Big Little White Lies Our Attempt to White-Out America
By Carol Chehade
Almost one year since America formally and patriotically waged war against terrorism, here at home a civil scar festers consistently as it has since the first black foot was dragged upon American shores.
Just weeks after the attacks, one bold American scholar stood up and with the release of her debut book, opened a critical dialogue on race stating simply that, "The difference between learning the alphabet and learning racism is that at least the alphabet's letters are taken apart, studied, and discussed. Racism on the other hand, is blatantly denied or at best a subject treated with indifference."
In Big Little White Lies, Carol Chehade (pronounced Sheh-HAH-Dee) has opened a fresh page and dissected racism to its most basic elements with unprecedented analysis. Never before has America confronted the likes of Jim Crow, black leadership, immigration, Hip Hop, physical aesthetics, Minister Louis Farrakhan, the black body, the Holocaust, and whiteness with such audacious, honest and evenhanded introspection. Chehade states early and often in Big White Lies that an effective race dialogue in America can not happen if white Americans never speak up.
Chehade has plenty to say. Her perspective, while both historically dead-on, and politically responsible, is made even more critical and relevant because she is a white woman. In Big Little White Lies, Chehade forces all non-Black people (who are all referred to as white) to examine self-identity from a racial point of view, in the same ways that blacks do daily. The book is a compilation of essays that focus intently on several different critical issues that are imperative to confront in order for America to reach any level of racial healing.
Chehade on O.J. Simpson:
"The O.J. Simpson verdict was so shocking to Whites because it was contradictory to the White-favored justice to which we are accustomed. We even criticize the legitimacy of the jury system that would allow incompetent jurors. Our racist self-righteousness forgot the incompetence for which we blamed the jurors with at the Simpson trial is identical to the jury of peers model of justice system that our country has always used to judge blacks. In this case though, the jury of peers that were criticized as being incompetent were mostly black. The mostly black jurors were simply following the rules of our white created and controlled rule of law.
On the Institution of Slavery:
"If we are to figure out why our racial climate is set at opposing temperatures between Blacks and Whites, then we must understand the history and consequences of slavery...
Greeks, Hebrews, Chinese, Irish, Indian, Czechoslovakians, Russians. The diverse list of history's enslaved goes on. But we do not continue to associate and treat them as the sons and daughters of slaves. None of them are as abused as Black people are today. None of them are expected to bear the brunt of racism as Black people are today. Slavery took on a new form when it became racialized, thus, making the color of one's skin a permanent badge of servitude."
On Minister Louis Farrakhan:
"Our fear of the Minister is misplaced...He simply is not an all-encompassing oppressive force who suffocates society with the intense magnitude that Whiteness does. On the contrary, Minister Farrakhan and the NOI act as needles bravely punching holes in the heavy White blanket in order to breathe."
On the Holocaust v. Slavery
"Since we can't measure the scars of pain, we can never determine which was worse, the effects of the holocaust or slavery. Although the scars of pain are immeasurable, our racial preference to whose scars we are more empathetic to can be measured. Here, as in other areas of our thinking, White pain becomes more emotionally moving and important than Black pain."
On White Guilt:
"Deep down, we are afraid of Black anger because we know we are wrong to ignore Black pain. You don't fear something when you know you are right. Rather than understanding the relationship of how race and slavery still haunts us today, we defensively explain our intolerance of rehashing the past by saying slavery is long over. We argue that since we have never personally owned slaves we should just move on. Well, we certainly did move on after slavery. We moved on to Black Codes, Jim Crow, lynching, segregation, sharecropping, injustice, lack of basic Civil Rights, and continued second-class treatment of Black people in their own country."
Our introduction to racism is taught right along with the alphabet. However, the difference between learning the alphabet and learning racism is that at least the alphabet's letters are taken apart, studied, and discussed. Racism, on the other hand, is blatantly denied or at best a subject treated with indifference. Whites hear race as synonymous with a foul four-letter word that is as harshly obvious as the division of the races, but responded to with sterilized reactions that have no desire to see, smell, or hear the foulness.
Big Little White Lies is about the multitude of archived and newly forming little White lies that we tell ourselves, as well as Black people, about race. These little White lies seem harmless until they eventually culminate into a lie so big that it starts to look like our present day racial reality. A racial reality that is ironically unreal because it is based on counterfeited truths. After all, the state of race relations is certainty not based on how honorable and truthful we have been about race. The gist of a lie tells us we do not have to honor the truth, we only have to appear as if we are telling the truth.
