The Finch Formerly Known As Gold

22 September 2003

Choice of colors

This meme started floating around a few days ago, and I hadn't given it much thought, mostly due to doubts as to the extent of my qualifications, given the vectors of some of the branches on my family tree. Still, in a nation where racism is off the front burner but still very much a reality, surely it's worth the effort.

In the meantime: What does it mean to be white? Aldahlia answers:

It means that I come from a line of heroes, and assholes, and mothers, and drifters, and the the combination just happened to result in pale skin with freckles and visible veins. And, in a society like ours, white means that I have a duty to refute the idea that white is "normal" and everthing else is "ethnic," I have a duty to point out the harm of ingrained assumptions, and, above all, I have a duty always [to] know that if I'm looking for a world of equality, the first thing to understand, to hold to rigorous standards, and to ultimately change, is myself.

I am almost entirely freckleless, and occasionally entirely feckless, but mostly I'm on the same page here, and of course she's right; being white is not the default, so to speak, and given the current trends in births and immigration, it eventually won't be the majority. (In some areas, it's already happened.) I do have concerns about hyphenates, at least in terms of terminology; those who define themselves as Something-Or-Other-American, inevitably, if perhaps inadvertently, are putting the "American" aspect of themselves last, and I have trouble thinking of that as a Good Thing.

Still, whether you buy the old melting-pot metaphor or the more contemporary salad-bar concept, it's important to remember that we're all in this together, and the lamentations of a few extremists notwithstanding, we're gradually getting closer. And at this point — indeed, at any point — the labels matter less than the lives.

Posted at 1:36 PM to Almost Yogurt

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"What does it mean to be white?" -- is possible to answer only from one's own perspective, which in today's racio-political climate means those who aren't white can't possibly grasp it, any more than those of us who are white can possibly grasp what it means to be other-than-white.

So, until those of us who are white get some credit for empathy toward those who are not, I just ain't gonna bother with the question.

Posted by: McGehee at 2:05 PM on 22 September 2003

Certainly it's possible to find a guilt trip hiding behind the question somewhere, but I contend that it can be answered without necessarily buying into the subtext. I make no apologies for what I am, only for what I do; this may run counter to the desires of some people on the activist ends of the spectrum, but that's their problem, not mine.

Besides, empathy, while it has value elsewhere, is close to worthless in the purely-political sphere; it's not the government's job to make you feel better about yourself, or about other people. This is, always has been, something that has to come from within.

Posted by: CGHill at 3:29 PM on 22 September 2003

I don't like the hyphenates either even though some people rationalize it as not forgetting their cultural/ethnic roots and being unique among all the other Americans. I personally find it somewhat offensive--I don't want to be lumped into a stereotype. But I don't think solely referring people to their country of citizenship is such a good thing either as others will associate individuals with government policies, two things which typically don't go together at all.

Posted by: sya at 7:25 PM on 22 September 2003

True enough, though the Europeans have long seen Americans as a mass of undifferentiated, uncultured louts anyway, and truth be told, currying favor with the Islamic world is not anywhere near the top of my to-do list. (I don't for a moment buy the drive-them-all-into-the-sea scenario envisioned by some, but clearly some of them are going to find themselves up the Jordan without an air freshener.)

What makes America work is that we've managed to come off as generally united yet fiercely individual; I figure anyone who agrees with me on everything is probably superfluous — or I am.

Posted by: CGHill at 7:52 PM on 22 September 2003