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How Can White Americans Be Free?

The default belief that the white experience is a neutral and objective one hurts both white and American culture.

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To correct this tragic flaw in thinking, we must begin to see the white experience as  specific.

Girls and Sympathy for Whiteness

Harmony Korine’s recent film “Spring Breakers” dramatizes clearly the schism in white consciousness that occurs as a result of the spiritual emptiness of being blank. In order to have sympathy for this white spiritual crisis, we must first understand The Default and allow ourselves to be kind, because even Voldemort is just Tom Riddle.

The film follows four white college girls — Candy (Vanessa Hudgens), Brit (Ashley Benson), Cotty (Rachel Corine) and Faith (Selena Gomez) — on spring break. Having robbed a restaurant and its patrons in order to fund their vacation, the girls party hard before being arrested for cocaine possession. White rapper Alien (James Franco) bails them out, and the girls loyally join his beef with drug rival (and childhood best friend) Archie (Gucci Mane), who happens to be black.

In the film’s opening images of topless, grinding, drunk college students, White America’s desire to escape history, perhaps its  need to forget history in order to feel free, has never been so clear. Brit and Candy, sitting through a PowerPoint presentation on Reconstruction and civil rights, feel they have no  positive identity. I ask you not to laugh. Though history has in many ways cherished white women over all others, and despite the enormous privilege of being college educated, there is genuine and true pain here.

White liberal identity is all about NOT being something (not racist, not homophobic, not sexist), and so white liberals inevitably become desperate  to be something. At some level, whites understand everything that they and their ancestors were a part of — slavery, Jim Crow, racism, Native-American genocide, Christian persecution, anti-gay, anti-women’s rights, anti-immigrant, capitalist, Vietnam, etc., etc., etc. A conscious white liberal is fighting hard to NOT be what their history implies. But the girls in “Spring Breakers” want to be able to be  active not passive.

The only escape the girls can see is to seal themselves off from the rest of the world order. On spring break you are not reminded of history or a guilty identity. They are white people unfettered by history. The absence of time makes for a very spiritual place indeed, and Faith, whose spirituality is the clearest as a Christian, says she wants to pause time and calls it “ the most spiritual place,” a place where everyone is the same. Faith proclaims her love of this uniformity again and again. Everyone is “like us,” she says (young, beautiful and white). They are all the same. And that means no one exists to remind them of their external identity.

Until Alien brings them to a pool hall full of black men.

And then there was history.
And then there was time.
And then there was a feeling of guilt.

And surrounded by black bodies, Faith’s frail spirituality disintegrates, because a guilty external identity is anti-transcendent and her heaven is predicated on the absence of anyone different. Brown people impede white transcendence with our obsession with something as terrestrial as race. Or so goes a line of thought that can only exist if you are The Objective Default.

The girls love Alien because he’s an unapologetic white man. His whiteness made all the more aggressive in his unabashed adoption of blackness. Alien is actively stealing from black people — he’s trying to  be something. He’s not trying to erase himself in the face of black culture with the deference liberal whites are expected to have. He does not emasculate himself. For Brit and Candy this is the ultimate assertion of The Default. Strong Whiteness. Strong Maleness. And they want it. Alien longs for a friendship with his old best friend and now drug rival Archie, but an adult Archie with an adult’s understanding of a racist world is unable to give Alien the generosity he longs for when it interferes with his business. He tells Alien to go back to the crimes that white boys are supposed to do, like stealing from spring break kids.

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