A Tail of Whiteness

World Problems and Human Potential

Engaging white people around whiteness is a challenge. Claudia Rankine, Eula Biss, and Krista Tippett suggest white people may need to do work among ourselves before we’re fit to be successful doing interracial work that tears down the institutional structures of white savagery.

I’d like to learn, in collaboration with engineers, climate scientists, and interpreters with varied language profiles how we can host the quality of conversation required to disentangle webs of politics and social policy from the evolutionary imperative to change the fuel economy. Changing the fuel economy means changing the economy, full stop. Which means anyone invested in business right now, at all levels but obviously of course especially the managerial classes, has to be making moral decisions about perpetuating the rate of increasing-likelihood of catastrophic disaster or slamming on the brakes.

Jonathan Haidt (see Moral Foundation Theory) speaks of how the five moral foundations of homo sapiens are culturally-conditioned and differentially distributed across the conservative-liberal spectrum. He don’t seem to be optimistic about our chances of pulling up from this nosedive, but he seeks to be inspirational through appealing to the known liberal penchant for truth. Basically, his perspective is that we — liberals and especially progressive activists — are the ones who are messing up. He doesn’t mention the fact that the ‘we’ is composed mostly of white people, but who else would it be?

With regard to human development, an “economic bias” was documented by the Union of International Associations in 1986 (XH: Human Development: Significance 1.2 Economic Bias). At the time of printing, the concept of “whiteness” had yet to be born. White lies, however, are included:

“Although a white lie may be a minor falsehood not meant to injure anyone, and is of little moral import, the accumulated effect of white lies may be confusion, misunderstandings and distress. White lies are rarely told just to be socially adept, they are rarely told in an isolated incidence, and they are rarely totally innocuous” (PP7631f). In the same volume, racism is described as a doctrine that can take a number of forms involving a complex of economic, political, historical, cultural, social and psychological factors (PP1047b). What I’ve just laid out is a (proposed) epitome of the category “world problems.” To wit:

White lies → Whiteness = World Problem.

Whiteness + Racism = World Problem.

Responsible Whiteness

On the human potential side of the dynamics, that 1986 encyclopedia opens with an admission that all the knowledge accrued by academia and all the creativity unleashed within the counter-culture had so far failed to stop or even slow down the continuing development of “a crisis of crises” (Introduction: Strategic Assumptions. Precedent: McElroy, 1970). I’ll go seeking the most current version to learn whether more recent editors have evidence of any collective re-direction that societies have managed to exert upon the suicidal impulse, and also if they’ve changed or downgraded their perspective on human potential.

The 1986 version of “potential” involves systems and vector forces, that is “energies and velocities in their field relationships” (KC0219). That notion of “field relationships” provides a label for the social crux where white fragility seems (often) to manifest. In a recent training series on “Responsible Whiteness”(aimed to help people enter the conversation and begin to develop white stamina, as Robin Dean calls it), most participants were working at an intrapersonal level, meaning that the kind of change they hoped to experience by the end of the series was an internal sense of peace, acceptance, resignation or some other emotional means for ‘being ok’ when their own whiteness is invoked. For people inculcated in the notion of individualism, this makes complete and total sense, something along the lines of: “I have to be okay with me, before I can be okay with however others perceive me.”

There were some percentage of participants in the Responsible Whiteness series who were more interested in the interpersonal level of action, that is, desiring more frequent and meaningful interactions with people of color. Only a few participants, overall, were ready to think about the systemic or structural level of intentionally-designed disadvantage; within that small sub-set, it’s impossible to say whether any were willing to explore, let alone risk, how those systemic disadvantages against others are functional to their own state of being, to their own “condition of whiteness” (Biss, 2015).

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A brainstorm of functional labels for a particular category of patterned privilege.

Basically, everyone was is in range of expected zones regarding racial identity development. They generated an impressive list of Benefits of Whiteness. The challenge of white activism isn’t in terms of knowledge; it’s at the level of being able to perceive ourselves as part-and-parcel of humanity rather than exclusively as individuals. In other words, there is a ton of intrapersonal work for white humans to do!

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exploring the resilience factor in human systems

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