Rasta TimesCHAT ROOMArticles/ArchiveRaceAndHistory RootsWomen Trinicenter
Africa Speaks.com Africa Speaks HomepageAfrica Speaks.comAfrica Speaks.comAfrica Speaks.com
InteractiveLeslie VibesAyanna RootsRas TyehimbaTriniView.comGeneral Forums
Welcome, Guest. Please login or register.
February 22, 2024, 12:39:58 PM

Login with username, password and session length
Search:     Advanced search
25908 Posts in 9964 Topics by 982 Members Latest Member: - Ferguson Most online today: 36 (July 03, 2005, 06:25:30 PM)
+  Africa Speaks Reasoning Forum
| |-+  Essays and Reasonings (Moderators: Tyehimba, leslie)
| | |-+  White People's Burden
« previous next »
Pages: [1] Print
Author Topic: White People's Burden  (Read 12954 times)
Posts: 1531

« on: September 01, 2005, 09:58:55 PM »

By Robert Jensen, uts.cc.utexas.edu.

It's time for white Americans to fully acknowledge that in the racial arena, they are the problem.

The United States is a white country. By that I don't just mean that the majority of its citizens are white, though they are (for now but not forever). What makes the United States white is not the fact that most Americans are white but the assumption -- especially by people with power -- that American equals white. Those people don't say it outright. It comes out in subtle ways. Or, sometimes, in ways not so subtle.

Here's an example: I'm in line at a store, unavoidably eavesdropping on two white men in front of me, as one tells the other about a construction job he was on. He says: "There was this guy and three Mexicans standing next to the truck." From other things he said, it was clear that "this guy" was Anglo, white, American. It also was clear from the conversation that this man had not spoken to the "three Mexicans" and had no way of knowing whether they were Mexicans or U.S. citizens of Mexican heritage.

It didn't matter. The "guy" was the default setting for American: Anglo, white. The "three Mexicans" were not Anglo, not white, and therefore not American. It wasn't "four guys standing by a truck." It was "a guy and three Mexicans." The race and/or ethnicity of the four men were irrelevant to the story he was telling. But the storyteller had to mark it. It was important that "the guy" not be confused with "the three Mexicans."

Here's another example, from the Rose Garden. At a 2004 news conference outside the White House, President George W. Bush explained that he believed democracy would come to Iraq over time:

"There's a lot of people in the world who don't believe that people whose skin color may not be the same as ours can be free and self-govern. I reject that. I reject that strongly. I believe that people who practice the Muslim faith can self-govern. I believe that people whose skins aren't necessarily -- are a different color than white can self-govern."

It appears the president intended the phrase "people whose skin color may not be the same as ours" to mean people who are not from the United States. That skin color he refers to that is "ours," he makes it clear, is white. Those people not from the United States are "a different color than white." So, white is the skin color of the United States. That means those whose skin is not white but are citizens of the United States are ...? What are they? Are they members in good standing in the nation, even if "their skin color may not be the same as ours"?

This is not simply making fun of a president who sometimes mangles the English language. This time he didn't misspeak, and there's nothing funny about it. He did seem to get confused when he moved from talking about skin color to religion (does he think there are no white Muslims?), but it seems clear that he intended to say that brown people -- Iraqis, Arabs, Muslims, people from the Middle East, whatever the category in his mind -- can govern themselves, even though they don't look like us. And "us" is clearly white. In making this magnanimous proclamation of faith in the capacities of people in other parts of the world, in proclaiming his belief in their ability to govern themselves, he made one thing clear: The United States is white. Or, more specifically, being a real "American" is being white. So, what do we do with citizens of the United States who aren't white?

That's the question for which this country has never quite found an answer: What do white "Americans" do with those who share the country but aren't white? What do we do with peoples we once tried to exterminate? People we once enslaved? People we imported for labor and used like animals to build railroads? People we still systematically exploit as low-wage labor? All those people -- indigenous, African, Asian, Latino -- can obtain the legal rights of citizenship. That's a significant political achievement in some respects, and that popular movements that forced the powerful to give people those rights give us the most inspiring stories in U.S. history.

