Friday, November 11, 2016

How whiteness recenters itself again and again

We really lost some ground when Euro folks stopped believing that it was ok to talk about ghosts and spirits. This fierce focus on the rational, on what can be "proven," as though facts are not themselves reliant on belief systems, has made it much harder to attack white supremacy.

Whiteness does not exist. It is an abstraction, like money. It's something that only exists as a set of belief systems and then cultural practices that maintain those belief systems.  It is real in two ways. First, in how it has hijacked the survival systems of Euro-descended people so that any attack on whiteness literally feels like an attack on their lives. And then second in how it has created and maintained systems that exist to "prove" over and over again that those hijacked survival systems have a reason to be afraid. Think policing. Think education. Think "Make America Great Again." Think mainstream news and television, how many churches operate, how neighborhoods are segregated and redlined, how employment is parceled out.

We almost had it different. When those early Anglos first came over, they brought with them centuries of class division. Poor people trusting rich people? I don't think so. The separation on the basis of class was built into what it meant to be English. This worked fine for early settlement with indentured servitude being how poor and working class Anglos were brought to help clear and farm this land so that the English system of land ownership and serfdom could be maintained. Things were going along great until those indentured servants started building alliances with freed and enslaved Blacks. In response, the survival system of family wealth, an Anglo belief system that for most of its history believed that it had been ordained by God /to be rich, did was survival systems do under threat. Made some shifts and changes in order to ensure that it kept surviving. In this case, that meant slightly widening its circle to build on the centuries long intimacy between rich and poor Anglos by creating an "us" against a "them." This would not have been possible without this intimacy. Rich landowners knew the vulnerable points of the families they had been overruling for generations and so those buttons were pushed and over generations, whiteness was solidified.

This is intimate. This is personal.

Whiteness does not exist but white people exist. When I first became a bodyworker in the early 2000s, I almost immediately noticed that, while race is a social construct, racialized bodies are not. We become who we are through this conditioning. And while there is no single version of any particularly raced body, there are things that are true about bodies that have been raised for multiple generations within a particular culture. As John Mohawk (Seneca) said, "culture is a learned means of survival". We become who we are because we are raised within a culture that teaches us a whole bunch of shit including why the world around us is like it is and the best way we have to survive it and to find connection within it.

Except for whiteness. There is no "there" there.

The image I get for whiteness is of heavily guarded empty space. Whiteness says you don't need to know your ancestors, what they did or how they got here. Whiteness says that you should leave all of that because if you work hard enough, then you can create your own future that is separate from all of that uncomfortable past. Obviously, this only fully works for those who experience no contradiction to this in daily life. Most of us conditioned to be white experience some kind of contradiction. But that's where the whole system comes in, constantly triggering the survival system through fear (whether it's the fear of the other or the fear of not getting it perfect or the fear of being seen as being a failure or racist or not a good Christian or not a good friend etc) so that the body just wants to work harder to be safe.

But if whiteness is emptiness, then what does that mean?

Whiteness finds its identity through doing. Imagine an empty circle. The only reason that empty circle is not floating through the air is because it tethers itself to other people, ideologies, stories, all kinds of things to hold it stable. The tether varies based on the kind of white you are. Some tethers are: being a good Christian, being anti-racist, protecting the second Amendment, being green and recycling and eating organic food, being a good parent. These tethers are not without good solid grounding BUT it's the connection to them that is problematic. If an empty circle holds itself steady by having strong tethers to a range of things it believes in and identifies with, then what happens when something shakes those tethers? Like when you get afraid that someone might take your guns away? Or call you out for being racist? Or notice that you are wearing sweatshop clothes even if they are organic? This isn't just about a differing view point. This is about survival; survival that is grounded in keeping some balance with all of those tethers. This is true for everyone except that what is different about whiteness is that there is nothing else to ground into. We gave all of that up when we handed off our rich and complex cultures that had evolved for generations for something that had no roots.

Here is the ultimate contradiction which is why I think we keep not getting anywhere with ending whiteness. Because in order for this to shift, those white bodies have to experience themselves. They have to start filling up that empty space with their own histories, feelings, memories, actual flesh. This is a process of reconnection so that whatever needs to come - the grief passed down through generations of assimilation, the experience of being a baby and young child who is conditioned to not trust yourself and other people, the rage, the despair, all of it has to have the space to be witnessed and integrated. And this takes time. And this is how whiteness keeps winning. Because those of us who identify as anti-racists also resist anything that is about a deeper recentering of white people.

When I hear "white people take care of your own," this is what I understand. Taking care of our own is not about  bullying or organizing or somehow being the light on someone's "ignorance," it's not about missionary or charity work, but it's about this deep intimacy, this personal thing that says, right here and right now, I am going to take the time to go here with you, into our shared grief and rage, so that we can get past it and start surviving for something much bigger than our own sense of balance and stability.

Which also means putting our bodies in front of the police, at Standing Rock, in front of ICE raiders, and anywhere where indigenous folks, Black folks, immigrants, refugrees and other folks of color ask us to show up, under their leadership, on their terms. Always always we have to first stop the violence, work our asses off to make sure that every individual and every community has the space and time to heal, to do their own version of this work or whatever other work or play or story they determine is right for now. It is only recentering whiteness yet again to do the work of coming back into our own homes while our very whiteness is preventing others from being safe in their own.

What does this mean practically? I will be talking about that on this blog but for now: do not read a single piece of news media or literature about this election without asking how your family line helped to create this present moment. This is about the original wound that unites us all here on this land and in this time...and our gender, sexuality, class, ability and so on exists within this context. Period.

And when you read and respond to what is happening now ,noticing your own family line's participation, also notice what happens for you when you do this? What sensations do you feel? What emotions? What does your body want to do? What stories, defenses, regrets, assertions run through your mind? Just notice them as information. Write them down. Share them with me if you want. And then do it again. You are watching for patterns, in between the times when you are working your ass off to stop the violence. Back and forth, each feeding the other.

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