The Moral Costs of Whiteness

What I’m Reading today, June 16, 2020

Performing Whiteness/ Sarah Bellamy

White folks, you must dig into your embodied racism, even—especially—if you think it’s not there. And this is not just to shift what you say and how you shape your arguments, questions, Facebook posts, tweets. It’s not about performing your wokeness. This isn’t about what you say—it’s about how you act; how your body might be predisposed to rely on a racial inheritance that endangers the lives of others. What’s in your guts, in your muscles, in your blood? What are you carrying dormant in your body that springs up when confronted with Black joy, Black power, Black brilliance, Black Blackness in the world? How can you train your bodies to respond differently when you are triggered, when you’re in fight-or-flight mode? How can I help you stop yourselves from killing us?

James Baldwin mused that “one of the reasons people cling to their hates so stubbornly is because they sense, once hate is gone, they will be forced to deal with pain.” I will acknowledge that white folks may be in pain. They need to find healthy ways to express their rage, sadness, disappointment, and fear, ways that would bring them love rather than admonishment.

Here is what I know: hatred is heavier than love; ambivalence is less rewarding than action. We are diminished by the man occupying the presidency. We are diminished by those who enable him. People who have spent most of their adult lives on the sidelines are moving to the center. White folks need to move past their fear and call each other into deep, authentic, and embodied learning and unlearning around what it means to be be white in this country. All of what that means, both the history and the present.

“Stating that Black lives matter is a very minimum acknowledgement of humanity. The tenacity of the fight against this statement should absolutely stagger Americans and signal how far we have yet to go” (Bellamy).

White Debt/ Eula Biss

whiteness is not an identity but a moral problem.

What is the condition of white life? We are moral debtors who act as material creditors. Our banks make bad loans. Our police, like Nietzsche’s creditors, act out their power on black bodies. And, as I see in my own language, we confuse whiteness with ownership. For most of us, the police aren’t ‘‘ours’’ any more than the banks are. When we buy into whiteness, we entertain the delusion that we’re business partners with power, not its minions. And we forget our debt to ourselves.

opportunity hoarding/ Talking About Whiteness, On Being with Eula Biss

They use this phrase to describe what white parents do to make sure that their children are getting more than other children are getting.

And I really thought about both the opportunity hoarding that I had seen around me and the opportunity hoarding that I, myself, had engaged in. One example of opportunity hoarding that I’m just remembering from this article was that, for instance, something a little over 90 percent of white students at Evanston Township High School have taken at least one advanced placement class. And the numbers for African-American students are around 50 percent. There’s many more white students, a disproportionate amount of white students ending up in advanced placement classes.

There are probably a lot of factors that feed into that. There’s parent advocacy, there’s probably some racial bias going on on the part of the school, there’s probably dozens of different factors. But I think the reason that that term “opportunity hoarding” spoke to me is I thought, well, that’s something I can control for. Like, that’s something I can watch in my own behavior. That’s something that I could have conversations with my neighbors around, and how we’re treating the opportunities that are available to our children, and whether we’re ensuring that those opportunities are available to all the children in our community.

White peoples’ crimes are read as youthful mistakes

When I was 19, the head of my college’s campus police escorted me to an interview with the Amherst Police. The previous night, a friend and I had pasted big posters of bombs that read ‘‘Bomb the Suburbs’’ all over the town. ‘‘Bomb the Suburbs’’ is the title of a book by William Upski Wimsatt, whom we had invited to speak on campus. The first question the Amherst Police asked was whether I was aware that graffiti and ‘‘tagging,’’ a category that included the posters, was punishable as a felony. I was not aware. Near the end of the interrogation, my campus officer stepped in and suggested that we would clean up the posters. I was not charged with a felony, and I spent the day working side by side with my officer, using a wire brush to scrub all the bombs off Amherst (Eula Biss).

Twitter thread by @KristaVernoff on threadreader

I’m asking the white people reading this to think about the crimes you’ve committed. (Note: You don’t call them crimes. You and your parents call them mistakes.) Think of all the mistakes you’ve made that you were allowed to survive (twitter thread by @KristaVernoff).