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Spermicidal Breakfast Cereal

This article was translated from the Spanish by Miguel Alvarado.

Just when the global diatribe over food and genetically modified crops (GM) is heating up in tone and breadth, the corporations that create them are staging a showcase for a fresh batch of transgenics.

These new GM crops, known as biopharmaceuticals, or biopharms for short, produce industrial and pharmaceutical chemicals within their tissues. The plants, including soy, rice, corn and tobacco, are genetically altered to produce substances such as growth hormones, curdling agents (coagulants), vaccines for humans (as well as farm animals), human antibodies, industrial enzymes, contraceptives and even pregnancy deterrents.

Scientists and corporations alike embrace biopharmaceuticals with glee: "Imagine being able to harvest enough globulin (a compound that fights arthritis) for the whole world in all of fifty acres?" writes Dr. William O. Robertson for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. "Imagine being able to find the protein healthy people use to prevent arthritis or breast cancer and being able to produce it in large quantities in rice and tobacco."

ProdiGene, a leader in the field, calculates that by the end of this decade, 10% of the corn produced in the US will be biopharmaceutical. The volume of biopharmaceutical drugs and chemicals could reach the $200 billion figure, according to Dow AgroSciences' Guy Cardinau.

Warnings

But some scientists and ecologists are concerned. Will it be possible to contain and segregate such crops, fruit and seed, in order to avoid a biological Chernobyl?

Is there any guarantee that these products won't accidentally end up at the supermarket? And how can we keep their pollen from fertilizing other fields and reproducing out of control?

"One single mistake from a biotechnology company and we'll be having someone else's prescription medicine for breakfast in our cereal," warns Larry Bohlen, spokesman for Friends of the Earth, an international ecology organization.

"What will happen if the pollen of a transgenic plant containing some kind of drug fertilizes a nearby edible crop?" argues the Erosion, Technology and Concentration Action Group (ETC) in a report published in 2000.

The report continues to ask: "How will the soil microorganisms and insects which benefit agriculture be affected by crops genetically designed to produce industrial and pharmaceutical chemicals? What will happen if animals eat the biopharmaceutical crops? Will the biopharmaceutical proteins be altered during the various stages of growth, harvest and storage? Will they cause allergic reactions?

According to biologist Brian Tokar, professor at the Institute for Social Ecology, the most serious problems concern cross-pollination and unknown effects to insects, soil microorganisms and other native life-forms.

A Little Mishap In Nebraska

There have been mistakes with these crops already. In November 2002, at an agricultural cooperative in Aurora, Nebraska, 500,000 bushels of soy were contaminated with biopharmaceutical corn. One of the coop members harvested an experimental batch of corn for ProdiGene the year before and then proceeded to plant a crop of soy for human consumption in the same field.

During a routine inspection, federal officials from the Department of Agriculture found the corn stalks for ProdiGene growing among the soy plants. By the time they made the discovery, soy from that field was already being stored mixed with the soy of other coop members. Fortunately, the authorities were able to segregate the contaminated grain just before it reached the supermarket aisles.

The company was slapped with a $500,000 fine for negligence; yet, and in spite of such gross near disaster, the government still allows the corporation to continue with biopharmaceutical research as well as keeping the precise nature of the contaminating batch in Nebraska a trade secret. Mark Ritchie, president of the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, describes the incident as the "Three Mile Island" of biotechnology, in reference to the emergency caused by a nuclear reactor in the 70s.

After the ProdiGene scandal, two industrial corporations which had so far supported transgenic research began to reconsider their positions. The Grocery Manufacturers Association, a group which represents supermarket distributing companies, expressed concern about the possibility that biopharmaceuticals could end up contaminating food supplies; such concern was also shared by the National Food Processors Association. The president, John Cady, requested strict and mandatory regulations in order to protect food products from being contaminated by biopharms.

Other people don't share such concerns. The Biotechnology Industry Organization, a group that represents biotech companies, and the American Farm Bureau Federation, an organization dedicated to Big Farming, are currently lobbying in Washington to obtain support from the federal government in order to weaken biopharmaceutical regulations.

Biological contamination

Transgenic products unfit for human consumption have already contaminated the food chain. At the end of the year 2000, environmental and consumer advocacy groups in the United States discovered that hundreds of american products in the supermarkets had been contaminated with traces of Starlink, a genetically enhanced GM corn that was declared unfit for human consumption by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Although the Starlink strain was farmed in just 0.04% of the US corn production area, and was only meant for farm animal consumption, it ended up tainting 430 million bushels and to this day keeps showing up regularly in US exports.