The degree to which many white people in one generation dramatically shifted their worldview to see people they once considered to be subhuman as political equals is not trivial, no matter how deep the problems of white supremacy we still live with.In many comparable societies, problems of racism are as ugly, if not uglier, than in the United States. If you doubt that, ask a Turk what it is like to live in Germany, an Algerian what it's like to live in France, a black person what it's like to live in Japan. We can acknowledge the gains made in the United States -- always understanding those gains came because non-white people, with some white allies, forced society to change -- while still acknowledging the severity of the problem that remains.

But it doesn't answer the question: What do white "Americans" do with those who share the country but aren't white?

We can pretend that we have reached "the end of racism" and continue to ignore the question. But that's just plain stupid. We can acknowledge that racism still exists and celebrate diversity, but avoid the political, economic, and social consequences of white supremacy. But, frankly, that's just as stupid. The fact is that most of the white population of the United States has never really known what to do with those who aren't white. Let me suggest a different approach.

Let's go back to the question that W.E.B. Du Bois said he knew was on the minds of white people. In the opening of his 1903 classic, The Souls of Black Folk, Du Bois wrote that the real question whites wanted to ask him, but were afraid to, was: "How does it feel to be a problem?" Du Bois was identifying a burden that blacks carried -- being seen by the dominant society not as people but as a problem people, as a people who posed a problem for the rest of society. Du Bois was right to identify "the color line" as the problem of the 20th century. Now, in the 21st century, it is time for whites to self-consciously reverse the direction of that question at heart of color. It's time for white people to fully acknowledge that in the racial arena, we are the problem. We have to ask ourselves: How does it feel to be the problem?

The simple answer: Not very good.

That is the new White People's Burden, to understand that we are the problem, come to terms with what that really means, and act based on that understanding. Our burden is to do something that doesn't seem to come natural to people in positions of unearned power and privilege: Look in the mirror honestly and concede that we live in an unjust society and have no right to some of what we have. We should not affirm ourselves. We should negate our whiteness. Strip ourselves of the illusion that we are special because we are white. Steel ourselves so that we can walk in the world fully conscious and try to see what is usually invisible to us white people. We should learn to ask ourselves, "How does it feel to be the problem?"


Robert Jensen is a journalism professor at the University of Texas at Austin, board member of the Third Coast Activist Resource Center (http://thirdcoastactivist.org), and the author of The Heart of Whiteness: Confronting Race, Racism and White Privilege and Citizens of the Empire: The Struggle to Claim Our Humanity. He can be reached at rjensen@uts.cc.utexas.edu.

Reprinted from:

Posts: 1531

« Reply #1 on: September 10, 2005, 07:14:21 AM »

The Heart of Whiteness

Race Stories


We use terms to label ourselves and others. We struggle over what the terms mean and how they should be applied. But we also define ourselves by the stories we tell. There are two different stories I could tell about myself. Which is true?

Story #1

I was born in a small city in North Dakota, to parents in the lower middle-class who eventually scratched their way to a comfortable middle-class life through hard work. I never went hungry and always had a roof over my head, but I was expected to work, and I did. >From the time I started shoveling snow as a kid, to part-time and summer jobs, through my professional career, I worked hard. From the time I was old enough to hold a steady job, I have held one. I was a conscientious student who studied hard and took school seriously. I went to college and did fairly well, taking a year off in the middle to work full-time. After graduation I worked as a journalist, in non-glamorous jobs for modest wages, working hard to learn a craft. I went on to get a master's degree and returned to work before eventually pursuing a doctorate so I could teach at the university level. I got a job at a major university and worked hard to get tenure. I'm still there today, still working hard.

Story #2

I was born in a small city in North Dakota, to white parents in the lower middle-class who eventually scratched their way to a comfortable middle-class life through hard work. The city I grew up in was almost all white. It was white because the indigenous population that once lived there was either exterminated or pushed onto reservations. It was extremely cold in the winter there, which was okay, people would joke, because it "kept the riff-raff out." It was understood that riff-raff meant people who weren't willing to work hard, or non-white people. The assumption was there was considerable overlap in the two groups.

