I Am White. I Am Not Superior

I look at my skin and it offers no opinion.

It has no wisdom or insight that allows me arrogance; it’s not notable in any exclusionary way; it’s not even remarkable in its whiteness: beige in warmer months, too pale to be interesting the rest of the time.

It’s just… skin. It makes me white. It does not make me superior.

I didn’t choose this skin. There was no either/or option, no “sorting hat,” no selection process by which I had a say, at least none I was consciously aware of. It was granted by virtue of my parents’ DNA and whatever spiritual, mystical, biological logistics go into the process of life-conjoining-body. It wasn’t an award, a “you are now deemed superior” assignation. It’s just flesh holding bones, blood, nerves and organs; it has that specific job, no other.

What is exceptional about me has nothing to do with my skin. Which is true of all people. Certainly all white people. No one is superior because they’re white. Whatever stellar qualities they embody emanate from those places within: innate talent, natural gifts; productive nurturing; hard work. And, of course, available opportunities…

Which is where whiteness does offer a superior hand-up. It’s called “privilege.” White privilege. More on that later.

Given the daily bombardment of images, videos, and news stories depicting white people “whyting,” as it’s described on social media, it seems clear that, despite any pretense of being post-racial, America remains populated by a good many convinced of their white superiority; entitlement to dehumanize, discriminate, and destroy with impunity:

White cops shoot black men in the back…in the front… in their cars… in their backyards. A white pool guard humiliates a black mother and child who just want a swim on a hot day. A seething white attorney excoriates strangers for daring to speak Spanish, screeching about how he “pays their welfare.” White teachers embarrass students for their “black hair.” A white nurse caustically abuses a black patient as he lies in an ER bed. A white supremacist murderously plows his car into a civil rights march. A white man knives two black sisters at the BART station, killing one. A white business owner in his “Uriah’s Heating and Refrigeration” truck chases down a black man yelling the “n-word” repeatedly, apparently miffed about traffic issues. A white man shoots a retreating black father outside a store, claiming “stand your ground”; he is not charged. White women call cops on Asian grandmas selling do-dads, black kids selling water, black families barbecuing in the park, black boys mowing lawns, black men moving into apartments; black people being…  black.

And a president pushes legislation build on his foundational belief that darker-skinned humans are most readily categorized as “terrorists,” “animals,” “rapists and murderers”; “bad hombres.” Even, apparently, the dark-skinned toddlers he’s ripped from their parents and locked in cages.

What he and the others have in common is their absolute conviction of superiority, presumed status they believe grants them power over people of color. Accords them immunity from acts of aggression and discrimination. Bestows permission to denigrate, hurt, humiliate; even kill.

The truth is less forgiving. They are not only not superior, in many cases they are profoundly inferior. In all cases they are misguided and misinformed.

Some would argue that religious dogma makes the case for white superiority, but they’d be negating the hand of biased men in writing said doctrine over the millennia. Some say history shows evolutionary preference for whites by illuminating their successes in forging countries and kingdoms via Viking plunders, Roman empires; British colonization, and Manifest Destiny. But that calculation ignores the concurrent history of the two largest continents—Asia and Africa—who, along with Central and South America, had their own successes in establishing countries, civilizations, and kingdoms… all without the help of white people.

What is undeniable is that history itself has been whitewashed by the very people claiming superiority, leading it to become its own false testimony.

Truth, however, cannot be so easily dismissed. Pulling away from religious dogma, historical spin, ancestral bias, and a current zeitgeist roiled in racial conflict, it becomes clear, in the light of unclouded examination, that white superiority is a lie, a perversion; a fantasy.

 White superiority is a myth.

And the problem with myth is its mythiness; its embrace of fiction, invention, and hyperbole intended to convince the more gullible of its validity. White superiority is, in fact, most astutely described by this specific definition of myth:

“An unproved or false collective belief used to justify a social institution.”

Exactly.

