Why White People Are Afraid - Printable Version
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Why White People Are Afraid - mexika - 11-17-2011 12:19 AM
Why White People Are Afraid
It may seem self-indulgent to talk about the fears of white people in a white-supremacist society. After all, what do white people really have to be afraid of in a world structured on white privilege? It may be self-indulgent, but it's critical to understand because these fears are part of what keeps many white people from confronting ourselves and the system.
The first, and perhaps most crucial, fear is that of facing the fact that some of what we white people have is unearned. It's a truism that we don't really make it on our own; we all have plenty of help to achieve whatever we achieve. That means that some of what we have is the product of the work of others, distributed unevenly across society, over which we may have little or no control individually. No matter how hard we work or how smart we are, we all know -- when we are honest with ourselves -- that we did not get where we are by merit alone. And many white people are afraid of that fact.
A second fear is crasser: White people's fear of losing what we have -- literally the fear of losing things we own if at some point the economic, political, and social systems in which we live become more just and equitable. That fear is not completely irrational; if white privilege -- along with the other kinds of privilege many of us have living in the middle class and above in an imperialist country that dominates much of the rest of the world -- were to evaporate, the distribution of resources in the United States and in the world would change, and that would be a good thing. We would have less. That redistribution of wealth would be fairer and more just. But in a world in which people have become used to affluence and material comfort, that possibility can be scary.
A third fear involves a slightly different scenario -- a world in which non-white people might someday gain the kind of power over whites that whites have long monopolized. One hears this constantly in the conversation about immigration, the lingering fear that somehow "they" (meaning not just Mexican-Americans and Latinos more generally, but any non-white immigrants) are going to keep moving to this country and at some point become the majority demographically.
Even though whites likely can maintain a disproportionate share of wealth, those numbers will eventually translate into political, economic, and cultural power. And then what? Many whites fear that the result won't be a system that is more just, but a system in which white people become the minority and could be treated as whites have long treated non-whites. This is perhaps the deepest fear that lives in the heart of whiteness. It is not really a fear of non-white people. It's a fear of the depravity that lives in our own hearts: Are non-white people capable of doing to us the barbaric things we have done to them?
A final fear has probably always haunted white people but has become more powerful since the society has formally rejected overt racism: The fear of being seen, and seen-through, by non-white people. Virtually every white person I know, including white people fighting for racial justice and including myself, carries some level of racism in our minds and hearts and bodies. In our heads, we can pretend to eliminate it, but most of us know it is there. And because we are all supposed to be appropriately anti-racist, we carry that lingering racism with a new kind of fear: What if non-white people look at us and can see it? What if they can see through us? What if they can look past our anti-racist vocabulary and sense that we still don't really know how to treat them as equals? What if they know about us what we don't dare know about ourselves? What if they can see what we can't even voice?
I work in a large university with a stated commitment to racial justice. All of my faculty colleagues, even the most reactionary, have a stated commitment to racial justice. And yet the fear is palpable.
It is a fear I have struggled with, and I remember the first time I ever articulated that fear in public. I was on a panel with several other professors at the University of Texas discussing race and politics in the O.J. Simpson case. Next to me was an African American professor. I was talking about media; he was talking about the culture's treatment of the sexuality of black men. As we talked, I paid attention to what was happening in me as I sat next to him. I felt uneasy. I had no reason to be uncomfortable around him, but I wasn't completely comfortable. During the question-and-answer period -- I don't remember what question sparked my comment -- I turned to him and said something like, "It's important to talk about what really goes on between black and white people in this country. For instance, why am I feeling afraid of you? I know I have no reason to be afraid, but I am. Why is that?"
My reaction wasn't a crude physical fear, not some remnant of being taught that black men are dangerous (though I have had such reactions to black men on the street in certain circumstances). Instead, I think it was that fear of being seen through by non-white people, especially when we are talking about race. In that particular moment, for a white academic on an O.J. panel, my fear was of being exposed as a fraud or some kind of closet racist.
