First, an off-topic gripe: while I admire FDR for what he brought to the country, I object to all the acronyms FDR’s administration introduced. We need more language and less BIPOC. Just saying — code isn’t language.
But what if I hate Blacks and love Indians, or want the Chinks to go home, but am friendly enough with our Nigerian nannie ’cause she’s cheap labor? Bigots are complicated.
Besides, our forefathers of the privileged class had their African slaves riding alongside (or I should say walking behind) exterminating the natives, so lumping them together now is kinda awkward, don’t you think? Native Americans back then probably didn’t trust the Africans any more than their white overseers, and for good reason — they all meant to steal their country. A few of the well to do Cherokee farmers in Georgia had African slaves at one point before the Georgia crackers drove them out. I tell you, it’s complicated.
“How — as a white writer — do I write more inclusively, avoid whitewashing my own work, make my writing less racist, and acknowledge my own privilege in my writing?”
I did eight hard years of Catholic schooling; I know catechism when I hear it.
Studs Terkel’s comment about Chicago’s more recently arrived immigrants being sneered at and worse — by earlier immigrants from Italy and Poland — still applies. It sadly describes human nature. We’re always working to pull up the ladder after we ourselves have arrived. One of my partners in our architectural practice was the son of an Italian immigrant shoe maker — and he was without question the biggest bigot going — blacks were subhumans. Go figure. Listening to Rush Limbaugh probably didn’t help, but there was a dark place in that man’s heart to begin with.
Whoever we humans can look down on, to make us more secure in our insecurity, is going to get it. It’s hardwired into the species. We like to think of ourselves as more evolved than animals, yet dogs behave better to each other on a given day.
It’s true that the white majority in this country has hated more deeply the ones who we hauled from Africa and for a lot longer than other ethnicities, for which the country is still paying a heavy price. Like a tree with rot at the core, it’s a question how long it can stand.
We whites love black music, we love clever black language and their badass style — or at least we like appropriating it — but we hate if they live next door and certainly hate their offspring? That’s some serious hypocrisy, that is.
I write fiction — or at least that’s what I aim for — and when I’m writing dialogue the hardest part is getting tone and expression right— but when I’m writing essays, such as this one, I want the language to come from my own background, not some poor imitation of someone else’s. I don’t recall Ta-Nehisi Coates’s writing as being too different.
One editor’s advice was if I was going to write fiction about African American women, it was “essential — essential — to have a sensitivity reader.” She’s a great editor and means well, but somehow that feels like cheating. The whole point about writing is to draw from whatever you have within yourself, being as clear as you can — and take your lumps when you screw up. If I sound like an Ivy League educated white man, it’s because I am, and if I sound like I grew up in a blue collar Irish Catholic family in the deep South, I’ll own that too.
So cut to the chase: Privilege is gentrified power stemming from wealth.
We have in America— such as in India — a underclass who we, the privileged folk, are at best indifferent to, or simply intend to keep there. Yes, we may say things like wanting to help lift them up, but the best measure of the truth is the condition of the public schools in this country. Racism begins in poverty and indecent education. For that matter, our woeful education system (sic) is the same reason we have an underclass of angry whites.
In the South before the Civil War, it was illegal to teach the ‘coloreds’ to read — made them uppity. Before the Feds forced integration, the local black high school had a black woman teaching math who hadn’t gone to college, and everybody in town knew it. Separate but equal — bullshit.
Today in my very quiet, suburban neighborhood, if I hate my black neighbors, they can close me out of their own privileged lives because they have college degrees, well-paying jobs and live as well as I. But were I an unemployed black man getting by in a Southwest DC housing project, I’d be laughing righteous with my crew to hear someone talk about ‘acknowledging their privilege.’
“Keep your privilege — give me some money — shit, give me a fucking job!”