Why We Will Lowercase white

“There was clear desire and reason to capitalize Black. Most notably, people who are Black have strong historical and cultural commonalities, even if they are from different parts of the world and even if they now live in different parts of the world. That includes the shared experience of discrimination due solely to the color of one’s skin.

There is, at this time, less support for capitalizing white. White people generally do not share the same history and culture, or the experience of being discriminated against because of skin color

—John Daniszewski, “Why we will lowercase white.” Associated Press. July 20, 2020.

A History of Race and Racism in America

“I’ve selected the most influential books on race and the black experience published in the United States for each decade of the nation’s existence — a history of race through ideas, arranged chronologically on the shelf. (In many cases, I’ve added a complementary work, noted with an asterisk.) Each of these books was either published first in the United States or widely read by Americans. They inspired — and sometimes ended — the fiercest debates of their times: debates over slavery, segregation, mass incarceration. They offered racist explanations for inequities, and antiracist correctives. Some — the poems of Phillis Wheatley, the memoir of Frederick Douglass — stand literature’s test of time. Others have been roundly debunked by science, by data, by human experience. No list can ever be comprehensive, and ‘most influential’ by no means signifies ‘best.’ But I would argue that together, these works tell the history of anti-black racism in the United States as painfully, as eloquently, as disturbingly as words can. In many ways, they also tell its present.”

-Ibram X. Kendi, “A History of Race and Racism in America, in 24 Chapters.” The New York Times. February 22, 2017.

To accompany Ibram X. Kendi’s, “How to be an antiracist.”

Domestic War on Terror Is Not the Answer to White Supremacy

“At a time when the American system of government is already being sorely tested by a demagogue and would-be autocrat in the White House, it would be disastrous to grant more power to the Justice Department and the nation’s security services.”

—James Risen, ” To Fight White Supremacist Violence, Let’s Not Repeat the Mistakes of the War on Terror.” The Intercept. August 17, 2019.

Anytime you think the solution to a problem takes the form of “War on X” or “X War”, you probably need to think a little harder about it.

The War on Terror treats a symptom while acting as a catalyst for the underlying disease. Same goes for the “War on Drugs”. The moment marijuana was getting legalized, the criminal elements supplying it went to opiates. Further, one has to wonder how much longer “The Cold War” enabled communism to last by providing a facade the underlying structural problems could hide behind.

Also, this idea of, “At a time when…” is bogus. This kind of testing could happen at any time. If there is some capability you think the next Hitler shouldn’t have as head of government, then you have a good sense of what powers your government shouldn’t have, and you should use that line to have a principled discussion of the powers of state. Should one person be able to start a nuclear war? Should one person be able to start any war, via the War Powers Act? These are conversations that are overdue.

Cracker Country

I met someone recently. And during the course of conversation, we discovered we grew up around the same area. The conversation went along these lines:

  • Stranger: I’m from X.
  • Me: Oh, really? I grew up near there.
  • Stranger: Where are you from?
  • Me: The Y/Z area.
  • Stranger: Don’t take this the wrong way, but we used to call that, “Cracker Country.”
  • Me: *laughs* There’s probably some truth to that when you and I lived there [a long time ago], but it’s probably less true now.

Everyone involved in this conversation was white, whatever that means.

The Y/Z area was a place in the gap between rural and suburban. It used to have large blocks of pastureland for cows. They have since been converted into a suburban landscape. I remember a school dance that featured a “hoe down” as a theme. It was telling choice, walking a fine line between irony and actuality.

It was a town of the middle and lower classes that was white, which is true even today. I have no memories of any black people in my school or in the area. Issues of race were, and in many ways still are, invisible.

I shared this exchange with a family member from that area. They took it “the wrong way.” They found “cracker” offensive. My reaction to the term is closer to this one in the Gawker. It doesn’t bother me at all.

But, why? What is the difference? I don’t live there. I didn’t feel like I belonged when I was there. I left when I came of age and never returned. Maybe it doesn’t bother me because I don’t identify with the place.

But, would it be different if I still lived there? What if I were someone with stereotypical “cracker” interests? What if I attended a Baptist church? Loved fishing, hunting and/or shooting at the range? What if I worked construction or raised cattle for a living?

Conversations on race and class are always complicated. The closer you are to a stereotype, the more you’ll resent that stereotype. The other side of intersectionality is that the lower someone is on an axis such as class, the more they will focus on other axes, including white supremacy, patriarchy, heteronormativity, etc. to help increase their social standing.

Identity & Unspoken Privileges

Privilege is frequently discussed in term of race, gender and sexual orientation. If you are white, male and heterosexual, you are one of the most privileged members of society, according to most frameworks of privilege.

