Annie Banks is an organizer/artist in Berkeley, California, on Ohlone territories. Annie is an active member of the California Coalition for Women Prisoners and the Anti Police-Terror Project and is a student at Goddard College. Annie has been a printmaker since high school. 

“The role of cultural workers is important in our movements for justice.” 

ON THE HARMS OF WHITE SUPREMACY TO WHITE PEOPLE, PART TWO: VIGNETTE 1: DYSFUNCTIONAL VALUES: RAISED ON RACISM.

ON THE HARMS OF WHITE SUPREMACY TO WHITE PEOPLE, PART TWO: VIGNETTE 1: DYSFUNCTIONAL VALUES: RAISED ON RACISM.

ON THE HARMS OF WHITE SUPREMACY TO WHITE PEOPLE, PART TWO: VIGNETTE 1: DYSFUNCTIONAL VALUES: RAISED ON RACISM.

Dysfunctional Values: Raised on Racism

A memory I have from attending Anglican church as a child is hearing the saying Love thy neighbor. This did not resonate, however, with the treatment that I witnessed my neighbors receiving. In more recent years, I recall hearing that, in the small town where I grew up, our Middle Eastern neighbors had to go underground after September 11 when the local Islamophobia intensified to the point where our neighbor’s business was targeted by angry white people and they received threats at home. I also remember sitting in class while my Native classmate was pulled out of school and punished, for contesting the teacher’s racist account of history that completely erased Native people and the treatment of Native people by white settlers. I still remember the venomous anger that the teacher projected towards my classmate, who was ten or eleven years old at the time; I felt mystified as to why the teacher was so threatened by a small girl half her size.

Anti-racist activist Anne Braden recounted stories of her father’s racism while still recognizing that he was “a very kind man” and he “loved his family more than anything in the world” (Thompson, 2001, p. 17). This love enabled him to eventually accept a biracial granddaughter, despite his earlier racist statements and positions. How is this anything but dysfunctional? That a grown man can hold such hatred in his heart and it is only until his own family becomes biracial that he can begin to see Black people as human? How could the emotions of love (e.g. his love for his family) and hate (e.g. his hatred of Black people) coexist for so long without contradiction?

I see the perversion of our cultural values, both as a family and as white people, as related to the processes that made us “white” rather than European. For example, author Noel Ignatiev writes convincingly about the waning opposition to slavery by Irish people who had immigrated to America (2015), thus suggesting the relinquishing of certain important cultural values that once held significance for the newly immigrated Irish people. This process in and of itself is demoralizing, as one begins to allow the erosion of one’s own core values and begins to participate in behavior that once would have been repulsive.

My own father shared with me his impression of our family’s ethnic identity by the time they immigrated from Prussia, Wales, and England. He told me that he his father, the patriarch of their family, cared only about his immediate family, his nuclear family and had all but forgotten the extended family and certainly any family members “back home” in Europe. Thus, because of his ability to quickly assimilate into American culture (due to our family’s privileged Northern European appearance, language, religion, and cultures), he did so as quickly as possible, leaving behind any cultural markers or morals.

The configuration of the nuclear family is, for many reasons, isolating; the lack of extended family puts increased pressure on the female parent to spend all of their energy caring for children (which is their role in the nuclear family) and on the male parent to provide financially for said nuclear family unit. Interdependence on other, extended family members is no longer mandatory and thus the social connections are lessened, making it “harder for people to invest in more public forms of social connection” (Smith, n.d.). This enables all of the things that are connected to isolation to flourish, including abuse, addiction, depression, poverty, lack of belongingness, suicide and mental illness. Additionally, the protective factors related to culture, such as a traditions of resilience, cultural methods of coping with struggle such as stories, songs or games, art and music, and pride in one’s own community, people and identity group are no longer available or are now based on the above-mentioned dysfunctional values that white supremacy and heteropatriarchy dictate to the nuclear family unit, such as maintaining appearances above all else. Thus, my family’s intergenerational struggles with abuse, depression, addictions and violence are not surprising given the conditions within which my family was situated.

In Kendrick Lamar’s song, “The Blacker the Berry”, he says,“I know you hate me just as much as you hate yourself” (2015); I find this line to be a very apt description of white supremacy culture and the process by which whites have learned to be hateful and violent. In order to hold hate in one’s heart for another, I believe, enables a person to be hateful in general and also hateful towards oneself, just as experiencing abuse can sometimes be a catalyst for a person to then abuse others, because it is something that has been normalized to them. This is also a parallel to the way in which extreme violence based on falsely concocted racial differences has been perpetrated by whites and that same violence has come home to roost, in the violence that whites inflict against their own families, other white people and themselves. For example, seven out of ten suicides in the United States are by middle-aged, white men (American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, 2017) – just the demographic who is supposed to be benefiting the most from this system of white supremacy. Why would those who are supposedly deemed to be the most superior (according to white supremacy) of all humans, be so eager to kill themselves?

References

American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. (2017). Suicide statistics – AFSP. Retrieved from: https://afsp.org/about-suicide/suicide-statistics/

Ignatiev, N. (2015). How the irish became white. New York: Routledge.

Lamar, K. (2015). The blacker the berry. To pimp a butterfly. [CD]. Aftermath/Interscope Records.

Smith, A. (n.d.). Heteropatriarchy and the three pillars of white supremacy: rethinking women of color organizing. Retrieved from: http://www.cpt.org/files/Undoing%20Racism%20-%20Three%20Pillars%20-%20Smith.pdf

Thompson, B. W. (2001). A promise and a way of life: white antiracist activism. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Next: ON THE HARMS OF WHITE SUPREMACY TO WHITE PEOPLE, PART THREE: VIGNETTE 2: BY ALL APPEARANCES: ADHERING TO THE WHITE SUPREMACIST HETEROPATRIARCHY.

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