Tuesday, August 11, 2009

What is "A White Man" anyway?

[image is from here]

A relatively young white man who appreciates many of the postings on this blog asked me to define what I mean by "a white man".

I'll attempt to do so here.

First, the term "a white man" or "white men" is not ever used here as a biological term. It is not a description of something that occurs in nature as we popularly speak of the nature vs. environment distinction. White men are not the population of grown up people who don't a clitoris when born, for example; nor are they those people who have relatively little melanin in their pale skin. A white man is not a natural occurrence, in other words. A white man is a social-political phenomenon, in person. He is one among a group of people positioned at the top of two social/political/economic hierarchies: the one frequently called the gender hierarchy and the one called the racial hierarchy.

In the gender hierarchy of the white male supremacist West, there are two acknowledged genders: woman and man, with woman historically and transculturally, if not universally, being seen and treated as lesser than man; as inferior to, as in service to, as subordinate to man, naturally or by [a white man's vision of] God's design.

In the racial hierarchy of the white male supremacist West, there are several races, but two are identified most often as being "in opposition" historically and transculturally, if not universally: a race called "white people" and a race called "Black people". Now, we can note immediately that "Blackness" globally doesn't always mean "of African descent". For example, the Indigenous people of Australia are termed "Black". Also, in the U.S. alone, people of sub-Saharan African descent, particularly and especially the descendants of Africans captured and forcibly transported in the Maafa, intentionally to be used/abused as slaves for whites in the U.S., have been termed various things over the decades, some obviously and overtly pejorative, but some that were not pejorative at the time they were most commonly used among and by African Americans. Some of these terms have come and gone with the passage of time and social-political conditions and consciousness. One example is "Colored people" still noted in the civil rights group's named: NAACP. We see this term in Ntozake Shange's play, For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide / When The Rainbow Is Enuf. Colored was also used by whites in the U.S. to describe American Indians and people from the First Nations in Canada. We can also note that in the U.K. and in South Africa, the racialised term "Coloured" doesn't mean African American. It refers instead to people of "mixed race". Here we must again remind ourselves there are more than two races, so "mixed race" need not refer only to people whose lineage goes back to sub-Saharan Africa (and, for example, Europe); the online edition of the Encyclopaedia Brittanica defines "Coloured" this way:

Coloured [people]:
a person of mixed European (“white”) and African (“black”) or Asian ancestry, as officially defined by the South African government from 1950 to 1991.

So we can note that not only nationally and regionally, but also temporally and culturally, these terms do not have fixed meanings; their meanings can and do change over time.

"Whiteness" itself has a history, a social-political one, not a natural one. It is the designation given to those who are positioned above and against people of color. Who is white has varied over time. In this country, for example, I am white. But in Nazi Germany, as an Ashkenazic Jew, I would not have been seen as white; I would have been seen, treated, and likely killed for being "not white" and "impure due to not being Aryan-white".

For much more on the history and unnaturalness of whiteness, please read Tim Wise's writings.

What "woman" means (in various languages) has historically been politically decided by men in various patriarchal cultures. How women define "woman" has significantly more variation, moving beyond the confines and shackles of men's violently enforced parameters for what women can do, and, "are". And women who move beyond men's shallow confines are punished socially, including by being stigmatised, stereotyped, and stoned to death, by stones or fists.

"Man" too is a relative term, historically (his-story being written by men) nonsensically meaning "humankind" or "all of humanity". This is false. If limited to the terms "woman" and "man" in English, if we're going to equate one of those two genders with humankind we ought to use the term "woman" as the synonym, not man. After all, there are more women than men on the Earth. Also, the gender-oppressed are more humane than the gender-oppressors, contrary to what members of the oppressor classes project onto the oppressed with nauseating and insulting regularity.

"Men" and "Whites" mean, specifically, those two groups of humans who oppress "women" and "people of color" respectively. White men, of course, are positioned socially to oppress women of all colors, as well as men of color and all children and animals and the Earth. We white men are not only positioned to do so, but we actively do so, in many ways that we, collectively, take little to no responsibility for. This is important to note: our position is a critical component in how we behave towards other people. Systems of accountability for "decent treatment" for example, are, in white and man-dominated societies, set up to allow white men to get away with murder, rape, battery, incest, child molestation, pollution, global warming, the extinction of thousands of species of non-human animals, sexual slavery, genocide, gynocide, and more.

