The impeachment is so frustrating. It’s a foregone conclusion that the Republicans in the Senate will acquit the president. Watching the Democrats stride toward the Pyrrhic victory of leaving a mark of shame on a shameless man makes my face hot. But the thing that personally frustrates me the most is the daily stream of books and think-pieces and social media threads in which white people openly wonder how we got where we are. “How is he the president?” “Why are we so polarized?”
If you were to start at the beginning, if you google it, you’ll find this:
prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against someone of a different race based on the belief that one’s own race is superior.
I hate that definition. It’s just so…white. It makes an assumption that race is a neutral and natural thing. It is written as though at the beginning of humanity people from all corners of the globe gathered together in one sacred meeting space in order to name themselves according to what made white people comfortable.
“What do you call yourselves?”
We call ourselves people.
“Well, that won’t do. That’s what we call ourselves.”
We can all call ourselves the same thing.
“I don’t think so.”
“I got it. You’ll be called ‘Africans’.”
“Africa is a giant land mass. You’re from there, so you’re African.”
But that giant land mass is a home to countless cultures and languages, most of which have nothing to do with one another. By no means do the millions upon millions of people living on that giant land mass think of themselves as one people. We don’t pray like each other or cook like each other. We don’t even look like each other.
“Anyway, who’s next? You? You’re from Asia, right?”
There was no grand coming-together. It was not a community decision. In fact, the idea of race as it is commonly understood in this country, was actually designed so that one particular group would be superior. The idea of race itself is prejudicial to everyone except white people. This is why who’s allowed to be white changes (see: Italians, Irish). And this is one of many reasons why it is not possible for white people to experience racism.
Whiteness not only allows itself to define the actual word but each and every example as well. For instance, accusations of racism often lead to the white proverb. If the accusations can make it past that test, the inevitable conclusion is often, “I’m sure they didn’t mean it that way.”
(So, look. If you try to make racism about your intent—a thing only you can know and therefore only you can decide your own guilt—just know that we see that as an admission.)
Where this all goes wrong for white people is that while they are not able to actually experience racism, the behavior itself is incredibly self-destructive. But since they define it to their own exclusion and accept accountability on a strictly voluntary basis, they can’t see when they are being destroyed by it. That is how we end up with one political party functioning almost wholly as an agent of racism and the other political party wondering how we got here, how he’s the president and why we’re so polarized…Or why self-proclaimed fiscal conservatives could possibly back a man with a very public record of being the most financially irresponsible American alive…Or why self-proclaimed Christian conservatives could possibly back such a milquetoast, wannabe Caligula…Or why 53% of white women would support a man accused of sexual misconduct by at least 25 other women.
If there were only some common thread…Perhaps we’ll never know.
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