I was educated in a well-funded and virtually all-white school system, where I was taught a variety of skills, including how to take standardized tests written by and for white people. In those schools my accomplishments were applauded and could be seen as part of a long line of accomplishments of people who looked like me. I mostly studied the history of people who look like me. Indigenous people were mostly a footnote.

I worked in part-time and summer jobs for which I was hired by other white people. One of those jobs was in a warehouse owned by a white man with whom my father did business. In that warehouse, we sometimes hired day labor to help us unload trucks. One of the adult men we hired was Indian. His name was Dave. We called him "Indian Dave." I, along with other white teenage boys working there, called him Indian Dave. We didn't give it a second thought.

I went to college in mostly white institutions. I had mostly white professors. I graduated and got jobs. In every job I have ever had, I was interviewed by a white person. Every boss I have ever had (until my current supervisor, who was hired three years ago) has been white. I was hired for my current teaching position at the predominantly white University of Texas, which had a white president, in a college headed by a white dean, and in a department with a white chairman that at the time had one non-white tenured professor.

I have made many mistakes in my life. But to the best of my knowledge, when I have screwed up in my school or work life, no one has ever suggested that my failures were in any way connected to my being white.

True stories

Both of those stories are true. The question is, can we recognize the truth in both of them? Can we accept that many white people have worked hard to accomplish things, and that those people's accomplishments were made possible in part because they were white in a white-supremacist society? Like almost everyone, I have overcome certain hardships in my life. I have worked hard to get where I am, and I work hard to stay there. But to feel good about myself and my work, I do not have to believe that "merit" alone, as defined by white people in a white-supremacist country, got me here. I can acknowledge that in addition to all that hard work, I got a significant boost from white privilege, which continues to protect me every day of my life from certain hardships.

At one time in my life, I would not have been able to say that, because I needed to believe that my success in life was due solely to my individual talent and effort. I saw myself as the heroic American, the rugged individualist. I was so deeply seduced by the culture's mythology that I couldn't see the fear that was binding me to those myths, the fear that maybe I didn't really deserve my success, that maybe luck and privilege had more to do with it than brains and hard work. I was afraid I wasn't heroic or rugged, that I wasn't special.

I let go of some of that fear when I realized that, indeed, I wasn't special, but that I was still me. What I do well, I still can take pride in, even when I know that the rules under which I work are stacked in my benefit. Until we let go of the fiction that people have complete control over their fate -- that we can will ourselves to be anything we choose -- then we should expect to live with that fear. Yes, we should all dream big and pursue our dreams and not let anyone or anything stop us. But we all are the product both of what we will ourselves to be and what the society in which we live encourages and allows us to be. We should struggle against the constraints that people and institutions sometimes put on us, but those constraints are real, they are often racialized, and they have real effects on people.


This essay is excerpted from The Heart of Whiteness: Confronting Race, Racism and White Privilege, City Lights Books.

Robert Jensen is a professor of journalism at the University of Texas at Austin. He can be reached at rjensen@uts.cc.utexas.edu.

Posts: 19

« Reply #2 on: September 24, 2005, 02:20:07 PM »

What is the purpose or what will be the final outcome of getting modern whites to be as honest as the whites of old?

Whites of old gladly admitted to having more privledges than blacks and felt that is the way it should be.

I understand we have the regrettable situtation now a days that whites now lie about what is happening.

Yet since historically we can see that whites generally do not mind having more privledges than blacks. What purpose can it serve to get these modern whites to be as honest as their foreparents?
Posts: 1531

« Reply #3 on: September 26, 2005, 11:47:44 PM »

Wake Up White America!

Racist Policies Lead to Death and Destruction


As we entered the 21st century, I reflected upon the appalling reality of white supremacy in America and the western world generally and decided I wanted to write about it in ways I'd not before. I particularly wanted to challenge other white folks. This resulted in my article "A Message to White America: It's Time We Woke Up" in March 2000 that took on a life of its own. Within minutes of it being posted on the Black Radical Congress list serve and other websites, I started receiving messages from all over the country. This included some scathing remarks from whites, of course, but some 250 remarkably revealing and heartfelt comments from both blacks and whites. It was and remains on numerous websites presently, but given the recent overwhelming tragedy in New Orleans and the gulf coast I wanted to dust it off and re-issue it with a few edits and a forward.

