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White people’s problems

In response to: “why are white men so fragile” and other assumptions

I read a lot of things in the internet. Some are capable of stimulating thoughts and reflection other leave me dubious.
These days on Medium I’ve found this article:

It was a follow-up to another article, from the same author, that already tackled the problem of “white people” and was welcomed with vitriol attacks from ignorant trolls and supremacists. Let me state it clearly: nobody should be attacked so violently for his/her opinions. Nothing can justify violence, insults and vulgarity and I have all sympathy for the author for exposing herself so audaciously to the public.

Having said that, there are a few things that don’t sit right with me in those kind of article and I want to discuss them, hopefully in a more reasonable manner, for the sake of a honest discussion.

Exactly, honesty: there’s something to be said about click-baiting articles that are written with the evident intent of targeting and trigger a certain group of people, inflaming reactions instead of genuinely stimulate thoughts and reflection — as I think a discussion advocating for the progress of society should instead be striving for — . If nothing, this is another example of the regressive level of today’s polarized discourse that profits on flames and provocations, but does very little for the actual cause: let’s not pretend that lambasting a specific group of people from a position of rightful superiority won’t call for hostile reactions. This is exactly the game at play and I see no winners.

Blaming one side versus another is a zero-sum game that little challenge the current status-quo and only elicit defense mechanisms and reinforce pre-existing positions through a bland reiteration of racial stereotypes from opposite positions. Is this really an idea of progress?

The effects of this toxic rethoric are evident in the exchange of attacks between the original article and the violent responses: is a nihilistic path that we’ve collectively decided to undertake and seems to bear little fruits but discord. I personally root for the progress of minorities and their right for a dignitous position in the society. I root for the empowerment and celebration of diversity but I don’t sign up to the narrative that wants to despise a specific category of people as the only cause of all human inequalities: this is scapegoating 101 and history teaches us that it have seldom brought illuminate progress but rather amplified the already existing social tensions.

Following this game of pointing fingers is not the idea of a more just society that I personally envision. Am I too fragile? Sure! I assert all my right to get upset when I feel called out and diminished based on the color of my skin, or worse, when I’m carelessly associated, by proxy, with american racial terrorists. No, thank you.

The white myth

The first problem with the original article is that is based on a set of assumptions that enjoy quite a popularity in the online debate but I think are the result of a narrow and biased interpretation of history. I’ll try to address them:

One of these assumptions is the general concept of “whiteness”, an eminently American social construct that completely erase a variety of history, traditions and cultures to mould them into a single identitarian monolith with little resemblance to European’s original stories and identities: what do have in common British, German, French people with Spaniards or Italians? Greeks with Ethnic Slavs? Some don’t even share a history of colonization, yet they’re all blended into the same mixer with little respect of each one’s identity.

Is the modern tendency to simplify everything to a handful of catchy hashtags that can fit into 280 characters. But following this game without a healthy dose of critical thinking risk to produce new injustice.

Take Ethnic Slavs, for example: tall, blonde, blue eyes, they’re the finest representation of the racial white stereotype, yet following the common consensus they risk to fall victim of a double discrimination. Not only “Slav” is an historical term that originally meant “slave”, the original condition of this population in the eyes of other “white” Europeans, now they can be unjustly associated to an “oppressive” race, without having partaken to any history of colonization and before they could ever participate to the rich banquet of wealth distribution together with other fellow Europeans.

From this standpoint alone the idea of “whiteness” as a static, immutable, identitarian concept finds space only as an American construct and appear in reality a rather callous, if not instrumental, generalization.

Something along the line of the “Caucasian” concept to identify a non-specified European ancestry. A gross historical and geographical non-sense as derivative from “Caucasus”, specific region that encompass Southern Russia, Armenia, Georgia and Azerbaijan and homeland of an ethnic population that have a lot more in common with Asia Minor than Western Europe. But whatever.

Every white is a racist

I’m sorry but I don’t buy this general idea that “racism” is an innate and indelible attribute to white people. Sure, racism is an undeniable “thing” still too present in today’s society. Sure, I can’t deny that, as European, I’ve inherited a euro-centric vision of the world that have been historically and intrinsically prejudicial towards other populations. This doesn’t mean, though, that racism is the only attribute that should mark someone’s identity by birth. As if being white by skin automatically infuse you with an irreversible and intrinsically racist belief system that you can’t overgrown with proper critical thinking and analysis (both still commonly taught in Europe, apparently).

If racism is really innate only to white people I can’t explain then the concept of superiority of “Han Chinese” as a giustification for historical discrimination against other minority groups in South-East Asia and ethnic cleansings in 1965 Indonesia. Or the appeareance of “No Uighurs” signs in Xinjiang, as well as the controversial “Education Camps” to force the original population to assimilate to the dominant Han group.

Racial-based discrimination seems to be present and common in Africa, too: in Libya, where sub-saharan migrants suffer violent abuses and daily discriminations and in Central Africa where Pygmies people have always suffered the persecutions of the majority Bantu population. A more nuanced look at history should suggest that racism seems to be either a universal human characteristic, common at any parallel and longitude or either not completely attributable to only one specific group.

