The “Problem” of Not Being White

Photo by Chiamaka Nwolisa on Unsplash

Listening to and reading old interviews and books surrounding the Black community from the 50s to the 70s, you will hear the term “the race problem.” Used colloquially, the race problem is referred to as the plight facing Black Americans. It was and continues to be one of the most studied and talked about topics in America.

The Race Problem is a collection of four statements on the idea of race created by the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), a United Nations agency aimed at promoting world peace and security through international cooperation in education the sciences and culture.

All of the social scientists that studied this were white men. While Black Americans were severely disenfranchised in 1950 — the year this study was originally published — some black social scientists could have contributed to this study including the renowned W.E.B DuBois.

In the novel “Invisible Man” by Ralph Ellison, the protagonist gets punished by way of demotion, only being allowed to make speeches on the “woman problem.” The character is furious as if women are not worthy of being advocated for or discussed. The organization that he works for is comprised of all men.

The Woman Problem — original French term “querelle des femmes” — is defined as the history of intellectual debate on the nature of women, their capabilities, and whether or not they should be able to study, write or govern in the same capacity as men.

The study of whether women should have autonomy.

Contemporaneously, we can see the queer question, the immigrant, trans, disabled and any other oppressed group you can substitute here. The first people to discuss these groups — with it being given the proper seriousness from the masses — are always white.

However, when people within an identity can speak for themselves, it’s never the most marginalized and always the one who has the most access to either whiteness, patriarchy or both.

When it comes to queer people, black queer people are not elevated in the same way as their white counterparts. Even looking back on the history of queer liberation the Gay Liberation Movement in the 70s was racist.

When talking about immigration issues, it is only a problem when those immigrants are black and brown. Even the President has said that he wants more immigrants from countries like Norway; white.

While white people can identify as oppressed groups like women, queer or trans but their whiteness can transcend in a way where everyone else cannot.

If the rhetoric is that every problem in America is caused by non-white people ­ — when those people are oppressed by white people — then you must start looking at who are the ones saying that there is one.

Effectively, what is the problem with white people?

Black people have been trying to find this out for a long time. But in a white world, it is easy to not only deflect accountability but put it on the people you are oppressing.

In an interview with Charlie Rose, Toni Morrison notes that a problem is apparent. She says:

“If I take your race away and there you are all strung out and all you got is your little self and what is that? What are you without racism? Are you any good, are you still strong, are you still smart, you still like yourself? […] White people have a very serious problem, and they should start thinking about what they can do about it.”

Writer and professor Eddie Glaude in an interview with MSNBC said, “We’re still trying to convince white folk to embrace a history that will maybe set them free from being white.”

Both Morrison and Glaude are speaking to the same problem that white people have to deal with. Not only is the problem that white people have predicated by their problem with everyone else not being white, but it is stoked by a historical absence of morality.

That is the white problem.

When you look back on the history of different people in America, it is clear to see not only how you got here and by which hands made it happen. For white people, they are the hands that lead in the disenfranchisement of every other group of people in this country.

But now only 400 years from the beginning of genocide on the behalf of the idea of America, 156 years removed from the abolition of slavery, and only 57 years from the outlawing of Jim Crow it is no question who purposely implemented those laws for the sake of power.

But still, some will deny the reverberations of the choices that their ancestors made. Because this or that legislator is no kin to them. Yet it negatively affects all Black Americans and the oppressed while further empowering all white ones.

Baldwin called them “moral monsters.” A monster is a being who is intrinsically grotesque and mutated. But monsters usually know not what they do. So, to be consciously monstrous is to be maliciously ignorant.

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