WHITE IS NOT A COLOR

“The imperial mentality is wondrous to behold.”
Noam Chomsky, Who Rules the World?, Metropolitan Books, 2016, p 207.

 

When racism is prefixed to the ideology referred to, strangely, as white supremacy it congeals into a worldview — that is, a set of propositions or doctrines which make up a philosophy by which and through which all who belong to it formulate their perception or experience of the world. This worldview posits a power system which ought to be regarded as self-evident and which privileges its ideologues while oppressing those outside of its safety net. It is patriarchal and purist. Its set of ideals seek to function as the standard by which the world must advance. It seeks power and domination and wishes to possess these absolutely. According to its dogma history is a monolithic accumulation of events in time destined to favor its side of the divide. When it wants to prove its inherent supremacy it relies on history, law, politics and the sciences. This worldview is by definition intolerant as well as antagonistic to all other antithetical philosophies: it must dominate or else be obsolete. It does not negotiate, it defines, describes and prescribes. Its definitions are absolutely true whether you, who are outside of this hegemonic construct, believe them or not. Essentially, racism white supremacy, like caste, like xenophobia, operates with a logic that translates into something like this: “we are here and you are there — outside of the parameters which distinguish us from you — and we who are here are privileged because we are here and we are here because we belong here; it is our birthright and while we find the validation of our existence in ourselves, you will derive yours from us while our foots restrain your necks.” The logic is not at all profound, rather, it is straightforward, violent, single-minded and circular — it literally means everything it says and justifies itself by itself because it assumes that outside of itself there is no center.

If you perceive yourself to be white then no doubt you must think of yourself, and others like you, as the standard by which all others must calibrate their progression or retrogression (but progression mainly because retrogression is not familiar to the vocabulary of whiteness). If white is pure (or the center) and if you are white then you can think of yourself in no less terms. This is the cross you are burdened to carry and history unequivocally demonstrates how no human being has borne this burden without being poisoned by its venom — breeding extreme forms of anxiety, fear, paranoia and a blatant hatred for anyone or thing perceived to belong anywhere else on the racial spectrum. But the concept of whiteness, beyond it being a myth of cultural identity (like most forms of cultural identity), is also internally conflicted. It does not merely accommodate every pale-skinned person. Even within itself it proceeds to further implement exclusionary measures and segregates based on class (and gender) for the benefit of a few men (and necessarily so if it holds on to the delusional ideal that it can refine and purify itself until it reaches perfection or whiteness). And so barreling down from feudalism, to slavery, to colonialism, to our modern capitalist era, this supremacist ideology balls up and concentrates economic power and cultural authority in a plutonomy — the small percentage of the world’s population gathering increasing wealth.

One can easily see how poisonous this ideology can be when carried to its logical conclusion and we know that ideas have consequences. Several million ‘black’ and ‘brown’ souls, with brutally mangled bodies everywhere around the world wail from unmarked graves to attest to this grotesque form of megalomania since the invention of ‘the white man’. Several millions more are plagued by its consequences today. Any ideology that is purist at its core which does not mitigate this value with love — that is to say an unconditional acknowledgment and acceptance of the humanity of another person or group of people — is doomed, logically and necessarily, to wreak havoc on those human beings it considers subordinate for it can only harbor imperialistic ambitions and seek insatiably to gratify this wanton passion. Love is not oblivious to difference, neither to faults; it may wish them away, but is drawn to its object nonetheless. And respect can only thrive on a foundation of love.

I write this while in the United States, two days after the fatal shooting of Alton Sterling by two police officers. One morning I was invited to have breakfast with a friend’s family in Philadelphia. As we were going through maps of the city and excitedly listing interesting places to see and how to get there, my friend’s mother suddenly offered a strong piece of advice to me: she told me to be extremely careful of the police and to absolutely comply with them “even if they ask you to do the most outrageous things”, she said. I could sense the genuine concern in her voice. She, like me, had a deep knowledge of a brutal truth of an ongoing phenomenon in the United States where the ideology of white supremacy functions as an ingrained institutionalized system. I knew she was right, I knew she had my best interest at heart, I knew that she would probably not need to feel this fear for her own family but for me the danger is ominous. She knows and I know that here in America, it would be of little consequence whether you are Ghanaian or African — you are black, and by that your identity inherits from five centuries of subjugation and “knowing your place” — a psychic burden I too carry from which I cannot wrest myself, for even if I did, the cancerous ideology which has coursed its way through the veins of America’s social fabric stands before me to enforce judgment. The reality of this simplistic ideology in the 21st century viscerally dawned on me as she spoke. I have felt this fear in other parts of the world too. It is hard not to think you have been a victim of racial profiling when you have disembarked from a European airline at a European airport, being the only ‘colored’ person on board, going through security check and are asked to “see my colleague” as your luggage is scanned, and then subjected to aggressive body searching when everybody else is made, quite simply, to pass without having this procedure performed on them. Maybe I missed something, but when we arrived in Berlin from London I was the only person from my batch who underwent this process of being bodily searched. I had to assume the official was just doing his job; what he had been trained to do. It only made me wonder why he was being so selective at it. I can, of course be a threat to him, just in the same way as he can be to me. I am a threat to him insofar as he is a threat to me. Racism white supremacy does not tolerate this logic of reciprocity because it is a power system. In that moment his prejudices may have been backed and legitimized by an institutionalized framework which borrows from the same ideological doctrine. And it is precisely because of this which makes him — the one who has been indoctrinated with an essentialist worldview —, and me — the other who is an outsider to the locus of power — equally dangerous.

Thinking literally, white is white only in relation to another hue. But in this context it is not a color, it is the standard by which all other colors on the racial spectrum are determined. As a result, we must analyze it in such a way as to realize that the opposite of white is not black but rather ‘not white’. Whiteness must stand in contradiction to all other hues on the spectrum because it must have absolute power. If whiteness is the standard, then anything which belongs on the spectrum which exists outside of its purist ideal is necessarily opposed to it, and the outworking of this opposition is mostly violent. This is the same for any ideology which does not mitigate difference with love at the substructural level. Ethnicity is sacred, it ought not to be violated and difference is what gives meaning to such concepts as unity, collaboration and coexistence.

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