Even if I thought I knew what I was talking about and was being appropriately anti-racist in my analysis, I was afraid that some lingering trace of racism would show through, and that my black colleague would identify it for all in the room to see. After I publicly recognized the fear, I think I started to let go of some of it. Like anything, it's a struggle. I can see ways in which I have made progress. I can see that in many situations I speak more freely and honestly as I let go of the fear. I make mistakes, but as I become less terrified of making mistakes I find that I can trust my instincts more and be more open to critique when my instincts are wrong.
Robert Jensen is a journalism professor at the University of Texas at Austin. He is the author of, most recently, The Heart of Whiteness:Â Confronting Race, Racism and White Privilege (City Lights Books), from which this essay is excerpted.
© 2011 Independent Media Institute. All rights reserved.
View this story online at: http://www.alternet.org/story/36892/
RE: Why White People Are Afraid - rockingtheboat - 11-17-2011 08:14 AM
@ mexika : You seem to be helplessly stuck in your narrow-mindedness with no windows on the larger world. It is time to leave the ghetto to say the least. There are worthwhile causes you can embrace to feed your militant side, other than focus on "the evil whites" to appease your frustrations and failures.
You have been given 35 thanks so far. You have given 0. That reveals either arrogance on your part, or maybe you just didn't benefit from anybody's post so far because your knowledge and your intellect flies above all others'.
RE: Why White People Are Afraid - thokling - 11-17-2011 01:09 PM
There appears to be a common theme across Mexika's posts. (And, for the record, Mexika has given 35 thanks and has received none. The latter part helps to indicate how much support exists for Mexika's posts.)
Interesting how a non-white would accuse caucasians of fear when fear is often the basis for racism.
RE: Why White People Are Afraid - April - 11-17-2011 03:32 PM
(11-17-2011 01:09 PM)thokling Wrote: There appears to be a common theme across Mexika's posts. (And, for the record, Mexika has given 35 thanks and has received none. The latter part helps to indicate how much support exists for Mexika's posts.)
actually thokling... RTB is right.
I know I've thanked mex before, and I just glanced through some of his older thread topics and found others thanking him as well...
So mex has been accurately accused of being a snob with the thanks button.... because he has given zero thanks to others.
Who know's what web browser he's using though.... perhaps the "thanks" button doesn't even appear correctly for him...
RE: Why White People Are Afraid - ToddTraf - 11-17-2011 04:25 PM
Being white has never gotten me any privilages or special treatment. It did not get me an inheritance, or into college, It did not get me a job, It did not keep me from being pulled over by cops, In fact it has actually made me a minority in some places I used to live. The only thing I've earned by being white is the allegations I'm personally responsible for all the atrocities of the last 300 years.
I'm aware but not scared of any of this. This article is Shit. It seems more like some passive-agressive propaganda to drum up racism where it wasn't before.
RE: Why White People Are Afraid - thokling - 11-18-2011 11:54 AM
(11-17-2011 03:32 PM)April Wrote: actually thokling... RTB is right.
Really? I was probably parsing that grammar incorrectly. That's okay - I'm still walking around like I own the place. :>
Carrying on! <salutes>
RE: Why White People Are Afraid - mexika - 11-19-2011 03:20 AM
what button? Happy thanksGiving! hmmmmm
(11-17-2011 08:14 AM)rockingtheboat Wrote: @ mexika :
I have given thanks. What you taking about?
"I certify to you that, with the help of God, we shall powerfully enter into your country, and shall make war against you in all ways and manners that we can, and shall subject you to the yoke and obedience of the Church and of their highnesses; we shall take you, and your wives, and your children, and shall make slaves of them, and as such shall sell and dispose of them as their highnesses may command; and we shall take away your goods, and shall do you all the mischief and damage that we can, as to vassals who do not obey, and refuse to receive their lord, and resist and contradict him; and we protest that the deaths and losses which shall accrue from this are your fault, and not that of their highnesses, or ours, nor of these cavaliers who come with us..”Christopher Columbus Text quoted from: "El Requerimiento" in Wilcomb Washburn, ed. The Indian and the White Man
Columbus is honored by many Americans as a hero and is still given credit for having “discovered” a continent already inhabited by people. This myth is perpetuated by the majority of the public schools systems, and “Columbus Day” signs and imagery pervade at this time of the year while "Native Americans" mourn his horrendous legacy.
