might not make one lick of difference.
I know that folks like Macon criticize white people for only examining race with nonwhites. I know that people of color don't have to be the canvas upon which white folks work out their problems with race and privilege. My logic tells me that Vermont could just as easily be the incubator in which we foster a new paradigm. But might New Mexico not have a special advantage? With so much of what makes this state special coming from its non-white history, couldn't this be the place to change how historically minority populations are acknowledged and celebrated? Could a new sort of America start here?