The Racial Limit of White Folk?

Everyone has a line. Even the kindest, most deliberate folk have a limit to how much they will allow themselves to be rattled. Sooner or later, everyone bites back if they feel sufficiently threatened. How long can someone get away with hurling insults or inflicting physical harm at you before you snap? One may delay one’s bite as a result of great patience or fear, but at some point, anyone will do anything about that something they feel victimized by. This instinct is an indiscriminate force. Whether savage or civilized, you are probably not exempt. So, what happens when you consider yourself open-minded and racially-accepting, but your resolve is tested to the limit? Do you break? Do you revert to an unenlightened state and say things you probably shouldn’t say?

Well, as an American and person of color growing up in the United States, it’s been my observation that most white people actually have a racial breaking point, a kind of boundary blitz where all manner of racial tolerance and acceptance is short-circuited, exposing a reprehensible racist tic most characteristic of the white nationalist mindset. Think Michael Richards, on stage. Think Shia LeBeouf, in jail. Think Hulk Hogan, on the phone. Think Mel Gibson…in general.

When that line is crossed, no education, no conscientiousness, no reevaluation matters; it is a kind of social fallout zone where moral blindness and tribal instincts take over. It is a point where that perfect alignment between the vertical sting of indignation and the lateral pull of group validation from other white peers reveals an intolerant axis.

When this point is reached, the subject in question will often summon a once dormant divisiveness that is blind, emotive, and almost entirely disconnected from any critical thinking apparatus. The mode summoned is anti-reason and based on a deep-seated, and virtually unexamined sense of supremacy; an atavistic, quietly enacted sense of “me versus them”, a subconsciously attained, and almost psychically-passed, cultural pathogen.

Consider the all too familiar incidences of white people calling the cops on people of color for non-criminal behavior. In 100% of these viral examples, these calls could’ve easily been avoided by utilizing a mere modicum of social skills. The option of weaponizing police on someone is but seconds away from a racist breakdown, where the walls of social convention (if you could call them that) come crumbling down. Take away the option of “tattling” to someone that has historically represented an enforcement of the very racism that you conceal from yourself, and you’re left with a soul-shattering powerlessness that will do anything to keep itself from being acknowledged.

And I’m not talking about your run-of-the-mill racism, you know, the kind that is based on simple ignorance or woeful idiocy, I’m talking about the quiet kind among those “who’d never say something like that.” Such a mode of racist anti-reason is rooted in an illusion of power. Someone reaching this line may inadvertently feel to have access to a reservoir of power and “authentic” belonging, a belonging that is supposed to inherently trump any Other’s sense of space.

The notion is: I belong here more than you.

The notion is: I am context; the default of things.

The notion is: This is my space. Mine.

Space is crucial here precisely because so many white folks tend to have an unhealthy relationship with it, especially when it comes to engaging with people of color. Consider the concept of “invading one’s personal space”. Though we all recognize and appreciate our personal space, I find that in many ways it is emblematic of our American way of life. We have the luxury of space and the political venue to clamor for it. It is a privilege that is particularly coddled by that upper-middle class “normal” that often represents White America in our sitcoms, movies, marketing projections, literature, and, as a result, our minds. Space is simply bought and taken by those with more. Ownership is possession is the line we draw in order to forget the lines we transgress within ourselves. When the inner space is lacking, the outer space becomes a matter of conquest.

You don’t easily “invade” the space of white folk without some form of repercussion, be it subtle, passive aggressive, or overt. Yet, the hypocrisy is not obvious to some folks. Black and brown space, to this kind of mentality, is not actual space; it is illegitimate space yearning for “rightful” possession. The hypocrisy is broad and illogical: “give me space, and I’ll take yours.” Space and time are treated as white commodities.

I’m reminded of the passive-aggressive huffs of white people too close to an Other at check-out lines.

I’m reminded of white people touching, and commenting on, the hair of black folk.

I’m reminded of gentrification, segregation, and redlining.

I’m reminded of the invasion of America by Europeans.

I’m reminded of the appropriation of black culture by whites.

I’m reminded of eugenics campaigns and the ethno-state of the white nationalist.

I’m reminded of the overpopulated prison system and its market.

I’m reminded of police officers’ onslaughts on black and brown bodies.

It’s as if that “providential mission” of manifest destiny simply went underground and took a turn into the collective psyche of white folks. “Might means right” is in the breath of a racist officer who deletes a black life to avoid feeling the powerlessness, or power-void, of his own unexamined programming.

“I’ll take your breath so that I can breathe, Mr. Garner.”

“You arouse fear in me, so I must end you to eliminate that feeling in myself, Ms. Gaines.”

“I’ll shoot holes in your body to let the sun in, I’m the white knight who vanquishes evil, Mr. Sterling.”

The racial limit line is the point where this kind of intolerance is activated. It is often reached whenever these individuals feel that power-void in themselves upon perceiving the inherent strength of cultural diversity in an Other as a threat. Stereotypes, for instance, are sigils skewed manufactured in favor of this powerlessness. The stereotype depicts a distorted image of the Other that aims to replace the reality of the Other.

Stereotypes are the maps being confused for the territory and every time they are deployed, someone indulges in their intolerance by a few more degrees. But stereotypes don’t, in themselves, usher one to the racial limit line, per say, it’s the perception of difference that does. It is a mixture of what things seem to be and what they are. These perceptions are then compared against certain aspects of the white individual’s power-void, and used as a silent justifier for summoning that illusory power-default that seems to say:

I am white.

