"If you believe people have no history worth mentioning,
If you are a white person born into such economic and political privilege and, somehow, you come to see that, you will have to rationalize why you have it. For many white people, this becomes a choice between "It's because I deserve it." or "It's because I am evil."
Stated another way: racism is a form of self glorification. It's one group of people (in this case white people) thinking they are better, more worthy, more valuable and more human than another group. This kind of self glorification is not limited to white people certainly, but it's not absent from it.
In North America, it's written in between the lines of almost everything we see - white people matter more than people of colour.
Who runs the government? White people.
Who are our movie stars? White people.
Who has most of the money? White people.
Who gets less jail time than people of colour for the same crimes? White people.
Who can only see terrorism when it's being done by brown people rather than all the Christian, domestic terrorism (e.g. Dylan Roof)? White people.
How did it get to be this way that so many white people believe their own press and see themselves as better than people of colour?
This results in white people having been born on third base and thinking we hit a triple. It results in an inflated sense of our greatness and sense of accomplishments. It results in a sense of entitlement - that we somehow earned and deserved all of these good things.
When slavery ended, this meant less privilege for whites. This meant the end of the 'good old days'. And that means resentment. Giving up privilege is hard on the best of days. As Mark Caddo once said, "The problem with being privileged your whole life is that [after] you have had that privilege for so long, equality starts to look like oppression."
This Self Glorification can look and sound like a lot of things...
It can, certainly, sound like skinheads and rednecks shouting 'white pride!' and 'white power!' or cries of 'white genocide!' but this is the exception not the rule.
It can also sound like the following words written by Christopher Columbus in his log saying of the Arawak, "They ... brought us parrots and balls of cotton and spears and many other things, which they exchanged for the glass beads and hawks' bells. They willingly traded everything they owned... . They were well-built, with good bodies and handsome features.... They do not bear arms, and do not know them, for I showed them a sword, they took it by the edge and cut themselves out of ignorance. They have no iron. Their spears are made of cane... . They would make fine servants.... With fifty men we could subjugate them all and make them do whatever we want."
The Canadian government’s Indian policy had already been set before Scott was in a position to influence it, but he never saw any reason to question its assumption that the 'red' man ought to become just like the 'white' man. Shortly after he became Deputy Superintendent, he wrote approvingly: 'The happiest future for the Indian race is absorption into the general population, and this is the object and policy of our government.'... Assimilation, so the reasoning went, would solve the 'Indian problem,' and wrenching children away from their parents to 'civilize' them in residential schools until they were eighteen was believed to be a sure way of achieving the government’s goal. Scott ... would later pat himself on the back: 'I was never unsympathetic to aboriginal ideals, but there was the law which I did not originate and which I never tried to amend in the direction of severity.'
while Scott himself wrote:
"I want to get rid of the Indian problem. I do not think as a matter of fact, that the country ought to continuously protect a class of people who are able to stand alone… Our objective is to continue until there is not a single Indian in Canada that has not been absorbed into the body politic and there is no Indian question, and no Indian Department, that is the whole object of this Bill."
It can sound like Pierre Elliot Trudeau saying, “If you no longer speak your language and no longer practice your culture, then you have no right to demand aboriginal rights from us, because you are assimilated with the ruling power.” after Canada had done everything in it's power to prevent them from speaking their language and practicing their culture. It can sound like an indigenous child crying themselves to sleep in a residential school having been stolen from their people and raised to be more white and civilized.
It can be Rand Paul saying, "If [natives] were assimilated, within a decade they'd probably be doing as well as the rest of us."
It can sound like the person next to you on the bus tut tutting a native person whose drunk on the bus because they imagine that, if they had been in that person's shoes that they would have fared so much better and the direct implication in this that native people's are somehow broken and defective.
It can be Sarah Palin saying to Mexicans and Latinos, "Speak American."
It can sounds like Donald Trump saying he wants to, "Make America great again!" and the racism he and other Republicans use. In fact, it could sound like just about anything that Donald Trump says.
It can sound like people saying, "America is the greatest country on Earth" and the unsaid, "And white people are what made and make it that way." and the even more unsaid, "Black and brown people only bring violence."
It can sound like the expectation that black people sound white when they talk and dress white when they go out.
It can sound like, "Can't we just pretend the past never happened?"
It can sound like "All Lives Matter!"
It can sound like an attack on 'political correctness'.
But it always sounds like forgetting.
Forgetting the genocide of indigenous people, forgetting the slave trade and forgetting where we have come from.