This doesn’t diminishes the catastrophical repercussions of white, European colonization and the enormous consequences it still has in today’s existing unequalities. There’s no deny that white Europeans still carry the heritage of a deep-seated racial prejudice towards the rest of the world. But I don’t abide to the idea that racism is proportionally related to the lack of melatonine in the skin, like an endemic genetic condition. Is a superficial mischaracterization that does more harm than good and doesn’t offer any solution, in my opinion.

Inverse racism doesn’t exist

Well, yeah. Is true that current society is skewed favourably towards white people but if today I can unjustly “enjoy” a degree of privileges that not everyone can experience, this doesn’t always apply historically to the past.

My Italian ethnicity hasn’t always seen a positive light if not probably only in the last decades. If today some negative attributes and stereotypes have remained attached — mischievous, cunning, ureliable– and we’re still subject to unsolicited “mafia” jokes, is interesting to note the subordinate position that Italians have experienced in white America, as second-wave immigrants.

“In the early 20th century, new immigrants in many cities were more segregated than were blacks.”

Historically, Italians were considered “brown” by the established élite and, together with Mediterranean people, regarded by all means as an inferior race. It took many years to be fully accepted as equal members of the society.

This should teach us how “whiteness” as a weapon of domination is a paradygm that keeps changing with the mutable variants of history and is everything but a fixed, stable characteristic innate to a specific racial group. So yes, given the right time and context it can be reversed.

Nobody can predict how the paradygm could change again in the future and is important to be wary of any abuse that risks to perpetuate the same racial discrimination by changing its players and victims.

In this context, I don’t see how enforcing the same rethorical shaming tactics that were instrumental in pursuing a conscious discrimination in the past, could possibly be the answer to our problems in the present, if not worsening the already existing gap between ethnic groups. Let’s aim to the better, not the worse.

Curiosity and respect

I don’t have any intention to deny the historical responsibilities of white people in current and past discriminations. I’m only advocating for a more honest, nuanced narrative that doesn’t look for quick scapegoats to blame but is genuinely invested in finding sustainable solutions for a civil coexistence in the world.

Sure, there is still too much injustice in the world that calls to be fixed and a degree of simplification is necessary to convey the concept of an unequal distribution of penalties and benefits and is instrumental to challenge the status-quo.

But I think that this oversimplified narrative aimed at levelling the playing field by diminishing a racial group in favour of others shouldn’t be taken acritically as an evangelical doctrine to cure all ailments of society. If a solution must be pursued, then is only by a honest attitude of respect and dialogue that is possible to come up with real progress. I’m too utopistic, maybe.

Engaging in a war of generalization and stereotypes doesn’t play in anyone’s favour: it emboldens white supremacy and nationalisms by entrenching those positions and by reinforcing the idea of a supposed superiority of a selected race against the others.

And it reduces people’s experience to a narrow set of attributes and assumptions that cancel past identities in favour of an artificial homologation. Playing this game is not respectful towards black, latino or asian’s experiences, too: I genuinely think there could be an advancement if we collectively stop to call each others by narrow definitions such as “race” and we start a process of recognition of the colorful variety of cultures, traditions, experiences that exist within the same racial groups.

If racial classification by “color” is a degrading generalization, remnant of a colonialist past, I don’t see why we should follow along this downward trend, instead of celebrating diversity and uniqueness. If we encourage more genuine curiosity towards the world we could pay more respect to each other’s cultures and tradition, recognizing Yoruba’s authentic experiences, rather than Laotian or Sri Lankan, instead of reductive black and brown categories. We could give to minorities a proper recognition of the authentic value they represent in society, instead of refer to them as exclusively an “oppressed” group.

What I contest about the current online narrative is not the attempt to raise awareness towards existing discriminations and to ring a bell to the privileges of a specific category of people, but an underlining rhetoric based on the manipulation and selective interpretation of history repackaged as incontestable “truth”.

If we want to collectively find solution for a better coexistence we have to start from a position of honesty and fairness first and foremost. I know it may sound pretentious in the current context of painful power unbalances, but I’m not willing to accept the notion that racism is innate to a specific group of people similarly to other irremovable physical attributes such as blue eyes or a lighter skin color. We’ve moved past many wrongful assumptions regarding race and ethnicities that have been enforced to justify violence and discrimination in the past, I don’t understand how engaging in similar games today is going to solve any issue moving forward.

I think it should be encouraged a genuine research for truth and liberation from past history, instead of entrenching poisonous convinctions in people’s mind.

All in all, I hope more people would come to realize the underlining toxicity of a narrative that, left unchecked, is going to be the pretext for more division and hardly solve the existing conflict. If the ultimate goal is a more just, harmonious cohabitation I think we have decided to take a bumpy road.

Human mess in search of enlightment. Your average guy, basically.

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