Into White
History

Lessons in whiteness

A comment on a previous posting showed up today that deeply saddens me. It came from Wayne Simanovsky, who wrote:

With all the pain that the American Indians suffered at the hands of the white man they still, to this day, hold their heads up high. The black man could learn a lot about persecution and hardship from the Red Man.”

My sadness comes from Mr. Simanovsky’s appeal to the age-old racist trope of contrasting a Noble Savage “Red Man” to an undeserving and embittered “black man” who has much to learn about suffering.

Of course, such commentary teaches us nothing about red people or black people, their histories, or the hardships either has suffered. It reveals only the gendered whiteness of the commentator’s circumstances and opinion. It asserts a transcendent white superiority over both red and black as well as over women, children, and anyone else not identifying as “Man.” [To be clear, I know nothing about Wayne Simanovsky, but I presume (with acknowledged uncertainty) by the language and perspective of the comment that this person self-identifies as a white male.] Not only does the comment express a presumption of white supremacy, but also by framing the atrocities of the past as lessons that teach “about persecution and hardship,” it justifies and even valorizes a brutal white colonial history that terrorized people both red and black (and truth be told, many others, including white), and continues to perpetuate enormous inequities and injustices in American society.

This comment reminds me that white supremacist ignorance of history and an insensitive lack of awareness of its own racist presumptions continues to haunt much of contemporary public discourse. Even well-meaning opinions by voices presuming to be immune from the racist elements of their whiteness cannot avoid the histories embedded in their language, attitudes, and perspectives. For me, this brings to mind the admonition (often attributed, probably wrongly, to Abraham Lincoln) that we are better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak and remove all doubt.

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