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3/21/23 The Unbearable Lightness of Being…Blissfully White
March 21 @ 8:00 am - 5:00 pm
March 21, 2023
Dear Friends of Hallie Q. Brown,
Recently, I had the opportunity to travel to the Dominican Republic (DR) for vacation. Unbeknownst to many people, the DR is where the Transatlantic Slave Trade started. In 1502, the first Africans imported to the Americas for enslavement were brought there. Today it is one of the most sought-after vacation destinations with thousands of visitors each year. Yet, the legacy of systemic racism can still be seen in some most initially unexpected, but actually quite obvious once thought about places in the country, along with their history and practices…just like in the United States.
While visiting, my friends and I toured one of the most popular rum distilleries in the DR as part of a larger group of visitors. It was one of the few instances my vacation was interrupted. During the tour, a film played, giving the history of the distillery and a glimpse that almost no one caught, besides myself and a couple of my friends out of all the people in the group. A glimpse of the colonialism and systemic racism that lay at the heart of the distillery’s, and the industry’s, beginnings.
I rapidly took pictures to capture the moment that interrupted my serenity on the first vacation I’d taken in 10 years. I looked around the room at the multitude of primarily white faces to see if anyone else had noticed the differences in the people in the slides. Had anyone else noticed that all of the Black men within the slides were wearing slave clothing, performing all the manual labor, were barefoot; or that all the white men were in fine outfits indicating upper class, sophistication…ownership.
Not a single acknowledgement was made by the film of the enslaved people onscreen. Sure, Slavery isn’t the most upbeat of topics, but not even a disclaimer?! Not a single soul seemed aware as they laughed and joked on their way to the next room of the tour; oblivious to the unacknowledged scenes we had just witnessed. I walked along, compartmentalizing the images I’d witnessed for later examination, not wanting to disrupt the fun of the tour. I was, after all, one of only three Black people in the tour group. A knowing eye raise and head tilt between us let me know they had seen it as well, and the blissfulness of the white tour members was not shared by all.
I have often tried to imagine what it must be like to be “blissfully white.”
To be so inured to racism that you do not notice its prevalence in every part of our daily lives; around us, by us, flung at us…to be able to detach the idealistic notion white people have of our world from the stark reality faced by those of the BIPOC communities.
What must it be like to look at urban low income communities, and see that they are primarily BIPOC communities, and not wonder why that is or how that came to be?
What must it be like to not think that any of these scenarios are relevant and to think this article is simply making a big deal out of nothing?
What must it be like to be blissfully white?
For the past several years, ever since the murder of George Floyd by (former) Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin for allegedly passing a counterfeit $20 bill, our country has been facing a racial reckoning. This means that one part of our country woke up to the realization that racism still existed and had not dissipated with the election of a Black president. More to the point was their realizing that they had unintentionally contributed to the problem or been complicit by not making themselves aware or holding their communities accountable. They set out to learn and to make earnest efforts to address the problem. These are Allies.
Yet another part of the country took offense at this notion and instead doubled down and dug in with fictional concepts such as “reverse racism,” “I don’t see color” and “All/Blue Lives Matter.” To clear up this misconception of “reverse racism,” let me clarify. Racism requires a power component that allows one group to systemically impact the lives of another, absent that component, it is just garden variety prejudice. Reverse racism, therefore, cannot exist, and is merely an attempt by those afflicted with white fragility to equate their temporary inconvenience with the generational trauma experienced by BIPOC communities.
And if you don’t see color, then you fail to recognize the historical inequities in our society that are brought on because of color. To not see color is to not see racism and turn a blind eye to injustice.
To be blissfully white is to not see the causal relationship between the Transatlantic Slave Trade and the development of the global economy.
To be blissfully white is to not see the connection between stolen land, stolen people and 264 years of unpaid forced labor and the Fortune 500 companies and multitude of wealthy white people who exist today.
To be blissfully white is to not understand that there are no white people in the Bible.
A blissfully white life is one free from self-examination and exploration of the world around. It is to have the luxury of not worrying about generational trauma brought on by 400+ years of oppression.
To be blissfully white is to not have to worry about your place in the world, because it is reflected in every aspect of the world around you.
To be blissfully white is to not worry about your hairstyle, your speech pattern, or your name because you know they will be uniformly, universally, accepted.
Our national dialogue has devoted a lot of time addressing three of the pillars of systemic racism: white fragility, white pride, and white privilege and all of the pitfalls that come with each of those. Now we must turn our attention to a fourth pillar: blissful whiteness.
Blissful whiteness carries with it the soft bigotry of obliviousness that facilitates the ignorance of systemic racism’s impact. Blissful whiteness remains such a threat because it allows false narratives to thrive. It is the quiet, unassuming racism that sneaks up and overtakes you because it is so casual. It is the racism of low resistance which allows biased systems to perpetuate and entrenched prejudice to be overlooked, becoming further ingrained into our society and national psyche.
It is the world that has been pulled over our eyes to blind us from the truth–that racism is everywhere.
Blissful whiteness is what happens when books are allowed to be banned for political gain because they teach about truth that makes people uncomfortable.
Blissful whiteness is teaching Slavery as the history of Black people, and not as the history of white people.
How, then, do we address this? How do we undo blissful whiteness? How do we undo 400+ years of systemic racism and oppression? How do we open the eyes of those unaware or casually ignorant? Can it even be done, or is this just wishful thinking?
The good news is that it can be done, and it starts with three simple things that we can all do fairly easily.
First and foremost, as a nation we need to stop hiding from it and actually accept history, fully acknowledging who was here before and what landed on these shores in 1619; thus setting in motion a system of power manipulation, marginalization and prejudice that would steal the land and relegate entire groups of people to second class citizenship (once they were allowed to be citizens). So much of the pain and anguish of the Black community comes from the intrinsic gaslighting inherent in the statement of “all men are created equal” in a country that has never embraced this. It creates a false narrative such that any failure to succeed is seen as the fault of Black people rather than the system that was never set up for their success.
Secondly, we need to honestly explore the concept of reparations and how that might be addressed versus the typical kneejerk reaction of automatic rejection. Too often, the response is “well, my family didn’t own slaves” or “we had it difficult too,” or “why should living Black people get a free handout for something that happened a long time ago.” The reality of reparations is not as simple as a “handout for Slavery,” but rather examining the wealth that would have been accumulated and passed down from generation to generation if Black people had been able to earn for the work they performed, attend schools or own property. Generational wealth is something that has allowed white families to have measures of success far beyond their Black and brown counterparts.
Lastly, and most importantly, we can undo blissful whiteness by not shying away from the truth and by rejecting the false narratives that are continually arising for political campaigns and advancement. There is no need to ban books anywhere, critical race theory has never and can never be taught in schools below the graduate level, and learning about cultures other than your own only enriches our lives and our connection to each other.
Blissful whiteness is what happens when we ignore these things. We must let go of the old systemically inequitable ways that no longer work and start embracing new systems that are more open-ended and honest. We must cast off the fabricated fairytales and fractured history we’ve been taught and instead learn the underlying truth that was buried. The moment we do this, the scales will drop from our eyes and we will begin the journey towards truly helping heal this nation and creating a world where ALL lives DO matter.