A letter to crackers, from a cracker.
That’s right. I started this post with a pejorative word for white people in hopes that it would get your attention and that it might mean that you’d read it. Unfortunately, my recent experience with my fellow Caucasians has been that — once threatened or humiliated in the slightest by the chance of an inconvenience or disruption of the status quo all willingness to pursue an intelligent discourse is immediately shut down, so please — don’t shut down. Keep reading, listen and receive the words one of your own has to say about this race thing.
A while back, during yet another tragic event that took the life of an innocent African American — I wrote a piece about recognizing my own white privilege and a lot of you were…well…livid about it.
The comments on Facebook that resulted from that post were incredible, and were evidence that very few were interested in the point I was trying to make but were instead interested in defending the idea that they — in all their whiteness — worked to get where they are, and that nothing has ever been handed to them.
I guess somewhere about halfway through the first comment I started reading through the lines of “I worked for everything I have” and began understanding it to mean “unlike the welfare queens that have never worked a day” — let’s be honest, that’s what you mean when you can’t acknowledge that life is even the slightest bit easier for you as a white person and want to put your hardships on display.
A lot of of grew up poor, I sure as hell did — and I work incessantly to make sure I’m not poor the rest of my life.
Still, being white is making that process — and has made my life, just a little bit easier for me than for my black counterparts.
In all this, it’s also been made clear that my marshmallow friends feel like they are being told to feel guilty for being white. There is, of course, nothing in the post I wrote previously that should indicate that I feel that way — and of all the articles and opinion pieces I’ve read from authors (regardless of their ethnicity) it’s become clear to me that almost no one, save a few extremists, wants you to feel guilty for being born white. You don’t even have to feel guilty if your great-great-great grand-pappy was a racist slave owner, just — maybe — instead of feeling guilty you could say, “I could see how 450 years of slavery and oppression might put the balance of power in my court and in the court of people that look like me and make life more difficult for black people.”
Acknowledging that truth goes a long way in the black community, in fact — it goes a hell of a lot farther than having a black best friend that no one has ever met and you don’t even have to feel bad about it any more than you feel bad about water being wet. Some things just are, and you were born white while other people weren’t. There’s no bad guy in that scenario.
“So, you are telling me that I don’t have to feel bad about systematic racism that has been unfair to an entire culture of people?”
That’s a great question Honkie, I’m glad you asked.
Look, I know — You didn’t own slaves, your family has always been poor white trash and you never had anything to do with slavery or any sort of oppression of black people at all. Slavery, racism, Jim Crow laws, the KKK , etc. , etc. — those are all things that you had nothing to do with and that no one wants to pin on you. You benefit from being white. That’s it.
No, you don’t have to feel bad about it at all, but I suspect that once you’ve acknowledged that this experience is a real one for you (privilege) and your black counterparts (prejudice) that you’ll automagically feel bad. I have a feeling that you’ll just feel icky, like I do, for being part of a society that allows that to happen — and that’s not guilt, that’s something much stronger than guilt and more powerful for introducing someone to the desire to see a change.
That’s what you guys are afraid of too, at least — that’s what I think it is that you are afraid of. You are afraid that you’ll feel bad for someone who has it worse than you, and that you’ll have to acknowledge that your life isn’t as miserable as you want to pretend it is. You’ll be forced to give a shit, and that’s scary because you aren’t familiar with the lives of these other people and because you’ve been led to believe that they’ve brought it upon themselves because all you really know about black people is a caricature of extremes.
Empathy would mean that you’d have to look at a black man, woman, or child just like you look at a white man, woman, or child — rather than with the biases we’ve been raised with. It means you have to acknowledge that sometimes people end up in situations that aren’t their fault, and sometimes it’s incredibly difficult to dig yourself out, furthermore that sometimes it’s just impossible to get ahead when you start out so behind.
Empathy doesn’t mean guilt, but it does mean that you want things to be better for someone else. Even if you don’t know how to make that happen, it’s sure as hell a good place to start.
On that flag.
I’m as white and Southern as the day is long, and I’m proud of it too.
I’m proud of the way we generally treat one another around here; we nod in acknowledgement of nearly every person that passes our way, we hold doors open for the people behind us at restaurants, we eat the meat we kill (I’m not a hunter, but if you don’t eat the meat you kill people look down on you, and they should), and we tend to be independent — but when tragedy strikes a family you wouldn’t know it because we make sure they don’t go without. That’s, to me, my heritage as a Southerner.
For some people — maybe you, that heritage proudly includes a historical connection to the “War of Northern Aggression” because someone in your family fought and died to defend an ideal that, like most that die in war today, doesn’t really protect his interests as much as it protects the wealthy and disenfranchises the poor.
You, like most, are simply proud of that background and want to pretend like slavery wasn’t the root purpose of the war and you may even believe that to be true because you’ve been taught it by historical revisionists your whole life. That’s what I was told, and it’s bullshit.
What all that pride means for you war half-historians is proudly displaying the Confederate Battle Flag of Virginia in one of the many popular iterations on your person, on your unreasonably large truck, or in front of your home. I see at least 20 a day. The one I hate most though is displayed on a tiny plot of land in front of the county courthouse where I live, mocking those who it pains every time they pass by.
That flag, all the muck aside — is a symbol of white supremacy and control. It’s a symbol of preserving one races’ power over another, of ripping families apart, and of all the labor that provided free wealth for aristocratic Southern families who needed to keep the status quo going in order to continue building wealth in the ways that they were. That’s why the KKK used it as their banner in the 50’s and why other skinhead organizations use it today. Even if it has been kidnapped from it’s original purpose, and it hasn’t, it’s time to relegate it to history and to extremists who hurt people.
In a part of the country built on the labor of scarred black backs, that flag is a symbol of gloriously returning to those days.
If you can be proud of that part of our heritage you’ve got a stronger stomach than I. I’m not, I can’t be. I can’t ask black people to pass by it every day at government buildings when I know their taxes pay for it too. If you must display it on your property, by all means — but now would be a good time to revisit that part about empathy a few paragraphs above.
And while we’re at it….
So, you’ve folded up ole Dixie and recognized that maybe some folks do have it harder than you based solely on the circumstances of their parentage all in the course of a single post…shit…I’m doing pretty damn good, what else can I get your pasty white behind to do?
I’ll end this monologue with the Good Ole’ Boy’s by telling you how I try to move my dialogue with the black community, a community that I know I’m not a part of — but that I care about:
Don’t pretend to be colorblind, that doesn’t mean anything. Recognize, appreciate, and celebrate our differences all while loving the things that unify us. Saying, “I don’t see color” is to rip that part of someone’s identity away from them when instead we should be saying, “I see beauty and history in your color”.
Race is real, it’s been part of the historical narrative of this country and the world ever since we started forming tribes around language and skin-tone. We don’t have to pretend like race doesn’t exist or even be ashamed of the race we share, we can acknowledge race without placing the people who’s race differs from ours in a subclass or fearing them.
Just treat people like people ya peckerwoods.
Your Honkie Neighbor