I am white. My ancestry is Germanic, French Norman, Irish, and Italian (with a hint of Algonquin). Though the Irish were not considered white until fairly recently, there’s no question my pasty-hued kin are as white as it gets. It’s worth noting as well that Italians also were not considered white until recently. The very infirm definition of the term ‘white’, in regards to race, alone proves its ineptitude at classification. Despite that, I am unquestionably a modern white male.
Being white comes with a number of stereotypes, much like any other race. I fancy myself a risk taker. (Whether or not that is a conceit is up for debate.) I enjoy camping in black bear country and would not entirely oppose the idea of getting into a fight with one. I have, at times, imbibed an excess of alcohol. I enjoy underdressing in the winter. I definitely am far from being an adept dancer. I cannot jump very high at all. I have great grammar. I am generally friendly and have been told I am informational. I listen to NPR. I do have a Netflix subscription. I own an apple corer.
I have questioned whether or not I have benefitted from white privilege. My own choice of sub-culture and introverted manner seems to have eroded what privilege may have been afforded me by my skin tone. I can only speculate my challenges would have been greater had this internal self grown up in a different skin. In younger days, I did not realize my male privilege, however. In my late teens and early twenties, I thought absolutely nothing of being able to walk around at any hour of the night or early morning. Why could not a woman do this as well? Why would she have reserve about the notion? My imposing six-foot-one male frame kept me well in the dark on this.
I did not think much of race early in life. Growing up in rural Vermont, I looked like everyone most else; most everyone else looked like me. My divisions from my peers were strictly social and sub-cultural. Through television shows such as Good Times, In Living Colour, Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids, The Jeffersons, Sanford and Son, A Different World, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, and Family Matters, and hip hop culture on MTV (Public Enemy was my primary source for black issues in America, and I still maintain it was one of the best for conveying that message), I was aware of other races. They were represented in a way I viewed as positive. However, until 6th grade, I do not recall having ever met someone who was not white.
In 1995, a Connecticut gang known as The Los Solidos (TSO) attempted to take root in my hometown. While this attempt was ultimately thwarted, the process, an ensuing local cultural shift, and the later influx of other smaller gangs from NY began to build a different set of experiences for me related to other races. This experience set, being founded in real life and not entertainment, began to dominate my perspective. The influx generated a feeling I can only now, with starkly honest retrospect, call racism. It is not that I ever felt that anyone of any race was inherently better or worse than anyone of any other race, but that my experiences were creating a predominantly negative expectation. In hindsight, I wonder if this kind of visual-action association is hardwired in our brains. If we see someone of our tribe bitten by a rattlesnake and die, we associate the action and result with the visual pattern on the back of the snake. In the future, we expect the same result from a snake bearing that pattern. I hypothesize that this is an evolutionary byproduct which festers unless we are either raised against it or must learn to reprogram ourselves against it. While I never acted upon nor advocated such racial sentiments, I cannot deny that I harbored them. It was not until several years later, after living in a less homogeneous setting and really stepping back to think about race and culture, that I began to deprogram these expectations and embrace the complexity of the underlying elements behind these concepts.
I am not entirely certain how my race shapes who I am now. I can trace aspects of my personality back into the typically white portions of my youth. However, I try to focus more on defining and exploring who I am now with disregard to race and nation. I admire the way in which Liu describes trying not to let race define who he was growing up. Racial stereotypes may describe a significant portion of who I am, but who I am I view singularly.
1. Foster, Rick. “How One Small Town Faced down Gangs.” The Sun Chronicle,
18 Feb. 2008. Web. 7 Feb. 2015. < http://www.thesunchronicle.com/news/
2. Liu, Eric. “Notes of a Native Speaker.” Inquiry: Questioning, Reading, Writing, Second Edition. Ed.
Lynn Z. Bloom, Edward M. White, with Shane Borrowman. Upper Saddle River,
NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall, 2004. 66-76. Print.
3. Quora. “What Are Some of the Stereotypes of White People in America That Nonwhite People Have?.”
Quora. 30 Jan. 2014. Web. 7 Feb. 2015.< http://www.quora.com/
4. Wohl, Anthony S. “Racism and Anti-Irish Prejudice in Victorian England.”
Racism and Anti-Irish Prejudice in Victorian England. Victorian Web, 1990.
Web. 7 Feb. 2015. < http://www.victorianweb.org/history/race/Racism.html >.