Thursday, November 5, 2020

The White Funnel

Michael Harriot created one of his amazing tweet threads on November 4 that left me again facing something that I had to address for myself here.

My interpretation is this: there’s a status quo funnel that everyone needs to pass through in order to belong in the group of people who deserve a piece of The American Dream. That funnel is whiteness, resulting in white privilege. And if you don’t belong, you are Black or Other, and you will face specific restrictions and penalties.

The modern Republican Party headed by Donald Trump is the ultimate vision of this funnel. According to the voting statistics, at least 68,726,780 people have chosen that funnel.

Regardless of your DNA makeup, if you can get through that white funnel, you’re in. That’s the only way to explain why various “white” groups have gone from being “bad” to “acceptable” through our history: Irish, Italian, Swedish, German, Polish, and Spanish are all examples. It also explains why there are non-European ancestry folks who are “OK” and in the white nationalist camp: they have dropped their own individual genetic and cultural identities to get through the funnel and become “white”. Your genes may be African, Asian, or Middle Eastern, for example, but if you’re working to fit down the “white” funnel, you can stick around. If the white funnel's opinions change, as they did during the WWII era when we incarcerated Japanese-Americans, you are no longer in that funnel's care and become Other once more.

“White” is a construct. I’ve struggled my entire life trying to understand what “white” is, and this is the one explanation that actually fits. I’ve known about the ways “white” people hate on each other from the inside. My mother rattled off all the derogatory terms for Italians and Polish people among others- I never understood why but “knew” they weren’t as "good" as "we" were. It makes complete sense if “white” is a funnel. “Those people” haven’t made it through yet. They haven’t conformed and been accepted yet.

Fitting down the white funnel is typically beneficial- and for some, it's extremely so. That's why it's succeeded to maintain itself. Maybe you can make it big. Maybe not, but you’ll be “better off” than The Other (I’ll explain that in a bit). You have access to more opportunities like loans, jobs, housing, education, and healthcare. If you look a little different but know the right folks, you can still flourish in the white system. For some of us with pale skin and blue eyes, we can appear to be “OK” to a white nationalist even if on the inside, we’re raging at the violence and injustice done around us. We can go decades just moving along in that whiteness because it’s easy. Our birth gave us a special pass that might take years to recognize and address because the system is built for us. Depending on our choices, we may never understand it.

Why wouldn’t everyone just try to be white, then? To just go ahead and slide down the funnel with both feet? Doesn't matter if you're Indigenous, Black, or from somewhere else- just blend in and learn the rules.

Universal assimilation could be a thing, but it’s not. And even if it were, we’d lose so much. As I’ve heard some Indigenous People say, their traditions state that if their language is lost, their spiritual world is, too. They are another group of peoples who have always been considered Other- not white. Abandoning the self for material gain via acceptance robs us all in terms of cultures, viewpoints, arts, and so much more.

And there’s never been universal assimilation because Black people have always been rejected. Slaves were Other. Slaves weren’t human. Black people were enslaved, therefore, they could never even approach the funnel. For those who argue we haven’t had slavery or its problems since the Civil War, I suggest you start with Richard Rothstein’s The Color of Law or Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow.

Because of those in the Civil Rights Movement and the many people to this day who defend and maintain those rights, some things have gotten a bit better. But the old rules and notions have extremely long tails. The fact that some don’t even want to move Confederate statues in more accurate contexts and think our modern segregation is not influenced by current and historic white-controlled laws is telling. Many are clinging to that funnel because historically it’s been the ticket to living in some comfort here. To “belonging”. Losing that is frightening.

That concept of belonging or not...I think that's connected to the real request Black people have made to the white people of the US: they don't need or want *help*. They want an equal *chance*. To not be penalized just for being who there are.

Besides law changes such as the 1964 Civil Rights Act that put cracks in the funnel, the fact that more recent immigrant communities have emphatically resisted fully jumping down the white funnel by not abandoning their languages, cultures, or religions, is a positive change. But those choices are met with grumbling by some and extreme resistance and hostility by others who either jumped down the funnel themselves or whose ancestors did.

The US is a land of opportunity...if you conform.

The US is a land of opportunity...if you are not Black.

Those are the truths we’re wrestling with today. As I reflect on how my own ideas of human beauty and constructive living have changed dramatically over my years, I know positive change is possible. I am so grateful for the comfort that I have now, instead of the anxiety, of seeing different people doing different things. It also helps me be more accepting of myself.

I embraced the Democratic ticket this year more so than I ever have because, even though I know I still benefit from that funnel, I want to break it. I want our ideals to have a better chance of becoming reality. A party that at least mouths the words “together”, “diversity”, “equity”, and “green” in positive terms with written plans was my only option and hope.

I couldn’t vote for a 3rd party in 2020. I have voted that way in other local and national elections. I will again in the future if this behemoth white funnel loses some of its power. I long for a system that supports 3 or more strong parties that must work together to get us further along in our quest for a land of true opportunity.

It’s going to be a long, hard process. But if we’re truly great, we must do it.

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