The young white men mentioned above does not actively oppress women in his life interpersonally (any more), for the most part. But he is still positioned to be able to do so interpersonally; and should he use misogynistic language to or around a woman or women, he would be committing an act of gendered oppression. Regardless of how non-oppressive he is interpersonally, around women he knows or sees, he, and I, and all men, are oppressive to women systemically, structurally, and institutionally. We are cogs in white male supremacy's machinery, whether we like it or not. (And most do like it, tragically for the rest of humanity.)

In liberal societies, it is mistakenly believed that "oppression works both ways" or that women can be just as sexist against men too. Or that people of color can be racist against whites. This is structurally impossible and utter nonsense. It is interpersonally possible that any person can be harmful to any other person, regardless of race or gender, or other factors. But given that the societies white men rule are founded on several institutions that require various structures of support and maintenance, there is never an opportunity, a social reality, inside which women can oppress men--of the same economic class, race, and sexuality. Likewise, no person or people of color can oppress whites. Society isn't set up to make that an option. As noted, individuals may carry very stereotypical ideas about what it means to be white, Black, Arab, Jewish, Muslim, lesbian, transgendered, gay, rich, or poor, but these "ideas" are not manifesting oppressively, institutionally against whites--of the same gender, economic class, and sexuality.

A far too common response I hear from white men when I speak of this subject is: "What about Oprah? She has way more social power than I do. She owns media. She's a multi-millionaire." Unless I'm speaking to Rupert Murdoch, or any number of other men far more wealthy and powerful than Oprah Winfrey, I respond by saying "please compare people within the same stratas of society. For example, while Oprah may have more power, in many regards, than a poor, homeless white man, that poor, homeless white man can still call Oprah Winfrey derogatory terms for both women and Blacks. That homeless white man still has the means to sexually harass her too, and worse. But more to the point, let's compare the homeless white man to a homeless woman of color and see who comes out ahead, in terms of status, social visibility, stigma, and likelihood of dying of major diseases. (Answer: not the white man.) And if we compare Oprah Winfrey to Rupert Murdoch, he has far more influence over what we know and do than does Oprah. And ol' Rupert and even more visibly famous white men, aren't likely to be refused service and treated rudely by in a chic French shop due to his race and gender, even if he allegedly arrives fifteen minutes after they close.

But when we speak of "position" we are referring specifically to how a society is structured, who most benefits from that structure, who gains status and privileges and entitlements, and who loses them, or is never given them to begin with. We are speaking of what forms of agency and power individuals and groups have within systems that either promote their welfare and well-being or discriminate against them.

This is when many white men who are liberals will chime in that "if I was one-eighth Native American I could go to college for free! You don't call that "reverse discrimination"?!

No. And here's why. The very few laws and policies that exist to try and remedy social inequalities and injustices that have happened only due to the over-valuing and privileging and empowerment of whites and men over time, by white men in charge of social institutions, have not, as yet, produced a society that shows any signs of lessening its white male supremacist power any time soon. While tokenistic efforts appear from time to time to give the appearance that white men want equality among the genders and races, what is never achieved is that actual equality. What is never accomplished, even with that free college tuition for American Indians in white men's institutions of "higher" learning, is the transformation of those academic institutions such that white men's views and values are seen as no better or worse than those of any other political/cultural group. You can get a free pass in, but once in you'd better learn how to "think and behave like a white man" in order to succeed. A wise white lesbian woman I once knew studied theology at Yale for her Ph.D. almost didn't make it through to get the degree because of all the white (and heterosexual and Christian) male supremacist bullshit (beliefs, rules, standards of conduct, notions of "knowledge", etc.). And of course the white men who professed there never understood what was severely ignorant and oppressive about their values and ideas.