From the lies we told slaves to convince them of their inferiority to the lies we tell ourselves to convince us of White superiority, we have demonstrated how we can shape and mold racial lies to fit our form of Whiteness. Even if it doesn't fit whom we really are. It is like wearing a pair of shoes that are two sizes too small, even though we won't be comfortable until we change, we'll stubbornly convince ourselves of the unmatched fit.
Whites often ask me why I am writing a book on race relations. My reply is just open your eyes and look around. We act as if race is a foreign issue that has nothing to do with White people. Racism in the United States is a White problem, yet we routinely want to instruct Black people on how to better adjust to what is, ultimately, a White problem.
I, myself, am an Arab American woman who has spent the majority of my life as an American rather than an Arab. My ethnic group of color, as well as other non-Black ethnic groups of color, has contributed to maintaining racism by aligning ourselves with the White definition of America.
As long as we contribute to serving and strengthening Whiteness; as long as we aspire to attain Whiteness like we do; as long as we arrogantly and routinely switch sides between minority and majority status because we can; as long as we act like Whites at the expense of Blacks, then no matter how unlike Whites we may look, we are White by behavior, thus fully accountable for our racism. We must understand that, with the exception of Native American Indians, African Americans have been here longer than most non-Black people of color. Yet, every other racial and ethnic group of color between the poles of Black and White has slowly, although faster than Blacks, been accepted by Whites.
I am not negating the intense hardships that non-Black people of color have endured on the road to becoming Americans. Pain, like love, is a universal language. The situations may vary in degree, characters may differ in ethnicity, but the pain is felt by all. It's usually deep, often inexpressible, but always soul defining.
Whereas most non-Black ethnic groups of color built this country while facing intense hardship and pressure, Black people built this country while wiping the blood of whip marks off of their backs. I measure Black pain as more because they have yet to be paid with even an apology from us, let alone gratitude. That is why the whips that split backs open have been replaced with whips that break our hearts with lashes of ignorance.
If we want to help Black people then we can start by changing ourselves. All of the well-intentioned social programs in the world are not going to be enough to help Black people as long as our patriotic blanket is laced with racism. We cannot allow racism to make us so tunnel vision that we see Whiteness as the alpha and omega, while our peripheral vision poorly sees Blacks as a group blurring the White tunnel. This in many ways is a step above racial repair because it is dependent on spiritual repair.
My intentions in race relations involve contributing to overall racial awareness by pinpointing and explaining our racial unawareness. This involves tearing down our present state of Whiteness, which will in turn help chip away racism, in order to become better accepted by Black people. "Be accepted by Black people, why?" Whites are not used to asking for acceptance because it is a given that we are accepted. We become angry and call Blacks ungrateful when they don't accept us.
We can't ask Black people to accept us in our present state of mind. Before we ask for Black acceptance, we need to accept ourselves. Accepting ourselves, though, means accepting the fact that we must laboriously and continually change our racial mindset. We accuse Black people of blaming their condition on everyone but themselves. This is actually a reflective criticism of ourselves due to the fact that we rarely take responsibility for the consequences of our racial superiority complex.
We must understand how racism enslaves all races. Our culture of racism fosters not only hatred for Blacks but also hatred for ourselves. If we didn't hate ourselves so much then we wouldn't be able to stand as symbols of racial lies. Our superiority complex doesn't allow us to be viewed as fragile and false because it is a symptom of racial arrogance to feel unconquerable.
You may dismiss me as an idealist. An idealist is an individual who is willing to painfully bend his or her steel will for the betterment of a situation that is bigger than us. Idealism is vision and determination to achieve the highest form of excellence within us. I wish I was an idealist, but expecting basic human dignity for people outside of my race hardly qualifies me as having the lofty and advanced goals of an idealist. Unfortunately, very few individuals are idealists.
The majority of us are not even realists because many Whites do not even acknowledge the realities of racism. We desperately need to step up our poor standards in race relations. This is everyone's battle. Living in the contagious air of racism means everyone, not only Black people, will remain infected. No matter how much money you have, how old or young you are, what gender you embody, or what race you comprise, we all need to participate in this battle against racial superiority.
We often selfishly wonder why bad things happen to us. Bad things happen to us because we allow bad things to happen to everyone else. Even the most peaceful and loving human beings on earth are going to suffer as long as they occupy space in a society full of callous individuals. In fact, like some of our greatest prophets and teachers, peaceful and loving human beings will probably suffer the most because they are fully conscious of human misery.
