White Woman in a White Man’s World
I am a white woman who has been overwhelmed by the injustices I witness on a day to day basis. If I spent all day focusing on the ways this society has been structured to oppress people, I wouldn’t have time for anything except a very militant advocation of equality. I tried that route, but soon discovered that I have been traumatized on so many profound levels that if I surrounded myself with these issues on that same obsessive basis, I become suicidal, question the point of life, and acutely feel the utter futility of rising against a system so perfectly designed to enslave us all.
The world is ugly and we are all hurt by it, and being an advocate who is only focused on this fact is a grim profession. Particularly if you have no support from the people around you and, more often than not, get treated as if you’re insane or inferior. I had no buffer, no group of my kindred people patting me on the back, validating my apparently “radical” notions. I was very much alone. And now, the only people who seem to get the point are people of color, many of whom will never accept me as a sincere ally or force of change due to the (lack of?) color of my skin. In fact, if I do ever change anything, I have this fear that they will ultimately resent me and think, “she only succeeded in anything because she’s white.” And I would be even more afraid that they would be right, which would devalue the fact that I have been obsessing over changing the world for about as long as I’ve been alive.
I’ve always worked hard to brighten up even the dimmest of lightbulbs around me. It’s difficult work, and I’m not doing it because of “white guilt” or anything like that. I’m doing it because it’s the right thing to do, and I can’t believe how damaging these systems of oppression can be or how they came into power in the first place. “Evil” is not in my genes and it’s not something I feel it’s my personal responsibility to make up for just because I was born white and so many white people have been/continue to remain ignorant and cruel. I simply understand that the system is dangerous and hurts us all…but some more than others and white men least of all.
Labels and White Culture
That being said, I’m starting to wonder why it is that other white people, including myself, object to labels (in general) so vociferously. Wouldn’t my life have been easier if I decided to label myself “the white asexual lesbian feminist environmentalist animal rights, social justice, human rights and anti-racism advocate?” Would I have been able to find my little support group of like-minded people who mirror my own beliefs and help me work to save the world? What did I hate so much about labels? And what is it that other white people reject about labels?
But actually, when I think about it now, I don’t have to wonder much at all. Western/European white people (in general) are the most boring, cultureless race on the planet. At most, we glorify the Greeks, Romans, and the middle ages. These are societies that I personally feel were base, thoughtless, self-inflated, and generally colonialist. There was some merit, but not enough to justify the attention they receive today (comparing Aristotle to Lao Tzu for example, Aristotle’s mind was actually pretty primitive). If these are the groundwork of white culture, that means we are taught, rather subtly, to glorify raping, pillaging, and taking what isn’t ours. Always viewing the world in regards to Aristotle’s “great chain of being,” putting (Graeko-Roman) men on the ladder just beneath God, then everyone else afterward. And taking a quick glance around at the women and people of color in the room, our relationship to them does, admittedly, lack a certain finess. Call it respect maybe. “White culture” certainly lacks the warmth of Hispanic cultures, the depth of African cultures, the majesty and ingenuity of Asian cultures, and the beauty of pretty much every culture that isn’t our clueless, confused, white attempt at finding meaning in this vapid void that was created for us.
A Day in the Life Of White Average Amy
However, since that is only the groundwork of “white culture,” thus merely a subtext of the culture we live in that affects us daily, I think we should examine what is really going on in the day-to-day lives of the white race. White Average Amy (happily identifies as female, white, heterosexual, middle class) wakes up one morning, turns on the television, checks her iPhone, goes to work so she can afford her car payments and internet bills, goes out to drink and dance with her friends at the club listening to music that glorifies drugs and alcohol, materialism, and putting out. She lets some guy talk her into taking her home with him, gets laid, goes home to bed, and repeats the cycle. White Average Amy is surrounded for hours and hours by the media, telling her that she isn’t good enough because she is a woman, but also that she is better than others for being white.
If Art Imitates Life, Where Does That Leave Us?
They say art imitates life and vice versa, but at this point I’m not so sure. I feel as though the media is spiralling out of control and out of our hands as citizens, glorifying the ideals of the ultimate numbskulled oppressors. They want everyone to fit into a box that they have created for us, and for us to question ourselves all the while as they create our identity for us. For white people, and those who have been assimilated enough to lose sight of the value of their own ethnic identities, the media and consumerism is our only real culture. As white people, we have nothing at all that keeps us tied to any value system or ethnic identity whatsoever, except maybe Christianity (which has acted as a huge tool in assimilation and should be another post entirely).
White people are stuck in a world where our only meaning is derived from the media and, potentially, our mixed experiences with our religious values. The media tells everyone that white men are supreme, while at the same time denying them the right to express their feelings properly, degrading them should they have any interest in anything remotely “female” identified or compassionate. Many feel that women should be serving men as the bible intended, and as such anyone who is a woman or who is thought to act like a woman, are lesser people. The media tells everyone that blonde haired, blue eyed, skinny girls (I can’t even say “women” because the beauty standard is barely legal, bordering 18 years old) are the highest epitome of beauty, while at the same time bombarding these same women daily with microaggressions against their own autonomy, appearance, and independence.
