White U.S. Southerners, and Racism

Racism profoundly interferes with our ability to love and feel connected. I don’t think we humans can “decide” or “agree” to quit caring about just one group of people. We would have to give up on feeling fully connected in general. We can’t turn off part of our caring, like turning off the lights in one room of a house. 

As young people, we can tell1 that racism is stupid, arbitrary, and unthinking. It gets “justified” by those around us, but we know that it doesn’t make sense. We face a (false) choice: to be either the targets or the agents of the oppression. “Agreeing” to take on2 the oppressor role is essentially agreeing to huge heartbreak and disconnection. When I tackle this piece of my distress, I often feel that I am alone in a desert, or in a building so big that I can’t see the ceiling or any of the walls, and no one else is there. I’m completely by myself.

Our damaged connection affects our relationships with both the targets and the agents of the oppression. Even as a white U.S. Southerner,3 I carry distress that tells me there are “worse” white people—white folks who are more racist, less discharged, less enlightened—than I am. It tells me that I don’t get to have these “worse” white people and that I shouldn’t even want them. Allowing it to remain unchallenged is the same as deciding to keep some of my racism undischarged. As long as I set myself above and separate from other agents of racism, I don’t have to fully clean up my own oppressor patterns.

In order to clean up these patterns, I have to claim all white people (even those “more racist” ones) and face that racism has ruined all of our minds and sense of connection. I have to be clear that the racism they carry is no worse than the racism that got smeared on me. They may just be showing it more.

This relates to how important it is that U.S. RCers work on the U.S. Civil War and the oppression of U.S. Southerners. We white U.S. Southerners are held up as the worst U.S. white people. Because the portion of our history that involved racism and enslavement is widely known, USers outside the South often believe that racism is not as bad where they live and that they are not as racist as U.S. Southerners.

THE SOUTH AS A COLONY OF THE NORTH

In the past, a mill would buy up lots of land and build a town around it, including small houses and company stores. It would rent the houses to its employees and let them buy merchandise at the company stores on credit. Often the merchandise would be expensive and leave the employees with little money to spend on things not owned by the company.

This is similar to how the United States and other powerful nations have treated their colonies. They have claimed a country because they wanted its resources and then have organized that country’s economy to funnel more and more resources to their own country. They have put a few colonized people in positions of power (police, overseers, owners) and allowed them to function as that country’s elite. This colonized “elite” has often been hated—by both the local people and the people in the colonizing country—thus deflecting blame for the injustice away from the colonizing country.

The South functioned as a “colony” of the North. Its economy was set up so that the industrial North could most efficiently extract from it as many resources as possible, and so it would be unworkable without huge amounts of unpaid labor.

We USers need to fully face this history and the distresses it has left on all of us. Patterns of superiority in USers outside of the South and internalized oppression in U.S. Southerners interfere with cleaning up the racism in our minds and our communities.

As a member of the group designated as the worst racists in the world, I have to battle messages that say I have no right to think about or speak up about this. I have to remind myself, over and over, that we U.S. Southerners can move on this and be instrumental in ending racism.

Leslie Kausch
Greensboro, North Carolina, USA
Reprinted from the e-mail discussion
list for RC Community members


1 “Tell” means perceive.
2 “Take on” means assume, adopt.
3 A U.S. Southerner is someone from the southeastern and south-central states of the United States and Washington, D.C.

 


Last modified: 2019-05-02 14:41:35+00