"The Starlink discovery in Japan and South Korea, two of the most important US corn consumers, indicates that it could be found anywhere," remarks Meena Raman, from Malaysia, coordinator in Asia for Friends of the Earth Transgenics Program. "Until the US and Aventis (the biotechnology company that created Starlink) controls contamination, no other countries should allow corn imports."

A more severe case of genetic contamination is taking place in Mexico, where the presence of GM corn has been documented since 2001. It continues to show up in rural farming communities, both peasant and indigenous, sown by small farmers who are not aware of the transgenic threat; and it is proliferating rapidly, across wild and mixed varieties, in spite of the Mexican government's ban on transgenic crops, in effect since 1998. This contamination deeply concerns environmentalists, scientists and farmers, since Mexico is the cradle of corn and axis of its diversity, rendering the long term consequences on the environment and human health uncertain.

In Mexico, people are distressed by the possibility that biopharmaceutical corn could be introduced in the country. Silvia Ribeiro, of the ETC organization, expresses great annoyance about the California-based company Epicyte, which ostentatiously declared having developed a spermicidal corn to be used as a contraceptive.

Ribeiro stated in La Jornada: "The potential of spermicidal corn as a biological weapon is outrageous, since it easily interbreeds with other varieties, is capable of going undetected and could lodge itself at the very core of indigenous and farming cultures. We have witnessed the execution of repeated sterilization campaigns performed against indigenous communities. This method is certainly much more difficult to trace."

We cover the world

Where are biopharms cultivated? All over the world. At the molecularfarming.com website, investors solicit the collaboration of farmers willing to lease their land for biopharmaceutical experiments anywhere in the world. They have signed agreements in Brazil, Ireland, Australia, Greece, Zimbabwe, Panama and many other countries.

Activist Beth Burrows first denounced the claims at the Molecular Farming's website. Burrows is president of the Edmonds Institute, a nonprofit dedicated to bioethics and biosecurity issues.

Award-winning journalist Devinder Sharma, an expert in agricultural and nutritional matters who lives in India, comments on molecularfarming.com: "This is part of a global scheme to transfer dirty industries onto the Third World."

"First came the exporting of toxic and industrial recycled waste to developing countries in Africa and Southeast Asia. Now comes the biopharms. In the US there's a huge problem regarding these crops. What are they gonna do? Transfer dirty technology."

Don't worry, be happy

In spite of all this, biopharming advocates assure us that they're perfectly safe. Doctor Allan S. Felsot, an environmental toxicologist at Washington State University considers the use of plants to produce pharmaceuticals and other chemicals "not even a new concept, if we take into account that we've used medicinal plants for centuries."

Felsot insists there's nothing unusual about our breeding human proteins in the tissues of transgenic plants. "The proteins (in question) are the same found in our bodies. Most of them are used as medicine through cellular fermentation. They are very well defined and have been subject to exhaustive research and clinical trials on humans."

Doctor Robertson adds: "The possibilities boggle the mind, the opportunities are impossible to grasp in their totality and the risks appear minimal when they're compared with the risks we have encountered in medicine throughout the years."

What's ahead?

"What will have to happen before the Department of Agriculture takes seriously the fact that millions of people almost ended up consuming experimental drugs and chemicals?" asks Brandon Keim, of the Council for Responsible Genetics in reference to the ProdiGene scandal. "A few sensational deaths? Maybe an increase in debilitating disorders which will only be noticeable some decades later, when it's already too late?"

Biopharmaceuticals are in an experimental stage but the corporations producing them anxiously await the day when federal authorities give them the go-ahead to enter the market.

Carmelo Ruiz is a journalist and a research associate of the Institute for Social Ecology. He has previously published in Grist, E Magazine, the New York Daily News, Corporate Watch, IPS and other media.

Reflections on Zionism from a Dissident Jew

So it's official. The U.S. has withdrawn from the World Conference on Racism, being held in Durban, South Africa.

Though the cynical and historically observant might suspect that this decision was merely in keeping with our longstanding unwillingness to deal with the legacy of racism on a global scale, the official reason is more circumscribed. Namely, the mid-conference pullout was intended to register displeasure at various delegates who are pushing resolutions condemning Israeli treatment of Palestinians, and Zionism itself: the ideology of Jewish nationalism that led to the founding of Israel in 1948. As the conference speeds towards a no doubt controversial conclusion, perhaps it would be worthwhile to ask just what all the fuss is about?

