Friday, December 19, 2008
Political Illiteracy: One White Radical's Perspective on "My people"
Hi, my name is Julian Real and I am a globally illiterate enabler of atrocities. I was raised to be a white man in the United States of America. I am also struggling to understand how my people came to be what we are and do what we do.
What does being a radical mean when I come from such a limited background of experience in the world? I can only answer this question based on that cloistered life. It means knowing I am part of a global minority. It means owning that being a Westerner, white, and a man are, at their core, political realities, not biological or geographic ones. It means knowing what I am as one among my people--particularly as a white person, a Westerner, and a man, which entails knowing where I am located, politically, structurally, and in various social hierarchies that have institutional force behind them and an agenda to subordinate and/or kill anyone who is seen, by any of those groups, as "the other". It means staying current on the political meaning of who I am, and what my people do that is political, organised, and intentional.
My people have constructed, over a few hundred years, various secular, political, and religious institutions that are designed to prop up the forms of power that my people and I have. Among those is the power to name, control, exploit, appropriate, abuse, harm, and neglect; to be oblivious, willfully ignorant, and in denial; to have the economcially coerced assistance of others, sometimes women and children within one's own ethnic group, sometimes the women and children of ethnic groups we oppress; to have slaves; to complain about things most people in the world will never get the opportunity to complain about, to have attention paid to us when we experience even one injustice, while whole populations in many regions of the world don't have one year, one day, or even one day of the privileges our most indignant, complaining ego-centric members have throughout our lives. And if, by chance, due to moving to this country, or this country moving itself into another's, some people do get a taste of some of our "values", our privileges, our entitlements, they do so only as marginalised people.
My people live in the oddest ways. We eat what isn't healthy, we purchase what we do not need, we buy small bottles of water less pure than a lot of our relatively free-flowing tap water; we assume we will always have clean water to drink, even while our millions of empty water bottles pollute the Earth and the water in them never gets to those who do not have much access to clean water--from tap or bottle. We believe that any atrocity is fine as long as the blood, the actual, literal blood, of the murdered, doesn't touch a majority of our hands, and their suffering doesn't reach our souls. Single families live in dwellings that, elsewhere in the world, could house many families, if not the population of a small village. In the case of some mansions, a small village of people could consider some single family mansions "roomy". We idolise and envy the people who own homes like these. We love TV shows about them. We love watching the images of them as they move through their days. We like being distracted and addicted.
We make getting around in a wheelchair, in a brace, or with a walker very difficult; those of us who are not physically disabled in terms of mobility usually drive when we can bicycle or walk. We uphold laws that are unjust. We jail innocent people for long periods of time, and jail rapists, incest perpetrators, child molesters, pornographers, pimps, batterers, traffickers of human beings, government and corporate criminals for short periods of time, if at all; we imprison people primarily based on the hue and shade of their skin and on a determination of their (low) economic standing. Those who are rich and white, who are predominantly and disproportionately my people, will likely never see the inside of a jail cell.
The women and girls among us will be colonised and oppressed by the men and boys among us. We males will rape, batter, pimp, procure, traffic, and enslave our children and women, as well as children and women from around the world. We play lots of video games. We watch lots of dramas, comedies, and sports on our TVs. We steal lots of music and movies from the Internet. We don't consider this stealing. We justify everything we do.
We don't know global geography at all. Many of us don't know whether Africa is a nation, a continent, or both. We barely understand the philosophies of our ancestors, let alone the philosophies of people outside our group. We tend to vehemently believe, or vehemently disbelieve, in one or both of the following: in a white male sky-god, or in Western science. Many of us believe a woman gave birth, without being impregnated by a man, to one son of a white male sky-god. (Somehow, although ethereal, he had a not-so-ethereal penis of some kind with which to impregnate this not-so-ethereal woman. Many of us believe there was a "first" woman who was born from a man's rib, not another woman's womb. I know, it's crazy talk, but we believe this! And if someone believes there is Spirit in rocks and trees, we think they are crazy. If someone believes plants communicate with us and each other, we want to lock them up in a psych ward--the people, not the plants.
We believe (and are taught) that "American English" is "the international language" as if everyone does or should speak it, and as if "it" is one language. What is meant by "American English" is "U.S. white, Hollywood-loving, capitalism-adoring, middle-class, Anglo-centric English". American English in reality, includes Chican@, Quebec, and African American Vernacular English; Yinglish, Appalachian, Cajun, and Ozark English; Hawai'an English or Hawai'i Creole; Mojave, Isletan, Tsimshian, Lumbee, Tohono O'odham, and Inupiaq English. Are all of those "universal"? Do my white U.S. kinfolk, collectively, want them to be? Until today I didn't know most of those languages had specific names. And there are many, many more regional and ethnic variants on what we might call "national newscaster English."
