I’ve been told I am this thing. I’m told that because I benefit from being this thing, I am not allowed to deny I am this thing. But I don’t benefit from being this thing. I benefit from people’s perception of me as this thing. I’d argue their perception is inaccurate and works to create greater division.
I recently heard a woman claim that “white” people are the only people who can claim they don’t identify as any particular “race”, because there is nowhere they have to feel they don’t belong. I could debate that point. Certainly not all “white” people are welcome in all places. But I believe the point this speaker was trying to make was that the people in power in our country are mostly “white”. Of course I recognize society has classified me as “white”. Of course I recognize that there are more people who are categorized as “white” than people who have any other label of “race” placed on them in positions of power in our country. I understand how these labels have shaped the power dynamic in our society. But these labels seem so arbitrary today. I understand how racism may continue to play a role in shaping the power dynamic in our country. The idea that the color of a person’s skin or their continent of familial dissent plays any role in determining their value as a person is often viewed as an archaic perspective even as this perspective was common only decades ago. I suppose it is not up for me to say whether I am “white”. My eyes tell me my skin is more of a “Harmonious Gold” on the Behr color scale:
But that isn’t what “white” means when it comes to skin color. Society says I am “white” because I have mostly European ancestry. Society also says that my friends who have mostly African ancestry are “black”. I have a social experiment for you. Ask a group of elementary school students what the opposite of white is. I’d be willing to bet a majority of them will say “black”. But we are not opposites. On the contrary; We are much more alike than we are different. To say I am not white is not to say I don’t recognize that people will try to assign this label to me or even that I benefit from it. Even as I recognize this label as inaccurate when it comes to most color scales, I can identify the alternate use of the term when it comes to skin color. At the same time, I cannot help but recognize how utterly useless this label may be when it comes to practical application.
It isn’t that I’m color-blind. I just don’t see how it matters. I understand that some people take pride in the color of their skin. This seems a little irrational to me. I suppose to say I am proud to be white would be an attempt to align myself with “white” people who have done great things. But our most significant commonality would seem to be the fact that our ancestors came from Europe. I don’t see how their accomplishments are anymore mine than the accomplishments of my other brothers and sisters with different continents of familial origin.
I do see how using these labels as means of identity works to divide us. To say I am a “white” man puts my familial origins even before my gender. So yes, I’ll concede that I am “white”, only because society has a magnificent way of redefining terms. But, in identifying this, I have to recognize that this label is rather useless when it comes to most practical applications. As language evolves with our progression as a society, I envision a future in which these labels are set aside in favor of more useful terms. Would it be such a crime to push for this change today?