White people made everything about race
OPINION: Whenever we talk about our experiences as Black people in this country, white people always want to ask “why is everything about race?” Because your ancestors made it so.
Editor’s note: The following article is an op-ed, and the views expressed are the author’s own. Read more opinions on theGrio.
Last week, I wrote about the way people online and white legacy media responded to Angela Bassett’s very real reaction to being snubbed by the Oscars for the second time in her long and storied career.
While most people understood the points I made, a very specific subset of white people showed up to ask me why I made it about race.
We get this question any time we speak about our experience as Black people in this country. The very people who benefit from the social and power construct of race always want to know why those who are marginalized by it talk about it. Don’t believe me? Read the comments on this post on my personal website.
Not only does a white man named Luther come to argue with me about how white people also experience racism (they don’t), but he goes on to make the assertion that he doesn’t see any point in getting into the “semantics” or “hard distinctions” between the terms “racism,” “bigotry,” and “prejudice.”
And as a white person who is shielded by whiteness, he doesn’t have to. He doesn’t have to consider the very real implications of it all because they don’t impact him in the same way they impact marginalized groups.
I was having this discussion with theGrio columnist Michael Harriot, and he pointed out how upset white people got when Issa Rae said she was “rooting for everybody Black,” and it’s because they make everything about race — while simultaneously claiming it’s what we do.
He asked, “Do you know how obsessed with race you must be to believe white people are the best actor, actress, director, writers, and producers 95% of the time?
“Black people created rock, jazz, hip-hop and every form of American music,” he added. “You’d have to be completely consumed by whiteness to believe that Black artists have only made 11 albums worthy of album of the year.”
White privilege is a helluva drug.
Before I get started, let me be clear about one thing: All white people have white privilege.
Whenever white privilege comes up as a topic, there are always white people who want to claim they don’t have it because they are poor or uneducated or whatever excuse they come up with to try and distance themselves from the very thing that gives them a leg up no matter their class or circumstance.
White privilege is an inherent gift that all white people benefit from just by virtue of being white. You can put a poor white person in the same space as a poor Black person, and the white person is going to be viewed as somehow better no matter their station.
White privilege is about opportunity.
Being the smartest, most educated and experienced person applying doesn’t guarantee a Black person will get a job, but a mediocre white person can get a job over them because of white privilege.
A Black person with good credit and a large bank account still can’t live anywhere they want, but a white person can.
You can be a Black person with no criminal history, and that still doesn’t guarantee that people won’t view you as a criminal.
It doesn’t work the same way for white people, and that is a direct result of white privilege.
You can try to deny it all you want, but it’s true, and denying it only makes you complicit in the way it negatively affects marginalized people, so go ahead and own up to it if you claim you are not like those other whites.
Race is a social construct.
The idea of race is a social construct that was created by white people a long time ago. There have been papers and essays and articles written about both race, racism and the harmful effects both have on those classified as non-white time and time again.
White people created race as a classification system to make themselves superior to everyone else. It was used as a justification for the colonization of non-European countries as well as the subjugation of African peoples who were stolen from their continent in the transatlantic slave trade. This is a fact, and you can try to deny this as well, but you will only run yourself in circles and make yourself look silly while attempting to do so. This is yet another thing white people need to go ahead and admit.
By extension, racism is a power construct that is used to uphold whiteness and white supremacy.
Most white people rely heavily on a very simplistic definition of racism, one that says that racism involves mistreating or believing another person is inferior on the basis of their race. Usually, that is the first line of the definition in the dictionary.
If they were to read a little further or make the effort of digging a little deeper, they would also understand that racism is a power construct and “the systemic oppression of a racial group to the social, economic, and political advantage of another,” which Merriam-Webster considers a synonym of white supremacy.
White people find it easier to go with the first definition, however, because they believe it absolves them of any complicity in white supremacy as long as they personally are not using the n-word or being mean to the darkies — and that is so ridiculous it is insulting.
White people refuse to understand the concept of whiteness.
The concept of “whiteness” is one that seems to be lost on a lot of white people as a whole.
The mere mention of “whiteness” puts them on the defensive, and they act as though you are attacking the entirety of white people or their white skin and not the idea of whiteness as a social construct that is directly attached to the social construct of race and the power construct of racism.
As the National Museum of African American History and Culture explains it:
Whiteness and white racialized identity refer to the way that white people, their customs, culture, and beliefs operate as the standard by which all other groups are compared. Whiteness is also at the core of understanding race in America. Whiteness and the normalization of white racial identity throughout America’s history have created a culture where nonwhite persons are seen as inferior or abnormal.
This white-dominant culture also operates as a social mechanism that grants advantages to white people, since they can navigate society both by feeling normal and being viewed as normal. Persons who identify as white rarely have to think about their racial identity because they live within a culture where whiteness has been normalized.
NMAAHC includes a quote from our beloved Toni Morrison that encapsulates this perfectly. Morrison said, “In this country, American means white. Everybody else has to hyphenate.”
I’ll give you a moment to let that sink in.
My insightful friend Michael Harriot made me realize that like whiteness, everything is a social construct.
“You can’t spend Monopoly money, make your own Jordans or pawn cubic zirconia because we created social constructs that assign value to things that are ‘real’ and make ‘fake’ things less valuable,” he said.
“But why can you be arrested for printing your own money or selling fake Jordans?” he asked.
“Because powerful people can make laws to enforce arbitrary social constructs,” he continued. “Whiteness is cryptocurrency. Blackness is a Chuck E. Cheese token. Whiteness is a Louboutin slipper. Blackness is Dollar Tree house shoes. Whiteness is an uncut diamond. Blackness is a piece of coal. They’re all real. Whiteness just has a better marketing department.
“White people created the ad campaign and now they’re mad because people stopped believing that whiteness is a luxury item. We always knew,” he added.
White people started race and racism, and it’s up to them to fix it.
The bottom line is whiteness, Blackness, and all the other “nesses” were started by white people as a way to create a social, political, economical, and cultural hierarchy where white is the default and everything else is an “other.”
White people don’t have to think or focus on this because they directly benefit from it. It doesn’t have the same negative impacts on them that it has for everyone else.
As a Black woman in America, the money I earn, the health care I receive, and all the projected outcomes in all areas of my life are predicated on my “race.”
The expectations for how I conduct myself, how I show up in my daily life, how I respond to things that happen to me — all of these things are viewed through the lens of whiteness and what whiteness dictates is acceptable.
So when I say that the rhetoric surrounding Angela Bassett’s very real emotional response to losing her Oscar bid this year was rooted in whiteness, that’s not an opinion. It’s a factual statement.
We didn’t create these systems of oppression. White people did. And whether you as a white person had anything to do with it personally is immaterial at this point.
Whether you as a white person are personally responsible for the subjugation of Black people and other people of color is immaterial.
Telling Black people to “stop making everything about race” is the most throw-a-rock-and-hide-your-hand kind of b.s. a white person with privilege can do.
Instead of directing your ire at us for raising the issue, consider using your considerable privilege to help dismantle the systems and institutions that keep these types of things happening to us.
If you find yourself unwilling to do that, then you are a part of the problem.
Black people didn’t create race or racism. White people did.
We didn’t make it about race. White people did.
And it’s not up to us to fix it either.
That’s on y’all.
Monique Judge is a storyteller, content creator and writer living in Los Angeles. She is a word nerd who is a fan of the Oxford comma, spends way too much time on Twitter, and has more graphic t-shirts than you. Follow her on Twitter @thejournalista or check her out at moniquejudge.com.
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