New Strategy in Race Relations is Old (thanks to Ben Franklin)

New Strategy in Race Relations is Old (thanks to Ben Franklin) April 9, 2019

The most recent effort to overcome white supremacy and look for harmony between races is to tell whites to find their ethnic heritages. Whiteness is a construction, but ethnic identity is apparently real. An early effort at this came from Ekemini Uwan who spoke at the Sparrow Conference for women and saw listeners leave when she berated whiteness (according to the Religious News Service story):

“Because we have to understand something — whiteness is wicked,” Uwan said. “It is wicked. It’s rooted in violence, it’s rooted in theft, it’s rooted in plunder, it’s rooted in power, in privilege.”

She told the audience they should give up whiteness and “recover” the ethnic identities “your ancestors deliberately discarded.” Rather than thinking of themselves as white, they should try to rediscover their immigrant cultural ancestry: “Are you Italian, are you Irish, are you Polish, are you Turkish?”

If you follow news about Turkey and the authoritarian aspects of its president or Poland’s opposition to refugees, playing up your Turkish or Polish ethnicity in the U.S. may not be a smart play (nor would everyone agree to distinguish Turks from brown people).

Kyle J. Howard followed up with a post to defend Uwan:

Many Anglo-Americans actually believe checking White on such a form is actually affirming an ethnicity not a social/racial caste. They don’t realize that checking “white” is not a reference to skin color since they are not really white, nor is it an ethnicity. Who is white? From what country/tribe do “white people” come from? The answer is anywhere in Eastern Europe. England, United Kingdom, Norway, Germany, Ireland, Scotland, France, Russia, Switzerland, Italy, etc.

Anglo-Americans don’t realize that their ethnicities were stripped away from them as well. Their ethnic identities were taken away and replaced with a socially constructed “racial” identity rooted in power. Their ethnic identity was exchanged for power.

Since Anglo-Americans played both roles of strippers and strippees, Howard’s effort to help whites out seems a bit awkward. “It is no easy task trying to help anglo-Americans realize they are disconnected from their ethnic heritage and rediscovering it is of greater value than the power they possess thru ‘whiteness,’” he writes. But he hasn’t recognized the degree to which Americans of British stock were responsible for assimilating Irish, Italians, Jews, Germans, and Norwegians into a white identity.

The whiteness boomerang hits whites in the head.

Some relief for such self-inflicted pain may come from Ben Franklin who made a similar point about ethnic heritage and whiteness in his denunciation of Scotch-Irish Presbyterians who had massacred native Americans on the Pennsylvania frontier:

It is well known that Indians are of different Tribes, Nations and Languages, as well as the White People. In Europe, if the French, who are White-People, should injure the Dutch, are they to revenge it on the English, because they too are White People? The only Crime of these poor Wretches seems to have been, that they had a reddish brown Skin, and black Hair; and some People of that Sort, it seems, had murdered some of our Relations. If it be right to kill Men for such a Reason, then, should any Man, with a freckled Face and red Hair, kill a Wife or Child of mine, it would be right for me to revenge it, by killing all the freckled red-haired Men, Women and Children, I could afterwards any where meet with.

What Franklin might say to Howard and Uwan is the black is neither a racial or ethnic category since people of dark skin come from many people and tribes in Africa.


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