“ . . . if you sit around and wait for the one who is in power to make up his mind that he should end it, you’ll be waiting a long time. And in my opinion the young generation of whites, blacks, browns, and whatever else there is, you are living in a time when there has to be a change . . . a better world needs to be built . . . And I will join in with anyone, I don’t what color he is, as long as he wants to change the miserable condition that exists on this earth.”—Malcolm X at Oxford, 1964
“Out here in the fields. I fight for my meals. I get my back into my living. I don’t need to fight to prove I’m right, I don’t need to be forgiven.”—Baba O’Reilly, The Who , 1971
“And then they would have to determine how to build their suburbs on something other than human bones, how to angle their jails toward something other than a human stockyard, how to erect a democracy independent of cannibalism. I would like to tell you that such a day approaches when the people who believe themselves to be white renounce this demon religion and begin to think of themselves as human.”—Between the World and Me, Ta-Nehisi Coates, 2015
When did my genes and “I” become guilty of thinking that they were white?
According to genetic testing results, I am part of the Haplogroup R1; specifically, R1a1. Information accompanying the test results indicated that “I,” or the group my genes belong to, “appears to have arisen in the Near East or present-day Pakistan during the peak of the Ice Age about 18,000 years ago. Until the Ice Age began to wane about 15,000 years ago, it may have been limited to the area around the Black Sea, a region that remained relatively ice-free and hospitable while much of Eurasia was covered by glaciers and tundra.”
Then events transpired so that my genes “decided” they would become “white” and privileged some 12,000 years ago. “R1 is the dominant Haplogroup in Europe today, accounting for well over half of all men. After being confined to the continent’s southern fringes during the Ice Age, it expanded rapidly in the wake of the receding glaciers about 12,000 years ago. Various branches of R1 also trace the many migrations that have shaped Europe since then, from the arrival of farmers between about 10,000 and 7,000 years ago to the movements of ethnic groups such as the Anglo-Saxons and Vikings.”
I also now know that 3.0% of my DNA comes from the Neanderthal line. I know, too, that “my” son’s mother’s genes traveled, from what is now called Africa, the opposite direction from my genes, through what is now known as Asia, to what is now the West Coast of North America and, hugging the coast, made their way to Northern Brazil to the mouth of what we now call the Amazon River. Those genes which became known as Amazonian Indian merged with genes from a pool of genes from Portugal. My son’s genes will likely merge with those of his wife from what we now call Trinidad by way of what is now known as India and from wherever those genes originated from.
None of this was planned.
And none of this makes any difference to those from the many bands of the human spectrum who make sure to label me White and Middle Class, just as those from other parts of the spectrum chose to tag others as Black, Asian, Pacific Islander and Latino belonging to Upper, Middle and Lower classes.
In the book Between the World and Me, Coates, I think—though I may be wrong—is saying, in part, that the Species has to stop thinking it is a color, or maybe even a class, but that one must know his/her history. This made me wonder why is it that when many describe the supreme quality of a person they tend to pause and say “human being” and not the tired old clichés belonging to leadership texts? Is this what Coates means when he says “think of themselves as human”? Or is he saying that being White is to be inherently evil? Or is it that Capitalism, the American Myth, and Whiteness fused into one monstrous American Democracy, with Western European origins, is destroying us all? Yet Coates seems to find solace and a sort of contradictory peace in a bastion of Western European culture now known as Paris, France.
I know my skin color is White and what that means in the most dominant economic, military and cultural power in the United States of America where roughly 17 percent are Hispanic, 12 percent Black, 4 percent Asian, 1 percent Native Americans, and 65 percent White. I do not know what it is like to be anyone else and I would not want to be like anyone else with any other history other than my own and those of my genes.
I know the history of the genocide, slavery and the rape and pillage of Blacks in Africa and America, and the destruction of the Native Peoples in North, Central and South America. I know, generally, of the ancient wars of the Pharaohs, the Romans, the Muslims and the Greeks and the wanton slaughter and savaging of women and children in those times. I know that the slaves of the ancients were described by Varro as “speaking tools.” That belief persisted in the United States for most of the country’s history. I know the history of the Jewish Holocaust, the Killing Fields of Cambodia, the Rape of Nanking, Stalin and Mao’s purges and executions, the human sacrifices of the Incas, the public hangings of Blacks in America’s South, the millions killed by the Belgians, and so on. I have seen what was once a human rendered into pieces.
How should I apply this knowledge?
Is it the system?
