How Can White Americans Be Free?
Stay up to date with the latest headlines via email.
"No people come into possession of a culture without having paid a heavy price for it.” — James Baldwin
Measure, measure, measure.
We learn to measure first.
We spend our days measuring. And when we count we start at one.
Every number after is in relation to one.
Two is one after one.
Three is two after one. And so on.
Every child knows that one is the beginning from which all other numbers arise.
And every child knows that one is Whiteness.
In the beginning there was Whiteness. This is the glittering starting point. This is The Default. This is what we measure everything else against.
It’s clear that we as Black and Brown Americans, are still recovering from the racist indoctrinations of the past 500 years. Though laughable it sounds, white Americans, too, have suffered from this crime. As our country began and brown races were systematically denied the right to be human and so internalized the role of the savage, white consciousness bullied its way into objectivity. The white mind became the unbiased mind that objectively observed all the rest. This is called The Default: The belief that the white experience is a neutral and objective experience and white consciousness is the standard consciousness unless otherwise specified. White culture, and American culture as a whole, suffers from the tragedy of whiteness as the default setting.
Being The Default keeps white Americans from being liberated because it denies them a specific identity by absorbing them into neutral blankness. This creates a lonely detachment from the rest of the world. Being The Default is the largest privilege granted to white Americans, yet it is so deeply entrenched it is the most invisible (we cannot see the edges of the atmosphere, but it exists). Whites benefit from being The Default by having inherent legitimacy in a way that’s denied to people of color. Their experience of life is “normal.” Whites are free from the constant awareness (and subsequent constant paranoia) of existing in another person’s world. Because The Default has so successfully dominated our subconscious, because our egos have been shaped by it from the moment of birth, we perpetuate it in micro ways while fighting inequality with more obvious actions. The silent poison continues to poison. Whiteness as The Default keeps brown people in subjugation by convincing them that every part of their being, physical, spiritual and emotional, exists within a white narrative. When you are made to exist within something you are forced to be smaller than that which contains you. This is precisely the basis of racist thought. Brown existence, brown consciousness is smaller.
How the Default Traps People of Color
Here is an example of how The Default works against people of color. In an interview with Vice magazine, Asian-American writer Tao Lin explains why he doesn’t discuss race in his work:
INTERVIEWER: I also remember you saying something along the lines of “my favorite writers are usually white and rich or middle class.”
LIN: Those people aren’t as affected as much by poverty, having to fight in a war, having to earn money to survive, racism, and things like that. Things that, if solved, will leave you with these other problems: knowing you’re going to die, knowing you’re required to make decisions in an arbitrary universe, knowing that you can only occupy one space at one time (so you can never fully be connected with another person). Which are the things that I like to read about. If someone’s in a war, or needing to work two jobs to survive, they’ll probably be focused on writing about that. And I guess when you’re just focused on making enough money to survive, you aren’t worried about “how do I know what to do if the universe is meaningless.”