Internationally, Columbus is recognized as an instigator of international slave trade and the perpetrator of crimes against humanity and the genocide of 95 million indigenous peoples throughout the Western hemisphere.
RE: Why White People Are Afraid - yeti - 11-19-2011 03:37 AM
(11-19-2011 03:20 AM)mexika Wrote: what button? Happy thanksGiving! hmmmmm
Try changing your forum theme. Some of them have a Thanks button under every post. The forum keeps track of how many thanks each member gives and receives.
RE: Why White People Are Afraid - mexika - 11-30-2011 08:07 PM
(11-17-2011 03:32 PM)April Wrote:(11-17-2011 01:09 PM)thokling Wrote: There appears to be a common theme across Mexika's posts. (And, for the record, Mexika has given 35 thanks and has received none. The latter part helps to indicate how much support exists for Mexika's posts.)
RE: Why White People Are Afraid - April - 11-30-2011 09:47 PM
(11-30-2011 08:07 PM)mexika Wrote:(11-17-2011 03:32 PM)April Wrote:(11-17-2011 01:09 PM)thokling Wrote: There appears to be a common theme across Mexika's posts. (And, for the record, Mexika has given 35 thanks and has received none. The latter part helps to indicate how much support exists for Mexika's posts.)
RE: Why White People Are Afraid - Dunamis - 11-30-2011 11:24 PM
And of course, you may have noticed the Thanks System has gone now (not compatible with a recent MyBB update), but the reputation system is back, without the ability to give negative ratings, now possible with the same MyBB update, only neutral and positive reputations can now be given, as it simply created unneeded tension in the past.
RE: Why White People Are Afraid - Hans Olo - 12-01-2011 12:49 PM
(11-17-2011 04:25 PM)ToddTraf Wrote: Being white has never gotten me any privilages or special treatment.
I hate to be the white knight in shining armor here, (pun intended) but come on, you must be kidding. How can you really tell the difference? Have you been black for a couple of years and now quit? You're saying you've been arrested and all that, I'm guessing if you were black, you'd still be in jail for a minor offence a white boy only gets a slap on the wrist for.
Louis CK - Being White
Quote: If you're white and you don't admit that it's great, you're an asshole.
RE: Why White People Are Afraid - ToddTraf - 12-01-2011 02:29 PM
(12-01-2011 12:49 PM)Hans Olo Wrote:Yes there is a difference and I could include many examples from my life for proof. But you are just playing hate and are just serving as devils advocate. Read my post again. Being White has never gotten, "ME" special treatment. I have not been fortunate enough to have experianced any magical white powers. Louis CK is not doing the world any favors with his black-white routines.(11-17-2011 04:25 PM)ToddTraf Wrote: Being white has never gotten me any privilages or special treatment.
RE: Why White People Are Afraid - Hans Olo - 12-01-2011 04:14 PM
Again, Todd, how do you know that YOU weren't treated differently? Maybe you too would've been worse off being black. You can't know how your life would have played out in an alternate universe, you just can't. Have you been black for a while? How do you tell the difference? Your examples don't matter because you can't show us how those would have played out were you black. It's pointless.
RE: Why White People Are Afraid - mexika - 12-02-2011 01:13 AM
(12-01-2011 02:29 PM)ToddTraf Wrote:(12-01-2011 12:49 PM)Hans Olo Wrote:Yes there is a difference and I could include many examples from my life for proof. But you are just playing hate and are just serving as devils advocate. Read my post again. Being White has never gotten, "ME" special treatment. I have not been fortunate enough to have experianced any magical white powers. Louis CK is not doing the world any favors with his black-white routines.(11-17-2011 04:25 PM)ToddTraf Wrote: Being white has never gotten me any privilages or special treatment.
then why call urself white, if its not working for you?