Until today, I have not spoken or written on the topic of racism. The reason is my own fear of personal hypocrisy.
I am white.
I am privileged.
I am racist.
I don’t want to be, but there are false beliefs embedded in my psyche; I must labor to bring them to awareness for deconstruction, and while I have made progress in this area, I’ve, in no way, mastered it.
However, I’ve come to realize, this vulnerability–the fact that I haven’t entirely actualized in this area–empowers my message today. This is due to the fact that I have something many of my white country folk (including large portions of my extended family) have not: awareness. I’ve wakened to the truth of ideological oppression, and as such, I embrace the responsibility carried within this awakening. I will speak about the social constructs and imposed perceptions—forceful operatives shaping minds and programming behaviors–which bind free thinking and obstruct progress and justice.
Many members of my family of origin have been (and unfortunately, are still) extremely racist. I was programmed to believe that I was preferred of God and elevated socially because of my skin color. At the same time, I was taught that people with black or brown skin were fearsome, and so, as a result of that programming, I was afraid.
In early elementary school, I remember feeling immense anxiety when walking through the hallway in the opposite direction of an energetic black boy. I interpreted his energy as aggression because that is how I was taught to interpret it.
I must add that I’ve never been hurt in any way, shape or form by any person with black or brown skin. I know this isn’t true for everyone, but in my empirical experience, I have no evidence to support the claim that black people are hostile or aggressive. That claim, by fellow white people, for me, has been hollow, and this even, as a former resident of Southeastern Louisiana, twenty minutes outside the city limits of New Orleans.
I heard a lot about the criminal element of this predominantly black city–stories that generalized an entire population of people because of a criminal underworld forced upon them by systemic injustice. We were us: good, noble, law-abiding; they were them: bad, impure, corrupt.
I am ashamed that I carried much of these beliefs with me into young adulthood, despite the fact that I’d heaps of evidence to the contrary.
Such is the case with ideology, my friends. It is brainwashing that we perpetuate across our social communities and throughout generations. Slavoj Žižek says “ideology is not simply a ‘false consciousness,’ an illusory representation of reality, it is rather this reality itself which is already, to be conceived as ‘ideological.'”
Further, he adds, “‘ideological’ is a social reality whose very existence implies the non-knowledge of its participants as to its essence–that is, the social effectivity, the very reproduction of which implies that the individuals ‘do not know what they are doing.'”
Rampant white ideology is a smokescreen, but those under its spell are completely unaware of its illusory nature. For them, it is reality, and this is mind-blowing. The only way to break its hold is for those within to move without. Like Toto, in The Wizard of Oz, the curious, the autonomous, must pull back the curtain, and maybe, the enchanted will begin to rouse from the stupor. Maybe they will see the man (men, women, spirit) behind the curtain. The more Totos pull back the curtain, the more opportunities open to our fellow travellers to identify ideology, thereby breaking its hold.
One must journey through the dream to waken to the reality beyond. I am wakening. Wakening is brutal and terrifying, but not so much as the reality of those who’ve been oppressed by the collective white dream.
If you would like to read Slavoj Žižek’s The Sublime Object of Ideology, you can purchase it from the link below, and a portion of the proceeds will help me stop Dumb Shit in its tracks.