Every Day, Chip Away At De-Centering Whiteness

8 Aug

I really want to say, take big chunks; take a sledge hammer and demo away at that center.  But, I know de-centering whiteness will take time. As I vision in my head another dimension of existence that we have not yet lived here in the United States, as I imagine our world without “white culture” as the norm, or center, two aspects of centered whiteness come to mind:

First is the unconscious existence of white people to not notice that we are at the center of everything in this country. Yet, we engineered it to be so. Because of that we have the luxury to not notice that we can move through this world so fluidly. We can take for granted, and we do, how easily we can live where we want to live, work where we want to work, go to school where we want to go to school, and spend our leisure time where we want to. And, for the most part, we can do all of this surrounded by mostly other white people. We can live, work, and play in mostly white spaces where we feel comfortable surrounded by people who look like us. And our museums, and movies, and our news channels, will reflect all of this back to us, and tell us that our existence this way is real, and it is good. It is our normal.

The second is the centering of whiteness in order to keep whiteness at the top, which, over the centuries caused white people to internalize the idea that black and brown people are lesser than, and are dangerous. It is a centering of whiteness that says who goes to what schools, who lives in which neighborhood, whose neighborhood has a liquor store on every corner, whose neighborhood has a Whole Foods, who gets the business loan, who gets the mortgage, who gets the job, who gets good healthcare, who we get to see on television, in movies, in plays, who works in the film and television industry, whose art we see in our art galleries and museums, whose art is considered quaint or folk, who owns the art, who is sitting around the corporate board room table, who is called intelligent, who is called cocky, who is called passionate, who is called angry, who can kneel, who can stand their ground, who gets told to “shut up and dribble,” who gets clean water, who can sell water, who can easily vote, who makes bail, who goes to jail, who can grow weed, who can deal weed, who can profit from weed, who can swim in what swimming pool with or without socks on, who can study in their Ivy League residence, who can wait for a business meeting in Starbucks, who can cookout in a public park, who can get pulled over and leave with a warning or speeding ticket, who can protect their wife and child in a parking lot, who can play with a toy gun, who can carry a BB gun in a Wal-Mart, who can ask a stranger for help after their car breaks down, who can run back to their grandmother’s house, who can sell loose cigarettes, and who can walk home from a convenience store. And our museums, and our movies, and our news channels will reflect all this back to us, and tell us that we have much to be afraid of.

You can say that’s not centered whiteness, that’s racism. But it is whiteness’s perception in looking at black and brown bodies, without facial recognition. We look right past the person. Instead, our racialized thoughts which stem from seeing ourselves as the center and representative of goodness, have us perceive those black and brown bodies as  inferior, as dangerous. What we see is not white, is not ourselves and that frightens us. We must protect ourselves. From what? We must keep ourselves, and all that we have for ourselves, or else, we will lose our footing. Lose what?  This reminds me of a line my brother-in-law who works in city planning would say as he imagined the philosophy of a white-bubble gated community resident: “it’s not that we’re trying to keep the bad out, it’s that we’re trying to keep the good in.”

There is much more I need to educate myself on, and many discussions I need to engage in, to learn how we can replace the norm of “white culture” with a multi-racial center, and to do away with the natural inclination to see as other, members of racial, ethnic, sexual orientation, abled, gender expression groups considered to be outside of that center. But each one of us white people can do our own part every day to begin chipping away at de-centering whiteness.

We can:

Notice it. Become conscious. Realize that you are at the center by the virtue of being born with white skin privilege. Realize that your point-of-view is considered the mainstream point-of-view encompassing cultural, moral, business, educational,  and social etiquette norms.

Speak on it. For example, the next time you are at that staff meeting and everyone around the table looks like you, and you are making decisions to impact people who don’t look like you, speak up. What will you say?  How about something like, “hmmm, we are talking about cultural competence and inclusion, yet we are a homogenous group without individuals representative of the community we are discussing. What can we do about that?”

Change it. Change yourself. Be vigilant every moment of every day, and notice yourself casting yourself as the center in all of your business and personal interactions. Now, close your eyes for a moment and envision yourself on a continuum with black and brown people and other white people, and you are not at the center, and you all keep moving along at an even, equal pace, and you are all seen, and all heard, and the voices and the movements and the way of doing things may be different from one another, but you are all listening and collaborating and connecting and appreciating and accepting and no one voice is louder than the other, and the way each person sees the world is valued, and each person has something to contribute and each person does contribute, and because you realize you had so much more, you share all that you had to make up for the centuries of taking and having it all. And you de-center your neighborhoods, your schools, your businesses, your art institutions, your banks, and you say hello to the person on your left, and you say how do you do to the person on your right. And you are not afraid anymore because you see the person, not the body, and you realize you had nothing to lose, and everything to gain, and I know I sound like a dreamy idealist, but I also know this must happen, so that our history books will include all the missing chapters, and so that our art can truly sing and transform, and the young man can get home safely to his grandmother, and young women who get into car accidents can count on the stranger to help them, and teenage boys can wear hoodies and go to the convenience store and walk home and enjoy time with their fathers. And our museums and our movies and our news channels will reflect all of this back to us, and you will know you have done the work that was your job to do.







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