It always sounds like entitlement and deserving because it has to. You can't feel that you are more worthy than others, better than others, that your race is the best one unless you either ignore the atrocities it has done or you come up with some rationalization for it - you have to frame it as a good thing for all involved. Instead of colonizing to take their gold, you are bringing Christianity, purifying the Aryan race and creating Lebensraum, fulfilling the will of God (which somehow always seems to intersect with the interests of the elites or, in this case, whites).
No matter how you twist it, it says that either only whites should be allowed to live or that every culture should be more like us and, if because of our oppression and the set up of the system and because we rely on them for cheap labour, they can't? Well... the poor things must have defective genes.
Some of those who are appalled by racism and the things done by white people to oppress people of colour have come up with a solution to this problem of self glorification that seems to be the perfect and needed antidote. The way I'm about to describe it isn't one that most of them would identify with but I've come to believe that, under the surface, it's what is actually happening.
Of course, we don't choose this solution so consciously. Or see it as such. But the hard conversations that happen on the reluctantly taken and meandering paths of the morning of our waking up to how things are and how they have come to be, if they are serious and allowed to wander down those cobblestone and lamplit streets of wonder, inevitably find themselves at the strangely quiet market square, empty now under the stars, of consideration of the big question: deep down are humans good or are they bad?
And so solution... our self hatred.
Of all the people's of the world, white people seem to have done the most damage.
And of course, even our Self Glorification is a set up for a terrible fall as Abe Lateiner of www.risksomething.org put it,
"For 30 years, White supremacy smiled in my face while shackling me to impossible standards of superiority that I could never attain. I exist at the intersection of pretty much every privileged identity one could ask for, both within the American context and globally as well. At each of these intersections, I've been taught that I should be the best because of those identities. And yet, here I am, a regular human, doing some awesome stuff and some really fucked up stuff and a whole lot of muddling around the middle. It's crystal clear that I am not superior, but my programming tells me that I should be, which results in shame. That's the impossible standards I'm referring to."
Ian Brown explores this in his beautiful piece about the L'Arche communities Jean Vanier’s comfort and joy: ‘What we have to do is find the places of hope’
For a brief time after the Second World War, which had revealed the horror of Auschwitz and the terror of the atom bomb, the individual became important again, Mr. Vanier believes. But driven by capitalism, Western individualism quickly mutated into a relentless meritocracy, with its emphasis on status and success.Jean Vanier put it this way,
"We have to win, we have to be the best, we have to make more money. We’re losing something about community, about accepting people who are different. If we have a culture of winning, a culture of success, a culture of knowledge, those who have less knowledge are not winning. So we’re in a culture of huge divisions.
We were barely in our seats when I asked him why he thought so many young French men and women were attracted to Islamic State, or Dash, as Mr. Vanier calls it. He loves to talk with visitors. He tends to proceed laterally, and has a talent for finding the emotional centre of any subject almost immediately, which in turn makes talking to him feel reassuring and significant, as if you are visiting some kind of conversational spa. But he never wastes time.
“Fear,” he said. “It’s because they’re frightened. What are they frightened of? Violence. Insecurity. Maybe change. Maybe frightened of themselves. Because they don’t quite know who they are and what they want to be. They’re in a humanity that is so geared to winning that those who are unable to win are pushed down. Right from the beginning, except during the first months of the life of a child, it’s success. You have to be the best … But we’re losing something about community, about accepting people who are different. If we have a culture of winning, a culture of success, a culture of knowledge, those who have less knowledge are not winning. So we’re in a culture of huge divisions.”
He put it another way, as is his habit. “There are what they call the sensitive parts of Paris: 50 per cent of the kids have failed in school, 50 per cent have no work. So what happens when you’re 20 years old, you have failed, and you’re just ready to ignite? They’ve been looked down on, smacked. So there’s a whole world of the despised, the humiliated. And the fruit of humiliation is either depression or violence.
One of the ways is quality of friendship, quality of community. When I go down the street here” – there are seven L’Arche foyers in Trolly alone, each home to about eight residents and eight assistants, and two other sets in nearby Cuise-la-Motte and Compiègne – “I might find that three people with disabilities will rush into my arms. I mean, they are beautiful, and they love me! That’s super! So, the greatest thing to calm anguish is the knowledge that we are loved. Not for what we do or have done or for what we will do, but in ourselves. The more we lose, the more we come close to the reality of what it is to be human. Which is to accept our weaknesses, to discover that they’re beautiful. So many people are running around doing lots of things, but they’re controlled by anguish.”And Ian Brown comes to these conclusions,
We agreed to meet again the next day. On the way back to my room, pacing slowly through the heat of the late afternoon, I tried to sort out what Mr. Vanier’s words meant in practice. I think it is this: If you want to find grace in a culture that is constantly devouring itself alive, if you want to live in hope and not fear, you have to tell the truth and declare your fragility.