Intersectionality is certainly a useful way of looking at societal systems of oppression and an aid in offering critiques of it. But, I think there are many kinds of privilege beyond race, gender and sexual orientation. Perhaps one of the most important is class.

I remember being in the military and having a friend explain to me how much harder life was for him than it was for me because of his race. At the time, I was not really aware of how black enlisted men tend to have to do worse jobs than white enlisted men. But, it was obvious if you cared to look and think about it. I was also not aware of the differences in incarceration rates for black and white men and other forms of systemic oppression in society at large probably because they didn’t effect me.

My focus was on something a little more immediate. I observed, “It looks to me like you and I are scrubbing the same toilets.” We were only cleaning toilets and not sewer lines because we came from middle class backgrounds and were able to do well on the military’s standardized tests. Being able to do well on these tests was a kind of privilege, one influenced by economics.

But, I’ve met a gay, female of color who laughed at the notion of joining the military. “I’d never do that.” She was able to go to college without first spending four years earning the G.I. Bill. How does that factor in to the conversation on comparative privilege?

Or what about the fact that education is a privilege. I knew another white, heterosexual male that enlisted in order to send back money to his family. He likely retired from the military and did not get to go to college. Does the fact that he needed to work to support his brothers and sisters and could not afford to attend college even under the G.I. Bill count in our calculus of privilege?

Today, I posted an article on age discrimination in the workplace. Older workers are more expensive. Some of them get stuck doing things the same way year after year, so they might not be as effective. Our culture also puts a premium on youth. Is there a youth privilege? The fact that older workers tend to make more money seems similar to the fact that men generally make more money. It’s also why they are the first to be fired. How can you do an accounting of these competing benefits and drawbacks?

And you might identify a whole range of other privileges. Some that come to mind include: intelligence, sociability/likability, attractiveness, health/hardiness/ableism, etc. It’s pretty clear that when you start getting beyond gender, race and sexual orientation, it becomes really difficult to assess comparative privilege.

If you have the vocabulary and the theoretical framework to talk about privilege, you probably come from a privileged background. Someone who is from the middle class and able to go to college isn’t going to be aware of the problems of the poor, just as the problems of race were, and in some ways still are, invisible to me. It’s a blind spot in the discussion of privilege, and there are many of them: the old, the ill, the disabled, the socially disconnected and the many others that often don’t make it into the conversation.

In the end, we only talk about the categorizations that reduce reality to acceptable representations. Those that are too complex get dropped by the wayside.

Princess Pamela’s Soul Food Cookbook

“There ain’t a thing I do, / a person I know, / a dish I cook, / couldn’t be made / a mite better. That’s / no reason / not to love it / for the best that it is / right now.”

Not just recipes, but full of wisdom about cooking and life.

In the Introduction of the 2017 edition, it points out that any seasonings indicated in the recipes beyond salt, fat and sugar can probably be quadrupled to be right. They were probably revised downward to reflect the bland 1960s New York palettes of the audience of that time. I tried Turnip Greens ‘n Corn Dumplings with some changes, such as yogurt for sour milk, and enjoyed the result.

Originally discovered this cookbook from the article below:

“But in The Jemima Code: Two Centuries of African American Cookbooks (2015), food historian Toni Tipton-Martin argues that Princess Pamela’s cookbook positions itself as a ‘clever retort to scientific cooking’ that could characterize so much of cookbook writing of the era, especially the kind that got published by predominantly white authors. Tipton-Martin provides a useful framework: Princess Pamela’s Soul Food Cookbook isn’t a manual so much as it’s a highly organized diary of her culinary knowhow. Numerous notes in the margins of the book’s reissue, inserted with asterisks by the Lee brothers, fill in the gaps that her original instructions invite.

She prefaces each chapter with a sort of evocative, lush canto; each poem is a time machine. Some read like proverbs: ‘You play ‘possum with that man and you end up cookin’ it for him,’ she writes before a recipe for roast opossum with sweet potatoes. Others attack the dazed, uninformed ignorance of soul food that surrounded her in New York City: ‘Practically every kind of people eat somethin’ that somebody else make a godawful face at,’ she opens her entry on tripe. ‘If that don’t tellya what this race-hatin’ is all about, nuthin’ will.'”

—Mayukh Sen. “She Was a Soul Food Sensation. Then, 19 Years Ago, She Disappeared.” Food52.com. February 2, 2017.

Project Implicit

“Project Implicit is a non-profit organization and international collaboration between researchers who are interested in implicit social cognition – thoughts and feelings outside of conscious awareness and control. The goal of the organization is to educate the public about hidden biases and to provide a ‘virtual laboratory’ for collecting data on the Internet.”

You can take the tests of Project Implicit at their website.