I'm not using those terms any longer.
This last year has been quite an educational one for me on the question of race.
I am one part of a transracial immediate family and a multiracial extended family, I've been attending several discussions and presentations on 'race' at our school, we are now part of a transracial family book club and I'2006/11/middleton_reunion_paradox_and.shtml" target="blank">family reunion has been a defining moment in my life.
And I've come to dislike 'black' and 'white' as terms of description for me to use about me and about others.
I used to use African-American interchangeably with "Black" and 'white' when describing myself and others. I often felt slightly uncomfortable using any of these words. I was never quite sure on if a term would be disliked by the listener (whether they themselves considered themselves to be included in those terms or not). I've had people of a wide range of complexions bristle at the terms for whatever reason. Other people's discomfort or disagreement is not a reason to not say something, but it has often given me pause.
But the reasons for not using the words are greater than that:
They are not indicative of reality, my family's, biological or historical reality. I'll go through this backwards. Or maybe they are, but that is the crux of my problem.
There is a strong, and true, argument that American history has been a long history of race relations between 'black' and 'white:' slavery, civil rights and more, and that, in reality, is how most Americans view race. It's through the prism of that history. If we were true to that, we'd acknowledge that reality by using the words that reflect it.
But is it the entire reality? First, it doesn't seem to acknowledge that there were other colors in that history, namely that of the peoples, a lineage of my ancestors, who lived on this continent before the arrival of the Europeans and those 'interactions'. If they are not white or black what are they? "Native American" I suppose, but just by that language the are put outside the world of "black and white". Nor does it acknowledge that some groups, who have now been folded into the 'white' priviledged world, were not "white" (or at least part of the power and privilege structure) in our grandparent's time or before. Irish, Polish, Jewish, Catholic have historically not been part of the 'white priviledge structure' when the first arrived, though eventually fold in. "White" has been a evolving construct.
Why does it evolve? Well, of course it must if what it means to be "white" must remain as a privilege in society. If we didn't keep the construct of 'white' (as juxtaposed to 'black' or 'people of color'), than how would we maintain the power of white privilege? Of course these were relatively easy groups to fold in to the structure after some struggle.
And eventually, or perhaps not.. time will tell, we will by the power of the reality, fold in the other 'groups' such as Arabs and Hispanics.
It seems such a catch 22 to me, we must acknowledge society's reality of race relations and white privilege, but without destroying the language of that privilege we perpetuate it.
Take for example the terminology of "people of color" and "ethnic." This is always used in contrast to "white." "White" is the standard we base everything on. It's part of the whole structure, even in our language, of white privilege. White is the standard. Everything else is "other," those people of color, those ethnic people. And this has two effects while acknowledging the reality of society's inequities based on color, it perpetuates it through framing it in a way the ones who set up the very structure of this society wanted it framed. It both sets up "white" as a standard and denies the amalgmation of "white" people an identity. My Anglo and German culture was, and even still is, different than another's Italian or Bulgarian cultural upbringing. So what happens, most "whites" don't have an 'ethnic' identity and in that vaacum we end up with "white supremacists" with their made up "white" identity and pablum like "Judeo-Christian" values. So while the term "white" acknowledges a reality of society, one we must acknowledge to move foward, it denies the reality that my Anglo and Germanic upbringing isn't the same as someone's Italian ubringing and keeps us mired in the reality we must acknowledge.
So, I'm at an impass. I don't like the term because it denies a reality, but it also acknowledges a reality.
A lot has been written about this before, of course. There _is_ nothing new under the sun. Just working out my feelings on this.
I skip the biological reality for the moment to get to my family's reality.
Those terms don't acknowledge my family's reality.
That first dawned on me when my sister-in-law, a Palestinian, called my brother "white." If she wasn't white, where did she fit? That "other" category of "color."
And that started to set up a false dichtomy that isn't my family.
Suddenly we'd have to see my family as those who were "white" and those who are not "white." Yet, it doesn't fit. The brother with the somewhat darker complexion and black hair indicative of our Mattaponi heritage. He's white. The sister-in-law who came from Palestine, she's "color." Me? I'm the whitest man in America as a friend would call me. My partner, of who's paternal ancestors came from Mexico. He's white because his maternal ancestors are from Wales. My nieces whose mother is of Anglo-German-Mattaponi descent and father is of African descent. They are "color." Our daughter, of African descent (with some French-"Indian") is "color."
It sets up a false dichotomy and denies the reality of our individual and family identities. We'd have to start trying, artificially, to put us in one of two columns. It doesn't work.
As you see, as always, I "think too much" as many here and in my life have told me. And I know that for some of you this reflection and equivicating is maddening to read, but well...
I'll just keep on thinking.
But for now, I'm not "white," I'm Anglo-German-Mattaponi and our daughter is African(mainly West-African)-Creole and my partner is Welsh-Basque-Mexican.
Those don't deny the reality. For the reality is my ancestors, the Anglo ones, owned slaves, of African descent. Not using the words 'white' and 'black' don't deny that history and that reality. In fact, it expands and even further acknowledges the reality.
That my heritage is Anglo says that I am indeed "white" and acknowledges the privilege I enjoy, yet at the same time acknowledges a more in depth reality. "White" acknowledges the first, but hides the second part of that reality. The same is true of "black."
And yet, even as I write this, I question everything I just wrote. Maddening isn't it?
And Sharpton thought he had a problem with his recent discoveries. What a wimp.
Â« All done!