By Martha R. Bireda*
The intensity of individuals whose identity, esteem, and sense of self is built upon the “myth of whiteness” is reaching psychotic levels in the United States.
Recently two European-American men were slaughtered for protecting two Muslims girls on a train in Seattle, and now a candidate for public office in Tennessee has raised a billboard proclaiming, “Make America White Again.”
What is the great fear in the hearts and minds of whites?
The great fear is composed of two elements: socio-political and psychological. First and most frightening is the loss of social domination – of becoming a minority in what is believed to be a white majority country.
There is the belief that blacks, browns and, right now, Muslims, are plotting to take over the United States. Closely aligned is the psychological fear of the loss of loss of identity: without whiteness, many whites must question “Who am I?”
What does the myth of whiteness promise?
The myth promises white supremacy, a sense of superiority, an identification with class interests of the elite even though struggling socially and economically; a sense of living in a democratic society where whiteness ensures a piece of the American dream, however often this does not happen; a place above all non-whites who have long been designated as inferiors; deference and respect from non-whites; subservience and servitude; the desire of non-whites to be approved and loved by whites.
The greatest affirmation of the myth of whiteness is the desire of non-whites to become white, to give up their traditional cultural values and to adopt the values of individualism and materialism.
Fear-laden and misguided whites, true believers in the myth, are victims of a terrible hoax played on their European ancestors by the aristocrats. “Whiteness” was a social construct created for both racial oppression and social control.
According to Theodore Allen, author of The Invention of Whiteness, when the first Africans arrived in 1619, there were no white people in Virginia!
There would be no white people until a 1691 Virginia law was passed creating “white people.” The ruling elite, to protect its own class interest, created the term “white race” and along with it a system of racial privileges; this was a mechanism of social control in response to Bacon’s Rebellion.
In 1676, Anglo bond-laborers and Africans banded together to demand an end to bond servitude. Although the Bacon rebels were defeated, social instability and the possibility of recurring rebellion produced the reaction for a permanent solution, especially since the greatest threat to the social order came from property-less, discontented, and poverty-ridden European Americans.
The class struggle between the plantation elite and their indentured servants from England, Ireland, Scotland, and Wales was so volatile that the white landowners had to make sure these white “almost slaves” became enemies of the African slaves; otherwise the wealthy whites would be outnumbered.
The solution was to give Anglo bond laborers a sense of “white” identity with the elite class, although they had fundamentally different interests. This policy was a ruling-class response to the solidarity of African and Anglo laborers.
The myth of whiteness condemned Africans to chattel slavery, but also made the descendants of Anglo bond laborers victims of a policy of social control making them psychologically dependent upon “white” identity while working against their own self-interests as a class.
The true believers in the myth are resentful of strides made by blacks and browns even as the blacks and browns have been segregated, discriminated against, and dealt racial terrorism right and left — all perpetrated by the descendants of indentured servitude.
The greatest insult and threat to the myth of the belief in the superiority of whites has come from Muslims, who refute the myth of white supremacy, have no desire to be white, or to adopt white values. The presence of a group whose cultural integrity will not be comprised makes Muslims the enemy of white America.
This indoctrination of “whiteness” has been perpetuated for more than three hundred years. Generations of individuals have been taught that they were superior. The most ardent believers have been taken to spectacle events such as the torture and lynching of African Americans; they have been taught that it was their right to destroy African American towns, to brutalize blacks, browns, reds, and yellows because of the myth of whiteness.
They have learned a mostly inaccurate history of the United States and because of the myth they have been unable to search for the truth. As the myth crumbles around them, they have become extremely frightened individuals whose sense of powerlessness can only be quelled through violence against the “other” – first, blacks;, and then all the rest who are not quite white.
How can individuals who have changed their family surnames, given up their languages and customs to become white in America recover a sense of identity and esteem based upon their cultural heritage rather than the social construction of whiteness?
How can all Americans, especially those who now identify as white, gather the courage to learn U.S. history and discover the truth about the American class and caste system?
How can we help those who embrace the myth of whiteness become aware that for more than three hundred years, their clinging to whiteness has kept them at a low economic level and the elite in power way above them.?
How do we help all Americans to understand that racism was created as a social control mechanism to oppress not only blacks, browns, reds, and yellows, but middle and working-class Anglos as well?
When all Americans of all skin colors, regardless of skin color, including whites work together to overthrow the bonds of racism, all Americans will finally be free.