White people and whiteness.

The behavior in the comments of a recent post by PZ reminded me of another political issue I’ve been meaning to write about. Race and “whiteness”.

I was raised to identify as white and today I hate that political construct. It is useless unless one wants to win a political conflict through numbers or fists. It has no other rational use that I can see. It doesn’t focus on any actual relevant social problems, it doesn’t help me figure out who a good person or a bad person is, it seems to have nothing but the social conflict.

The color doesn’t exist in the human population. There are no white people. There’s a range of pigmentation in there.
If the lack of literal examples in a political label isn’t good enough there’s the fact that plenty of light skinned people were said to not be white. The Irish (the same comparison with monkeys in political images at the link) are one example, and today you can see complications over if Jews are white.

Am I missing something? This looks like a huge waste of time and social effort because people need to box themselves into “whiteness” and make adversaries. Think about what it was before “whiteness”. Nation. City-state. City, down to the people on the other side of the “geographical feature”.

If the lack of actual whiteness and the behavior of people obsessed with who is and isn’t white isn’t enough there’s the fact that the term originated in a “need” to separate people (here’s a PDF) for ownership and denial of rights purposes.

The first examples of “white race/people” in the Oxford English Dictionary are no earlier than the 1600s, when Europeans were deeply involved in African slave-trading; the same seems to be true of the corresponding terms in the major European languages. At that point, the use of what was by then a powerfully stigmatizing form of polarized terminology must have seemed comfortingly appropriate.

The reference to “polarized terminology” referrs to the way society (western in my experience) uses “white” and “black” as replacements for “good” and “bad”. Unless you are a bigot “whiteness” looks like a broken social tool if you care about more than base group conflict.

When I point these things out to people I get a couple of responses. This is what I remember so far. Some people agree with the connections and brokenness of “whiteness”. One person demanded to know what I’m going to give them to replace “whiteness”, interestingly they didn’t tell me what they needed but I pointed out the tool is broken if I have a replacement or not.
Another was more explicit about their concerns, “What about blackness? Black people need to stop using blackness!”.

How very interesting.

Instead of being concerned about the label that applies to themselves and some form of group organization that solves problems facing our nations, this person was concerned about the label “they” (black people) are using on “themselves”. Group conflict related fear.
I wonder how conscious this was? It’s happened more than once and it’s a useful way to spot irrational racial group conflict related fear.

But as I wrap this up I need to point out another group conflict related fear, a rational one, the one black people have regarding white people. When Europeans assumed whiteness in order to dominate and enslave they chose blackness and forced it on black people. We took their culture away. What gets done with blackness is black people’s business. It looks like the same kind of attempt to socially control as complaints about baggy pants and rap music.

People who discover the brokenness or offensiveness of whiteness as a political organization tool can’t simply disavow it and ignore it. There are people out there speaking for you. When they say “white people” they mean you. They are implicitly trying to speak for you too. They have to make this assumption so they can’t deny your challenge.
You get to criticize them. If you want to fix society you will critisize them if you safely can. I won’t tell someone to do something risky but I do encourage it, especially with the climate change problems. This shit is fucking our societies up, it’s not based on solving problems. I’m comfortable spending the rest of my life watching for what white people say.