When I began honestly confronting my own racism, I started to feel disgust with Whites and I am a contributor to Whiteness. In essence, I hated my racial self while at the same time being in denial of being a slave to racism. My pride and ego is still oftentimes too full to admit that I am a carrier of the many racial illnesses that I blame other Whites for contracting. I can easily deceive myself into thinking I am immune from the disease of racism unless I force myself to recognize my own symptoms.
I have come to realize that any types of impurities we purge out of ourselves are inevitably going to disgust us because we are angry at being so weak for allowing anything poisonous to inhabit us. Therefore, it is expected that when we confront how deeply responsible we are for maintaining racism that we experience feelings such as shame, guilt, anger, and denial. When we transfer these unexamined feelings by blaming Blacks, it is a sign of how we avoid confronting ourselves. Instead, we perpetuate our racial sickness by making racism appear as normal behavior rather than deviant behavior by making the crime of racism the fault of the victim.
We often escape racial responsibility by defensively accusing Blacks of their inability to build racial responsibility amongst each other. We reason that if they can't build one with each other then why should we try to erect one with them. Although intra-racial healing is extremely important, it cannot be achieved if we do not interracially heal as well. We can't always expect Blacks to do all of the undesirable work in race relations.
It is so easy to give up on changing our racial characters. Some of the most passionate Black integrationists reluctantly faced the realization that racial justice in America was impossible. One of the founders of the NAACP, W.E.B. Du Bois, even relinquished his American citizenship and moved to Ghana. If someone as personally invested and brilliant as Du Bois could give up on Whites by leaving America, then someone like me can effortlessly give up on Blacks. It is even easier for me to abandon my fight against racism because racism paints the benefits of Whiteness with seductive strokes.
I have to constantly remind myself that I have great ability to slip in and out of the comfort zone of Whiteness. I know this because I do it. Sometimes when I feel like Blacks have somehow disappointed me by contradicting my examples of racial injustice by acting less than just themselves, I blame them for negating my case. If they commit crimes, I become agitated, not because of the crime, but rather because they are hurting my case. If they behave rudely, I react with disgust, not because of the rudeness, but rather because they are being rude while being Black, which means that they are, once again, damaging my case.
I expect Blacks to be living examples of perfection so that they can fit into my arguments and, thus, prove my case about the evilness of Whiteness. Since my racism doesn't place the demand of impeccable virtue on Whites, I damage my own case by ignoring the fact that my arguments do not need Black perfection in order to emphasize White flaws.
We want Blacks to act inhuman. Inhuman this time around does not mean the Constitution's antiquated definition of Black people as three-fifths of a person. Today's version of inhuman means we expect Blacks to be a hundred times more responsible for themselves as well as responsible for our own racism. Inhuman means that Blacks are not permitted and excused for having problems with the Judas' in their race because our racism believes that one Judas in the Black race makes the whole race a Judas.
Inhuman means we demand them to act as unflawed Black Gods in a White controlled Heaven who are concurrently practicing atheists to any God that is not ordained by Whiteness. Inhuman means Blacks must be perfect, while Whites can be imperfect by simply being human.
I am an American for better or worse. The better part is that I live in a democracy. The worst part is that this democracy racially discriminates. This is a contradiction to our democracy that must be repaired or else the fabric of its ideals will continue to unweave. We cannot be a nation who proclaims to embrace diversity of some groups while simultaneously breaking the soul of diversity of other groups.
This is a classic case of our racial schizophrenia, meaning we are a race in denial of our racial reality. Schizophrenia manipulates basic human perception. In the racial context, it alters how we think of race in relation to ourselves, which, in turn, leads to misinterpreting our racial reality. In order to maintain our deceitful beliefs, our delusional racial behavior contradicts what we exhibit versus what we preach. What we unconsciously think versus what we would like to believe we think.
The illusion of our racial awareness versus the reality of our racial ignorance. Living with racial schizophrenia allows us to self-righteously declare we aren't racists while at the same time existing in a society that clearly favors Whites. These are just some of the symptoms of our racial schizophrenia. The fact that we have two races, "separate and unequal" is, of course, the most obvious symptom of our diseased and untreated racial schizophrenia. Essentially, we are hallucinating a racial existence that is based on deceit. We are simply not doing a good job at confronting our illness either because we are too sick or because we are not being truthful to ourselves.
The consequence of racial lies runs deep. The Black population has acted as a "mammy" in ways more profound than this stereotypical name conveys. Blacks acted as a mother who took the weight of intense burden and sacrifice while her selfish White children drank her milk dry, abandoned her, and even denied the legitimacy of the Black mother. We treated her as the dark mistress who we reject after we lasciviously suckle off her breasts.