What about Obama being president, liberal white men ask? Doesn't that mean that we no longer live in a white male dominated country? First, the U.S. remains white male dominated. Second, he is still operating in an overwhelmingly and predominantly white male supremacist culture (the U.S. government of Washington, D.C.), and is limited in what he can do for women and people of color because of that. Add to that the fact that many of his values and policies are also shaped by that culture, represent that culture, and are culturally imperialistic and murderous globally in ways that most benefit white men and least benefit women of color. And then there's the question of Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor. Here we have a perfect example of how a woman of color's statement is turned against her, particularly when she's identifying something structurally and socially true.

In recent months, Justice Sotomayor was verbally and in print raked through the coals for making what to me seemed like a rather unremarkable statement:

“I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion [as a judge in the U.S. court system] than a white male who hasn’t lived that life[.]"

When I first heard this comment I thought: "Duh." White men are not positioned to know or care much about most of humanity, are notoriously self-serving in their/our policies and practices, and, given that we are positioned over and against others in the race and gender hierarchies, tend to know very little about what it means to be oppressed by white men, unless we are marginalised or oppressed by white men for other reasons: such as poor white men being oppressed by rich ones, gay white men by straight ones, disabled white men by non-disabled ones, and so on. Even then, though, such awareness of one's oppression as poor, gay, or disabled does not tend to make those oppressed (and oppressive) white men empathically connected to the experiences of people of color--women and men, and white women, generally.

This lack of empathy that comes from not having walked in the shoes of the gender-oppressed and race-oppressed, or ridden in their wheelchairs, means that we white men have to go out of our way, off our privileged path, beyond our myopic world views and values to gain insight and understanding, let alone empathy, for those we structurally oppress.

In my experience, white men do not go out of our way often enough or far enough; most don't go out of our way at all. We tend to want to preserve our social-political-economic position (and the power and privileges that come with it) nationally in the U.S. and U.K., for example. We want the experience of ourselves as "the norm". We hate feeling like "the other"--even while we are, especially in the U.S., which ethically belongs to no white man. We, the trespassers, the invaders, the conquerors, also want and do preserve our social, economic, and political structures globally, through policies and practices we white men created in order to hoard and abuse the world's so-called resources, including by identifying and treating all those people who are not men and not white as "resources" for white men.

As is now well-known by white men who grossly sexually exploit people worldwide, white men globe-trot specifically and intentionally to appropriate other cultures' people and artifacts, to rape boys, girls, transgendered people, and women, to purchase and enslave human beings who are not white or men, to set up shop--literally, where people of color, disproportionately children and women, do the atrociously repetitive, laborious, and dangerous work that white men, even poor white U.S. men, do not generally have to do because the globalised economy is structured by the white men-led and controlled World Bank, multinational corporations, and the International Monetary Fund, not to mention the white men-controlled religious institutions. the various Christian church leaders who preach what they have no intention of practicing, unless they are preaching about evil-doing. Question: how many white men in the Christian Churches have to be discovered and reported to be rapers of nuns and other female church-members and abusers of female and male children before we stop listening to their racist, misogynist, misopedic "God-inspired" preachings? I am waiting for the answer.

Because white men tend to live lives in great ignorance of the experiences and knowledge of the majority of human beings on the Earth, we tend to have a very myopic understanding of what humanity is, how humanity thinks, responds, and acts in many parts of the world. To use a metaphor, we are positioned on a mountaintop above the clouds; we cannot see what is happening below us. We think all is well--more or less, as we sit perched atop our white man's mountains (made by slaves who are not white, fed and nurtured--kept alive--by white women). We don't consider that our piss flows downward below the cloud line which is our sole vista (if we choose). We don't particularly care who has to endure its stench and volume. When asked to peek below the cloud line, should we do so and notice beings below, we tend to remark cynically, without any regard for the humanity of those we harm, "They can climb up here and be with us. And if they don't that's their own damn fault!" Never mind that these mountains have peaks, not plateaus, and only have room for the few, never the many. Never mind that the white man not only doesn't care to offer a hand up, but shits all over the people below. Never mind that life below would be just fine thank you, if only white men would stop pissing and shitting all over it.

And so our seemingly gracious efforts to equalise inequalities that are structured into society, by offering the free tuition to an American Indian student, for example, doesn't factor in what she has lived through to even get that far: the amount of stench of white men's shit she's inhaled, the miles of wading neck deep in white men's piss. Nor do white men's rather self-serving efforts to "help the less fortunate" measure what kind of social climate she's forced to assimilate into in order to succeed in white men's colleges, teaching white men's ideas and ways of doing things. She may be admitted, but she won't see herself reflected in the canon of great reading materials and examples of great people in history.

