Stuff White People Say

July 26, 2008

“I am white”

Filed under: Uncategorized — jwbe @ 1:13 pm
Tags: ,

White Americans know which box to check and also white Germans would know it, despite the fact that they use coded language. White Germans consider themselves as “Germans” and all other as “non-Germans” or as “foreigners”. “Foreigners” is the code word in Germany for non-white people, it never refers to white immigrants. White people consider themselves as norm. In Eurocentric countries the evolution of mankind can only be symbolized by white men.
This came to my mind when I once found this picture:

It’s making fun out of the modern people, regardless race or gender, in industrialized countries who spend a lot of time on their computers.

While whiteness may not be visible on a conscious level, on an unconscious level it is. We learn at school, be it history, biology, math, physics, chemistry etc., that whiteness is the norm. White heroes, white role models. We tell our wars in another way than wars of “others”. We consider white immigrants as ‘expatriats’ who are courages to leave their former life behind to start a new life in a foreign country but call in Europe for example African immigrants, who take many risks to reach Europe on often deadly journeys, “illegal” and build a ‘Fortress Europe’. They aren’t considered as courages but as threat. A threat to the white status quo, even if whiteness itself is never explicitly mentioned. It’s just called ‘our culture’, ‘our way of life’ or ‘Leitkultur’ (leading culture) and every white German knows that it is about him/her.

Actually feeling one’s own whiteness is probably a process. When I was in America about 20 years ago there was one situation where I felt deeply confused by white behavior. We (my sister and I) were in a small shop, the customers were of different races. It was getting dark outside and we realized an alarmed atmosphere, people were suddenly leaving the shop. My first thought was that a fire broke out. I looked around and realized that only some people left, but not all. So the reason couldn’t be a fire and we both couldn’t figure out the reason until we realized that there were now only Black people in the shop.

We left about 15 minutes later and went outside, looking for a taxi. Outside the shop was a larger group of young Black people, they looked at us with surprise and we realized that we are now somehow “at the wrong place at the wrong time”, that whites aren’t common there when it was night.
Because we were looking for a taxi, we went through the group, directly heading into a dead-end street. So we had to go back, walked through the group again and they started laughing.
This was the moment were I felt white like a light-bulb, and where I realized my race as a marker, that made me visible at this moment.
And I wondered if this white flight were infectious if I actually lived in America. Whether this feeling of “being at the wrong place”, just because I am in the minority for a moment, would also influence my own life if I just could watch this white flight often enough. Would there be a point where I just start running with them?

I recall a story by a white German who was in New York where her son lived for some months. She told me that they were in a theater which was in a Black community and that they had to run after the performence ended, because it was night then and the area perceived as dangerous. Dangerous only because it was a Black area.
I imagined a group of white people running through a Black community out of fear.

This being said, I started feeling my “whiteness” on another level. It is present now wherever I go. I realize white people as white as well as I realize their assumed “race solidarity” with me.

1 Comment »

  1. This post strikes me as an effective description of some of the insidious psychological effects and workings of whiteness. The metaphor of infection is especially effective, and it reminds me of a similar description–of racial infiltration of the individual psyche–in Danzy Senna’s novel, Caucasia. Its central character, Birdie, is a half-white/half-black girl on the run with her white mother, and thus passing for white. At one point, she describes herself as feeling “a little contaminated,” and adds, “I wondered if whiteness were contagious. If it were, then surely I had caught it. I imagined this ‘condition’ affected the way I walked, talked, dressed, danced, and at its most advanced stage, the way I looked at the world and at other people.”

    Comment by macon d — July 26, 2008 @ 4:39 pm | Reply

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