We are still in deep denial of our Black mother who provided us with the powerful base from which her White children could benefit. With all of the infinite choices that our Creator provides us with everyday, we have yet another choice to make. We can go back to our Mother's breasts and greedily suck her dry again or we can take the milk that out Mother unselfishly nourished us with and, as an act of gratitude, we can nourish a nation.
Race relations literally means a relationship with race. Like any relationship, its success depends on open communication and its failure is linked to the lack of communication. Our racial relationship with Blacks is comparable to an abusive relationship between a man and a woman. Like a harmful partner, White people have a dysfunctional history that spans from physically beating Black people to chillingly ignoring them. We moved from one form of bad behavior to another, rarely expressing real love for our racial partners. Once we divorced Black people, we became increasingly estranged because we never took into account what our racially abusive relationship did to Black people, as well as to ourselves.
There would be no need for race relations if it were not for the stringently White constructed categories of race. Since racial categories do, indeed, exist, we can't afford to be color-blind. Color blindness suggests that we are literally sightless to the struggles of color. Color blindness is similar to blind faith, blind attempt, blind loyalty, blind fate, blindfold, and even blind date because they all suggest purposely impairing one of our five senses until we surrender all preparation, knowledge, and control when entering certain situations.
Racial sightlessness has the potential to handicap our awareness if we continue to conceal what we refuse to correct. Therefore, we can verbalize a pageantry of proclamations on why we should be blind to color because we all belong to the human race, but the unequal treatment between the races betrays what we verbalize. Whether we like it or not, race does matter.
Since Whiteness is so powerful, anything negative or positive we do has far reaching consequences on society. Unluckily, Black people are one of the first groups who suffer from our mostly negative consequences. The current state of race relations is reminiscent of an aftermath of a brutal war. When we are caught up in the drama of a war with defined enemies and allies we are too busy to contemplate the side effects of warfare because we are expending all of our energy in trying to survive.
It is after we think the war is over that the line of ally and enemy, justice and injustice, purpose and indifference starts to blur. For instance, when war veterans came back from Vietnam, the psychology of the war wrecked more havoc on their minds than the war itself because they were no longer preoccupied with fighting to physically stay alive. As a result, when they came home from battle they were abandoned without the therapeutic artillery needed in order to psychologically stay alive.
When the Civil Rights era was upon us, the evidence of a race war was apparent with every lynching, bombing, and cross burning. We knew there was a race war, but like most wars its legacy has lingered without a definite conclusion. Instead, it also has turned into a psychological war that our racial superiority complex is hesitant to fight and end. We tricked ourselves into believing that the race war was over because less blood was being splashed around.
Unfortunately, revolution doesn't end when blood ceases to be spilled. It ends when captive and unreleased tears can be freed and shed in honor of the baptismal cleansing and healing process that follows. We can't cleanse and heal as long as we deny the sins we commit with the weapon of our unearned privilege of color. The war on racism was never won, it just became more adaptable, refined, and systematic.
This book is not about what Black people should do to be accepted by Whites. We have repeated this unsuccessful formula too often. Blacks shouldn't be the ones to figure out how to navigate around Whites. This book is not about where Black people should be by now. It is abundantly clear that Blacks aren't where they should be, but it is even clearer that Whites are not where we should be either.
If we are going to reprimand Black people for being economically bankrupt compared to Whites, then we need to admit that we are spiritually bankrupt compared to Blacks. Judging from our racist portfolio, we often appear to lack what Black people have: a soul. We can't completely free Blacks when we are still mentally shackled to the White-centered concept of freedom, which clearly means more freedom for Whites.
Writing a book about Black people's problems is the same thing as writing a book about White people's racism. We can't tell Black people how to repair their condition according to our standards because our standards helped create their condition. Although Black people are strong and qualified enough in building and strengthening their own community, racial healing requires that for Black determinism to succeed, Whites have to start creating a less suffocating atmosphere so that racial repair is possible.
Throughout the book, I refer to the races as simply "Black" and "White." I may switch off to more acceptable terms like African American, Asian American, or Italian American when trying to make specific distinctions or simply for the sake of convenience. This is not done to offend the way ethnic groups or individuals define themselves. Rather, I'm not going to vainly spend time being politically correct in words and speech, while we are still politically incorrect in thought. I would rather spend time on the issues that created the naming and defining of the races in the first place.