This is how it comes to be that the father of this young white man, who is also white and far more self-unaware of his white, heterosexual, and male supremacist privileges and entitlements than is his son, could say to me not long ago that Feodor Dostoevsky expressed the human condition (experience) in his writings in a way that is superior to any other writer. This Christian white man not only said it, but he believed it. Are there actually places that try and demonstrate that Christian white men are the best writers? Yes.

When I immediately asked him, "How does he represent women in his novels", this Christian heterosexual white man who is around fifty-years-old said, honestly, "He doesn't do so well with women characters; they tend to be far more two-dimensional than his male characters." (We can note that Mr. Dostoevsky never did turn out a brilliant book called The Sisters Karamazov.) I then noted that given that most of the world's human population is female, he might want to reconsider how much of humanity Dostoevsky allegedly spoke for.

I would argue that any and every white man speaks to and through his own experiences primarily, and to those of the people he knows best empathically and socially. Given the hierarchies mentioned above, those people in his social circles tend not to be people of color, unless they are his house cleaners, the carers of his children, or his gardeners. This, combined with a significantly limited capacity for empathy for anyone other than white people and/or men, means that his life experiences generate and sustain little to no empathy or understanding for those he hires for help and for every other human being who is not his race or his gender. To him, they are not of equal status and worth, no matter his proclamations to the contrary. And so the majority of the world's population remains "other" to him; he sees them primarily through the tiny, distorted lens his position allows; and to the degree he sees them at all, he mistakenly regards them as lesser in quality, intelligence, and character. No white man writer I know, not Dostoevsky, not Tolstoy, not Hemingway, not Shakespeare, describes "the" human experience or condition. He may describe "a" human experience.

White men's philosophies and politics are so limited in their understanding of the self, the world, and Spirit, that they can scarcely get out of their own way to see what is before them. And how many women of color do you think made the list of "Great Philosophers"? Check here for the answer. What political demographic do you suppose has defined "philosophy" and "greatness"? Answer: "educated" white men. So rather than ask Aboriginal elders how they and their ancestors have managed to live sustainably on the Earth for thousands of years, we look to two white Australian men for the answers to this very important question. It's not that Bill Morrison and Scott Pitman have nothing useful to say; it's that we look to them as holders of great truth and ideas, and as saviors of us all, because they are white men. When whites do go to people of color, especially Indigenous people, for counsel, advice, guidance, and wisdom, it is almost always to exploit them, and enhance white men's quality of life while--knowledgeably or not--continuing our genocide against them, culturally and physically. And when white men go unwelcomed into non-industrialised cultures, we historically assume and believe the holders of knowledge are the men, not the women, and certainly not those who are neither.

The universalising and normalising of white men's perspectives, feelings, ideas, experiences, and behavior is one of the key ways that white men maintain oppressive control over everyone else. Extra status is given to those white men who behave in especially white and manly ways.

So, all of the U.S.'s presidents prior to Barack Obama, being white Christian publicly heterosexual men who were oppressive to women and people of color, including being rapists of slaves and genocidalists, are generally regarded in U.S. society as "heroes" and "great men". Needless to say, I don't agree. If speaking only about U.S. Americans, I think Sojourner Truth, Harriet Tubman, Lozen, and Andrea Dworkin were far greater people than any U.S. president, including Barack Obama.

That we reward and honor white men, and many men who are not white, with medals and accolades for going outside the U.S. and murdering people of color, and raping both white women and women of color, as well as murdering them, tells us a great deal about the dominant white man's value system.

When I say "the dominant white man" I am often accused of grossly stereotyping white men. I would argue that white men far more powerful and influential that I'd ever want to be do this all by themselves. White men keep each other in line, in check. White men physically beat the shit out of each other for acting in ways that are not white or manly enough. White men use the term "man" all the time; never bothering to say "some white men, but certainly not all". Scour the history books and newspapers over the last hundred or so years: who uses the term "man" the most to improperly categorise and identify all people as one kind of people? Answer: "educated" white men.