That white people (predominantly men) have coalesced wealth and power long enough, pervasively enough, and enduringly enough to perpetrate the illusion of superiority has been effective in preserving the myth. But it remains a myth, and for many reasons. Largely because the most prevalent attribute of that entitled demographic is the inherited, ordained, bequeathed factor of white privilege, anointed status afforded whites by other whites; sociopolitical assignation that pervades every aspect of white life to create ease, opportunity, and power so endemic that many who benefit from it (as all whites do in one way or another) would argue its existence.

It exists. But, like breathing, its presence and function is so unconscious and automatic we might pretend not to notice… but still we breathe. As, still, whites benefit from white privilege.

White privilege is the blood, the nerves, and—since we’re discussing the power of “skin”—the skin of white superiority; feeding it, animating it, holding it in place; protecting it from the “infection” and invasion of reality, the dispelling power of facts and biology with their unremitting sting of truth.

But despite its endurance, it’s a myth that is slowly but inevitably crumbling in the face of changing culture. Because, even in the face of ratcheting hysteria from myth-believing whites resistant to a changing world, diversity remains an unstoppable force; a churning, expanding, inexorable evolution. As more people of color fill the vibrant corners of our country, the illusion of white superiority will meet its reckoning. And whether wrapped in the American (or confederate) flag, driven by irrational race hate, or just “Barbecue Beckies” with phones, the confused amongst us will face those changing demographics with a choice: cling to the myth or join the coalition.

What isn’t a myth is the science that says we’re all made from the same stuff. When we can truly and honestly embrace that fact, allow it to imbue our every step with equanimity and compassion, we will have reached a state of communal superiority. It may take us generations to get there—we may never get there—but if we do, it will be something to celebrate en masse.

No matter shade of skin we’re in.


“Faceless” photo by Alexa Mazzarello on Unsplash
“Fragile” photo by Morgan Basham on Unsplash

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Visit www.lorrainedevonwilke.com for details and links to LDW’s books, music, photography, and articles.

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Identity Politics: How Ageism Became An Accepted Form of Discrimination

Is it fear of death, of our inexorable mortal demise? A whistling past the graveyard of diminished youthful appeal? An irrational aversion to oldness akin to the indefensible mechanics of race hate? What is it, exactly, that makes the process and consequence of aging so terrifying to the bulk of society that they’d malign, dismiss, and denigrate a person just for the fact of being older?

I was forced to ponder this (again) after reading the onslaught of ugly, sexist, ageist pejoratives flung in response to the California Democrats’ refusal to endorse Sen. Dianne Feinstein this past week. While that happenstance deserves its own weighty conversation, the issue at hand is the undeniable playing of the “age card” as people spouted their glee at her rejection.

Original photo by Hubert Chaland on Unsplash

Regardless of any tangible, defensible arguments against her politics, her votes; her views on salient topics, the prevailing strain of trollery showered over this longtime public servant was the simple fact of her age: 84-years-old. 84-freakin’-years-old, dammit! How dare she.

Snarling denunciations of, “this tired, old hag,” came with shouts of, “TimesUP,” and insults to her longevity, her dyed hair, and her aging face. You’d have thought the woman ate small children instead of devoted her life in service to the welfare of Americans, including pushing her resistant colleagues to release the Fusion GPS transcripts, and, just this week, introducing legislation to “bring the rules for AR-15 sales in line with handguns,” an addendum to the Federal Assault Weapons Ban she wrote in 1994. Nothing irrelevant about any of that.

But, while she’s had an astonishing career that demands far better than the ignorance of internet trolls, I’m not here to argue the merits of Sen. Feinstein’s tenure. I’m here to use her recent trollery as a launchpad to discuss why we think, why we’ve accepted, and why we behave as if age is a worthy weapon to devalue, determine relevance, or disallow continuing contribution. Why it’s become an accepted form of discrimination. Why we choose to prioritize age over the wisdom of good ideas, the depth of experience, or the courage of actions taken.

