As I travel, I will not be taking a break from thinking about and trying to counteract whiteness -- my own, and maybe other forms of it around me. My racial status follows me everywhere, but unlike many non-white people, I can forget that most of the time, if I want to. I can forget that as I'm out fishing somewhere, that somewhere is a place that my ancestors basically stole from other people, and that the theft was in part justified by an unwarranted belief in racial superiority.
I'll also be taken differently by others just because I'm white. When I vacation in The Great American Outdoors, almost all of the people I encounter doing the same thing out there, or working for those doing the same thing out there, are white. That won't even occur to most of us, but it will occur to me.
I'll also be welcome everywhere I go, in part because I'm white, and I'll feel I have a right to go anywhere I like, for the same reason. It won't occur to most of my fellow white vacationers that many non-white people would feel less than welcome in many of the places I'll be going, but that will occur to me.
As I'm fishing, it's not likely that I'll encounter any problems brought about by my being white. Since I'm not black, the lack of anxiety I feel about traveling probably stems from racially trouble-free experiences that go all the way back to childhood travels with my parents. Because I'm white, I have no memories of travel that compare to those recorded a long time ago by Countee Cullen, in his poem "Incident":
Once riding in old Baltimore,
Heart-filled, head-filled with glee,
I saw a Baltimorean
Keep looking straight at me.
Now I was eight and very small,
And he was no whit bigger,
And so I smiled, but he poked out
His tongue, and called me, “Nigger.”
I saw the whole of Baltimore
From May until December;
Of all the things that happened there
That’s all that I remember.
Were I of, say, a traveling angler of Asian descent, I might have other things to worry about, such as roving gangs of white teenagers, who hope to find some fun in what they call "nipper-tipping":
Everyone in the area calls it the Blue Bridge. Formally called Mossington Bridge, it is a sturdy, small structure that leads to leafy and lavish Jackson's Point.
It's around these ostensibly bucolic parts that Torontonians -- Asians in particular -- have in recent years been driving up in droves to catch perch, rock bass or the occasional pike on Lake Simcoe's south shore. The angling here is best in the late evenings.
But the area around the Blue Bridge is one of those inevitable late-night magnets of teenage trouble that exist in almost any small town.
The long pier became the flashpoint of violence recently. Following three previous assaults involving Asians and anglers on a federally owned pier near the bridge, a confrontation last month left one young man in coma, another seriously injured and another in jail.
In reports that followed these events, an example of local vernacular emerged, a term teens in the area use to describe how they sneak up on Asian visitors, push them into the water and destroy their gear.
They call it "nipper-tipping" -- an amalgam of the Second World War-era epithet for a Japanese person and the practice of tipping over sleeping cows.
Outside a grim-looking tattoo parlour in the area, I asked a bunch of teenagers if any of them had ever heard of the phrase in question. One youth, who said the practice was for idiots, added he had seen it done to a white man.
Yet the impact of the "N" word has overshadowed the reality of the situation-- what residents say is a sense of lawlessness in the face of a day-tripping boom and bigoted, self-styled vigilantism.
In the past week, Mayor Robert Grossi, who represents the 42,000 residents in the area -- including the towns of Keswick, Sutton and Pefferlaw -- has been conveying his embarrassment to ethnic groups.
Still, he explained, racism is everywhere. "You can drill down into any community and find the same thing."
Though Mr. Grossi has been in serial-apology mode since the Sept. 16 attacks, there is evidence that not everyone in the town is so repentant.
Last week, swastikas, anti-Semitic and homophobic graffiti were spray-painted on houses and cars on a modest Keswick street. This week, just down the road at the Sutton District High School, a swastika was found on a wall and scrubbed off.
"It's seen as an isolated, singular act of mischief," said Ross Virgo, a spokesman for the York Regional District School Board. . . .
It may well be a great place to live, but there have been some, of late, who have found it not such a great place to visit.
Chinese Torontonians have been taking to local call-in shows, claiming that they have been victimized by Georginians.
One caller claimed he was threatened at gunpoint.
"What happens is locals see out-of-towners carrying coolers and coolers of rock bass, and they think it's coming from 'their' lake and that there are quotas," said Victor Wong, executive director of the Chinese Canadian National Council, who said there are no quotas.
"We really need a dialogue between the communities, and we're going to do that."
Maybe I should count my blessings because I don't have to worry about things like "nipper-tipping," nor other forms of harassment faced by non-white people in The Great American Outdoors.
I'll also be able to relax, if I want to, about the racism buried within the small, racially isolated, and largely white communities that I'll be passing through. Whiteness nurtured in relative isolation tends to be xenophobic in its own particular ways.
But then, I really can't relax about that anymore. As I've explained before, all-white places creep me out now. I know too much about how they got that way, and what kinds of racial attitudes fester in racially isolated places, and how non-white visitors could well be treated differently than myself.
At the same time, I'll be aware that merely being "aware" of these things isn't doing anyone but me all that much good. I'll most likely be riding the wave of my white, male, middle-class American privilege into a smooth, fun vacation, but couldn't I do another kind of vacation, one that somehow more actively counteracts such privilege?
Do any of you know of a better vacation for privileged people? for those among them who'd rather do something other than ride the wave comprised of their various privileges? I have family reasons for taking a fishing trip, but for future possibilities, I'd like to hear about options that are better in this sense.
And what about you? If you've done any vacationing this summer, was race a factor?
Actually, what I should ask is, how race is a factor. Because in anyone's vacationing experience, especially in the United States, it very likely is one.
UPDATE (8/23/09): Another maddening example of something that I don't have to worry about during my summer vacations: "76-Year Old MD Man Beaten While He Fished":
Three white men shouting racial slurs beat a 76-year-old black man while he was fishing in a river early Tuesday, said Baltimore police, who were investigating the attack as a hate crime.
The assailants also stole the man's sport-utility vehicle, said Anthony Guglielmi, a police spokesman. Police caught up with the vehicle and arrested 28-year-old Calvin E. Lockner.
Late Tuesday, police said Lockner was charged with hate crime, attempted murder, first-degree assault and carjacking. During his interview with detectives, Lockner "admitted he does not like African-American people," Guglielmi said.