White men's legacy on this Earth speaks for itself. There's nothing at all I, or any profeminist or feminist, can say or do to make that history be different than it is. The books have been written, the atrocities have occurred and still occur: the so-called great victories of white men over everything else have been recorded. I just happen to think what we white guys have done isn't all that great, particularly when we consider the cost to most of humanity, and the rest of the Earth's beings, to achieve it.

I'm not going to diss the Beatles' music. I think some white guys are really funny. I love Fred Astaire and James Dean. Believe it or not, some of the people I consider to be my closest friends and chosen family are white men. But, on the whole, what we white guys have done to this place is not a pretty story and it's about time we owned up to the fact that we did it and we have the power to undo it. We own so much of the world; why is it so hard for us to take responsibility for and radically change the destructive things we do?

I welcome responsible, respectful comments or questions if anyone reading this is still confused about what it means to be a white man.

14 comments:

Amos said...

Excellent essay. I very much appreciate your thorough explanation of The White Man phenomenon, as I too have encountered many a white man who didn't get why I am skeptical of them from the get-go. May I link to this article from my facebook? I know several white radical males who could use a refresher and reminder of the nonsense people go through when they're living obliviously in their clouds of privilege.

Julian Real said...

Oh, by all means! Send the link to any white guy you know.

One of the frustrating things about being white and a man is the privilege we white men have to think of ourselves "only" as individuals. Yeah, right. And so we wonder, "Huh, why is s/he thinking of me as 'one of them'??? I'm just my own person, unique, distinct, special."

Not so fast, white men. Time to reassess what got us where we are. We're fine with being part of "the group" as long as we're luxuriating in our privileges and entitlements which are grossly and extensively co-supported among white men, but should anyone challenge us as being the possessors of those privileges, entitlements, or due to our sexist/racist behavior, suddenly we're back to being "just an individual". Can't have it both ways.

Chuck Anderson said...

I am white. I am male. I am heterosexual. I am Christian. I am middle aged (about the same age as your father). Particularly by global standards, I am wealthy. I cannot change most of that - nor do I want to.

BUT...I desire, at some point in my life, the honor of being worthy of the label "feminist." Someone who champions against the evils of racism, ageism, sexism, and most of the other -isms out there. In other words, DOING something real about it, as an individual human being who is operating within the cultural systems that exist - whether I like them or not - in the world today.

Some of the piss and shit running down the mountain is mine...I regret it, but it's already out there. I can't take it back. I can try not to add any more to the flow, but I am trapped in my skin, I have a penis that I'm rather attached to, and I am enraptured with my relationship with the God of the Universe (Whom, I believe, created both male AND female "in His image").

I can give my power, my position, and my money away. I can "uplift and empower" others (even that sounds rather paternalistic and patriarchal!). But in the end, I cannot stop being who I am. I can only struggle to be(come) who I was created to be(come) - a process that will take the rest of my life, and the success (and failure) of which can only be judged once I am freed from this "body of death", as St. Paul puts it...

Repentance starts with each of us as individuals, but it can never end there. Go ahead and be skeptical of me (as Amos says)...you have good reason to be. But at the same time, know that I intend to use the privileges and entitlements that "naturally" come to me as a White Male (I'm trapped in this socio-cultural system, too!) for the good of The Other (that-which-is-not-like-me) whenever and however I can.

Julian Real said...

Hi Chuck,

Please, for the love of G-d, spare me from any references to the New Testament. I've heard it all a million and half times. I'm not Christian and am old enough to know it's not something I wanna be when I grow up.

You're desire to be called feminist won't be fulfilled here. Your work to interrupt and challenge and halt male supremacy and white supremacy, and heterosexism and Christian domination, and the rapid drive to ecocide, ought not be done, imo, so you can call yourself something at the end of the day, or at the end of a lifetime.

Do it because it's the right thing to do. And leave the accolades to those who, relative to us whiteboys, rarely get them. The poor, people of color, women.

Doing the work to make humanity less harmful to oppressed groups should be reward enough.

