People sometimes apologize to me for being white. "I’m a white guy, but…" I get it and I appreciate it, but I also don’t know what to say. I have no natal indulgences to give.
What can I say? It’s fine? You’re one of the good ones? To me the answer is relatively simple. Don’t be white.
As (the fictional) Al Capone said, “I don’t know no Italians. Napolitans, Calabrese, what are you again?” In the same way, I don’t know any white people. Swedish, American, Jewish, what are you again?
The fact is that whiteness, like Lucky Luciano’s mafia, is an identity created explicitly for power. Whiteness is white supremacy, it has no other real content, no food, no language, no unifying culture.
Nobody else identifies like this, not brown people, not ‘yellow’ people (not a thing), only black people, out of pure necessity in the heart of whiteness. As Noel Ignaetiv said, “The white race is a historically constructed social formation.” If you told the many warring tribes of Europe they were one people they’d laugh, until colonialism made the idea very profitable.
Since colonialism spread across the world, however, this is now the polarity around which the world spins. White on top, black on the bottom. Global North and Global South. Race provides the social energy that sucks resources out of the south and merrily pumps emissions out of the north. It is the battery of global capitalism, which is just assault and battery to most people in the world.
This is just the world we live in, and it has to be named and shamed. But that doesn’t mean that you need to attach your name to it, or that you’re being personally attacked here. You can also just put down your whiteness. God knows it’s not an easy path, but you can just walk away.
We live in a unipolar world, and unipolar world has to have polarity. Positive and negative. Black and white. That polarity since colonialism has been race. Between the two poles of black and white, north and south, the world turns.
Whiteness created, out of necessity, blackness, out of the stolen people of a thousand different nations. As its opposite it created whiteness, out of the pasty people of many warring states. Black must forever give, white must forever take, with different gradients of caste in between.
This polarity gives the world energy, it gives it charge. This racial energy allows resources to flow up from the south to the north, while shit flows down. This happened first through colonialism but continues under capitalism as well.
Hence France can still get cheap nuclear material from Africa, while forcing many African countries to keep their reserves in French banks. Hence tourists and ‘expats’ can flow down to our beaches, while we must be drowned in the Mediterranean sea.
That’s why emissions can be dumped disproportionately by the global north, while the global majority is told it’s our fault for having too many babies. That’s why it’s wars of liberation down here, but imposition of tyranny when it happens north of the Black Sea.
This is just how the world turns. It’s guilt-free energy. You’re not cannibalizing humanity, you’re civilizing it. This is racial polarity.
Even a brown person like me can become an agent of this white supremacy. See Priti Patel (in the UK), closing the borders that her own parents came through. See Kamala Harris (in the US), telling other colored people ‘do not come.’ Indeed colored people always administered the colonies. For a little extra privilege, we can participate in the same hypocrisy.
Whiteness created a hierarchy, a ladder which can often be clambered up, as long as you keep kicking downwards, preserving the hierarchy.
For example, Italians and Irish could become white in America. As an immediate example, Ukrainians have suddenly become ‘European’ now. The social mobility is of course contingent on maintaining the system, on standing in line. So Irish and Italians needed to be enforcers like cops, or Ukrainians need to be separated from black refugees. You can move ahead, a little bit, but that very concept depends on leaving other people behind.
This is the premise and promise of whiteness. It allows some people to move, as long as they willing to step on other people to get ahead. And so the world turns, secure on its axis.
There is certainly a lot to apologize for here. Indeed, a lot to destroy. But what is your place in this? To what degree are you responsible? What do you have to explain?
To me, nothing. I’m a lot like you. Perhaps I had a much more tenuous hold, but I partook in whiteness much the same.
I was born with a white passport (Canadian). I grew up in a 99% white town (Upper Arlington, Ohio). I honestly grew up thinking I was white because nobody ever commented on me after the first grade. I had all the options to move up the ladder, if I just shortened my name. As an adult, however, I unconsciously abstained.
