Friday, November 11, 2011

Quote: Whiteness and Class

I know people who fit the entire description. I was raised among them -- klansmen, gay-bashers, wife-beaters, and child-rapists with a penchant for incest, as well as moonshiners, cardplayers, snake-handlers, and revival preachers. Some are relatives by blood. All are relatives by water, air, and dirt. Our bodies are made up of elements from the same piece of ground. Through endless cycles that dirt perpetuates itself. We arise from it and return, and it circulates through these permeable membranes that individuate us temporarily and to some small degree. It won't do to claim that I have no part in the ugliness that that version of historically constructed whiteness entails. That would be a lie.


In the meantime, though, I realize that it makes me very angry that there is so little room in our society for the notion of a well-educated, decent, peace-loving redneck. It makes me angry, because I know why that's the case. Rednecks serve a distinct and very valuable function for well-educated, sophisticated, overtly nonviolent white people: Rednecks bear the stigma of white-ness, the ugly part of whiteness, so that middle-class people with college degrees don't have to. If I take off the boots and speak in standard English, none of my white, well-educated associates believes I might harbor any racial prejudice or be guilty of doing any harm to nonwhite students or employees in my charge. I'm assumed to be fair and upright and free of unenlightened attitudes or assumptions about any racial group. But if I put the boots back on -- in other words, if I claim my own specific embodiment -- suddenly I'm available to be held responsible for all the racism that lurks in this country. Not by black people -- most of whom, I've found, are on to this ruse -- but by educated white people, people who want to have someone to point a finger at so that they never have to examine the institutionalized forms of racism that their actions reinforce on the job and the street every day, so that they never have to question or work against a system that rewards them for who they are.

-- Ladelle McWhorter, Bodies and Pleasures, pp. 173-175

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