(Disclaimer: I’m “white.” Well, at least I look white. But I am hiding a little secret, which I talk a bit about in this blog post.)
In the group on Facebook that I’m a member of where we have intersectional discussions about The Handmaid’s Tale, there was a particular discussion in reference to the scenes in Season 2, Episode 13 (“The Word) about why Gilead’s leadership didn’t want their people to be able to read anything, even the bible. (There was a suggestion in the dialog that not even male children in Gilead were being taught to read anymore.)
It’s a great group where the discussions are mostly extremely informative and respectful. Sometimes people get a little mad, though. And I can’t assign blame to their anger.
But this time, a white lady got offended because, in a separate post, some white women were referred to as “pasty-ass Trump-loving suffragettes.” Said white lady was all, like, “‘females’ is considered to be dehumanizing to women, but “pasty-ass, Trump-loving suffragettes is not?”
No, it’s not dehumanizing. While it is kind of a hot-toned putdown, the people who it describes are all too human.
I touched on this in a previous post: Language matters.
“Pasty-ass, Trump-loving suffragettes” is a long-winded way to say, in a word, “white.” Sometimes, using short words to convey big ideas is helpful and useful, but not when we’re talking about race and culture in the U.S. In that case, I feel like just saying “white” is both a form of denial and a marker of intellectual laziness.
But that particular woman’s complaint points directly to the idea of “whiteness,” and that’s a suitcase that needs to be unpacked.
What is “Whiteness”?
We know what it is on the face of it. But an important realization for me has been that the idea of whiteness isn’t even real.
The word “white” is a linguistic shorthand, a loaded word. It describes an arbitrary, invented system which serves no other purpose but to steal financial and social capital from those who can never meet its arbitrary standard.
The inventors and users of the word “white” have stolen, and continue to steal, myriad cultural and financial resources from POC. What many “white people” don’t realize is that they are being stolen from too. But it’s not people of color (POC) who are doing the stealing.
POC are NOT the enemy.
We are all being turned against one another, and “race” is the most specious of excuses for that. We are being divided so that a small cadre of the rich, mostly “white,” can profit obscenely both financially and socially.
I remember during my time of cult recovery (which I spoke about briefly in a prior post), I was engaged for a few years in the act of stripping back all of my beliefs about life, examining them, and putting them back together in a stronger, truer way. Let’s make some conservative heads explode–an idle pastime of mine which delivers no end of mirth–by calling that process basically what it was: Values Clarification.
And at one point during those values clarification exercises, I said to myself: “I have nothing.”
Nothing but a culturally appropriated religion (i.e., Christianity), empty consumerism and, broadly speaking, a legacy of hate toward anyone who didn’t look like I do.
I had known from a young age that something was wrong with the way we live, but it took me years and a growing maturity and having the experiences I had to unpack this and learn how to talk about it.
I’m still learning.
My Little “Secret”
Genetically speaking, my mother was solidly Anglo. But my father, born in California, was Latino. I realize that I’ve used some words that are linguistic shorthand to describe things here. So let me expand.
My paternal grandfather was born in Puerto Rico. My paternal grandmother was born in Hawai’i as part of the Puerto Rican migration to the islands at the turn of the 20th century. I know that my paternal grandmother’s mother and my paternal grandfather’s father were also born in Puerto Rico.
My maternal ancestors came from Britain (and some of the Brits by way of Denmark), France, Ireland, Scotland, Germany. My mother was a semi-professional level geneaologist, so I have quite a lot of information about my mother’s ancestral lines.
As you can see, I have a wealth of ancestral culture that my family could have been celebrating during my lifetime. But I was instead “raised white,” with very little sense of either the paternal or maternal cultures of my ancestors.
I snitched little bits of guava paste from my grandmother’s pantry and ate it plain, like candy.
My dad had a habit of putting Monterey Jack cheese slices in his coffee and eating the melted cheese with a spoon.
I played mah jongg with the adults at holiday times, and I remember that marbles were called “pelotas.”
My grandmother used Maja soap. It smelled amazing.
My dad and grandparents often spoke Spanish among themselves, but my sisters and I weren’t spoken to in Spanish 98 percent of the time. Like Daya on Orange is the New Black, I didn’t learn to speak Spanish as a child. I learned fea and gringa pretty quickly, though, since I most often heard those applied to myself.
None of the adults bothered to explain anything about what we ate or why. None of the adults explained why some of the adults spoke a different language. None of the adults explained why I was muchacha fea and my middle sister was muchacha linda.
I figured out pretty quickly that to my grandmother, dark-haired and dark-eyed was beautiful. My sis has big brown doe eyes, and she’s olive-skinned. She tans darkly and easily. She’s also far more beautiful than I am, going strictly by, say, modeling industry standards or cosmetic industry standards.
But to my grandmother, pale skin and green eyes were fea. It felt painful and unfair of my grandmother to treat me unkindly for the way I looked, something over which I had no control. To be honest, I was bitter about this for years as an adult.
I’m not asking for pity here.
You see, also as an adult, I realized that this kind of thing happens to BIPOC in the United States every single day of their lives.
I had no more control over the genetic roulette that produced me than anyone else does. But I came to a point where I had to acknowledge that unfairness and injustice are built into capitalism. “Whiteness” is one of the fundamental measures of whether you’ll profit or lose in American society.
Americans of European descent are being stolen from too–but not by people of color. We’re all being stolen from by a greedy few. And the way we refer to these greedy few has taken on a linguistic shorthand of its own: “the one percent.”
America is, today, an empire. And empires exist only to aggregate power and profit. Empire-builders throughout history realized that empires could not be built by people who weren’t united around the aims and mores of their “one percenters.” Thus, many cultures, both white and nonwhite, were then and are now systematically crushed in order to facilitate the aims of those who desire to empower and enrich themselves. And this typically happens at the expense of others. Fred Waterford acknowledged this in The Handmaid’s Tale (Hulu).
In Gilead, “worse” might mean that your husband beats you with a belt for disobedience. Or maybe that you lose a finger or an eye or a clitoris or even your life.
In 21st century America, “worse” might mean that “white people” can’t afford to buy a matching set of brand-new Harley-Davidsons for themself and their partner. It might mean you might have to wait a couple of years to get a new sofa instead of right now. It might mean you send your kids to public school rather than private school. It might mean you eat chicken instead of steak.
For POC, “worse” might mean that a cop arrests you for driving while black. It means you might not be hired for a job because you’re “the wrong color.” It means that a Hispanic guy with a German last name might kill you and still get off scot-free. It means you might get shot and killed in your own backyard because a cop sees you talking on your cellphone and, absurdly, thinks your cellphone is a gun. It might mean that you’re taking two buses and walking several miles to work after you get off the bus, and you’re always exhausted. It might mean that your father’s in the for-profit prison system for the most meager of charges and will never again be a free man.
So “worse” is quite a subjective and relative word.
Make no mistake, empires have risen and fallen all over the world during known history. It happened relatively recently in Europe, to European people too. Britain was also an empire, and historically speaking, British empire-builders worked ruthlessly to crush Irish, Scottish, and Welsh culture in order to build their empire. (And that reminds me: Outlander on Starz is on its way back with a new season in November! #happydancing)
To sum up, the U.S. empire’s days are rapidly waning now. Astrology points to this fact in the form of the U.S.’s Pluto Return, which takes place in 2022.
And empires do not survive a Pluto Return.