Yes, Chuck, you and I are in a system, but we're not "trapped" in that word is to have real meaning. Poor people are often trapped in poverty, by a system that only allows just so many bootstraps to be handed out. Women are trapped in a society that so despises them, that any man who is seen as womanly is also despised. People of color are trapped by white supremacy, into a mindset and reality that would have them believe they are lesser than whites. Which of course is utterly preposterous. You and I: not so trapped. We benefit heavily on the backs and necks of the oppressed, and I never recommended you "give up your privileges" and rather made the point that it's not possible even if you wanted to.

I support you doing your work, which hopefully isn't adding to the Christian-led genocide of so many people who are not and ought not ever be Christian. And please recognise that to most folks in the world, you and I are the Other; and our privileges make us comfortable, and horribly inhumane.

Elsa Neal said...

I'm enjoying your posts on XY; you're really making me think.

I'm interested in your take on Zimbabwe. To my mind, given enough brutality and violence, a racial hierarchy can be "reversed" - but the resulting situation is (I'm tempted to say "equally") as bad. Women of all race groups are violated as before; white men wear their skin as a death sentence. Is it really justice to kill someone and/or forcibly evict them due to the wrongs perpetrated by their ancestors? Granted, they've benefited from those wrongs - but surely there must be a more peaceful solution. Or am I just naive?

aladydivine said...

"I'm interested in your take on Zimbabwe. To my mind, given enough brutality and violence, a racial hierarchy can be "reversed" - but the resulting situation is (I'm tempted to say "equally") as bad. Women of all race groups are violated as before; white men wear their skin as a death sentence."

Elsa, do you think that whiteness and white supremacy have had anything to do with the state of Africa today? Are you up on the history of Zimbabwe? Just wondering what context this comment was posted in.

Julian Real said...

Hello Elsa,

I look forward to reading your response to aladydivine, just above this comment.

My response to you is in two parts.

I am almost completely ignorant on the history and current conditions in Zimbabwe. I read up on some of that history yesterday, but, as is so often the case history is written by the victors, which means their crimes against humanity tend to be simultaneously minimized and glorified. It is too often, where I live, written by whites, no matter what place is being "definitively" recorded, and by white men usually if not always.

The scenario you lay out is not one I would articulate the way you do, due to my distrust of such evaluations as generally ahistorical and myopic. This is not a commentary on you. This is a commentary on what whites and men do, systematically, to make white male supremacy invisible as a force of destruction, including in places where there are few whites, and including in places where some of the oppressed actually have the nerve to fight back, usually with methods taught to them by white men.

"Scalping", to take one example from white men's U.S. history, was NOT a practice of American Indians prior to white men coming here. It was, in fact, a practice by the English against the Irish. The English came here and did that to American Indians, heinously--as if there's any other way. And it remained a practice, even if used by some American Indians against others, in full service to white male supremacy becoming the ideological set of practices that were increasingly woven into every unjust law on this land. That the genocide against American Indians here is still going on and no white person I know will address it or take the time to find out about it, says a lot about white power and especially white men's power.

I also don't respond much to hypotheticals. They tend to be a tactic of whites and men to avoid dealing with "what is". Again, I look forward to your reply to aladydivine.

Are you saying that you believe the racial hierarchy in Zimbabwe has been reversed?

The presence of brutality and other violence against the colonising group, against the oppressor, do not determine, for me, whether or not political structures, systems, and ways of being have been reversed. It is appropriate, in my mind, that the oppressed should rise up and take out the oppressed. I am not a pacifist, needless to say, except in my own interpersonal world.

Julian Real said...

Elsa, you wrote:
Women of all race groups are violated as before

Women of most racial groups have been horrendously violated by white men, wherever white men go. White men often teach men of color how to do things to women that women of color didn't experience before the white man arrived. And sometimes men of color are cruel to women without the input or lessons of white men.

