Sometimes I’ll ask a white person a question I often wonder about. It’s a question only they can answer, and typically one they’ve rarely, if ever, considered:
Would you give up your whiteness?
Generally, when I ask a white person this question they look at me like I’ve just asked: Would you ever walk across the ocean? Or maybe it’s more like: Would you ever light a winning lottery ticket on fire, just to see how it feels?
How could a white person give up their whiteness? It’s not like a gym membership. But ah, in fact, it’s a lot like a gym membership — only it’s one where other people pay your annual fees.
What exactly is it? Defining whiteness is both easy as all hell, and somewhat difficult. Essentially, whiteness is social power masquerading as an ethnicity. As a personal identity.
Let’s be all the way real about this: Whiteness is, primarily, a relationship to power.
Now, if I asked a black person whether they’d give up their blackness, they might not know what I mean, either. What’s there to give up? Blackness is a point of pride, a cultural history, a family of millions. But one thing it’s not is monolithic. It’s not one thing. There are just as many ways to be black as there are black people on the planet. But if one gave up their blackness, what would they be? Well, they’d be an American, or a Canadian, or a Cuban. You get the idea. Same is true for white folks.
That said, whiteness and blackness are not equivalent. They are not two sides of the same coin. Whiteness doesn’t function like that. It’s not intended to be one big fam, one people, one all-encompassing culture. There would be no blackness without the creation of whiteness.
Let’s be all the way real about this: Whiteness is, primarily, a relationship to power. That’s all it’s ever been. Whiteness is social supremacy translated into a skin tone. It’s not the same thing as a culture, or even a people. If we were to treat whiteness like any other ethnicity…