I’ve been struggling with what to do in regard to the George Floyd protests, because I’m immunocompromised and can’t physically get involved. How to think about the protests. How to talk about these topics with my friends, mostly white. It’s been something I’ve been thinking about for a while now. Something that I plan to write about in my next book (I’m in the process of finishing up a fantasy book and started the sequel). However, for me to do that effectively, I think it’s important for me and for other white Americans to understand American history from a different context.
First of all, we have to acknowledge that most of our education has come from a very white perspective. Furthermore, that perspective has been sanitized by the state you grew up in. Sure, the books might be written for multiple states and now has more federal oversight with Common Core, but that just means that it’s been sanitized even more. That you’re less likely to have views critical to US history presented in high school. It’s why College history courses will seem so shockingly radical to a lot of people, because historians are expected to present multiple views to help build critical thinking in the next generation of historians.
So, we, white Americans, need to do the hard work of educating ourselves. If we want to meaningfully add to the conversation or really understand what we should do, we need to take a hard look at what it means to be a White American. We need to understand what it means when African American thinkers talk about White Supremacy. We need to talk about how we benefit from the US’s power structure.
This morning I was watching a video on fictional and Fantasy writing world building. The video referenced a paper by Dr. Abraham V. Thomas, called “Is there a Caste System in India?” the author compared the US and India and argued that both India and the US have Caste systems. Caste systems, if you aren’t aware, are a “philosophical” or “morally” driven hierarchy to society. That there’s a reason why one group of people should be on the top of society while others should be beneath them. In some cases, like in India’s historic Caste system, this means there “Untouchables” which are only good for cleaning sewage (and a few other tasks). In the US, the historic philosophy is one of superiority of the White Race over the Black Race. Which was the philosophical underpinning for slavery.
I think this is an important way of framing how you think about these race discussions. If you read a tweet that talks about how white Americans benefit from White Supremacy, this is what they are saying. You’re in the top Caste because you are White. You may not literally be a White Supremacist, but you are benefiting from the history of White Supremacy in this country.
This was a hard thing for me to understand. Because I would read tweets by activists like Bree Newsome it’d be difficult to square who I thought I was and how I’ve worked to get where I am with what she was saying. I’d get upset. “I’d say, I’m not that person. I didn’t benefit from that! I hate it!” However, before engaging, I remembered a tweet I saw from a Physicist and Historian of Race in Science Technology and Mathematics, Chanda Prescod-Weinstein who begged that White people need to listen before talking. So, I’ve really focused on listening to what women like Chanda and Bree are saying rather than engaging.
Through listening, I’ve really learned that I was too ignorant to have a meaningful engagement with either of them over Twitter. That they and other activists like @Negrosubversive (I don’t know his name) are speaking of their lived experience and how they are experiencing the world. Simply because I don’t understand it doesn’t mean that I have the right to negate it because i don’t think their experiences directly apply to my life.
When people are asking about, how should I talk to my kids about what’s happening right now? Well, I think the first step is to get more educated. Follow on Twitter activists. Read books written by Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) historians. Read literature. Learn the context so you can inform your kid correctly.
After reading portions of the 1619 Project, which does have some flaws (according to some Historians), I went on to read An Indigenous People’s History of the United States, I recently ordered Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates and White Rage By Carol Anderson. When they come in, I’ll write book reviews about them.
It’s our responsibility to get educated so we can help break down our system so we can have a more Just and equitable society. Will it be painful for white America? Yes. Will we be better for it? Yes. So, start by getting educated. Learn and Listen. Only then, can we really engage.