Pride and Prejudice: Race Through History in America

I’m white as white can be.  I often joke that I’m so white, I could land planes, just by stepping on a tarmac in shorts.  I’m also a woman, 1/2 Jewish, 1/2 Catholic, and gay.  According to those who are all about “white pride” I’m not really white, because I’m Jewish.  Being gay probably doesn’t help either.  Many white people think that prejudice and racism aren’t really a problem anymore.  It’s a thing of the past.  I couldn’t disagree more.

We don’t seem to talk about our history, with as much truth as I feel we should. There isn’t just a tendency to be overly romantic about the founding of America and the American dream.  People will actually lobby to rewrite history books, to ensure a fairy tale is taught to our kids.  Why can’t we just have an honest, true history?  The good, bad and ugly?  Because the founding of our country was done in blood and oppression, but all we seem to recall is the white people who were fleeing the same treatment.

I don’t get the need to have “white pride”.  I just don’t get it.  There is one saving grace to that concept, but it isn’t what the supporters of that movement would want it to be.  It wasn’t just a group of “white” people who fled to America.  It was a mix of different nationalities.  British, Irish, Scottish, and even some Dutch, French and Spanish.  Some countries had more than others, but it did transcend those nationalities.  For the most part, it was British refugees. Those refugees had slaves with them.  Africans, who had been kidnapped into slavery. I kind of despise the idea of saying African, or African-American.  Africa is a continent, not a country.  There are over 33 countries, and European countries invaded most of them.  They trafficked the people.  They tore them away from their homes and enslaved them.

When those European refugees landed on the shores of America, they didn’t “discover” the country with Columbus.  They wound up realizing there were people already here.  Indians, or Native Americans, as we call them.  We met them with mass murder, rape, syphilis, and pushing them out of their lands, using might to make right.  We like to minimize that note in our history, but we shouldn’t.  The idea of the American dream is that anyone can be who they want. That we all have inalienable rights and inherent freedoms.  Those rights and freedoms are entitled to all citizens. Not based on race, gender, or any other marker we can place on a person.  Yet, people still try to limit rights and protections for people who they don’t want to see having equal rights.

This country was built on the backs of people whose rights were maligned and stripped.  If we are to make good on what we started, we must ensure our path going forward does not forsake those who enabled the start of this country.  The idea of “white” pride has one saving grace, as I said.  The concept does transcend national borders.  White is not a nationality.  It seems contradictory, as those in white pride are not a fan of black pride and visa versa.  Why not just have mankind pride? Why do we need to have pride that excludes people? The irony is that I see more of a reason to have black pride, than I do white pride.  For that, I am probably seen as a traitor to my race.  I know that I am not a traitor to the human race, and that is more important to me.

Black pride has been needed, because there is not a time through history that the black race has not been oppressed.  Whites have, throughout history, usually had all the power.  The idea that whites are losing their rights and their place in the world, is a fallacy.  You can’t lose what wasn’t yours, and having more rights than others is not a right that is inalienable.  The reality of what is happening, is that it may feel like whites have less of a spotlight.  It’s really the shifting of rights to all people, which feels like it might be leaving whites out all together.  It’s not.  It’s the same concept of equal pay for women. Men aren’t losing anything.  But having women on an equal bar as men, will feel like men have less bargaining power.  The truth is, that it wasn’t rightfully theirs to have more bargaining power than women in the first place. That loss of power, was power not rightfully theirs in the first place.

The opposite of the white pride concept is white guilt.  I definitely lean more toward that end of the spectrum.  It’s not that I’m not proud of my heritage.  I am, for sure.  I am not proud of the racism of my ancestors, though.  It is something I hope to better in my heritage.  A legacy of pushing the needle toward equality.  Learning from my forefathers on what not to do. How not to treat others.  When I walk down the street, no one looks at me like I’m a criminal.  When I go into a store, the security guards don’t watch me with suspicion.  I am not pulled over, for looking like I might commit a crime, because of a predisposition to viewing minorities as preternaturally criminally minded.  I know that.  I don’t have to wear a gold star on my arm, and the president-elect isn’t threatening to make a database that would require me to be monitored because of my religion.  It’s not that this is my fault, but I can’t imagine what it must be like day in and day out to be treated like that.  Years ago, I went to dinner with my friends.  They were both minorities.  The waitress was rude, ignored us, and it was crappy service.  The next night my mom and brother wanted to go to the same place (I was over-ruled). We ended up with the same waitress.  She was nice, attentive, and friendly.  It was so obvious that her treatment was based on the color of the people sitting at the table, it just stuck with me.

