From The Archives

The White Issue


“Yo! Ex-cuse me, Mr. Poindexter!” The black kids in the street cut loose at me. I’m wearing a tartan vest, wire-­rimmed glasses, and riding a three-speed bike. A cascade of laughter comes down after the taunt, then some from me, too. We all hoot at my upright whiteness.

Whether whiteness is a thing to laugh or cry about is undecidable. For a long time it was neither. Whiteness was simply there, like the atmosphere, as unconscious as the intake of breath.

I recently met a Southern novelist who asked me where I came from. When I told him he said, “Why, that’s as close to Tupelo, Mississippi, as you can get, isn’t it?” I loved him for saying it, since most people I meet in New York think of New Hampshire as “New England” in the generic Yankee sense of saltbox houses and Mayflower pedigrees, part of a homogenous bloc of nominally liberal states overblessed with vacation lakes and ski colonies. Contrary to this sunny leisure vision, New Hampshire has always been the slum of New England.

“But then Warner also believes that “lily-white” is a “bizarre dyad” with which journalists are “slapping” the European American com­munity. And we only had, as our agenda, the goal of unmasking someincoherent, un­justified point of view.”

The problem here is simply “How can one be a white, heterosexual male, and still retain a clear conscience?” All other positions can affirm their specificity, their particular mode of enjoyment; only the white male heterosexual position must remain empty, must sacrifice its enjoyment.

My mother is white. And I, as you may or may not have figured out, am black. This is how I choose to define myself and this is how America chooses to define me. I have no regrets about my racial classification other than to lament, off and on, that classifications exist period.

“It is impossible to imagine that any other people that had one out of every three of its members murdered in the past 50 years would be seen as “privileged” — except by those who in some way covertly sympa­thized with the murderers.”

“White sex,” I repeated, for the third time. Not “right” sex or “wide” sex or a new drug to do it to, which is what every­one imagined when I announced the sub­ject — everyone being white, of course. So let me spell it out for you. White sex as in white people and how they fuck and is there anything to it.”

“As a cultural category, whiteness has an uncanny ability to be all places but specifi­cally nowhere. It eludes our grasp even as it rules our lives. Whiteness is invisible. And like anything invisible, it’s empty of content, cordoning off what it can’t abide and yet half in love with what it represses. Where, exactly, is this conceptual black hole to be found? Herewith a glossary of whiteness to help fill in the blanc.”

“Like every other choice we have in the supposedly “color-blind” United States, the choice to be blond should be made so as to prove that one can make it, to prove that one is American.”

“For a hot minute in the 1970s, white Americans in general felt bad about racism at home and racist imperialism abroad. For the first time in American history, blacks, browns, and Asians had a little social ca­chet, were actually sought-after in some venues. Then came Bakke, the backlash, claims of “reverse discrimination” and the evil of quotas, the demonization of “wel­fare queens,” the criminalization of black and brown youth, and the splitting-off of Asian “model minorities” for use as a bat­tering ram against blacks and Latinos.”

This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on February 17, 2021

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