As I watched, with anger, the images of death and destruction of the poor, the people of color, the children and the elders in New Orleans and juxtaposed the same scenes in Iraq I connected the dots. Invariably these tragedies reveal the violent and greedy underbelly of western white supremacy that bolsters and informs the U.S. policies both domestically and internationally. This is, categorically, not only a Bush thingit's American as apple pie. Arrogant white supremacy coupled with government and corporate financial mismanagement is far more than an academic or economic issue or even greed for that matter, it is criminal behavior that leads to loss of life and livelihood for the masses in the U.S. and throughout the world, in fact. But we as whites rarely will allow ourselves to look critically at what we do. We constantly deny our past and present racist and white supremacy policies.

When the planes struck the World Trade Center and the Pentagon in 2001, I thought "all right" here is some entity out there sending an amazingly tragic and profound message to America. Whatever their message was, the fact is that the planes struck at the heart of western capitalism and the military used to bolster it around the world. Maybejust maybe Americans will begin to reflect on these targets and what this meant. Maybe they'll reflect about the impact of American corporate abuse and arrogant racist policies throughout the worldpolicies that I've witnessed in Asia and Africa and here in America. Maybe Americans will do this. My hopes were dashed. At virtually all levels of American political and economic society there was never a hint of self-reflection or questioning why 9/11 occurred on American soil. Americans instead acted like they were innocent victims of terrorists ­ as if there is no blood on our hands. Unfortunately, this was a time honored typical response by us. We almost always refuse to look at ourselves and claim any responsibility. We tend to live in a dream world of lies and deception.

The world and our own people here in America can ill afford us keeping our heads in the sand any longer.

At a recent event in Atlanta, Jesse Jackson spoke of the 40th anniversary of the 1965 "Bloody Sunday" in Selma, Alabama when marchers, including my Congressman John Lewis, walked across the Edmund Pettus Bridge to be met by George Wallace's Alabama State Patrol armed with clubs and horses. They were planning a march to Montgomery to demand their voting rights but instead were beaten and clubbed by the Alabama patrol. John Lewis was particularly targeted and unconscious at the end of the debacle. Attorney J.L. Chestnut was there that day and described hearing bones crack as horses stepped on people's bodies. Quite a few years ago I stood with John Lewis at the top of the bridge where he said that as they looked across all they could see was an ominous "sea of blue" ­ the uniforms of the Alabama State Patrol.

Jackson said that later he had talked with George Wallace about that fateful event and asked why he ordered the patrol to the bridge that day. Wallace apparently responded that there was a white mob beyond the State Patrol that would have been far worse and that he was fearful of the consequences so he placed the State Patrol between the marchers and the white mob. Jackson said that the issue here is that even if Wallace had genuinely felt he was protecting the marchers in this way, why didn't he instead turn State Patrol on the white mob, rather than the marchers who demanded justice under the constitution.

The question is a sobering one indeed and much could be written about this. But for now it is important to realize at least that we as whites ­ George Wallace and all of us - rarely challenge ourselves or other whites about white supremacy and its dreadful consequences. Enough is enough!!!

In his book on W. E. B Dubois, David Levering Lewis notes that DuBois struggled with attitude of those who contended that the "resolution of class struggle resolved the race problem." Levering states that DuBois contended that, "exploitation of black workers by white workers was preordained, inscribed, as it were, on the DNA of the white American proletariat. White Alabama and Arkansas workers workers would prevent black workers from rising out of the mudsill by mob and apartheid laws...just as their northern counterparts had historically done through urban riots exclusionary union rules...."

While we have seen some changes in America, much of DuBois' concerns have simply not been addressed and the progress we've made is now threatened by conservative trends and Bush's Supreme Court meddling. This is likely happening, for one, because we've not looked at and addressed the core problems in America that now scream at us in New Orleans. Race and class? Absolutely! But injustice is never without response and people always rise to challenge. "A luta continua" - the struggle continues ­ is the great African saying during the anti-apartheid era is all the more relevant in today's America ... and suffice it to say, it's long past time that we as whites met the challenge of addressing white supremacy that under girds so much of the world's problems.

