31 May 2020

Category error

There's a sometimes-useful observation that reality is that which, when you stop believing it, does not go away.

It's only useful sometimes; if everybody else believes in the thing, you will find that when you stop believing in it, it does NOT go away.

Supremacy does not go away while anybody believes in the taxonomy constructing it.

So if you're currently identifying as white, you're perpetuating supremacy.  There is no way to be white and not do that.

The idea of whiteness was a way to construct common colonialist cause with other European powers without altering Europe's civil arrangements.  ("We are not one band, but we'll agree everyone in these bands is permitted to loot everyone not in these bands"; think slavers and pirates.)  It isn't anything else; it can't be anything else.  ("The purpose of the system is what it does"; what it's doing, today, is insisting that the non-white submit to being poisoned to keep the profits maximised.)

(Yeah, sure, class is a thing; there's another bit of rant about how you can expect the state to further your aims or not frustrate them if you're categorised white, and if you're not categorised white you can expect the state to frustrate your ends, and this is the structure of power.  The whole moral-hierarchy-of-privilege discussion is meant to (and does!) obfuscate this.  The whole political-whiteness thing is meant to use frustration at not being white enough -- the state is frustrating their aims! (in part by expecting them not to engage in overt supremacy behaviours) -- to get people to ignore that the state is furthering the aims of people perfectly content to enslave them or use them for dog food.)

So; whiteness isn't real in the "material universe" sense.  It's real because people believe in it.

"Easily sunburned" is material reality.  White is not.  White is something a bunch of people made up because it furthered their economic ambition to steal all the things[1]. They happen to have been an easily sunburned lot from being descended from folks who were living on oats in the rain at high temperate latitudes, and they used "easily sunburned" as a trivially visible social marker.

I am so extremely pale my optometrist fusses at me about it; it's not expected that the whites of your eyes are visible from the inside, and mine are.  I am well advised to never go outside without sunglasses.  (Or sunscreen, or a hat.)

So, basically; all of these lists of things white people can do to be anti-racist aren't.  They might reduce your ignorance, they might increase your understanding, but you can't be anti-racist or anti-supremacy while inhabiting a category that exists to create and enforce a supremacist social hierarchy.

You can't stop being easily sunburned by force of will; don't try.  You can make a decision to stop being white.  Do try.

(Identifying at Canadian doesn't presently cut it.  I'm having a go at "egalitarian".)

Neighbours and helpful and unhelpful go a long way; it allows you to notice that the folks who won't pay taxes or accept limits to profit aren't in your group unless they can trick you into believing that participating in oppression elevates your status.  More social people than I am might find "reliable neighbour" works pretty well as a thing to identify with, but, really; as long as it's not part of a hierarchy of oppression, it'll be an improvement.

Stop being white.

[1] including abstract things like sovereignty and economies.


heron61 said...

While I agree in principle - this seems a complex and fraught topic. How can one abandon one's whiteness, while simultaneously not abandoning the idea that some other people are specifically defined as not white? It seems all too easy for a pale skinned person who does this to end up with the ideal of "color blindness" that was widely seen as the ideal position by left of center power structures (at least in the US) prior to the 21st century, and which I had to work to unlearn after I realized that ignoring race is not particularly distinguishable from ignoring racism and related injustices.

Graydon said...

+heron61 --

Whiteness is a power structure. ("being white" puts you in specific categories in the power structure.)

"Not being white" requires some other power structure. You can get that different power structure by being an anchorite hermit somewhere or you can get it by enacting some different power structure. ("let the oppressed do the work" is very much the viewpoint of the incumbent power structure!)

"Colour blindness" is just a lie; the idea that you can ignore the power structure and thus make everyone else able to ignore it, too. ("Viewing as human" might not be a lie. Different question.) Especially with the mammonite transition ("for easily sunburned, read has lots and lots of money"), that's less whistling past the graveyard and more trying to play a kazoo in hell.

Fraught, yeah; civilization is the process of giving up direct personal advantage for indirect general advantage, and being much better off thereby. People don't do this easily, and with the combination of climate change, economic collapse, and pandemic it's certainly not a comfortable time. Still better to enact uniform justice (with material measurable standards) than to have a scrabble for power in the ruins.

Complex? It's not complex. It's not any more complex than the idea that the purpose of society is to enact circumstances where everybody's agency is roughly similar and not decreasing.