Being White

My hard-won island tan has faded like a frightful childhood memory. Like the time when, on a dare, your friends goaded you into kissing your sister. Since we got back home I once went to the fake and bake intending to maintain my copper tone. Except for the UV radiation it’s not the same as the Maui sun. It’s more like being a hot dog under a heat lamp at the 7-11. I’m not going back any time soon, to the fake and bake I mean.

So it won’t be long before I return to looking like an old, white American male. A class of folks lately viewed with various levels of contempt by certain social scholars (ahem) because of our supposed over-privileged status. In my entire life I have never felt like an over-privileged white male, yet certain of these scholars insinuate that being oblivious of your class status confirms your membership (link)

I have come to see white privilege as an invisible package of unearned assets that I can count on cashing in each day, but about which I was “meant” to remain oblivious. White privilege is like an invisible weightless knapsack of special provisions, assurances, tools, maps, guides, codebooks, passports, visas, clothes, compass, emergency gear, and blank checks.

Worse yet, even apparently selfless acts taken by members of this class will be regarded with suspicion by many such scholars

My schooling followed the pattern which Elizabeth Minnich has pointed out: whites are taught to think of their lives as morally neutral, normative, and average, and also ideal, so that when we work to benefit others, this is seen as work that will allow “them” to be more like “us.” I think many of us know how obnoxious this attitude can be in men.

Cynical much?

Take these two for instance, white as driven snow, dripping with unearned assets. 

What would Ms Minnich make of their true motivations, that their activism is really intended to raise Nigerian boys (and especially girls) out of rank 3rd world poverty? No, of course not. Their real motivation is to make Nigerians more like them, white Americans. Are Gates Foundation grant awards really directed at efforts to reduce the incidence of death and rate of infection from malaria in high burden populations? Don’t be deceived, said grants are nothing more than the cynical ambitions of an obnoxious white man.

I tell you, the things that pass for scholarship these days.

We spent a delightful Easter weekend at our friends’ cabin in the woods, a couple hours drive north of Anchorage. All seven of us were white. You could cut the unearned privilege in that cabin with a knife. I had promised to bring Twister for us to play, which I still say would have worked great rolled out on that large lower-level floor. Most everyone was glad I didn’t. Instead, we played a card game for horrible people, drank wine and nibbled artisan Macarons. The game begins with one player drawing a black card and reading aloud the question printed on it. The other players each have ten white cards in their hand, each one with an “answer” printed on it. After the black card holder reads the question, each of the other players selects one answer card from their hand he/she thinks the black card reader will select as the best answer. For example, suppose the black card phrase is – “In his famous farewell address, George Washington famously warned Americans to avoid excessive __________.” If one of your answer cards is “Masturbation,” or “Spontaneous human combustion” or “Gassy antelopes” – whatever, you pick one and slide it over to the black card reader. He/she collects them all, reads each one out loud – some of which cause wine to burst from nostrils – and then picks a winner. The first player to amass ten wins (or whatever) wins the game.

Afterwards, we all trundled outside into the Spring snow for an Easter egg hunt. Except instead of eggs, Bev, originally from Scotland, had hidden bottles of Killians Red and Irish Whiskey miniatures around the property. I’m not sure who won that competition, I think I was seated in the outhouse when it was announced, waiting for movement to begin, savoring my invisible knapsack of special, unearned provisions.