It's Time We As Whites Woke Up

I am of European descent and, while I prefer to be called European American, given the American practice of classifying people by their race, I need to state unequivocally that I am "white". And it is of this "whiteness", it's repercussions and responsibilities that I write.

All of my adult life I have been a political activist. For more than 30 years I have participated in virtually all the major movements for justice in this country encompassing pro-civil rights, pro-human rights, pro-environment, pro-women's rights and anti-imperialism, anti-war, anti-apartheid, anti-nuclear, anti-corporate, anti-death penalty, on and on. Throughout this vast experience, invariably racism and class oppression raise their ugly heads. Both are powerful independent variables. For me, however, the most compelling and disturbing of these is racism and its companion white supremacy. Invariably, white supremacy is used to bolster financial gain and virtually every other gain. The brilliant and profound scholar W.E.B Dubois warned us that the issue of race would define the 20th century, which indeed it has. And because America has been so lax in adequately addressing this disease of racism and all it's augmented problems, race will likely define the 21st century as well.

It has been said that virtually every group can and does "discriminate" on the basis of race or other issues. What makes it different for us whites, in the United States and the western world generally, is the "power" ­ financially and otherwise ­ to enforce our discriminatory attitudes and we as whites have always done this with arrogance and without apology.

White supremacy in America is of epidemic proportions and whoever denies this must be a fool or blind. It surrounds us in our economic strata, in our prison system, in our schools, in our food system, in our political infrastructures, in our foreign policy, in our health system, in our housing, in our banking to name only a few! It is not a problem only in white conservative circles, where most activists would expect it to be lodged, but in the so-called liberal and progressive circles as well. Yet, all will attempt to state otherwise. Conservatives might claim some of their best friends are Black. Liberals might state that they are working for changes of some policies which will "make life better for Blacks". Progressives in various organizations might say that they are working under the leadership of Blacks so they must be doing something right. None of this is ever enough and it is literally and figuratively "white wash". It is true that historically there have always been whites who have taken a stand against racism but the numbers have been far too limited given the enormity of the problem. This has frustrated me to the point that a few years ago I wrote a lengthy poem entitled "Being White and Angry" in which I delineated what some have described as an epistle of "white" ancestral and present day immoral, disgraceful and tragic exploits from slavery to the Gulf War in the early 1990's.

What has been built on the basis of racism and white supremacy has always teetered on the walls of decay because the foundation is grounded on lies and deception. No one has gained from racism despite claims to the contrary. If anything, we as whites have diminished our souls through racist practices and any economic gains are tainted - I refer to such gains as blood money.

We, as whites, will rarely claim responsibility for our creation of racism and white supremacy (they are ours after all) in spite of the fact that we demand recognition for virtually all other inventions. When it suits us and when we can benefit from it we'll claim it! It has been said that often the most important things in life are not discussed or written and whites are definitely selective on not speaking out on the above issues. Could this suggest the importance of the issue to whites? I think so because it requires us to look deep into our souls and admit we are and always have been wrong about our entrenched present and past racism. This is seemingly an impossible task for most whites. Most of us have a shell that's almost impenetrable.

While everyone else rails against us whites for our racist attitudes and policies, we are largely and despicably silent on the issue. Why are we like this? Do many of us who are white want to maintain the present white supremacist system? Yes, beyond doubt! While rarely are we now wearing sheets over our heads, we are instead sitting in board rooms where we implement racist policies. But in today's climate it is not appropriate to state, without reserve, that we are racist. Instead everyone skirts around the issue. This false impression by other whites drives me nuts.

Are some of us nervous about reactions from other whites if we take up the call against white supremacy? For some, this is likely true. Are we ignorant of white supremacy? No, but nevertheless it seems the majority of whites claim ignorance. Are we apathetic? Yes. Do some of us feel guilt? Probably. Would we prefer to pass the buck? Always. Strangely, we prefer to blame those who are the victims of our prevailing racism as if they were architects of their own victimization and not us. The insanity and hypocrisy of this is mind boggling.