Although one can argue with the claim made by some that Zionism and racism are synonymous -- especially given the amorphous definition of "race" which makes such a position forever and always a matter of semantics -- it is difficult to deny that Zionism, in practice if not theory, amounts to ethnic chauvinism, colonial ethnocentrism, and national oppression.

For saying this, I can expect to be called everything but a child of God by many in the Jewish community. "Self-hating" will be the term of choice for most, I suspect: the typical Pavlovian response to one who is Jewish, as I am, and yet dares to criticize Israel or the ideology underlying its national existence.

"Anti-Semite" will be the other label offered me, despite the fact that Zionism has led to the oppression of Semitic peoples -- namely the mostly Semitic Palestinians -- and is also rooted in a deep antipathy even for Jews. Though Zionism proclaims itself a movement of a strong and proud people, in fact it is an ideology that has been brimming with self-hatred from the beginning. Indeed, early Zionists believed, as a key premise of the movement, that Jews were responsible for the oppression we had faced over the years, and that such oppression was inevitable and impossible to overcome, thus, the need for our own country.

Having never read the words of Theodore Herzl -- the founder of modern Zionism -- or other Zionist leaders, most will find this claim hard to believe. But before attacking me, perhaps they should ask who it was that said anti-Semitism, "is an understandable reaction to Jewish defects," or that, "each country can only absorb a limited number of Jews, if she doesn't want disorders in her stomach. Germany has already too many Jews."

While one might be inclined to attribute either or both statements to Adolph Hitler, as they are surely worthy of his venomous pen, they are actually comments made by Herzl and Chaim Weizmann, eventual president of Israel, and -- at the time he made the second statement -- head of the World Zionist Organization. So in the pantheon of self-hating Jews, it appears criticism, for Zionists, should perhaps begin at home.

Going back to my days in Hebrew school, I never understood the dialysis-machine-like bond that most of my peers felt for Israel. On the one hand, we were told God had given that land to our people, as part of His covenant with Abraham. This we knew because Scripture told us so. But this never carried much weight with me. After all, many Christians -- with whom I had more than a passing acquaintance growing up in the South -- were all-too-willing to point out that the Scriptures also said (in their opinions) that I was going to hell, Abraham notwithstanding.

As such, accepting Zionism because of what God did or didn't say seemed dicey from the get-go. What's more, this was the same God who ostensibly told the ancient Hebrews never to wear clothes woven with two different fabrics, and who insisted we burn the entrails of animals we consume on an alter to create a pleasing smell. Having been known to sport a wrinkle-free poly-cotton blend, and having not the fortitude to disembowel my supper and incinerate its lower intestines, I had long since resolved to withhold judgment on what God did and didn't want, until such time as the Almighty decided to whisper said desires in my ear personally. The Rabbi's word wasn't going to cut it.

On the other hand, we were told we needed a homeland so as to prevent another Holocaust. Only a strong, independent Jewish state could provide the kind of unity and protection required of a people who had suffered so much, and had lost six million souls to the Nazi terror.

Yet this too seemed suspect to me. After all, one could argue that getting all the Jews together in one place -- especially a piece of real estate as small as Palestine -- would be a Jew-hater's dream come true. It would make finishing the job Hitler started that much easier. Better, it seemed then and still does, to have vibrant Jewish communities throughout the world, than to put all our dreidels in one basket, by pulling up stakes and heading to a place where others already lived, hoping they wouldn't mind too terribly if we kicked them out of their homes.

In the final analysis, accepting Israel as a Jewish state for Biblical reasons made no more sense to me than to accept a self-identified Christian or Islamic nation: two configurations that understandably raise fears of theocracy in the heart of any Jew. And to in-gather the Jews to Israel for the sake of safety made no sense whatsoever. The only logic to Zionism then, seemed to be the "logic" of raw power: that of the settler, or colonizer. We wanted the land, and getting it would provide an ally for European and American foreign and economic policy. So with pressure applied and force unleashed, it became ours.