Should I attribute the sins of the world to Whiteness? Or should I conclude that the Species itself and the dominant economic and ruling methodology of Capitalism combine to make the “demon” that Coates refers to and the “system” that Malcolm X wants us all to change: That American system, born largely of the British, Roman and Greek Systems, that relies on absurd contradictions and irony. A system that makes those from NWA and Straight Out of Compton, with all the female bashing lyrics, now part of the One Percent elite of corporate America; or the principals of the George W. Bush administration clearly guilty of war crimes still cashing in on public office; or the poor and largely Black people that can’t make $500 bail and waste away in jail; or the White miners in West Virginia killed because the mining company ignored safety rules and is found not guilty of negligence on a legal technicality; or the citizens of Detroit City denied, by a lone judge, the right to clean drinking water. And what should I make of an American society that does not care about corporate surveillance (for profit) and government monitoring of all forms of communication (to maintain security and stability for the corporations to make profits)? Where were the White Rockers, Black Rappers, and Country Music stars when the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan raged on or the beachhead for the corporate and government’s invasion of privacy was the home?
They, all of them, were co-opted by a political, economic and cultural system we deny every day but in which we also live, procreate, operate and profit. With all of our complaints, we don’t have a functional alternative to offer. The ballot-box provides no remedy. Presidential and congressional elections are polluted by money and interests, foreign and domestic, over which voters have no control. Politicians are bought and sold like horses prior to a race. It took a 2016 Republican presidential candidate in Donald Trump, who regularly buys and sells politicians, to acknowledge this fact. The corporate and government elite were shocked and aghast that one of their own would, well, expose Coates’ “demon” so openly.
With the extremes of the American Identity Culture, social media, ubiquitous voice and audio recording, surveillance video weaving their way into all facets of American life, speech has become an action to be exercised with caution. It is an interesting coincidence that this comes on the heels of Edward Snowden’s revelations of the extent of corporate and government collaboration on tracking the intimate details and movements of Americans. A poster should be made that reads, “You are to be seen but not heard and you are to speak only when spoken to. Measure your thoughts before releasing them for the record.”
Fragmented, tribal nation
America continues its push to a more perfect Panopticon. The Atlantic Magazine reports that “A movement is arising, undirected and driven largely by students, to scrub campuses clean of words, ideas, and subjects that might cause discomfort or give offense.” The World Socialists point to the dropping of Democratic Party fundraisers known formerly as Jefferson-Jackson Days. Dismissing Jackson correctly as a dumb, wealthy brut, the World Socialists’ state, “Like any other historical figure, Jefferson could not catapult himself out of the times in which he lived. If he embodied more than any other leader the contradictory character of the American Revolution, which posed for the first time the claim of full human equality but had no means of establishing it, this only adds to his fascination as a historical figure. As for hypocrisy, one wonders if Wilder and Jefferson’s other critics are prepared to turn over the gains they have made by speculating on the surging stock market of recent decades—money intimately bound up with the super-exploitation of the working class. Unlike Jefferson, who could say with the other revolutionists of ’76 that they had staked ‘our lives, our Fortunes, & our sacred Honor’ on a ‘glorious cause,’ Jefferson’s haters in 2015 have staked absolutely nothing on their subjective and deeply a-historical attacks.”
Where is American society/culture going with all this? It is certain that in this most Capitalist of societies, there will be commodification and cash to be made in the Identity Industry. The corporations have been target marketing for some time now to Blacks, Whites, Asians, Mixed, and LGBT: Fragmented markets for a fragmented nation. Just so.
Perhaps Identity Papers complete with genetic testing results are in order, or maybe public self-flagellation for those being White and therefore guilty of the woes that beset the Species and the environment. Reeducation Camps might be an option, or is college becoming the modern day reeducation camp?
Safe Spaces carried too far turn the confines of the home into that space in which people communicate with society only via the Internet and with a false identity. Nearly two million American children are being home schooled and that trend is increasing. Between corporate privatization and parental frustration with traditional 19th Century based K-12 learning modes—in both public and private schools—home schooling is on the rise.
With the religion of the mythic Judeo-Christian Gods demolished, the religion of the secular and its human gods is ascendant. Watching or reading the bombastic media and its featured commentators and guests brings the feeling of sitting in a Catholic confessional booth. “Bless me Father for I have sinned somehow and if I did not consciously sin then one of my ancestors, or my genes, did, and, in the future might.”
Who will be the judges and guides in this new America that aims to be classless and colorless, and aims to reeducate all of America? It would be an extraordinary day when all Americans think that they are of no color or class, just a collection of histories and genes assembled into one United States. I’m all for it. But the history of the Species speaks against the successful implementation of a such a blank slate society.
I don’t think I’m White. I think I am a human being. I don’t know what it is like to be rich and in the top 20 percent of money makers in the USA. I know that I’m color-labeled as White and class-labeled as Middle by the identity and false consciousness hunters that roam the American landscape.
I know I agree with Dave Chappelle, famed comedian with $10 million in the bank, who is labeled as Black and Wealthy. But I’m not a smart guy and I think that he is a human being and really funny guy with great observations of the human condition. I think that way of George Carlin, Chris Rock and the late Robin Williams. According to Chappelle “I support anyone’s right to be who they want to be. My question is: To what extent do I have to participate in your self-image?’
Nope, “I” don’t need to be forgiven and neither do my 18,000 year old genes.
John Stanton is a Virginia based writer. Reach him at email@example.com.