This is an image that was floating around on my newsfeed today. When I first saw it, it made me angry. I was angry because I have never done any of these things. I have never been in favor of slavery, I have never decided that any people of color are any sort of way. Why is it always all white people? Why do I get painted by this brush just because I am a few shades pale of the undead? I have never done anything to intentionally be racist or support racism in my life.
I have however, judged people based on their differences before. While it never had anything to do with anyone’s skin color, I nevertheless judged their choices. Or perhaps I should be clear, I judged what I perceived as choices that I believed that they had made.
I never really grew up with a lot of radical or different sort of people. Yes there were people of color in my childhood, but we didn’t treat each other any differently because of that, as far as I know.
What we did was judge people on their choices. Their branch of Christianity, the way that they dressed, how they lived, their grades, who they hang out with, and what they want to be when they grow up, your sexual orientation… all of these things. Heaven for bid if you didn’t have a branch of Christianity for us to judge. Or that you were in love with your best friend who was of the same sex. Or that you were friends with multiple crowds of people (Goths and Cheerleaders together? Who are you?!).
Almost all of that though, was not a true choice that any of these people made. You didn’t choose what your religion was when you’re a child, it was whatever your parents did or did not teach you. You do not choose, in my opinion, your sexuality. Your sexuality is whatever is presented in your mind by your specific brain, body, soul, being chemistry. Most of the time I didn’t even choose my friends, they were the people who were willing to talk to me when the others would not.
And in class, we learned history from the victors point of view. We talked about the Native Americans suffering in our country during Colonization, but we never talked about how The Country, our country, backed out on promises and treaties.
We never talked about anything as something that was presently occurring, only as something that had been in the past and dealt with. Ended. No More.
I suppose it was very idyllic for everyone.
But in the recent years, I’ve been thinking about how things were quite black-and-white. For instance, when I entered school and they started classifying our races, my parents asked the school what I should be classified as. The school replied that I looked white, so I should put down I was Caucasian. The problem became a few years later, when my sister was born, what she was because she did not look Caucasian. Because I had been told to put down Caucasian, and we had/have the same parents, she also had to put down Caucasian.
Was that right? I really don’t know.
But that was the sort of place we lived in, and that’s how things had to be.
It was only recently that I discovered that things were not as I had been taught. And at first I was very angry. I was angry that no one told me, I was angry that someone had to tell me, and I was angry because I was ignorant. I was also angry that it was somehow my fault for things I never had control of.
Later, I became sad. Sad that so much of my cultural identity was based on untruths. Thanksgiving is a lie. (No, the sentiments are real. Yes, we should celebrate togetherness.) There were concentration camps on American soil. My grandfather left tribal lands for reasons that should not have happened. Our country can just decide to break treaties with the original inhabitants of our country. I was sad because I realized that a lot of people who look like me did bad things and because they did bad things it was assumed by a lot of people that I must have to. That this evil was in my DNA. It did not matter that I am only the third generation of my family to live in this country. That my ancestors came over in the 1920s (and became Naturalized in the late 1950’s). The ancestors that did not come over in the 1920s are a part of the original habitants of this continent. As for my mother’s side of the family, as far as I know, they’ve always been too poor to have owned anyone. I do not know if any of my ancestors were racially motivated to behave in any sort of way, or who fought for what side when.
I do know that my father was taught to hand back money to cashiers using both hands as to show that he was not holding a weapon. I understand his father, who was raised on a reservation, taught him this. I was also taught this, even though this is never been something I have ever had to worry about. Other than this, no other struggles were told to me. We did not discuss life prior to the Korean War. For many reasons. (That’s neither here nor there)
After I felt sad about what happened in our country’s past, I became worried. How can I make sure that my son, being a white male, grows up in this country valuing all lives as he values his own? How can we still celebrate all of these things that are within our cultural identity- Thanksgiving, Fourth of July, the institution of our government and presidential choices, many past presidents who were also honestly horrible people? The people who created our country murdered millions of people. They stole from millions of people. We only have the things we have today because of horrible atrocities. Sure, yes there were good and honest folk and I am not trying to down play the good honest folk that lived here. Yes indeed even bad people do good things. Yes, I cannot possibly comprehend the stresses of the time. But those good honest folk bought land that wasn’t theirs to buy. This is true, no matter how I do or do not feel about it. It is done.
It’s not like we can just all leave and give it back and everything will be OK. It just doesn’t work like that. That wouldn’t really solve anything (except the Pipeline, but again, another post).
So how do I teach my son to be a white male in our country?
The only thing I can think of is to teach him that every single person’s life is worth as much as his own. This is going to be extremely hard concept. This is going to be extremely hard concept even to myself, because I am so afraid of dying. I don’t think I am worth more than someone else, but I’m also not so sure that I could just jump in front of a bullet or push them out-of-the-way of a speeding vehicle.
I think that’s the part that wounds my sensibilities the most; I am not as selfless as I should be. I am not as worthy a person as I should be. I am certainly not as amazing, deserving, and long-suffering as all of the people in the past that deserve to have lived an equal life.
And yet here I am, raising a white male.
I am now at the point, where I feel guilty. Guilty that I do not do more. The only problem is, I’m not sure what I can do. I know that I am classified as a part of the “We,” purely by accident of birth.
I know a lot of people feel like they’re being told they should be ashamed of their roots. A lot of people I know, who are of the white middle-class, feel like they’re being told that because they are Caucasian that they have done something wrong. That they have done something wrong and they should not celebrate their heritage. They feel like they’re being told that the way they think and they feel is not important because it’s wrong. But this is not what I think the goal is. I don’t think that thinking black lives matter means that white lives matter less. And I think a lot of the people I know, this is what they believe: that they should feel shame over their cultural heritage.
Even though I hope I have never displayed any actions that support any of the things accused in the graphic above, I cannot say that I am doing anything to change the conversation. To add another section that says “now in we are at a point in our history that it has really become OUR history, because every voice matters, because every life is equal, because we all understand that no one is above anyone else, and judgment is something that we should not go dole out based on things we could not have possibly chosen for ourselves.”
I am simply not sure what to do, all I am is aware. I am aware, and I am listening. I am aware, and I am posting, and reading, and talking about, and trying to understand. And I am wrong most of the time, and I do not always understand. I most likly piss off a great deal of people. Most often, I misunderstand. I understand it’s not all about me and for me. But I am aware. I want to have dialogs with all sorts of different people, not so that they can tell me how to think. Not so I can shame them or shame myself. Not so I can feel better about my privilege. That privilege is there whether I want to be or not, simply because of the color of my skin.
But again, we cannot help to what we were born. The only thing we can help is how we live. So I will keep trying to understand and raise a good man.
If I have offended anyone, this was not my intention. I truly would love to have a conversation about this, so that I can understand your point of view and so that I can do better for my son. One of my goals is to leave this world better than I found it. I don’t have to do something grand, I don’t have to change the world. But I do understand you can change my world so that I may make decisions in my own life that will affect others. It would be better if I make an educated influence instead of a bumbling misinformed one.