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I Am White, Hear Me Bore

- Sunday, June 28, 2015

I am white. My ancestry is Germanic, French Norman, Irish, and Italian (with a hint of Algonquin). Though the Irish were not considered white until fairly recently, there’s no question my pasty-hued kin are as white as it gets. It’s worth noting as well that Italians also were not considered white until recently[4]. The very infirm definition of the term ‘white’, in regards to race, alone proves its ineptitude at classification. Despite that, I am unquestionably a modern white male.

Being white comes with a number of stereotypes, much like any other race. I fancy myself a risk taker. (Whether or not that is a conceit is up for debate.) I enjoy camping in black bear country and would not entirely oppose the idea of getting into a fight with one. I have, at times, imbibed an excess of alcohol. I enjoy underdressing in the winter. I definitely am far from being an adept dancer. I cannot jump very high at all. I have great grammar. I am generally friendly and have been told I am informational. I listen to NPR. I do have a Netflix subscription. I own an apple corer[3].

I have questioned whether or not I have benefitted from white privilege. My own choice of sub-culture and introverted manner seems to have eroded what privilege may have been afforded me by my skin tone. I can only speculate my challenges would have been greater had this internal self grown up in a different skin. In younger days, I did not realize my male privilege, however. In my late teens and early twenties, I thought absolutely nothing of being able to walk around at any hour of the night or early morning. Why could not a woman do this as well? Why would she have reserve about the notion? My imposing six-foot-one male frame kept me well in the dark on this.

I did not think much of race early in life. Growing up in rural Vermont, I looked like everyone most else; most everyone else looked like me. My divisions from my peers were strictly social and sub-cultural. Through television shows such as Good Times, In Living Colour, Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids, The Jeffersons, Sanford and Son, A Different World, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, and Family Matters, and hip hop culture on MTV (Public Enemy was my primary source for black issues in America, and I still maintain it was one of the best for conveying that message), I was aware of other races. They were represented in a way I viewed as positive. However, until 6th grade, I do not recall having ever met someone who was not white.

In 1995, a Connecticut gang known as The Los Solidos (TSO) attempted to take root in my hometown[1]. While this attempt was ultimately thwarted, the process, an ensuing local cultural shift, and the later influx of other smaller gangs from NY began to build a different set of experiences for me related to other races. This experience set, being founded in real life and not entertainment, began to dominate my perspective. The influx generated a feeling I can only now, with starkly honest retrospect, call racism. It is not that I ever felt that anyone of any race was inherently better or worse than anyone of any other race, but that my experiences were creating a predominantly negative expectation. In hindsight, I wonder if this kind of visual-action association is hardwired in our brains. If we see someone of our tribe bitten by a rattlesnake and die, we associate the action and result with the visual pattern on the back of the snake. In the future, we expect the same result from a snake bearing that pattern. I hypothesize that this is an evolutionary byproduct which festers unless we are either raised against it or must learn to reprogram ourselves against it. While I never acted upon nor advocated such racial sentiments, I cannot deny that I harbored them. It was not until several years later, after living in a less homogeneous setting and really stepping back to think about race and culture, that I began to deprogram these expectations and embrace the complexity of the underlying elements behind these concepts.

I am not entirely certain how my race shapes who I am now. I can trace aspects of my personality back into the typically white portions of my youth. However, I try to focus more on defining and exploring who I am now with disregard to race and nation. I admire the way in which Liu describes trying not to let race define who he was growing up[2]. Racial stereotypes may describe a significant portion of who I am, but who I am I view singularly.

1. Foster, Rick. “How One Small Town Faced down Gangs.” The Sun Chronicle,
18 Feb. 2008. Web. 7 Feb. 2015. <
how-one-small-town-faced-down-gangs/article_8c8d79f5-2051-5b24-aef1-32dd811931e4.html >.

2. Liu, Eric. “Notes of a Native Speaker.” Inquiry: Questioning, Reading, Writing, Second Edition. Ed.
Lynn Z. Bloom, Edward M. White, with Shane Borrowman. Upper Saddle River,
NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall, 2004. 66-76. Print.

3. Quora. “What Are Some of the Stereotypes of White People in America That Nonwhite People Have?.”
          Quora. 30 Jan. 2014. Web. 7 Feb. 2015.<
What-are-some-of-the-stereotypes-of-white-people-in-America-that-nonwhite-people-have >.

4. Wohl, Anthony S. “Racism and Anti-Irish Prejudice in Victorian England.”
Racism and Anti-Irish Prejudice in Victorian England. Victorian Web, 1990.
Web. 7 Feb. 2015. < >.

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