Rather than defend against the charge, Justin Cascio attempts to define and possess his Whiteness.
I was so excited to receive Bill Johnson’s column this week on racial color blindness, that I couldn’t wait to respond. Is Whiteness invisible? It wasn’t to me, and I wrote pages of personal history in which race played a role. Yet, I found I had written an unpublishable mess. I’d walked right into the trap I hoped to avoid, of defending against White identity, taking one popular defensive stance after another: I’m not as White as other people. I’m made aware of my Whiteness at times and it makes me uncomfortable. I’ve wished racism could go away and stop making me feel so bad for things outside my control.
The issue of racism in the world is clearly too much for any one person to tackle, particularly not in one essay, but I found even the racism in myself is too large a subject to take on all at once.
Shedding the racism that is still in my actions and attitudes is a journey that I’m excited to be on. But even while I’m thrilled when I feel like I’m making progress, I can stall again in fear of shame. To connect with White identity feels like complicity in White history. I’ve studied human history through lenses of women’s rights, welfare, media, and environmentalism. I have told my own story at different times from various outsider perspectives, but I have other stories, as an American, and a white person, and a man, who has tried to walk away from the shame of each of these labels. During the Bush years, I considered emigrating to Canada. I spent a few happy years in the Aughties passing as Hispanic in neighborhoods in New York and New Jersey. Years before, feminism both enlightened me to the possibilities for my gender expression, and gave me impetus to try, for a few more years, to find a female identity I could live with.
As a trans man, like many other feminist trans men, I was sure I could bring some kind of pure goodness to manhood: that as an enlightened man I would lead men out of darkness into the feminist light of higher consciousness. Fifteen years later, I know that I landed like the pigs in the final pages of Animal Farm, in the same conspiracy of privilege that every man is born into, and while I was different for my history, it could be invisible, even when I most wanted to make a difference. Strange women continue to cross the street to avoid me, especially at night. They have no idea I’m a man who wants the world to be safe for us both.
If I moved to another country, I would be an expatriate, translating and converting, until I allowed myself to change, to let go of concerns with American politics or the “right” way to measure. In my struggles with faith, gender, and identity, I came to an understanding of myself that includes the facts that I am American and white, and regarded myself this way long before I had the courage to attach the labels to it. In this way I hope to transform what Whiteness means for me.
I have a history as a White person. I wrote half an autobiography about being White in my first attempt to respond, but my history isn’t the point. It’s that I have one, and if you are a White person reading this, so do you, and it’s nothing to be ashamed of.
Just the last 500 years of American history is enough to make me want to disavow everything the patriarchy stands for in my life, from Europe’s Manifest Destiny to fill the American continents (which they had emptied with disease, ignorance, and violence), to my own Manifest Destiny to have a more successful capitalist life than my father’s: a higher paying white collar job, a bigger house, higher achieving wife and kids. It’s easy to get caught up in defenses against Whiteness, and avoid looking at my own experience as a White man. Easier to say that I don’t believe in Whiteness, anymore, while acknowledging that I’m still a White guy. Do I believe anything about what it means to be a White man, to replace the dreams of my fathers?
There is one thing: I believe that it is my responsibility to use the privilege that comes to me, to make the world better for people who struggle under the injustice of the system that makes my life so comparatively easy. Some people think it’s wasteful that I use that power to enlighten White men. Haven’t they got enough? Not enough enlightenment, if any of us are still complicit in the system. I wish to make it possible for men to talk about gender, and white men to talk about race, from their personal experiences. In this way, we can begin to pull our own weight in struggles against injustice and oppression.
Institutionalized racism perpetuates these ideas that white people don’t have a race to investigate, or aren’t interested in the subject. It’s my opinion that White people need to talk more about what it is like to be White instead of accepting the answer that such talk has already been done for them by mainstream society. We should no more accept a produced image of what our identities are than people of color should.
Let’s talk about it. There are people of every race who are yearning to have this dialogue.
Read more On Race.
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