“before we both admit we never care unless we’re close to”
I like identity labels – and i know that can be controversial and an interesting subject in itself, but that is not today’s topic. I like labels, and i claim a number of them. Off the top of my head: southern, queer, femme, nerd, kinky (though i don’t always claim that in public), handyman, housewife(wannabe), conservative, progressive. Whatever. I could keep going, or cut it short, as i do on the rare occasions it actually comes up. Because even as someone who feels strongly about her labels, i don’t tend to take them overly seriously either.
But i have been thinking seriously about claiming whiteness as an identity. Perhaps i didn’t include that in my list because it never ocurred to me to do so, but i think, more accurately, i rejected it so quickly that i didn’t realize i had even thought about it.
On stopping to think about it recently, all of those automatic, subconscious negatives were the first to come to mind. Claiming an identity is a matter of pride, and in my world “white pride” puts a very ugly taste in my mouth. If that isn’t clear, take a look at the Southern Poverty Law Center’s list of “active hate groups” in the US (in fact, take a look at it no matter what). Not all, but vast majority race-related. In the two states i call home they tally around 90. And then there is the matter of the less sickening, more pervasive white-middle-class racism – the “they” comments and “i’m not racist, but…” There is a lot of pervasive in-between here, too; people whose racism is strictly verbal, but who make none of the above efforts to cover for it.
Knowledge of these things is so fully ingrained in me that i didn’t need to spell them out to know that i want to do pretty much anything i can to distance myself from all that. I already am southern and white, which puts me in kind of a defensive position without pushing the matter by claiming these things. (I went through similar thought processes, mostly subconsciously, on claiming southern, but it was easier to find counters in positive things about the south, experiences living elsewhere, and the simple fact that southern, while closely related to race issues, is not a race, or tied to any race.) Okay, the white guilt was the easy part. Moving on.
On the other hand, it is extremely privileged to not consider race when thinking about myself. The very fact of being white and not including that fact when i identify myself propagates the idea that white is the default or the norm; it is inherently othering of non-white.
Consider, also, that most of the people of color i know do identify themselves by race, ethnicity or culture. There is a significant difference between that and my identifying as white, though. One of the major purposes, or at least effects, of purposefully identifying as a POC is to force a place in white (by default) spaces. I don’t have to do that, because my whiteness has a space made for it (all the space not specifically claimed otherwise). But i should have to do that. If i identify myself and my space at the table as white the end result, broadly, is minimal – i can’t change the amout of space being taken up by whiteness. But i can change the amount of space being taken up by space that is white by default. And there is a small – but very important – difference.
That, i think, is my main impetus for claiming white as a part of my identity. I can also hope that it serves to take a little bit of whiteness back from all the ugly stereotypes that made me nervous about it in the first palce. I also think that giving up to all of the negatives i first mentioned is, again, giving in to privilege by avoiding situations or perceptions that make me uncomfortable.
Not that i’m quite there yet; avoidance is an expertise of mine, and i am rather afraid of being misconstrued.
This also brings up the question of claiming other privileged identities. Another time.
"Black Superman" - Jude