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How can white Americans be free? -

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"I saw a bumper sticker on an SUV last week that had an American flag with a bald eagle and said “We are losing our country. Does anyone care?” The sticker was right next to two Ireland stickers. You could almost see this white woman flailing to find a specific identity to believe in. She wants both the privilege of her whiteness being The Default (“our country”) and she also yearns for the history and specificity of her whiteness (“Ireland”)."


"How can white people be ethnic without annoying everybody by appearing to deny their white privilege? How can white people be free to suffer without appearing to forget the violent injustices of the country and the enormous burden that the myth of Whiteness places on the black and brown consciousness. How does a white Jewish woman share her genuine pain over her large nose and her curly hair without being punched in the face by a black woman? How do white people fight for freedom for their spiritual selves and legitimacy for their external experience when the world is still so racist and they benefit from their whiteness?"

The curly hair question? I've seen it enacted in real life. In RL, black woman sighs, white woman is oblivious and continues with her rant, and brownish woman (me) acknowledges the black woman's eye rolls, the white woman's suffering, and bites her tongue. 

Here is an example of how The Default works against people of color. In an interview with Vice magazine, Asian-American writer Tao Lin explains why he doesn’t discuss race in his work:

INTERVIEWER: I also remember you saying something along the lines of “my favorite writers are usually white and rich or middle class.”LIN: Those people aren’t as affected as much by poverty, having to fight in a war, having to earn money to survive, racism, and things like that. Things that, if solved, will leave you with these other problems: knowing you’re going to die, knowing you’re required to make decisions in an arbitrary universe, knowing that you can only occupy one space at one time (so you can never fully be connected with another person). Which are the things that I like to read about. If someone’s in a war, or needing to work two jobs to survive, they’ll probably be focused on writing about that. And I guess when you’re just focused on making enough money to survive, you aren’t worried about “how do I know what to do if the universe is meaningless.”

INTERVIEWER: The jail scene in “Shoplifting From American Apparel” is one of the only moments in your work where the ethnicity of characters is prominently noted. Would you say your characters live in a post-racial world?

LIN: No. I think that’s just a personal preference, because I don’t want to write about racism. Or those other things mentioned earlier. If I put in a character’s race, some readers would assume, like, “Oh his problems are because he’s being discriminated against.” Or, “He doesn’t know his racial/cultural identity, he’s confused about his racial/ cultural identity, which is why he is sad or confused.” To me, their problems are the same as any person’s who is not in a war or working two jobs to survive.

To Lin, we (brown people) are lesser beings — not inherently so, of course — but because the burden of our struggle has exhausted its brave and noble warriors so fully, it prevents them from considering existential issues and experiencing the real, larger life that white people are living. But this is an excuse meant to justify Lin’s own desire for artistic and philosophical universality, which both feel threatened by the specificity of his race. Lin wants to reach defaultness for himself while making sure we continue to think of other brown people as outside of objective consciousness and continue to see whites as the default authors of philosophical thought. He is afraid of the power of The Default and so reinforces it lest it undermine the power of his own work.

Sadly, Lin has failed to see that he is an Asian-American man and somehow – somehow – his mind has managed to ponder “big ideas.” If Lin is an Asian-American man and Lin manages to ask, “How do I know if the universe is meaningless?” his own existence disproves his theory. And his theory proves the existence of The Default.

I guess we'll have another generation or two of this kind of confusion.

100 years from now, everyone will wonder what the big deal was.

I hope that is true. I doubt it.  

Yeah, history's got a way of repeating itself, especially when it's particularly terrible :(

100 years from now isn't soon enough.

History repeats itself UNTIL someone learns and breaks the pattern.

yay progress!

Yay progress, but... It happens very, very slowly within the context of any single human life.

Jared, Lin's exposition isn't a "theory;" it's an observation. Neither does Lin establish his observation as an absolute. When describing his favorite "white and rich or middle class" writers, whose themes align with his interests, Lin pointedly uses the word "usually"—as in, "not always." In extrapolating from this that "his own existence disproves his theory," I'm afraid you've taken a bridge too far.

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