I was in the 5th grade. We were on a field trip to Minnehaha Falls and Travis wanted to “go have fun.” That was all it took. We all took off, breaking away from the group, to “have some fun.” What felt like hours later (in reality maybe like 20 minutes) we were standing in front of our teachers being asked what we were thinking?
I vividly remember the moment, really the feeling, when I decided to run after Travis, I wanted to belong.
There is nothing more human than wanting to belong, than wanting connection. Isolation erodes our soul and our sanity. The resulting misery demands company, and if that comes through shared pain and loneliness then so be it. We become something unrecognizable yet all too familiar, we become white.
As long as you think you are white, there is no hope for you~ James Baldwin
Over the weekend Richard Spencer led what he called a “torchlight protest” which more closely resembled a Klan meeting. The mob was protesting the removal of a Robert E. Lee statue and the renaming of a park named after Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson. Spencer told the crowd “What brings us together is that we are white, we are a people, we will not be replaced.” And there it is, the cry for community muffled by the disease of whiteness.
White nationalists like Spencer often talk about ethnic pride. They want to be proud of who they are, who doesn’t? The issue is they understand themselves as being white, and place pride in that label. But white is not an identity, it is a worldview. It does not trace its genesis to Europe or even people with less melanin in their skin. No, whiteness is an American invention meant to justify the economic and social order while dividing and conquering the threats to that order. As more and more poor European immigrants bought into this worldview the more distance was put between them and community. With every family that had to lose an accent or forget a language in order to be safe the isolation from humanity grew. Every policy and institution where inclusion in whiteness was a prerequisite further eroded us as a people and plunged us deeper into despair. The only thing we dared to connect on was our pain, our sickness, our whiteness.
We were promised a better life. We were promised that if we enforced the Fugitive Slave Act we would enjoy the spoils of the capitalist economy. We were told if we invested in whiteness its psychological wages would make us feel whole. When these promises turned out to be empty we were told it was because Black and Brown and Native folk had stolen what was set aside for us. We believe this. We continue to betray humanity; we are shells of ourselves before whiteness.
Richard Spencer is a clown. It is not too late for us to realize this. The alt-right and Nazis everywhere offer us pseudo connection. A connection that resonates at our ugliest and most deprived frequency. We must reject that call and open ourselves up to true community. There is healing in vulnerability and listening. There is healing in being of service. It won’t happen overnight. Wounds take time to scab and turn to scars. This only happens through a commitment to truth-telling. We must learn the history of whiteness as separate from the history of our European ancestors. We must accept that our society was built to benefit those who were classified as white, and that is a legacy which needs to be redressed in any and every way. We need to seek out relationship and community. Everything about our society tells us to value our individuality and individualism. This only leads to despair and illness. We are nothing without our people, we must redefine who that is and work to repair the harm and close the gap whiteness has created.
Spencer told the people in Charlottesville that they would not be replaced but, that is precisely what whiteness does. Whiteness replaced our ancestors with Robert E. Lee and others who were so far from humanity that they went to war to defend the institution of slavery. Whiteness replaced the security that comes with meaningful community with the fragility of individualism. It replaced common decency with cutthroat capitalism. It replaced authentic and meaningful traditions and ceremonies with shallow and empty consumerism. It replaced the beautiful tapestry of culture and language with box stores and English only laws. Whiteness is erasure. It’s an erasure of everything Spencer and his Nazi ilk are ostensibly trying to preserve.
Historian David Roediger said “it’s not that whiteness is oppressive and false. It’s that whiteness is only oppressive and false.” When we understand this simply truth we take the first steps t