This is not a popular position at the moment. It isn’t an easy road, but Jean Vanier believes there is no faster way to peace. You have to admit that you have no answer, that you are proceeding from a position of the most tenuous, fallible, human fragility. Instead of banning Muslims at the border, you have to reach out and befriend one, even sponsor one, declaring your profound nervousness as you go. Maybe you just speak to a stranger at the corner store, at the gym. Maybe it will not work out well, this time. Maybe one of the refugees you sponsor will commit a terrorist act one day, which means you are willing to put lives on the line in support of your belief in a common humanity. Your convictions are flawed and fallible, but they do not come any other way.
But they are not the sickness.
They are both attempts at antidotes to a malady we do not understand. They are attempts to solve a problem we have yet to articulate. They are symptoms that we mistake as a cure. They are the sickness attempting to devise a remedy for itself without letting itself die. It is the addict who is trying to quit drugs while still using them.
When whiteness crept in, it brought this illness with it and we all, to some extent, fall ill from it.
Some fall towards the tabloid headline that "White people are evil." and others towards to bankrupt ideology that "White people were destined to run the world and they deserve it." Some fall in evident collapse and some posture as if they have never fallen at all. Some fall into self pity. Some fall into self importance. Some fall towards to notion that "no one should be like us" and others fall towards the notion that "everyone should be like us." Some fall towards the thought that the world would be better off without us and others towards the thought that the world would be better off without everyone else. Some fall towards seeing value only in their own limited understanding of other cultures. Some fall towards seeing value only in their own limited understanding of their own. Some fall into a love for everything ethnic, funky and indigenous in our ancestry to the exclusion of anything European. Some fall into a love for everything North American and European to the exclusion of everything else. Both imagine America's history starting with boatloads of Europeans. One imagines them as Devils. The other as Saviours.
In Greek mythology, Narcissus (/nɑrˈsɪsəs/; Greek: Νάρκισσος, Narkissos) was a hunter from Thespiae in Boeotia who was known for his beauty. He was the son of the river god Cephissus and nymph Liriope. He was proud, in that he disdained those who loved him. Nemesis noticed this behavior and attracted Narcissus to a pool, where he saw his own reflection in the water and fell in love with it, not realizing it was merely an image. Unable to leave the beauty of his reflection, Narcissus drowned. Narcissus is the origin of the term narcissism, a fixation with oneself and one's physical appearance.Too many read the story of Narcissus as a warning against falling in love with ourselves too much. But, this is not the moral of the story. The story exists to remind us that, should we fall in love with our reflection, we will surely drown in it - be it a reflection of hatred or glory, beauty or ugliness. It's not what is being reflected but that we are seeking our value in the reflection itself.
If you are reading this, I am assuming that you wrestle more with the demons of self hatred than self importance and that a central question that has haunted your days since you first became aware of the troubled history of white people in this world in the past thousand years is, "Are white people bad?"
It's a question that begs a simple answer. Or a solution. Because, if we are bad then the very next question is... can we be fixed?
My friend Parneet put it this way in a recent Facebook post:
"Important Public Service Announcement: White folks insecurity is a very dangerous thing. Please work hard to spiritually evolve and learn to love yourself because colonization is founded on a deep seated feeling of insecurity, greed, jealousy, resentment and scarcity. Which is why it results in seeking out more power, stealing from others, demeaning others, controlling others, and oppressing the other to believe it is inferior. The more white folks can cultivate self love, inner stability, and inner security that doesn't come at the cost of taking from others, using others, abusing others, controlling others, the better off you will be to yourself but more importantly, to everyone else. I am not exaggerating when I say the danger of the social state of our world is rooted in insecure white folks. Stop colonizing and controlling the outside, and start cultivating love and security inside. That is all."A better question might be, "is our self hatred helping anyone at all?"
If, after some honest grappling with that question we can not give an honest 'yes' for an answer then we could do worse than to wonder, "What are the results of our culture's self hatred?"
Things you couldn't wish for were you rotten to your core.