Throughout the years, whenever I've attended panels or conferences on racism organized by whites, invariably Blacks will be invited to participate. This is important because we as whites always need to be educated about the devastating impact of our actions and attitudes. But where, I've always asked, are the masses of whites who need to take up the mantle with other whites on this issue. Why are we, in vast numbers, not also on those panels and in the streets demanding change. Indeed, it is this lack of attention to racism on the part of whites with other whites that, in my opinion, has always been the missing equation in addressing the morass of the tragic effects of racism and white supremacy. The problem of racism rests with those of us who are white - we are the racists, we are the architects of this dreadful disease, we are the supremacists, and, guided by our Black sisters and brothers, we need to begin being accountable, speaking out and taking action. We need to plant the seed and let it grow deliberately and exponentially....from individual to individual, from community to community, from city to city, from nation to nation.

A few weeks ago, while having dinner with a Black friend, the discussion veered toward an update of racism in America. Citing the diminishing of affirmative action programs across the country and other telling signs, he said "I think white America is getting tired of everything being blamed on racism." I said "So what! White America needs to be badgered every minute of every day about our racist attitudes and actions." In fact, I still rankle over the "angry white male" contention in the early 90's stating that because of policies to reverse the preeminent white access to virtually all privileges in this country, at the expense of everyone else, they felt they were being discriminated against. The gall of white males expressing anger over anything after hundreds of years of ancestral privilege astounds me...leaves me breathless. To be perfectly frank, I remain an "angry white female" expressing indignation at "angry white males" for this insult.

Upon reflection, I realized that my friend's comment was but an ancient response from Blacks who try to appease whites to prevent repercussions - a tragic defensive legacy of America's racist paternalistic society. Upon further reflection, however, I realized that whites react similarly with other whites. Invariably whites will attempt to make other whites feel comfortable with their racism or will be deplorably apathetic. We as whites need to stop this nonsense.

It is my hope that in the 21st century, America's white community will finally come to its senses. Bill Clinton thankfully began this dialogue with his Commission on Race. But this was just a start and we know not to expect anything of integrity along this line from the Bush administration. But in communities throughout the country we white Americans can take a stand now, this very minute, and always should have been acting on or own and with other whites and Blacks. We can first educate ourselves about racism and address our own racist attitudes which should start with the basic premise that if you are white and born in America you are a racist. Don't think otherwise because it will not be true. We can learn from Blacks and other whites how to get beyond our racist background, how to be watchful of our own actions and attitudes and change them. Secondly, never let other whites get away with their racist attitudes and actions. Stop them immediately. Don't excuse them or attempt to make them feel comfortable. Thirdly, study the history of white and Black resistance to racism and injustice. This is not something you will learn in public schools, which would view white resistance, in particular, as traitorous to the racist American system. After all, it is traitorous to the status quo in America as well it should be. Fourthly, and most importantly, seek advice from Blacks on what we as whites should do to adequately and aggressively address racist problems in our communities, in the nation, in the world. Don't ever think for one minute that we as whites have the answers because we don't.

Finally, after centuries of "white" deceit, be mindful that pathetically we as whites still want to control everything and usually think we know everything. We need to recognize that we should never pursue any struggle against racism or for justice alone - or any other struggle for that matter. With whites leading the way we have experienced untold disasters for centuries. Forbid we should revisit such devastating consequences and pain. Actually, this is rather a non-issue. Our deceit and lies are now out there for everyone to see, we could never get away with leading the way even if we tried. Let's admit our ignorance and false vacuous, hopeless pride. It's time we started to learn and do something worthwhile. We are centuries too late, but now is as good a time as any to start!

Heather Gray produces "Just Peace" on WRFG-Atlanta 89.3 FM covering local, regional, national and international news. She lives in Atlanta, Georgia and can be reached at hmcgray@earthlink.net

Pages: [1] Print 
« previous next »
Jump to:  

Powered by MySQL Powered by PHP Powered by SMF 1.1.21 | SMF © 2015, Simple Machines
Copyright © 2001-2005 AfricaSpeaks.com and RastafariSpeaks.com
Valid XHTML 1.0! Valid CSS!