Because I grew up in a really small town, kids at my school knew I was Jewish.  There were only like 3 families in the town that were Jewish.  Kids drew swastikas on my locker and desk.  Fellow students would raise their arms in class (in a heil hitler salute) and say “the occult’s, coming out tonight boys.” When I would ask my teacher to get them to stop she would say “What do you want me to do?” and then proceed to do nothing.  These same kids would call my house at night.  I was a latch-key kid.  Both my parents worked, so I would often be home alone at night, if my brother had plans.  They would call my house and tell me they were going to come kill me.  I had to really work through the fear that someone was going to come try to hurt me, and realize it was all talk.

I once watched a documentary on skinheads when I was young, and home alone.  The people interviewing the skinheads asked them what they would do, if they knew where a black or Jewish person was right then.  They said they would probably go kill them.  People they didn’t even know.  If they knew where I lived, would they kill me? They don’t even know me.  But that’s the rub.  That’s why I lean toward white guilt, instead of pride.  I have guilt that I cannot join minorities in their struggle all the way.  I can only support them from the side.  I know what prejudice can be like, but people don’t know I’m a minority, by looking at me.  Racial minorities are targeted purely based on the color of their skin.  It makes them a target.

Martin Luther King Jr said “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”  If we are going to seek our own rights and opportunities to advance, we must seek to ensure everyone else has those same rights and opportunities.  When we pull others down, to push ourselves up, we ensure a perpetual game of seesaw, where there is inequality at all times.  We end up in a tug of war, trying to take rights from others, and having rights taken by others.  It was a cornerstone of this country’s war for freedom.  United we stand, divided we fall.  I feel so unbelievably sad, when I see people commenting online, that we shouldn’t help people in other countries.  That we shouldn’t help the people of Aleppo, Syria.  I don’t understand that.  I don’t understand having such disdain and lack of empathy for people suffering an atrocity.  If it was happening to you, I would think you would hope that someone would help.  How can we be deserving of allies and friends, if we would not act for others?  How can we sit back and let people be slaughtered?

I have tried to find the quote many times over the years, but I can never seem to find the quote.  I read it in college.  It said, something to the effect, that nationalism would destroy the world.  Instead of a planet sharing resources to ensure all people are equally provided for, we draw up borders. We put up walls, and lock people out.  We fight over resources.  We go to war over resources.

So there is American pride, which seems to conveniently forget our bloody history on the backs of African slaves, and on the land of Native Americans.  There is white pride, which seems kind of random to me.  If everyone in white pride organizations took DNA tests, I think they would be surprised to see what their background actually is.  I am white, and I’m not un-proud, but my pride is more in being a woman who has navigated male-dominated industries most of my life.  I’m proud of my ancestors, who worked hard to make a living and be good.  I am aware of their racism, and I work to learn from those mistakes.  We are all people.  We are all brothers and sisters. Once we can all see that, we can erase borders and take down walls.  We can stop fighting each other, and start working together.  I find diversity the most beautiful aspect of America.  The different races, genders, religions, orientations. There is so much to learn from every person, if we are open to learning what we do not know.  A different perspective, a different background.

My thought is that we all see the world, as if we are looking through a diamond.  There is the top, and the bottom, but no matter how you look through a diamond there is refraction.  The perspective is not a straight one, but one that will bounce off an angle.  If we all see life in that way, then we must acknowledge that all of us can only see so much.  We must rely on each other to help us with what we might not be able to see so well.

A good litmus test for any person, would be this – if you look at someone and have hate in your heart, but do not know them, you must challenge that hate.  What do you hate? What do you know? Treat that person, as you would want the most important person in your life to be treated.  They are someone’s most important person too.  Acknowledge that none of us knows everything, but we each have knowledge and truth that we can share.  Let’s not be selfish.  Let’s not be so prideful in who we think we are, that we shut the door on those who are different.  We are all different, and that should be good.  The true greatness of America is not that anyone can start out poor and end up rich.  It’s not as shallow as that.  It isn’t about the money.  It’s about inclusivity.  That is the real American dream, or I think it should be.  A country that, at it’s core, is about accepting diversity. Not just tolerating differences, but welcoming them.  A country made up of different countries.  That is how our country is elevated above other countries, and that is the only way we can stay elevated.  The minute we close our doors to diversity, we close ourselves off to our greatest potential.

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