In the political arena (let’s face it, all arenas), society too often gives in to its crass impulse to judge participants, particularly women, on the basis of the year they were born, or cruel assessments of their physical attributes… that ugly nexus of sexism and ageism. You don’t typically hear trolls bark about Bernie Sander’s grumpy face or advanced age (76), Donald Trump’s septuagenarian bloat and blunder (he’s 71), or Ronald Reagan’s descent into dementia before his second term ended at 77-years-old. Democrats applaud the prospect of Joe Biden (75) or John Kerry (74) throwing in for 2020, yet there was endless carping about Hillary Clinton’s advanced age (jeez, only 70!). Effective leaders around the world operate vibrantly and vigorously at ages far older than Ms. Feinstein—the Queen is 91, the Pope 90—and their constituents love them still.

But here in America, land of the free, home of the brave, bubbling cauldron of isms of every kind, the population likes its leaders, its celebrities, its artists, its influencers, particularly its women, young and pretty, evidenced by some of the comments during this recent Feinstein imbroglio:

• “She’s had her chance. Now it’s time for younger people to have theirs. Buh bye!”
• “People get stale when they’ve been somewhere too long. Get rid of them all.”
• “Their time is up and their season is over.”
• “No one cares what old people think. They’re done. Young minds are what’s happening.”
• “They need to get off the stage and let younger people take over.”
• “Old people are clueless. Too much change has happened for them to be relevant.”
• “People want hip. People want now. Old people are then and they’re definitely not hip.”
• “What’s with her picture? Bad dye job and she hasn’t looked that young in decades.”

And on and on. Sigh.

But here’s the strange and self-sabotaging fact that younger people maligning older people either ignore or refuse to consider: THEY will be old some day… and sooner than they think. And when they get there; when they look in the mirror and see a version of themselves they can’t possibly imagine at this moment, it will suddenly dawn on them that they don’t feel irrelevant; they don’t feel useless and used up; they, instead, feel as potent, effective, and purposeful as they do now.

And they will suddenly face that era’s sneering trolls echoing their own words of today. They’ll feel the sting of the same age discrimination they’re wielding so blithely at this moment. It will hurt and they will be inherently responsible for it all.

Because, as they currently dismiss older people as obsolete and expendable across systems, professions, social demographics, and cultural paradigms, they are setting up their own futures. They are building—brick by brick, word by word, tweet by tweet, insult by insult—a world in which they too will become obsolete. In which their accomplishments, experience, wisdom, and capabilities will be dismissed, devalued, and ignored. And what they will discover at that pivotal point, as Dianne Feinstein knows, as Jane Goodall knows, as the damn Queen knows, is that age has NOTHING to do with any of it.

What does?

A mind, heart, and soul still creating, exploring, learning, and contributing; a person willing to innovate, experiment, and share their knowledge. That happens—or doesn’t happen—at any age.

Making age, without a doubt, a most unworthy arbiter.

Here’s the point I’d like younger people to take away: If right now, today, while you’re young and on the cusp of your youthful bloom, you build a world in which every person, regardless of age, is judged, chosen, elected, or rewarded commensurate with their accomplishments and their contemporary willingness to evolve, you will have that world waiting for you when you are that older person. Think of it as an investment in your future.

And however you judge Dianne Feinstein, refuse to let age, gender, or the color of her hair be part of the equation. If anything’s irrelevant, it’s all that.

Original Photo by Hubert Chaland on Unsplash

Related posts:

Age Is Not The Arbiter Of Relevance. See ‘Sneaky’ Dianne Feinstein

The Geeze and Me: Honoring and Illuminating Age Through the Wit and Wisdom of Musical Theater

What Young People Get Wrong About Aging and How It’s Going To Hurt Them

Pass the Mantle? Thanks, But I’m Still Wearing Mine

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Visit www.lorrainedevonwilke.com for details and links to LDW’s books, music, photography, and articles.