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Race And Modern America

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Autor:   •  March 3, 2011  •  2,418 Words (10 Pages)  •  207 Views

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by Bryan brown

Growing up in California and coming of political age in the 90's, race has been a central factor in my develop as a person and as a radical. California elections have been the battle ground upon which fights over immigrant rights, bilingual education, affirmative action, criminal justice, labor rights and queer marriage have been fought. The explosion of rage in Los Angeles after the Rodney King verdict clearing four white cops of all charges in the internationally witnessed beating of King was to have a profound impact on my way of seeing the world. I rarely ever thought about what it meant to be white, I was just a person. The ability of whiteness to be so universalized, to be the norm, to be the standard and all others and just that, others. I grew up in the post-Civil Rights era, where racism has operated in a way that rarely even speaks directly about race.

I remember as a small child listening to other children speak Spanish and I assumed that it was because they were not smart enough to speak English or if they were bilingual, then I assumed that Spanish was some sort of silly gibberish. This would have been a childish mistake or misunderstanding on my part, but as a white person, I assumed that my language was THE language and that it was the true form of speech and this thinking was not childish, it was the institutionalized logic of white supremacy, which was reinforced all around me.

In 1986, California voters passed a proposition that declared English as the official language of California. In 1998, voters in California passed a proposition that ended bilingual education in California. Prop 227 was known as the "English Only" measure. California was once part of Mexico. As white settlers moved westward, the idea of Manifest Destiny was developed which simply stated that all of the land towards the West were for citizens of the United States - white people. The US war of aggression against Mexico resulted in a huge land grab. However, in the Treaty of Guadeloupe signed in 1848, the rights of Mexicans living inside the newly created US border were to be respected and language was one of them. The Treaty of 1848 stated that the United States must respect the culture and language of the people formerly of Mexico. The debate over language is truly about control, not communication. In his amazing book, The Coming White Minority: California, Multiculturalism and America's Future, Dale Maharidge writes, "The truth ignored in the debate [over bilingual education] was this: only three out of ten of the 1.4 million California students with limited English proficiency were enrolled in a bilingual education class. Due to a shortfall of 20,000 qualified teachers, 70 percent of these students were already taking English only classes. The failure of many of them had nothing to do with bilingual education." Maharidge writes further that "Prop 227 [English Only] is just one more way that the third world work force will be kept in place, providing a pool of janitors and dishwashers..." The struggle to make English the official language in California is about delegitimizing another people's language and culture and reinforcing inferiority. Simultaneously, English and 'white' culture is reinscibed as superior. This is why many who opposed English Only used the slogan, "English Only means White Only". My thoughts as a small child that Spanish was a dirty language where drawn from society and reinforced. I use this example, because it demonstrates how white supremacy operates. As a small child I learned that my 'language', my 'culture', my 'history' was all central, all important. I didn't need someone to tell me that white people were better or superior, it was indoctrinated in my surroundings in a way that it need not be spoken.

It is important for white people to look at their experiences and deconstruct them, look into events and find their meaning. One of the crucial ways that people of color resist white supremacy is by confronting internalized racism, by coming to terms with a society that has systematic devalued their humanity, covered up their history, brutalized their memory of themselves as a people and then placed white standards as the mark by which they are judged (in terms of beauty, in terms of culture, in terms of language and in terms of intelligence). Black feminist theorist, bell hooks, writes, "oppressed people resist by identifying themselves as subjects, by defining their reality, shaping their new identity, naming their history, telling their story." Shaping history and defining a new reality is a strategy that must be embraced by white folx who desperately want to see the end of racism. Racism will always exist so long as whiteness exists, as white identity has been developed through the process of slavery, genocide and cultural annihilation. White identity was fused together as a way of dealing with massive injustice - to be white is to be human and all others are subhuman, savages, beasts of burden to be worked, raped, beaten and robbed - they deserve what they get and little else can be expected of them anyway. White identity has mutated and evolved over the years, but its core belief in being better, of being above others is deeply intact. When white people complain that Mexicans are taking their jobs; when white people complain that Asian Americans are taking over their country; when white people complain that Blacks are ruining their neighborhood - this concept of ownership, of entitlement is all based on the notion that this is a white society that is suppose to benefit white people.

W.E.B. Du Bois, one of the great intellectuals of American society, wrote that white people are rewarded for their support of a system that largely does not benefit them - in terms of how much power and wealth is concentrated into the hands of the few. He called this reward, the "psychological wages of whiteness". The ability of white people to think of themselves as better than Black folx, regardless of how poor they are, how many hours they have to work, how their labor makes someone else rich. "I might be poor, but at least I'm not a nigger" is how white identity helps shape a horribly disfigured humanity of hierarchy and punishment in the service of power and wealth. If white people are to work for an end to racial injustice then we must come to understand how the psychological wages of whiteness have (mis)shaped our identity and (de)formed our consciousness. Until white people confront their internalized superiority, the dynamics of racism will be reproduced unconsciously. Becoming conscious of how race operates, one will still make many mistakes and reproduce racism, but at least we can work to undo this and undermine this dynamic. Furthermore,


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