It’s been a while since I have contributed to my blog. This is due to various reasons. I’ve decided that if this is something I’m going to do that I want to discuss issues that are more meaningful to me such as the subject for this post. Race has been a hot topic since I can remember. I wanted to focus on how people might perceive me and how I’ve perceived myself in the light of race. Am I just a white man? What are the implications of that?
The thought of it
In the current political atmosphere there exists an enormous amount of stigma around race. This stigma is often stratified into two categories which are heterosexual white men and then everyone else. This idea groups a large number of extremely various people into the same category. I unfortunately understand the historical precedence for this which I will discuss.
There have always been mindless individuals who will believe anything as long as it fits into their narrow personal perspective. This includes both white supremacists as well as those who give credence to their ideas. More often than not people share ideas that are popular rather than logical.
I have never felt akin to the “white race”. I grew up poor and socially awkward. I never felt that I related with or belonged to any specific group of people based on superficial similarities. I remember in the 5th grade being bullied by the majority of my ethnically diverse class. It was equal opportunity bullying. The connections I made with other kids were base solely on similar interests. The idea of racial solidarity seemed very confusing to me.
Outwardly I’m sure that I appear as just another privileged white man. However that idea comes with a pile of assumptions that are incomplete just as they are when categorizing any person based on external traits. Those assumptions would completely avoid my personal struggles and the circumstances of my upbringing. They would negate my early years of living destitute with a family who was always on the edge of homelessness and often in trouble with the law.
My circumstances have shaped me and enabled me to understand appearances are just that. A person’s life experiences are at least in part what makes them who they are. However, I know how I might be perceived by people who don’t know me but I’m not ashamed of my ethnicity.
I recently completed a DNA test and now know that I am 90% English, 8% Irish/Scottish and 2% European Jewish. Prior to this I could only say that I was white. White is not an ethnicity and neither is black. These are superficial labels that society has come to embrace and use in order to replace cultural and ethnic identity.
Since my journey of genetic self discovery I’m beginning to research my ancestral history. I know of Britain’s tumultuous history as a bygone Empire. I also know how my ancestors evolved culturally over time. Once they were a tribal people before Rome invaded. They struggled to survive, they had their own gods and rituals. I suppose they were similar to many groups throughout the world at that time.
Most Americans have no connection with their ancestors. Instead we have racial ideologies which were developed in order to support an unjust socioeconomic order. From the formation of America there existed a social strata. There were groups of lower class settlers on the fringes of society who, in some cases, formed communities with escaped slaves and even native Americans. Howard Zinn’s “A People’s History of the United States” provides specific examples of this. I highly recommend reading this book.
These communities were disconcerting to the wealthy elites who worried about possible upheavals or a change in the landscape at the least. They created a pathway of full citizenship which included land ownership and voting rights to disenfranchised white men. Of course this involved their agreement to enlist in the military.
As time passed a rift formed between poor settlers and other racial minorities who weren’t included in these social contracts. Ideas of “white” superiority infiltrated the culture as an inevitable result. As new European settlers arrived they would initially be met with hostility but eventually be assimilated into “white America”.
In the process of extinguishing the establishment of multi racial communities the unique cultural backgrounds of all Americans were mostly erased. A new identity was forged and as a result we are left with a small number of boxes to check on job applications. This is a great tragedy.
In the end I choose to embrace two identities. The first identity is that I am English American. This helps to justify my love for British TV as well as British Hip Hop.
The second identity is that I am a man living in the society that I was given. I can’t go back but I can move forward. The decisions that I make will impact my ascendants just as much as my descendants choices have affected me.
I hope as people take their own journeys of genetic self discovery that they will embrace their genetic makeup for what it is. This shouldn’t be done to support false ideas of racial superiority but rather to provide each of us with a story about our identity. Perhaps looking at ourselves for who we really are will be the first step in establishing a more inclusive environment.
Zinn, Howard. A People’s History of the United States. New York: Harper & Row, 1990. Print.