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On Whiteness

On Whiteness

Engraving, scorper and soft-ground etching Etreinte (Embrace) by Stanley William Hayter; image courtesy of The Annex Galleries

Engraving, scorper and soft-ground etching Etreinte (Embrace) by Stanley William Hayter; image courtesy of The Annex Galleries

White America,

I am trying to stand tall right now.  I see my white brothers and sisters emboldened across the country.  I read talk of returning to a better time, of reclaiming what was lost, of more money and power and influence.  The American Dream, it seems, has transformed from the nightmare I knew into a golden dawn—at least, for those who look like me.  I see men filing into the executive branch of government; with nodding heads, firm wagging fingers, and ruffled brows they claim support and reassurance.  They shake hands well—at least, other white hands.  They say: “hey, you have done so much and can do so much more! You deserve the praise you get for your success, and we want you to stand even taller!”  Their words pat me on the back.  My back has no scars from a whip, no bruises from a knee, and no rash from poor sanitation.  To be sure, I am not wealthy.  I come from a working class family, live in a low-income apartment, have been on food stamps, and am currently uninsured.  I am told that this is a passing phenomenon, though, and that things will be better as we rebuild what has crumbled.  Crumbling... this word makes me think about something tall like me coming to the ground... and so I look down.

When I look down I do not see the ground.  I do not see concrete or flowering fields; I do not see the soil.  Instead, I see bodies—millions of them.  They are piled beneath my feet and while most are dead, countless are alive, their muscles warm, their eyes open and perceiving, the breath from their mouths like a steam engine immobile.  Some are standing; many try to join but the weight upon them is great, though their beauty is not hidden from me anymore.  I see prison garb upon them.  I see kitchen aprons, beaded necklaces, and an unfinished coloring book.  Mounded like a bulldozed peak of humanity rising from the Earth and into the clouds, I am atop this mountain with my college degrees, my writing, and my white face.  I am told that I deserve to be here.  I am told to be proud of how high I can reach, but I do not feel proud.

I do not feel proud because I am not whole.  A piece of me was left behind with every step I took upon the backs of those below me; a trail of me is left all the way down the mountain.  And so, like a dream seen backwards at first light, I will walk down the mountain, picking up each piece of myself as I go.  I will not do this out of pity or guilt, but out of respect and integrity.  I want to feel proud, to deserve my praise.  But I cannot do this standing upon another, not if I wish to feel myself dignified as kin.  It has been truthfully said that slavery is the ghost in the machine of kinship, and my time upon the mountaintop was spent as that: a ghost within a machine.  But I am not a ghost—I am alive.  I am not a machineI am a body electric.  And I will no longer stand upon the oppression of my fellows, walking upon their beaten bodies as though the distance between me and the ground was natural and right.  White America, will you meet me with both feet on the ground?

The Leonid Project: A Society Of Moments Production

The Leonid Project: A Society Of Moments Production

The White Man's Land

The White Man's Land