The media is constantly attacking women, especially women of color, on an even more extreme psychological level. These attacks create a raging, insecure void in women that can only be filled with products, conformity, assimilation, and servitude. Or, you know, empowerment and self-love, but that’s a lot more difficult to accomplish than, say, retail therapy. White women are told bronze and blonde is beautiful, and encouraged to poison ourselves with chemical hair dies and UV rays in tanning beds, at the same time being taught that our white skin color makes us, absurdly, somehow more special.
A White Girl’s Perspective On Appropriation
White people are floating aimlessly in a cultureless world, left with a burning desire to hold on to something special, significant, and with meaning; a culture. And since we don’t have any ethnic identity of our own whatsoever, what seems to happen is that we take it. We crave meaning. We “borrow.” We appropriate. We make light of the violent things that other white people have done to the cultures that we want to “borrow” from because we are so engrossed in creating our own patchwork identity, finding our own meaning, something of actual value in white consumer culture. (spoiler – there isn’t anything of value in white consumer culture). White people tend to treat all cultural symbols like they are some sort of magical pathway to meaning that anybody can take, when in reality, much of the time it is a glaring act of disrespect and ignorance. Most white people are oblivious of the assimilation that brought us to this point and the deep meanings of the symbols and traditions that they want to be a part of.
Sharing culture with white people is risky business, because culture isn’t up for commentary. It’s not something we have a right to judge and assign value to (or especially, to devalue). We can’t just try on a culture for a day and hope it sticks. That’s not how identity works. We just know we are lacking something, and apparently feel like it’s okay to pick and choose from whatever culture we think will fill the void. White people don’t often have special ethnic foods that help connect us to a more beautiful and vibrant ethnic identity – we have Pizza Hut and McDonald’s. We have “happy meals” full of toxic chemicals and fats, and these are what define our customs. Our daily life. White people don’t have much of a culture at all, which is probably why so many don’t really connect with any label beyond the one we find on our shoes. All we have is consumerism.
Where Assimilation Leaves Us
The assimilation of culture was carefully and thoroughly begun by the colonialists, who believed they were the best thing to happen to earth since fresh water, and thought that everyone should do everything exactly how they did because duh, they were the most awesome, right? Obviously. They stripped other races of their culture and forced them to act like them. And they were white people who valued base and greedy things. They wanted everyone to value base and greedy things. One of the strangest parts about assimilation is that it doesn’t just affect people of color. Whites become even more vapid and harmful toward themselves and others because the only thing they have to identify with is violence, hatred, and currently as a culture, the soulless void of consumerism.
The only identity we have to cling on to is the racist, anglo-saxon, male-dominated media and maybe an absurd pride in a family name or attitude that ultimately falls flat when put to the test. Western people, particularly white ones, wear brand loyalty like a badge. We support certain companies and brands as if it were a sacred symbol of power that might lend meaning to our lives. But I’d like to take this time to remind you that the meaning we seek wouldn’t be lacking in the first place if, instead of assimilating other cultures, we embraced our own origins and celebrated traditions that made us feel closer as a community. And by that I do not mean a community of white supremacists and the types of Christians who judge everyone who is a little different from their expectations. I’m talking about creating our own traditions to re-define “white culture.”
So What Should We Do?
What I would love to see, personally, is for white people to really reach deep down into their roots for something worth keeping alive and celebrating. I’d like to see us band together to create new traditions, traditions of healing and the cultivation of respect for other cultures. I am not talking about a hodgepodge of appropriation, I’m talking about something entirely new, something different that white people can use to be proud of themselves for something real rather than by how much power was stolen by whites from the rest of the world.
We need to build community, some way to help the world get back on its feet. And we can create new traditions and customs outside of the media, outside of mindless consumerism. We just need to stop treating these things like they’re so important, like somehow reflects our own identity. The frank reality is that it doesn’t. It won’t reflect on us either way if we don’t approve of Kim Kardashian’s boyfriend. The media is distracting us from living our own lives and leading us to feel as if a show that somebody else created can really say anything about who we are as people. It can’t. Only we can define our identity, and it should be more than what shows we like and which clothes we buy.
Our actions speak. Our voices speak. And we need our intention to be louder than words and translated into action so that wounded, skeptical, and oftentimes, (rightfully) angry people of color know that not every white person out there is a brainwashed tool of oppression. We need to create our own identities, and be strong in the face of racism. And if the white men in power don’t like that, then let them show their true colors. It will never change what’s right, and they’re bound to lose when it matters the most.Until then, we need to keep fighting, because the battle is far from over.