But your statement, if I'm understanding it, doesn't read as accurate to me, in my experience of how shifting nations, erased and redrawn borders, constructed and collapsed civilisations, and people from particular areas change over time with regard to how white male supremacy expresses itself in real violence, including sexual violence against women. It surprises me not at all to know that women are sexually violated in places where there are men who believe women are lesser than them. And white men have done a magnificently atrocious job of teaching many men of color to think of women the way white men think of women, and to treat them accordingly, with disdain, with practices of subordination, with gross, ubiquitous, standardised sexual violence. Any woman's rape is a horror, no matter who perpetrates it. But that horror placed next to all the others women endure or do not survive, doesn't entirely comprise "the conditions that existed before". For me, what happens to women and girls is central to understanding any system of oppression. I in no way wish to trivialise any act of rape, any use of force against a woman by a man. Whenever that happens, it is wrong, in my view. No matter who the male perpetrator is.

There are many here and in other white-dominated, male-dominated, and white male supremacist nations and places that announce, with little to no memory of what things were like six decades earlier, or two centuries earlier, or half a millennium earlier, that "it's as bad now for men as it once was for women" or "it's as bad now for whites as it once was for Blacks" [or American Indians, or Chican@s, or any number of other groups oppressed--past and present.] I believe most white male supremacist genocides, gynocides, invasions, and colonisations are not recorded as such in history books written by white men. And violence against women, in any form, is generally regarded as "a secondary matter" when measured against the violence that men do to other men. Rape, for example, is often spoken of as a consequence of men's wars against one another, as opposed to A WAR AGAINST WOMEN by men. What is the history of men's war against women in Zimbabwe? Was there always one? Or did one appear and remain after white men arrived?

Julian Real said...

Elsa, you also wrote:
white men wear their skin as a death sentence.

I doubt that anything happens as it did before, and while being identified as white may become a temporary liability in a land where whites have been cruel to people of color for decades, or longer, the targeting of "a people" for physical violence is but one aspect of how oppression works and is maintained. This is to say, the way you describe reality there is not my experience or understanding of how things operate in the realm of human oppression, and I say that with almost complete ignorance to what, specifically, is happening there. In my experience and with whatever meager knowledge I have of other societies, civilisations, and cultures, the conclusion you put forth is one that is arrived at by never living the conditions the oppressed did and do, and therefore being unaware of the many forms of violence done, on so many levels, not just physically, to the oppressed.

Nowhere in a place colonised by white men, including a place in which white men colonise white women, does a hierarchy get reversed, as I see it. Sometimes oppressed people rebel, and sometimes their rebellion succeeds in certain ways. Often, among groups of men, there is vast bloodshed. But, in the situations I am more aware of, economic, cultural, sexual, and spiritual destabilisation and murderous lessons taught to the oppressed by white men do not disappear.

To whatever extent women and men of color find ways to take back land and bones of ones ancestors from whites, for example, this current state of affairs, this period of relatively meager reclamation, cannot be said to be "as it was before", because before there either were no whites, or whites were in full rule.

Even if white men are no longer in control of a nation's government, for example, white male supremacy has made a mark, has left scar, often a very open and festering wound, that is difficult to heal and that leaks poison into all who walk on the land where white men were murderous. Sometimes this poison is seen in behavior. Sometimes is is seeping up from a damaged Earth trying to heal itself.

Land is not easily unpoisoned, and people, once oppressed, can never be as they once were.

Julian Real said...

Hi Elsa: it looks like my reply ended up being in three parts! I welcome your responses to all that has been written above to you.

Elsa Neal said...

Hi ALadyDevine,

"...do you think that whiteness and white supremacy have had anything to do with the state of Africa today? Are you up on the history of Zimbabwe? Just wondering what context this comment was posted in."

- Yes, I do.
- My knowledge of the history and all the nuances involved is pretty limited I'm afraid.
- The context in which I posed my comment came from the fact that I heard about something happening in Zimbabwe that horrified me, then had an opposite reaction reading Julian's blog post, and was trying to understand my own contradictory responses. Perhaps it's pure laziness, but I guess I was looking to Julian, as someone who already has a definitive opinion on such matters, to provide me with a starting point to "what should I think" about this situation in Zimbabwe.

Hi Julian,

I've just had a quick read of your response(s) and I will have to read it again and process it properly. I'm here as someone who has quite recently realised just how thoroughly I've been trained by a white patriarchical upbringing and "education" and that I'm not as capable of automatically thinking for myself as I had deluded myself into believing I was. Now that I have a child I want to re-educate myself so that I can have a clear base to parent from and not just pass on the same old traditions (to put it nicely).

