The Idolatry of American Whiteness, by B. Mchie
Back in 2003 I watched a documentary on PBS called Race and the Power of Illusion. It brought back many memories of my life as a black man in America. It also dredged up many sensitive feelings I had and have regarding America’s major cog of racism; color.
Growing up in the 20th century civil rights movement and growing old in the 21st century civil rights movement allows a certain perspective that has value in this blog. I grew up in a mixed neighborhood where on my block there was an interracial couple (white doctor and his black wife) from Michigan, an older black couple from Mississippi and a Korean family just three houses away. We had Mrs. Miller who’s home encompassed two generations of adopted children all of whom I played with regularly as a child. We had a large white family from the Dakota’s whose lineage formed the democratic farmer labor party (DFL) as we know it today, a catholic church (with a shrine), Negro League ball players, Masons, small black business owners and more.
Without adding detail, I wanted to write about the various shades of blackness I grew up with to frame the bricks of identity of these families shared with mine which was color. One of the major psychological ploys of America’s chattel slavery and Jim Crow segregation was the denouncing of blackness. From murder and the “N” word to rape of our women plus sexual and physical exploitation of our men by white women during slavery, to the interpretation of the Willie Lynch speech we remain divided in black America over color and whiteness.
Watching the PBS documentary, I learned there were failed legal attempts by Indian and Asian American immigrants to be legally classified as white. The cases of Takao Ozawa v. United States and United States v. Bhagat Singh Thind were shown. This confirmed my previous knowledge that the psychological agenda of American slavery incudes the coveting of whiteness by those of who are not white. The institution of slavery has a globally history. It is not limited to the west and not new but quite different in America. Currently (though flawed0 the United States has the best working democracy in the world and the American appeal has created a desire for more than citizenship. Its appeal also elevates an idolatry for whiteness too. This daily illusion transcends religion, intimacy, gender, money; in one’s quest for the American dream.
20th century Freedom Riders that I’ve spoken with often talk about how in the deep south where they worked local whites hated the prospects of interracial relationships between black men and white women who were activist. This resentment follows the pattern of raping of black women by slave owners for centuries and is echoed in the chants from whites that “You Will Not Replace Us” heard in Charlottesville in 2017. The permission granted by the administration of the 45th president to make American white again is calling the American black community to figure out answer a very important question. How do blacks co-exist with whites who don’t want us here?
Dr. King articulated the goal of first class citizenship in his “I have a Dream” speech, he was under 40 when he was murdered. Other young men and women in last century’s civil rights movement voiced and acted out similar plans. Dr. King also questioned whites as allies in his letter from a Birmingham jail and we see clearly that disconnect over color privilege remains today. As whiteness is coveted, any live and let live American reality with blackness is compromised. Suggestion: Without a more focused American black family unit or giving pre-school children a warm, loving diverse guided daily foundation African America may not be able to answer this question.
Finally, an opinion for those of us who have white parents, grandparents, white blood in our family etc. Whiteness was written America’s articles of confederation. Idolizing whiteness is an individual choice one that has costs no matter how many adjustments we make with that throughout life. The concept of whiteness is a moral fact of the United States. For African America to take inventory of it with our personal health as a priority we may want to admire and idolize being black more.