There is no “We” in White
I can’t seem to find my starting point today, the week of Alton Sterling’s killing in Baton Rouge and Philando Castile’s killing in Minnesota, and now the fatal shootings in Dallas. So I’ll begin with what I know. The planet – the biosphere – is a web, interconnected, and interdependent. Everything provides sustenance – and I mean this in the broadest sense – for some Other(s). The health of our planet and the systems of it, depends on it.
The anthropologist Wade Davis adds to this concept of web, “ . . . the social world in which we live . . . is simply one model of reality; there are other options, other possibilities, other ways of thinking and interacting with the earth.”
This web, then, is not confined within the biological sciences. In The Wayfinders, Wade speaks of another web, every bit as critical to the health of the planet as the biological. In fact he doesn’t separate the two. He calls it the ethnosphere and defines it as the “sum total of all thoughts and intuitions, myths and beliefs, ideas and inspirations brought into being by human imagination . . .” I would add as well, brought into being by human wrong thinking.
There is a far deeper and more ancient well of wisdom than we in the west are drinking from today; it comes from a time before white ideologies divided the human world into greater than and less than; it was a time of a commonality of human DNA; everyone – everyone – until about 60,000 years ago, came originally from the great continent of Africa. Some stayed. It was a time before races and divisions along racial lines. Distinguishing people by race was born of the Scientific Revolution, and division by race is the core tenet of a dangerous and utterly misguided narrative. Division by race was what allowed western Europe to justify their colonization of India, for example, and Africa. It was also what allowed the early American whites to force out and destroy the peoples native to this land; it was before white America practiced a theology of Manifest Destiny, before white America constructed and built its privilege by the institutionalization of slavery.
I want us to remember this. I want me to remember this. Race is a social construct. Racial division and its ensuing hierarchy of white privilege is a relatively modern phenomenon, with no basis in science. White people are living lives of privilege and benefit based on utter falsehood. Those of us who are desperate to “do something” want to ask for help from the very people who’ve been degraded for centuries, once again putting the burden on those who have carried it far too long.
John Metta, in his article, I, Racist, explains why he no longer talks race with white people. “We don’t see a shooting of an innocent Black child in another state as something separate from us because we know viscerally that it could be our child, our parent, or us, that is shot. Black people think in terms of we. White people do not think in terms of we. White people have the privilege to interact with the social and political structures of our society as individuals.” As individuals, white people are able to say, and dare to mean, “I am not racist.” There is no we in white.
Eco-justice and human social justice are not only related; it’s not possible to separate them out. The planet’s eco-systems, if we are paying attention, teach us about community. But our institutions – economic, educational, political, religious – practice the opposite. In The Dismal Science ~ How Thinking Like an Economist Undermines Community, Steven Marglin challenges the ideology of the indefatigable market, with its twin goals of efficiency and maximum utilization. He lays out step by step how these market driven systems have divorced themselves from community. Is it any wonder that the rupture continues to widen and deepen, reaching explosive proportions.
Today I am sick at heart, and I don’t know what to do. I don’t see that tomorrow will be any different. I do know this, however: every one of us has within us the wisdom and core of truth that does indeed know what to do, does indeed know how to live in right relationship. Every one of us. It is far past time to dig down deep, deeper, deepest. It is far past time for me to go public, in whatever stumbling, awkward, terrified way I can. I, racist.