Also, "Black" and "White" are capitalized through the entire book as if they are nationalities. Black and White does not only describe the colors of races, but they also represent the separate national identities that both races embody. Since the citizenry of both racial groups are treated differently, our racial existence has preserved the 1968 National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorder findings on race which states, "Our nation is moving toward two societies, one black, and one white, separate and unequal." Therefore, as long as we keep the dismal prophecy of 1968 alive by continually allowing Black people to be treated worse than foreigners in their own country, then Black and White will mean more than just colors and races.
Furthermore, I have concentrated my efforts on the character of the White race, rather than the individual of the White race. Of course there are exceptions to racist White-centered behavior, but a few exceptions are not enough to change the rule of racism. We need a powerful shift away from our White-centered behavior in order to see noticeable change in the overall character of our race.
This book is organized in essay form with each chapter's general theme focusing on Whiteness in relation to Blackness, not Blackness in relation to Whiteness." Jim Crow's Gene" explains how Whites have evolved into sophisticated racists. Most of us do not go around calling Black people "niggers," yet we live in a racially charged atmosphere where they are still treated as "niggers." This shows us that racism's seed of existence doesn't depend on the rule of law to stay alive. Rather, racism's life support system is plugged into our thoughts and feelings about race.
"The Unbearable Lightness of Whiteness" defines the often indefinable and elusive characteristics of Whiteness. Since Whiteness is thought of as raceless, rising above race implies rising above Blackness when we should be rising above Whiteness. Hatred and suspicion for groups outside of which we belong to has existed for longer than we care to remember. We have vast accounts of tribes carrying prejudices against other tribes and nations discriminating against other nations, but Whites were the first to use everything from science to religion in order to justify the creation of the racial classification system.
As a result, although racism has insidiously grown to negatively influence the behavior of all races, Whiteness has the distinction of being racism's crown prince. Therefore, it is time we aggressively dethrone the current condition of Whiteness by honestly re-examining our racial identities.
"In His Own Words" illuminates how the power of racism sabotages our judgments as proven when we invalidate and crucify Black leaders and organizations, such as Minister Louis Farrakhan and the Nation of Islam, when they challenge our Whiteness. Although there are many leaders and organizations within the Black community that are disagreeable to our Whiteness, none of them amplify the hypocrisy of our racism with the blunt sword of truth that Minister Farrakhan and the NOI use in their fight against injustice. Furthermore, ignoring or misconstruing Minister Farrakhan's message is like turning our backs on millions of Black people who love and respect him. In order to comprehend Blackness, we must understand and accept Black people like Minister Farrakhan because they represent an honest and uncensored version of Blackness.
"Race to Beauty" examines how vanity births racism. Vanity is an obsessive love for one's own image. In the racial context, this translates into Whiting-out any racial image that does not reflect images of Whiteness. As a result White beauty is hyper-marketed, while Black beauty is Black-marketed due to the fact that images of diverse Black beauty are harder to locate because it is often kept underground and out of the mainstream market system. As a result, White beauty becomes coveted because we have brainwashed ourselves into believing that Whiteness is flawless. Fortunately, flawlessness isn't infinite and, as a result, White beauty, like age, starts to show its frailties.
"The Forbidden Fruit of Eden" explores how the perversely sexual undertones of our past's enslavement of Black people have influenced the sexual/racial taboos of today. For instance, although there are many Black and White people who object to interracial romances, the reasons for each race's objections are drawn from very different experiences with race.
Moreover, since Black people's bodies have been grossly sexualized through methods ranging from human bondage to castration, we have been taught throughout history to disrespect their sexual freedom by interpreting their sexuality as freakish. As a result each race's sexuality is viewed through different pornographic lenses. White is rated soft porn, resulting with Whiteness being treated gently. Whereas, Black is rated hard porn, ensuring Blackness to be treated cruelly.
"From Hymn to Hip-Hop to..." shows the progression from early slave hymns to contemporary hip-hop. It delves into the essence of Black creativity and the minstrelization of Black culture by Whites.
"The Colorless Immigrant" is a particularly harsh depiction of myself. This chapter is specifically about people of non-European descent and the line of reasoning we use to justify picking Whiteness over Blackness. I expose how non-Black people of color from Asia to Arabia come to America and exhibit tremendous racial ignorance in hopes of earning the highly sought after badge of Whiteness.
That is why throughout this book I include all non-Black people of color as White. We can't be part-time minorities conveniently switching from the privileges of Whiteness when it is beneficial and then to status of minority when it serves us. Shifting our racial allegiances affords us benefits at the expense of Black people.