We think that self hatred is a responsible thing given the burden of proof we face but, if you're willing to sit with it long enough, you might notice the way that self hatred makes you less able to respond to others pain. You want to be responsible and yet you aren't able to respond. Sit with that for a while.
The hidden fear of many white people is that, "if I don't hate myself, then I won't be motivated to do anything." But, is that true? Is that really your experience? If you didn't hate yourself, if you couldn't think the thought that, 'white people are bad' or 'I'm bad because I'm a white person', who would you be?
If anything, it opens you to it and leaves you with a wondering of, "how can I help?" that isn't based in hustling for approval or getting people of colour to assuage your guilt.
"How does this self hatred affect the way we relate to other cultures?"
Some would argue that cultural appropriation has its roots in self hatred. In our inability to be with our own poverty and make something beautiful out of it, we take what does not belong to us. We maraud the countryside, hungry for something real. In our desperation to not feel bad about ourselves, we act badly. In the belief that there is nothing good in our culture and that nothing good has every come from where we come from we try to find this goodness in other cultures and then, when we do, we, in our hunger, consume them. In our inward and self focused starvation we take things and do not register the look upon the face of the ones from whom we have stolen.
"How does this self hatred affect the way we relate to other cultures?"
It makes us fragile so that we shatter when touched with questions about whiteness and cut the one who asked the question.
My colleague Cathasaigh Ó Corcráin said, "It also makes me think that "white" identity is inevitably based on fragility. Why? Because it's an empty and a hollow construct. We need our Ancestors and the revival of our European Peoplehood's or we'll continue to be a liability."
"How does this self hatred affect the way we relate to other cultures?"
It makes us a ticking time bomb of resentment.
But there's another question to be asked here...
"How does this self hatred affect the way we relate to other white people?"
The answer? Self hatred is a bottomless pit.
We tell ourselves the story that, if we could just hate ourselves enough, if we could just be ashamed enough about who we are then somehow everything would be okay and we would be safe.
In our self hatred, we forget (or perhaps we hate ourselves because we never knew) how 'whiteness' was used as the carrot and slavery was used as the stick against our own European ancestors.
In our self hatred, we forget (or perhaps we hate ourselves because we never knew) that other cultures are full of tyrants too and that oppression in this world did not begin and will not end with the appearance of white people.
We tell ourselves that 'whiteness' is all that we are - that there's nothing more to us and our story. We believe that, since our people have no good history worth mentioning, we have no humanity worth defending.
Self hatred keeps our attention on ourselves. But not actually ourselves. It keeps our attention on our reflection - on how others see us so that our self worth becomes based on whether or not the white people we admire or people of colour are approving of us and this is an unfair burden to put on others. The irony of this: in our attempts to not be a burden we create a new one.
And there are many other questions worth asking too.
Self hatred is an answer. But then what is the question? The question will always be some version of, "What's wrong with me?" just as self glorification is the answer to the question, "What's wrong with them?" The problem is not the answer, it's the assumption that something is wrong.
A better question to ask might be, "What is it that both self hatred and self glorification cover up? What is it they are both trying to hide?"
Eric Hoffer said it best when he pointed out that, "Our greatest pretenses are built up not to hide the evil and the ugly in us, but our emptiness. The hardest thing to hide is something that is not there."
What if self hatred and glorification are the attempt to distract us from this feeling of emptiness or cultural bereftness, this deep sense of unworthiness? The blankets we cover it with might be different but the hole they cover is the same.
Stated another way: Both blankets are woven from a fabric and based on a self that doesn't exist.
Stated another way still: Whiteness is a fiction that we have come to treat as fact. There is no Whiteland from whence came the White People. It is a construct.
To take it even deeper: Race itself is a fiction that we have come to treat as fact. There is the human race. Period. That's all. White people's self hatred and glorification are both based on the idea of race and racial purity (neither of which are real) and the belief that white people all live basically the same way. But that's not how people with our skin tone have always lived. And it's not how they all live today. To take one example: The Sami people of Finland are 'white' in their skin tone but they are indigenous culturally.
I asked my colleague Michael Newton for his thoughts on this and he said, "There is a huge amount of white guilt amongst liberals which give automatic acknowledgement to the injustices done to people in the contemporary era due to race-based ideologies of domination -- yet they typically know nothing about the parallel experiences of Gaels and other subalterns who were suppressed, co-opted and assimilated in the process of the creation of whiteness."
White people's self hatred and glorification are both based on a version of history that never happened or is so incomplete as to be unworthy of the name history.