I am better.

It is my birthright.

The best of all things belongs to me.

I am order, light; the Supreme mirror of God.

(I mean, that last part is mostly for dramatic effect, but it’s not entirely without merit.)

It is because the Other is thereafter forcefully relegated to the role of nemesis or shadow -without the Other’s consent, of course- that this power-default is suddenly engaged. The mind being the swift complex system of obscurities that it is, renders even the most enlightened and racially-conscious of white individuals dependent on such lightning-quick heuristics to make sense of all the information bombarding them on a daily basis. Mental models take up mental space because they are easier to process- and those mental models that are self-serving are even more alluring because they’re easy substitutions for the bountiful yields of hard-earned self-development. If you are programmed to think you are inherently supreme, why work to find actual excellence? You may not even know that there’s a difference between white supremacy and self-actualization.

Mental models, profiles, and symbols are constantly with us, they help us make decisions and find certainty in a thickly information-laden world. Symbols expediently inform while simultaneously misinforming and leading us astray. You see, we may think like poets, but we act like animals.

Take the example of two white men discussing the poor state of a city park. The men discuss the heavy littering, the strewn used syringes, and high crime rate. Their distaste continues as they reminisce about a previous, more palatable manifestation of said park. They wax nostalgic about the golden days when people could “take strolls down the park without having to worry about muggings and such”. Eventually, and perhaps inevitably, one of the men -who is typically culturally-sensitive, let’s slip a “fucking spics” comment. Maybe his friend laughs along, treating it as a mere joke and thereby validating the other’s “sardonic” use of the term. And that would be all that’s needed to activate the racial limit line. Because it’s not only snapping into violent fits of hateful rage that constitutes a break from civilized, tolerant behavior, but also the slow burn of hateful invectives, the spewing forth of a social darkness that had been kept in check.

Regardless of his education or cultural understanding, the individual in this example has sided with his false sense of supremacy, which is further encouraged by his friend on the ground that it is “just a joke.” Besides “nothing was meant by it.” In such a situation, there is barely any full deliberation in making such a comment. The comment is based on a momentary lapse of conscience, the feeling that another white individual will understand (because the other person shares the same sense of supremacy), the hope of being validated, and the desire to fill the power-void with a temporarily-felt something of substance.

I feel powerless>>>white knows better>>> you’re at fault>>> hateful comment or action>>>it feels good to recognize that>>>self-examination bypassed>>> existential crisis averted>>>I was just kidding about that statement, >>you’re validating me>>>existential crisis averted>>>comment and feeling of power-void have been rationalized>>> I’m not racist.

This individual pivots on a false hierarchical stance in order to feel stable and orderly in an otherwise chaotic universe. The feeling is a philosophical caulking, when an Other is used to explain, and take ownership for, the disorder that the white individual feels powerless to solve. Accountability is forced upon someone else because remember:

I am white.

I am better.

It is my birthright.

The best of all things belongs to me.

I am order, light; the Supreme mirror of God.

The Other must, therefore, be responsible. But this blame is not complete without a racist remark or insult. “Fucking spic”, “nigger”, “kike”, or what-have-you, is the energetic push, or contraction, that morphs an internal feeling into an outer idea with enough emotional momentum to jolt the filter of reason into temporary inactivity. As a very basic caricatured example, an unsuccessful, uneducated middle-aged white woman with poor manners and meager social skills will often feel a false sense of implicit superiority to a highly-accomplished, Ivy league black man by virtue of the cultural programming which has taught her that white is inherently better. And a moment of powerlessness that exposes her ignorance and perceived inadequacy in relation to race will show this.

Do you recognize this, even if in its most superficial sense? If you’re white, chances are that among your white friends, you’ve -at some point- probably made some kind of “faux” racist remark. Or perhaps you meant it. Either way, you most likely tried to couch it in some “just joking” or “I would never mean that” sort of way. And many of you will claim that “it’s no big deal” that you “would never say that to __________’s face”. But it’s important to know that it still matters. Not in the PC, I’m-offended-by-everything, “snowflake” sort of way, but in the rational, we-need-to-take-responsibility-for-ourselves-and-the-otherwise-recondite-processes-that-take-place-in-our-brains-on-a-daily-basis sort of way.

Being racist among friends, or by yourself, whether you mean it or not, matters more than you might think because you’re feeding a dim fire in you that may never go out and all of this may be happening just below the threshold of you awareness.

If you do nothing about it, you’re actually protecting this fire from the elements as you proceed through life with such rationales as “I get it, I’m smart” or “I’m enlightened enough to know the difference between right and wrong.” You may think you know better because you feel that you would refuse the potential to be directly racist when the time came, but there is no guarantee of this because you could snap. There is no guarantee of this because hate is a deep, deep well. There is no guarantee of this because we carry previous generations in our blood and, sometimes, we speak with their mouths and listen with their ears. There is no guarantee of this because our minds are not boxes, they’re streams and the movement can sometimes make us dizzy enough to drown if we’re not examining ourselves enough.

And you know what? Most of us are racist/colorist/xenophobic, and most of us do make such jokes among our friends. But it’s important to know WHAT is happening when we make those statements and how they could be encouraging this racially divisive world for which we claim to want equilibrium. I’m not here to police your thoughts. Everyone is free to be racist among themselves. It really is everyone’s right to be assholes if they so desire, BUT we need to strive to let others live their mode of quality just as we’d like to live ours. To get there, we need to start by being vigilant of, and consistent with, our ideas. Otherwise, what’s the fucking point?