Nearly 800,000 Palestinians would be displaced so as to allow for the creation of Israel: around 600,000 of whom, according to internal documents of the Israeli Defense Force, were expelled forcibly from their homes. At the time, these Palestinians, most of whose families had been living on the land for centuries, constituted two-thirds of the population and owned 90% of the land. Though some Zionists claim Palestine was a largely uninhabited wilderness prior to Jewish arrival, early settlers were far more honest. As Ahad Ha'am acknowledged in 1891:

"We ... are used to believing that Israel is almost totally desolate. But ... this is not the case. Throughout the country it is difficult to find fields that are not sowed."

Indeed, the large presence of Palestinians led many Zionists to openly advocate their removal. The head of the Jewish Agency's colonization department stated: "there is no room for both peoples together in this country. There is no other way than to transfer the Arabs from here to neighboring countries, to transfer all of them: not one village, not one tribe, should be left."

Herzl himself conceded that Zionism was "something colonial," indicating again that we were not discovering or founding anything. We were taking it, and for reasons we would never accept from others. As Shimon Peres -- seen as one of the most peace-loving Israeli leaders in memory -- said in 1985: "The Bible is the decisive document in determining the fate of our land." Such is the stuff of fanaticism, and we would say as much were a fundamentalist Christian to make the same statement about the fate of the U.S., or anywhere else for that matter.

That most Jews have never examined the founding principles of this ideology to which they cleave is unfortunate. For if they were to do so, they might be shocked at how anti-Jewish Zionism really is. Time and again, Zionists have even collaborated with open Jew-haters for the sake of political power.

Consider Herzl: a man who believed Jews were to blame for anti-Semitism, and thus, only by fleeing for Palestine could we be safe. In The Jewish State, he wrote:

"Every nation in whose midst Jews live is, either covertly or openly, anti-Semitic ... its immediate cause is our excessive production of mediocre intellects, who cannot find an outlet downwards or upwards. When we sink, we become a revolutionary proletariat. When we rise, there also rises our terrible power of the purse."

He went on to say, "The Jews are carrying the seeds of anti-Semitism into England; they have already introduced it into America." Were a non-Jew to suggest that Jews were to blame for anti-Semitism, our community would be rightly outraged. But the same words from the father of Zionism pass without comment.

Worse still, early in Hitler's reign the Zionist Federation of Germany wrote the new Chancellor, noting their willingness to "adapt our community to these new structures" (namely, the Nuremberg Laws that limited Jewish freedom), as they "give the Jewish minority ... its own cultural life, its own national life."

Far from resisting Nazi genocide, some Zionists collaborated with it. When the British devised a plan to allow thousands of German Jewish children to enter the U.K. and be saved from the Holocaust, David Ben-Gurion, who would become Israel's first Prime Minister balked, explaining:

"If I knew that it would be possible to save all the children in Germany by bringing them over to England, and only half of them by transporting them to (Israel) then I would opt for the second alternative."

Later, Israeli Zionists would again make alliances with anti-Jewish extremists. In the 1970's, Israel hosted South African Prime Minister John Vorster, and cultivated economic and military ties with the apartheid state, even though Vorster had been locked up as a Nazi collaborator during World War II. And Israel supplied military aid to the Galtieri regime in Argentina, even while the Generals were known to harbor ex-Nazis in the country, and had targeted Argentine Jews for torture and death.

Indeed, the argument that Zionism is racism finds some support in statements of Zionists themselves, many of whom have long concurred with the Hitlerian doctrine that Judaism is a racial identity as much as a religious and cultural one. In 1934, German Zionist Joachim Prinz, who would later head the American Jewish Congress, noted:

"We want assimilation to be replaced by a new law: the declaration of belonging to the Jewish nation and Jewish race. A state built upon the principle of the purity of nation and race can only be honored and respected by a Jew who declares his belonging to his own kind."

Years later, David Ben-Gurion acknowledged that Israeli leader Menachem Begin could be branded racist, but that doing so would require one to "put on trial the entire Zionist movement, which is founded on the principle of a purely Jewish entity in Palestine."

Laws granting special privileges to Jewish immigrants from anywhere in the world, over Palestinians whose families had been on the land for generations, and measures that set aside most land for exclusive Jewish ownership and use, are but two examples of discriminatory legislation underlying the Zionist experiment. As the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination makes clear, racial discrimination is:

"any distinction, exclusion, restriction or preference based on race, color, descent, or national and ethnic origin which has the purpose or effect of nullifying or impairing the recognition, enjoyment or exercise, on an equal footing, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural or any other field of public life."