It was supposed to be the land of plenty, but I was depressed in the north. I was cold. I was lonely. I couldn’t see a future for myself there, indeed, I couldn’t see the future there at all. So I went to make my fortune in rising Asia. Confusing my relatives and cab drivers alike, I returned to sender. I moved back to Sri Lanka, where I remain.
Even physically away, however, I still identified with whiteness for years. Instead of Christianity, it now cloaked its ‘civilizing influence’ as liberal democracy, and it took me a long time to figure out this new hypocrisy. It still took me years to cultivate a different identity, but I had some place to, physically, go. I understand that a lot of people don’t have this option.
I understand that for ‘white people’—many of them fundamentally homeless, historyless people, mixed and moved about by settler-colonialism, burdened by infinite choice—for them I understand that they can’t just move. They have no ‘non-white’ identity to return to. So while they recognize the inherent violence and shame of whiteness, this feels like their only place in the globe.
And I don’t know the answer to this. It’s another path.
I walked away from a fight, they have to walk into one. People are always saying ‘go back to where you came from’ to people like me. For a white people to walk away from whiteness is something else. It is what Noel Ignaetiv called race treason.
In the 1990s, he published the zine: Race Traitor. Its tagline was “treason to whiteness is loyalty to humanity.” In the first editorial he called not for anti-racism and co-existence, but the abolition of whiteness itself. He said:
Ignaetiv’s prescription was to ‘dissolve the club’. That whiteness had no legitimate use beyond as a club, beating down the rest of humanity. What Ignaetiv called for wasn’t apologizing for whiteness. He called for completely putting it down and walking away.
This is a delicate balance of course. Plenty of racists say they’re color-blind to just try and shut people up. You have to fight whiteness as real in society while denying its reality in you.
At some level decent people do this already. I presume you don’t go around talking about ‘white pride’ or ‘white power’. Ignaetiv called for going that next step, to stop identifying as a ‘white person’ entirely. Not to be a well-meaning white person, but to abolish whiteness entirely.
How do you do this? I don’t fucking know. Race Traitor was a discussion, not an answer. It took me many years to decolonize my own identity and I don’t even know if I’m done. I was unaware of how wrong I was then and I’m probably unaware of a lot now.
I’m stumbling down my own path, I certainly don’t know what yours is. But I guess the first step to walking a path is to realizing that you’re on one. That you can’t just stand still.
Just Don’t Be White
Someone on Twitter was unhappy that I generalized about white people. He said what about these white people? and sent me links. Twitter messages don’t usually lead to resolution, but this surprisingly did. All I said was:
Just don’t be white. I don’t identify as brown
And he was like,
When you hear all this stuff about White Empire and white people you can be like ‘that’s not me’ and be angry. However, you could also be like ‘that’s not me’and just fucking leave. Instead of defending ‘some white people’ just pack up your shit and join humanity.
As you can see from fucksticks like Patel or Harris (or me), there is some traffic one-way up the ladder. You can just jump off the ladder entirely.
Obviously it’s hard because we’re talking about identity, but look at reality. The whole Earth is collapsing, we’re sick, we’re at war. Whatever axis the world was spinning on, it’s out of control. A change has got to come.
It’s a tight squeeze—between the rock of reality and the hard place of identity—but at some point you’ve got to leave. There’s nothing for you here. What does whiteness mean, besides being mean? It’s just ruin and hypocrisy.
So you don’t have to apologize to me for being white. I don’t care. It’s very relevant to society, but not to you and me. Tell me where you live, whether you’re a mother or grandmother, what your favorite sports team is, whatever actually matters to you. We’re just two people in a fucked up world, be who you actually want to be.
We have to fight whiteness yes, but the most helpful thing is just one less white person, however well meaning. You can redefine meaning at a deeper level and just drop out and tune into humanity. As the Beatles said, hallucinating a Jewish Palestinian refugee, let it be.
- How I Almost Became White
- Abolish Whiteness