CONTEXT: No other person has shaped my thinking, and this talk, on whiteness more than James Baldwin. Among other things, I wanted to follow Baldwin in describing whiteness as both an existential and historical phenomena; as a matter of personal freedom/oppression and historically and culturally constituted. Say what?
Baldwin on race and existentialism:
is tragic simply because the earth turns and the sun inexorably rises and sets,
and one day, for each of us, the sun will go down for the last, last time.
Perhaps the whole root of our trouble, the human trouble, is that we will
sacrifice all the beauty of our lives, will imprison ourselves in totems,
taboos, crosses, blood sacrifices, steeples, mosques, RACES, armies, flags,
nations, in order to deny the fact of death, the only fact we have. It seems to
me that one ought to rejoice in the fact of death–ought to decide, indeed, to
earn one’s death by confronting with passion the conundrum of life. One is
responsible for life: It is the small beacon in that terrifying darkness from
which we come and to which we shall return.”
― James Baldwin, The Fire Next Time (bold, capitalization, and italics are my own)
Baldwin on history:
History, as nearly no one seems to know, is not merely something to be read. And it does not refer merely, or even principally, to the past. On the contrary, the great force of history comes from the fact that we carry it within us, are unconsciously controlled by it in many ways, and history is literally present in all that we do. It could scarcely be otherwise, since it is to history that we owe our frames of reference, our identities, and our aspirations.”
― James Baldwin, The Price of the Ticket: Collected Nonfiction, 1948-1985
Kamau Bell- http://www.wkamaubell.com/
Linda Alcoff- The Future of Whiteness for more on “better ways of speaking about being white” & on exploiting “other white people speaking for you”
Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed on “speaking back to the world” as beginning of freedom.
Chris Hedges- Wages of Rebellion
Peter McLaren on the Class Clown figure as symbol of resistance
James Baldwin on whiteness as a robewe wear to deal with being human
W.E.B DuBois on “The Souls of White Folk“
Erich Fromm’s “Escape from Freedom” and “To Have or to Be?” helped me see the existential conditions (resentment, pain, anger, loneliness, etc.) that produce the violent extremism in white bullies and their pattern of using whiteness to terrorize defenseless others.
Michael Kimmel’s on Angry White Men
Jeffrey Berry and Sarah Sobieraj’s on the “Outrage Industry”
Arlie Hoschild’s Strangers in their Own Land
David Roediger’s Wages of Whiteness
Ibram Kendi’s Stamped From the Beginning on hall monitors “playing the larger (than bullies) role in history of whiteness”. Kendi’s distinction between the producers of racist ideas (for profit/power) and the consumers of racist ideas; turning the myth that hatred produces racist policies on its head.
Carol Anderson’s White Rage on how rage/anger doesn’t always show up as physical violence; but through policies of “law and order.”
George Lipsitz The Posessive Investment in Whiteness
Cheryl Harris on Whiteness as Property
Nell Painter’s “History of White People” on “dirty whites”
Dana Claire on “Crackers”
David Roediger “Working Towards Whiteness” on how ““dirty whites” have more often than not tried to clean themselves up and behave for history’s hall monitors”
Noel Ignatiev’s “How the Irish Became White”
Nancy Isenberg’s “White Trash”
On the “thread of bad white people who have embraced the dirtiness of their struggle and joined their neighbors in solidarity” see below (amongst many others!)..
Mab Segrest “Memoir of a Race Traitor”
Bob Zellner’s Wrong Side of Murder Creek: A white southerner in the freedom movement”
David Reynold’s biography of John Brown– John Brown, Abolitionist: The Man Who Killed Slavery, Sparked the Civil War, and Seeded Civil Rights”
The Colorblind Classroom:
Edwardo Bonilla-Silva’s “Racism without Racists”
Shannon Sullivan- Good White People
UT Austin study- See Baby Discriminate
See Sullivan’s Good White People for more on “Shame and colorblind goodness are like emotional straight jackets; tying our hands and covering our mouths when it comes to race.”
See Alcoff’s The Future of Whiteness for more on living in a “mirror moment in history” & white people seeing ourselves in a mirror.
See Robin Williams on how our “inner spark of rebellion (madness)” is a source of joy, life and resistance.
**The line that will probably make me cringe the most in hindsight is “We do not choose the skins we’re born with; but we do choose how we’ll wear them.” Our choosing how we wear our whiteness is always constrained, and caught up, in historical, economic, and ideological forces much larger than we are as individuals. But it is struggling through those realities that we experience greater freedom. And it is struggling together with fellow anti-racists of all stripes that we create a more free society for all of us.**