Given this internationally recognized definition, we ought not be surprised that at a World Conference on Racism, some might suggest that the policies of our people in the land of Palestine had earned a place on the agenda. As such, we should take this opportunity to begin an honest dialogue, not only with Palestinians, but also with ourselves. Neither the chauvinism so integral to Zionism, nor the ironic self-hatred that has gone along with it are becoming of a strong and vital people. Just as a dialysis machine is no substitute for a healthy and functioning kidney, neither is Zionism an adequate substitute for a healthy and vibrant Judaism. Surely it is not for this ignoble end, that six million died.

Tim Wise is an antiracist activist, writer and lecturer.

Breaking the Cycle of White Dependence

I think it's called 'projection.' When someone subconsciously realizes that a particular trait applies to them, and then attempts to locate that trait in others, so as to alleviate the stigma or self-doubt engendered by the trait in question.

It's a well-understood concept of modern psychology, and explains much: like why men who are struggling with their own sexuality are often the most outwardly homophobic. Or the way whites during slavery typified black men as rapists, even though the primary rapists were the white slaveowners themselves, taking liberties with their female property, or white men generally, raping their wives with impunity.

I got to thinking about projection recently, after receiving many an angry e-mail from folks who had read one or another of my previous commentaries, and felt the need to inform me that people of color are "looking for a handout," and are "dependent" on government, and of course, whites.

Such claims are making the rounds these days, especially as debate heats up about such issues as reparations for enslavement, or affirmative action. And this critique is a prime example of projection, for in truth, no people have been as dependent on others throughout history as white folks.

We depended on laws to defend slavery and segregation so as to elevate us, politically, socially and economically. We depended on the Naturalization Act of 1790, to make all European immigrants eligible for nearly automatic citizenship, with rights above all persons of color. We depended on land giveaways like the Homestead Act, and housing subsidies that were essentially white-only for many years, like FHA and VA loans. Even the GI Bill was largely for whites only, and all of these government-sponsored efforts were instrumental in creating the white middle class. But it goes deeper than that.

From the earliest days, "whites" were dependent on the land and natural resources of the Americas, Africa, and Asia. Since Europe offered no substantial natural riches from its soil, European economic advance and expansion was entirely reliant on the taking of other people's land by force, trickery or coercion. That, my friends, is dependence.

Then these same Europeans relied on slave labor to build a new nation and to create wealth for whites; wealth that was instrumental to financing the American Revolution, as well as allowing the textile and tobacco industries to emerge as international powerhouses. From 1790 to 1860 alone, whites and the overall economy reaped the benefits of as much as $40 billion in unpaid black labor. That, my friends, is dependence.

Though apologists for black oppression enjoy pointing out that Africans often sold other Africans into slavery, this too indicates just how dependent whites have been on black people: having to pay and bribe Africans to catch their own and deliver them to us so as to fatten the profits of European elites. We couldn't even do that by ourselves.

Then whites were dependent on Native peoples to teach us farming skills, as our complete ineptitude in this realm left the earliest colonists starving to death and turning to cannibalism when the winters came in order to survive.

We were dependent on Mexicans to teach us how to extract gold from riverbeds and quartz -- critical to the growth of the national economy in the mid to late 1800's -- and had we not taken over half their nation in an unprovoked war, the emerging Pacific ports so vital to the modern U.S. economy would not have been ours, but Mexico' s. That, my friends, is dependence. Then we were dependent on their labor in the mid 20th century under the bracero program, through which over five million Mexicans were brought into the country for cheap agricultural work, and then sent back across the border.

And we were dependent on Asian labor to build the railroads that made transcontinental travel and commerce possible. 90% of the labor used to build the Central Pacific Railroad in the 1860's were Chinese, imported for the purpose, and exploited because the railroad bosses felt they could better control them than white workers.

In fact, all throughout U.S. labor history, whites have depended on the subordination of workers of color; by the marking of black and brown peoples as the bottom rung on the ladder -- a rung below which they would not be allowed to fall. By virtue of this racialized class system whites could receive the "psychological wage" of whiteness, even if their real wages left them destitute. That too is dependence, and a kind that has marked even the poorest whites.

The plantation owners in the South were surely dependent on blacks, and for more than field labor. We relied on black women to suckle and care for our children. We relied on blacks to build the levees that kept rivers like the Mississippi from our doorstep. We relied on black girls to fan our sleeping white ladies so as to ensure their comfort. We relied on blacks to do everything from cooking, to cleaning, to making our beds, to polishing our shoes, to chopping the wood to heat our homes, to nursing us back to health when we fell ill. We prided ourselves on being (or aspiring to be) men and women of leisure, while black and brown folks did all the work. That, and a lot more, is dependence; and yet we still insist they are the lazy ones.