In our self hatred, we forget (or perhaps we hate ourselves because we never knew) that, during the darkest times of America's and Canada's troubled history on race, there were many white allies who put their bodies on the line and risked their lives for their black, brown and asian friends.
In our self hatred, we forget (or perhaps we hate ourselves because we never knew) the beauty of our ancestral cultures, the ways the lived on the land and spoke poetry and sang songs to it every day and the ways that those same cultures were destroyed by the very same forces we see white people using to destroy other cultures.
And in our self glorification we forget all of the atrocities committed by people who look like us or turn them into noble things.
Both come from a truncated and partial remembering of history; a history that mostly begins in North America.
Both versions - self hatred and self glorification - imagine our history starting with boatloads of Europeans. One imagines them as Devils. The other as Saviours. But neither version of the story wonders about what forces delivered them to these shores. Neither of those speaks to the reality that the vast majority of them came here because they were poor, persecuted and running. The history of North America didn't start in North America. We fall ill because we imagine that our story starts with whiteness. And that story is to food what celebrity tabloids are to deep mythology - utterly lacking in the nutrients we need to be strong and healthy.
Our roots are so shallow in the ground of myth and history. We lack creation stories from our original people's that came from the land they lived on that told us about our obligations to the land and our place in the world. We lack stories that tell us about our role in the natural order of things. In my own Scottish ancestry, there are, so far as I no, no remaining creation stories. And so, for many of us, whiteness and nationality have become our default creation story. "I'm Canadian." Or "I'm white." we say, as if that tells us much about who we are and where we are from. Our roots are shallow indeed.
But, perhaps, there's an even better question to ask.
It's not a question you'll ever be able to find in the eyes of those whose disapproval you fear. It's a question that's waiting for you in between the photos of your oldest family photo albums. It's a question that's stitched into the oldest quilt you ever inherited and carved into the hidden corners of the oldest wooden cabinet ever left to you by someone else. Hidden inside the ring of your ancestry, that question is inscribed in a language you might no longer speak. But, if you could find someone to translate it, some faithful friend who could coax the meaning out of the old words, it might sound something like, "How did it come to be this way?" or "What befell a people that it came to this?"
That's a question that isn't asking to be answered. It's a question that is waiting to be asked. It's a problem that isn't asking to be solved. It's a problem that's hoping to be admired for its depth and complexity and held in high esteem as worthy of your regard and consideration.
We're not being invited to fix anything, we're being implored, by forces seen and unseen, to redeem something, to remember something, to make something whole again.
If you are looking for a solution, this may be as close as you will get.
Your willingness to sit for a long while and coax the pile of kindling that is your wonder or to blow on the coals of your curiousity until it grows into a fire fed by the logs of your hardened convictions and certainties of your days, all of the things you can't afford to lose, your sure and simple ideas of who deserves what in favour of the broken heartedness of seeing what is needed, your convictions of who has earned punishment and who has earned reward, your certainty that your guilt and shame makes you more noble than others, your belief that hating yourself will somehow make you more responsible or a better ally to those in need, your secret hopes that you will live to see the better days for which you work (or even pick the fruit from the trees you have planted), the carefully planed two by fours of our knowing that we are worthy of adoration or hatred, the easy knowing of our exaggerated worthiness or worthlessness - all of it slowly fed into this growing fire of learning in the pit of all of your privileges and poverties so that the woods around you are a little more illumined, a little less ominous and so that you can see a little bit further down that path that brought you here, littered as it is with scraps of fabric from the carefully woven tapestry of our deep history cut into pieces by self hatred and self glorification - the two blades of the scissors of our modern culture... your willingness to do some or all of that puts the needle and thread in your hand and invites your daring to stitch the pieces together again in some new fashion that is faithful to its history but that also weaves the present back into this larger context from which it came and in which it still lives. And then, as the fire begins to die, because you can't sit there forever, you can wrap what you've managed to sew together of that tapestry around your shoulders and pull it tight in the front as you get up to return to where you live, warmed by the fire of your burned convictions and protected from the winds by the scraps of your own history. And when you return, you might be recognized by the old ones by this new shawl you wear, as being from them, sent here by them, their best idea, their deepest dream entrusted to do something with all the wood your burned and now given this precious mantle you wear to keep you warm in the cold days ahead so you won't be tempted to steal your warmth from anyone else.
Sometimes I Don't Want to be White Either
White Guilt is Actually White Narcicism