I grew up very provincially, inside the U.S.'s dominant society. Hearing U.S. and European nursery rhymes and children's stories--and later textbooks, watching U.S. and British TV, and listening to popular U.S. and British music ws supposed to sustain me aesthetically, intellectually, and culturally. Spiritually, if not a part of a church or temple (which was and is the case for me), walking in the woods is seen as a spiritually enriching experience if one leaves one's home to do, because "my people" do not tend to inhabit forests or other self-sustaining ecosystems; instead, we destroy them so we can live where they once were. Sometimes we plant and keep a few trees up, for shade or to break up areas of flat lawn in the yard. Some of my people grow herbs on their urban apartment balconies. My people do not know how to find these herbs in their own natural environments, do not know their indigenous (not Latin, not English) names. We are not especially concerned with how and where they exist outside of our grocery stores or supermarkets. My people live in mostly urban and suburban cities, built on stolen land; some of us live rurally on stolen land.
We do not know what it is to live on land that has been part of one's being for thousands of years, carrying the blood and bones of our ancestors. We think three generations of living somewhere is a very long time. We don't think of having "ancestors" unless we are appropriating other people's cultural traditions, including raiding their tombs and robbing their graves. We are prone to arrogantly and exploitively "adopt" the ancestors of the people "my people" systematically murder.
I am from "the genocidal class", a fact which I was not taught in my white-dominated schools. I am from "the rapist class", which also was left out of the textbooks and teachings. Being from these classes does not mean I, personally, commit genocide or rape. I have done neither interpersonally. But it means "my people" do it and there is an expectation that, as one of my people, I will be silent about what we have done and still do. To use one of the languages my people are fond of, I am supposed to "enable" my people's civilisation to continue.
I learned from my people a very strange thing: that we arrogantly, if erroneously believe we know everything and that we are the center of the universe: the dead center. Our language is referred to as "the universal language". Those among my people, from this country, who teach or preach Christianity, English, or capitalism here or abroad are seen as "doing good", which is to say, not committing genocide.
Our dominant cultural and religious practices are exported all over the world, as a form of cultural and "spiritual" colonialism which is to say, genocide. We can call these acts "good" because we have the power to be hypocritical, to lie, to cheat, to steal, and to protect and defend ourselves by any means necessary. We have the power to be right by stifling those who call us wrong. Should anyone else, those who are not my people, including "other" U.S. citizens, or "outsiders" seek to hold us accountable to our crimes, they are hunted down as traitors, heretics, lunatics, and terrorists. We are allowed to kill those we deem our enemies by any means necessary, and we have all the means necessary. Those who call us wrong do not have many means available, and we make sure they never will.
Because we call dissidents these negatively stigmatising terms, we are implying, as we believe, we are none of those things, and one of our other powers is to be stigma-resistant.
The Presidents of the United States, generally, have been savages, traitors, heretics, lunatics, and terrorists, yet that significant truth is not in the U.S. white history books I grew up reading. I have learned instead, from my nation's leader of the last eight years and from the history books he approves of, that American Indians were savage (and still could be) and that the land they have lived on was somehow discovered. Oh yes, we have the power to "discover" too. Our history of conquest is deemed glorious, honorable, and God-willed. The histories of those we have conquered have been deemed heathenistic, hedonistic, and godless.
In this context, with these powers to name, we believe that white Leftists are traitors. We believe that feminists, "homosexuals", and Jews are evil heretics. A great many of us believe that espousers of something called Global Warning or identifying our government as corrupt to the core, and genocidal, and pro-rapist, means we are anti-democratic lunatics. We believe that anyone or any group, from a member of The Weather Underground, to the Black Panther Party, to the followers of Malcolm X, to Indian warriors, to anarchists, to the urban and rural poor, to--the current bugaboo--"Muslims, Afghans, Iranians, Iraqis, Pakistanis, or Arabs" who doesn't demonstrate allegiance to our flag, our Founding Fathers, or our Freedom Fries, is dangerous, suspect, threatening, and untrustworthy. (That those adjectives describe every U.S. president, bar none, is not worth noting; my people hate it when things like that are said, let alone believed.) Regarding the current groups stigmatised as terrorists, we have with little to no awareness of what each of those populations actually is, how they are distinct from one another, where each is and isn't located geographically, and how nationally, politically, spiritually, ethnically, and culturally diverse each of those populations is, let alone how complex (not linear, not static, not monolithic) any national, regional, or ethnic group's history and people are.
I am a member of a people who think we know it all, when we know virtually nothing that can save us from ourselves, while we take everyone else down with us.