After I posted my comment last week I did have the thought that it was probably a very trained response that my mind went straight to an example of where white men "had it bad". And even that intrigued me: have I really been so brainwashed? Apparently so.

Allow me to digest your response before I ramble further. And thank you for taking so much time to discuss this with me.

Julian Real said...

You are most welcome here, Elsa.

Take your time digesting stuff.

And please check out the many other blogs and websites I have listed along the right hand side, as they get into some of this with much more accuracy and insight. The feminist blogs, particularly the ones by women of color, are a great resource, I find for understanding the realities of both white and male supremacy. You can search by topic and keyword at most blogs. (If this is information you've known for years, please forgive me for going over stuff you already know!)

Practically everything I've ever written here has been written about more extensively at those blogs and websites, with much deeper and intricate conversation among the many visitors who frequent those sites.

I appreciate you responding also to Lady Divine, and welcome you to check out her blog in particular, which is the first one on my blogroll, linked to right here also, and called A Lady Divine.

If asked with genuineness and sincerity, there's no question you should be afraid to ask here. This place is designed to be a safe place for women. Obviously if a white woman behaves in a racist way here, or is otherwise disrespectful to any woman of color here, her remarks will either not be posted or only posted with an appropriate response and caution.

As A Lady Divine pointed out, framing any question in a context, such as the one you shared in response to her, is often VERY helpful letting the replier know where you're coming from and what you're concerns are. It's so easy with a general question to not be sure why a person is asking it, and perhaps to read a motivation into it that isn't there. And believe me, any feminist or profeminist/antiracist blogger gets far too many comments and questions that are simply designed to fire up storms, rather than engage people in constructive conversation.

Julian Real said...

I'll add that one of the ways we are all brainwashed is to think that white men know it all. We all, at some point, are raised to go to white men for "the truth". That is why I link here to the blogs and websites of those more directly experiencing male and white supremacist force and coercion.

And I'm big on recommending the reading of radical feminist women's work. Any man speaking on these subjects got it all from there anyway! I can recommend books if ya want. Let me know what your needs and wishes are. There are some bold and brilliant feminist books without which my understandings of the world would be so limited, so distorted by the oppressively and unjustly powerful.

On the subject at hand, which is how white male supremacy is impacting countries in sub-Saharan Africa, I found this older post that I thought you might want to read about Nigeria. Obviously it isn't about Zimbabwe. Nigeria is the most populated Black country in the world, first invaded by the Portuguese, then invaded and colonised by the British, who instituted slavery, which was outlawed there in 1936. Nigeria achieved independence from Britain only in 1960. See here for more.

Zimbabwe, far, far away from Nigeria, was also invaded by the Portuguese and was then invaded and colonised by the British. (As you may know, various regions of the continent were colonised by different invaders from Western and Southern Europe. Ian Smith and other Brits had a significant role in destabilising Zimbabwe. There is no way to understand what is happening in these and many other countries without learning the history of invasion and colonisation, preferably from Black women who are from those nations.

Julian Real said...

You can easily get a general history by going to Wikipedia, and doing a search on "Zimbabwe". It'll at least give you a basic overview, although I don't trust sites overseen primarily by white men to be unbiased.

For more, see this article which mentions both nations and their struggles with white [male] supremacists.

The main point is this: the white West will always seek to highlight violence among Black people anywhere in the world, and among any people of color. Even more so, white male media will seek to highlight retaliation, efforts to regain sovereignty, and willful acts of refusal to be enslaved as "just as atrocious" as what white men have done for centuries across the globe. White men and their media will highlight these forms of violence while completely invisibilising white rule and white supremacy's causal role in that violence. (Virtually all the munitions used in sub-Saharan Africa in Black on Black killing is supplied directly from whites in Europe. (It's next to impossible for mass killing to happen without those European-made and delivered weapons.)

For me, that's a general principle that applies to so many situations around the world. In some nations, there is an obvious white presence. In others, there is not, but blood is shed and wars are waged because of what white men did and do directly or indirectly in those nations and regions, to women and men of color. And most of those countries were renamed by white men. Their religions, customs, values, and political will to rule has utterly and with unimaginable force, reshaped the political landscapes there.