Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The incredible nothingness of "whiteness"...


America's summer of white discontent reached its apex this past weekend, with Glenn Beck and the fearful at the Lincoln Memorial on the anniversary of Dr. King's "I Have A Dream" speech.  And while, in these United States, they certainly have a "right to assembly" on any day for which they can afford to pay - let's not pretend that no insult to Dr. King's memory, the civil rights movement and everyone "other" was intended - because that, is an even bigger insult. 

The presence of their "rainbow coalition" notwithstanding, the "system of reality" at work on Saturday was most definitely one of  "restoring honor" to white supremacy and white privilege in the face of what they perceive as an assault on their dream by Obama & Co. - a perception hilariously telling in that he's done nothing BUT cater to their idea of the "American Dream" (but for his brown face).

So as not to leave you hanging, the clip above was taken from the October 26, 1965, Baldwin v Buckley debate at England's, Cambridge University.  The topic was:  "Has the American Dream been achieved at the expense of the American Negro?"  You'll have to follow the link and fast-forward to the 24:01 click to hear Baldwin's "this" (along with the remainder of his response), as he is the third debater and Buckley, with some interesting references to "white people" and "racial narcissim," is the last.  If you have the time though, it's well worth watching from beginning to end - for a lot of reasons.  But what I found most instructive, is the fact that not much, if anything has changed - on either side of the debate!

Nate Beeler/Washington Examiner
From the revsionist history textbooks the Texas State Board of Education voted in; to Virginia's slavery-ignoring celebration of Confederate History Month and their attempted restoration of literacy tests; to Arizona's passage of SB 1070; to South Carolina's Lindsey Graham suggesting a repeal of the 14th Amendment because he's petrified of "anchor babies"; to National Review's white people summit; to the furor over the inaptly named, "Ground Zero mosque;" right on up to the Beck/Palin, "Restoring Honor" event - it's abundantly clear that there are a whole lot of white folk who (to borrow from my old buddy, Jimmy) don't like having "their certainties disturbed."  The only problem with that though, is there ARE no "certainties" about who they even are in this country - other than what they've created.  

In "On Being White...And Other Lies" - his April 1984 essay, originally published in Essence magazine and recently republished in "The Cross of Redemption: Uncollected Writings" (edited and with an introduction by Randall Kernan) - Baldwin makes that point quite forcefully:
The crisis of leadership in the white community is remarkable - and terrifying - because there is, in fact, no white community.

This may seem an enormous statement - and it is. I’m willing to be challenged. I’m also willing to attempt to spell it out.

My frame of reference is, of course, America, or that portion of the North American continent that calls itself America. And this means I am speaking essentially, of the European vision of the world - or more precisely, perhaps the European vision of the universe. It is a vision as remarkable for what it pretends to include as for what it remorselessly diminishes, demolishes or leaves totally out of account.

There is, for example - at least, in principle - an Irish community: here, there, anywhere, or more precisely, Belfast, Dublin and Boston. There is German community: Rome, Naples the Bank of the Holy Ghost, and Mulberry Street. And there is Jewish community, stretching from Jerusalem to California to New York. There are English communities. There are French communities. There are Swiss consortiums. There are Poles: In Warsaw (where they would like us to be friends) and in Chicago (where because they are white we are enemies). There are, for that matter Indian restaurants and Turkish baths. There is the underworld - the poor (to say nothing of those who intend to become rich) are always with us - but this does not describe a community. It bears terrifying witness to what happened to everyone who got here, and paid the price of the ticket. The price was to become “white.” No one was white before he/she came to America. It took generations, and a vast amount of coercion before this became a white country. (emphasis mine)
As relevant today as he was 45 years ago, Baldwin's, "Jeremiah" - with his clear, consistent and critical knowing - not only eloquently puts his finger on the pulse of being Black in America, but on how the moral price of being "white" affects, not only the humanity of those upon whose necks it would grind its heel - but on its own humanity as well.  And according to Kalefa Sanneh's interesting, "Beyond the Pale," it was this very essay which served as a catalyst for the emergence of others in the field of "whiteness studies":   

...a cohort of scholars took up Baldwin’s charge, popularizing a field of research that came to be known as whiteness studies.  In 1994, the white labor historian David R. Roediger published an incendiary volume, “Towards the Abolition of Whiteness.” Paying special attention to unions and strikes, he traced the unsteady growth of American whiteness, a category that eventually included many previous identities that had once been considered marginal: Irish, Italian, Polish, Jewish. “It is not merely that whiteness is oppressive and false; it is that whiteness is nothing but oppressive and false,” he wrote. “Whiteness describes, from Little Big Horn to Simi Valley, not a culture but precisely the absence of culture. It is the empty and therefore terrifying attempt to build an identity based on what one isn’t and on whom one can hold back.” (emphasis mine)
Not long ago, on the documentary channel (trying not to watch much mainstream TV these days), I watched, "Beyond Wiseguys: Italian Americans and the Movies" which featured comments such as Frank Sinatra saying, he was "not gonna be the House Wop" in the 1945 short film, "The House I Live In" (he made the title song of the same name, penned by "Strange Fruit" writer,  Abel Meeropol quite famous), as well as this - "Guinea, dago, wop bastard, came from the irish, who got here before us. We waited for the Puerto Ricans and we turned on them." - a perfect example of Roediger's, "...attempt to build an identity based on what one isn't and on whom one can hold back" observation.

Abbey Lincoln's, "People in Me" below, is quite possibly "white culture's" worst nightmare.  Despite her passing earlier this month, she's still sweetly and clearly "insisting" as she gives the lie to both the supremacy and the privilege by pointing out, as Baldwin did, the falsity of both of those constructs.
 
But don't hold your breath waiting for Beck and his fearful to wrap their brains around that little "inconvenient truth."  Most of them never will.  If they did, they'd have to look back and own a lifetime of who they'd allowed themselves to become - a people whose "moral lives have been destroyed by that plague called color," and whose "American sense of reality has been corrupted by it."

And the beat goes on...

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