And northern industrial capitalism relied on black labor too, especially to break the labor militance of white ethnics by playing off one group of workers against the other. That also, is dependence.

During the civil war, the armies of the Confederacy relied on blacks to cook for the troops and to make the implements of war they would use in battle; and likewise, the Union relied on black soldiers -- around 200,000 of them -- to ultimately win the war. That too, is most assuredly dependence.

And white dependence on people of color continues to this day. Each year, African Americans spend over $500 billion with white-owned companies: money that goes mostly into the pockets of the white owners, white employees, white stockholders, and white communities in which they live. And yet we say black people need us? We think they are the dependent ones, relying as we assume they do on the paltry scraps of an eviscerated welfare state? Now let's just cut the crap. Who would be hurt more: black folks if all welfare programs were shut down tomorrow, or white folks, if blacks decided they were through transferring half-a-trillion dollars each year to white people and were going to keep their money in their own communities?

Or what about the ongoing dependence of white businesses on the exploitation of black labor? Each year, according to estimates from the Urban Institute, over $120 billion in wages are lost to African Americans thanks to discrimination in the labor market. That's money that doesn't end up in the hands of the folks who earned it, but rather remains in the bank accounts of owners. That my friends, is dependence.

Our dependence on people of color even extends to our need to have them as spokespeople for our ideologies and agendas: thus, the proliferation of high-profile conservatives of color who bash their own people for us, so we don't have to do it alone. Ken Hamblin, Clarence Thomas, Larry Elder, Walter Williams, Linda Chavez: all of them, walking, talking, lawn jockeys, shining their lights for white supremacy. And oh yes, our need for them is most certainly a form of dependence.

Then, we rely on still more people of color to help further the agenda of white dominance: namely Asians, whom we proclaim to be "model minorities." "See how hard the Asians work,' whites love to say, 'why can't blacks be more like them?" Of course, we fail to mention the staggering poverty among Southeast Asians; or the fact that the most successful Asian sub-groups came to this country with both business experience and usually college educations; or the fact that despite hard work, Asian Pacific Islanders still earn between 11-26% less than their white counterparts, even when their qualifications are equal. Never mind all that: the model minority myth has a power all its own, and is one more way in which whites have become dependent on those who are not.

Indeed, I am beginning to think that whites are so dependent on people of color that we wouldn't know what to do without them. Oh sure, some neo-Nazis say they would love to try, but in reality I doubt they could make it. If there were no black and brown folks around then whites would have no one to blame but themselves for the crime that occurred; no one to blame but themselves when they didn't get the job they wanted; no one to blame but themselves when their lives turned out to be less than they expected. In short, we need people of color -- especially in a subordinate role -- as a way to build ourselves up, and provide a sense of self-worth we otherwise lack.

To be sure, our very existence as white people is dependent on a negative: to be white has meaning only in terms of what it doesn't mean. To be white only has meaning in so far as it means not to be black or brown. Whiteness has no intrinsic meaning culturally: can anyone even articulate what "white culture" means? Not our various European cultures mind you -- which do have meaning but have been largely lost to us in the mad dash to accept whiteness and the perks that come with it -- but white culture itself.

In workshops I have asked white folks and people of color what they like about being black, white, or whatever they in fact may be. For African-Americans the answers always have to do with the pride they feel, coming from families who have struggled against the odds, fought injustice, persevered, and maintained dignity in the face of great obstacles. In other words, to be black has internal meaning, derived from the positive actions and experiences of black people themselves. Variations on the same theme tend to be expressed by Latinos, Asians and Indigenous peoples as well.

But for whites, if they come up with anything at all, it is typically something about how nice it is not to have to worry about being racially profiled by police, or how nice it is not to be presumed less competent by employers, or discriminated against when applying for a loan, or looking for a home. In other words, for whites, our self-definition is wrapped up entirely in terms of what and who we aren't. What it means to be white is merely to not be "the other." And for that to have any meaning whatsoever there first must be an "other" against which to contrast oneself.

And that is the most significant dependence of all.

Tim Wise is a Nashville-based antiracist writer, lecturer and activist. He can be reached at tjwise@mindspring.com.

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