This is a guest post by Leland J. Anderson, who describes himself as "a Los Angeles based writer who spends far more time playing video games than writing. He doesn’t take the corporate media, swine flu, the Cowboy’s secondary or himself very seriously at all."
A friend of mine who was raised and educated outside the United States asked me once, “Why aren’t you angry all the time?” The question was in the context of a larger discussion we were having about racism and, to my mild surprise, he was quite serious.
I responded, only half-joking, that not only did I lack the emotional fortitude to maintain such a profound state of rage but, frankly, it wasn’t worth it. There were simply too many other important things for me to expend my mental energy on to worry about every insult, transgression or thoughtless remark.
We mused over why race had not been a stumbling block to our friendship the way it seems to be between most people of different races in this country, who self-segregate from grade school through college and into professional life. I concluded that I didn’t harbor any resentment towards him or any of my friends and co-workers who were overwhelmingly non-POC because: A) we all had a lot in common, B) they were cool people, and C) they never ignored the fact that I was black, nor treated me differently because of that. I attributed their behavior to what I have concluded is a fundamental cultural difference among non-POC: these people that I knew weren’t White© -- they were Caucasian.
My Caucasian friend was, quite naturally, puzzled and asked me to explain. I said something to the effect of, “Caucasians, colloquially speaking, are people of a European ethnic background who basically go about their lives trying to make a way like everybody else, treating each person they meet as an individual and judging them accordingly. Conversely, 'White©' people are too busy being 'White©' to bother with much else.”
What I meant by the latter is that such people have fully invested themselves in what I call the brand identity of Whiteness©. They embrace, whether consciously or unconsciously, the structures of White© privilege, internalizing and then outwardly manifesting the presumed superiority and value of their opinions, actions and worldview as White© people.
White© people are necessarily smarter, more capable, more entitled to the fruits of success because they cannot conceive otherwise. Their Whiteness© imbues them with a kind of inoculating narcissism that aggressively militates against empathy or compassion or, in some cases, common sense. They feel and believe that this is their America, their ancestors’ hard work (i.e. slavery, Native American genocide, etc.) made it great and, by that logic, their personal attributes and those alone are responsible for whatever success they may achieve (as opposed to generations of institutionalized advantage, a fact to which they remain obstinately oblivious).
My use of the word Caucasian, however antiquated the term, solely refers to someone's European origin. On the other hand, to be White© is to rely almost exclusively on a set of learned behaviors, all rooted in the notion that anything not White© is unconditionally outside the perceived norm and inferior.
Caucasians can and do speak out against injustice when they see it. They accept people, warts and all, and don’t attribute faults to a color or a background.
White© people fail to see anything fundamentally wrong with income inequality, housing and employment discrimination, or even plain old run of the mill racism. There’s always some rationale or extenuating circumstance for their statements/actions. White© people think they can draw a clear line from baggy jeans, hip-hop and bilingual education to the fall of western civilization.
After that conversation, I began to question the validity of my theory, until this past Halloween when another close friend, who happened to be Caucasian, did something very White©. I emailed him to ask that he remove a Halloween photo of himself he had posted online. He was dressed as a notorious and flamboyant sports figure that happens to be black, and yes, he painted his face and hands with what certainly looked like shoe polish.
Suffice to say I was not amused, but more I was troubled by his failure to see the problem. Happily, he pulled the photo after a brief exchange wherein he proffered a few textbook White© defenses of odious behavior.
“This other black person thought it was hilarious/didn’t say anything.” “Why are you being so sensitive?” “It’s just a costume.” And so on.
I say this episode ended happily because he ultimately realized that he’d done something offensive and apologized sincerely. Further, he expressed interest in understanding what was wrong about what he did. This behavior seemed to support my theory that being Caucasian is just something you’re called, but being White© is putting where you choose to live, who you let your kids play with, and who you hire/fire or invite into your home through a pernicious racial litmus test.
To return to my friend’s original question, another reason I'm not angry all the time is because I don’t know many White© people. I often see them lampooned on "The Daily Show," but the vast majority of my interactions with non-POC are generally positive. I continue to make this W© v. C distinction because it helps me avoid the very traps that White© people fall into on a routine basis. Assuming people are Caucasian, that is, different from me in only a superficial way, until they prove otherwise, allows me to deal with the reality of being a black man in America. It reminds me to consider that every time I get slow service in a restaurant, pulled over by the cops, treated like an employee in a clothing store or just plain ignored, it’s possible, just possible, that it has nothing to do with the color of my skin.