Everywhere I look this week there is a story about how the recent Presidential contest slash white supremacist insurrection slash Trump legacy has torn apart many families. This one from Time magazine is an example:
Trump's Presidency Divided Families. What Happens to Them Now?
The end of the Trump presidency doesn't mean that the barriers between those who disagree with each other are…
A poor woman on Twitter last night was crying in response to this similar story, from the Associated Press. It featured a series of gut-wrenching nut graphs like this one:
Democratic voter Rosanna Guadagno, 49, said her brother disowned her after she refused to support Trump four years ago. Last year her mother suffered a stroke, but her brother — who lived in the same California city as her mother — did not let her know when their mother died six months later. She was told the news after three days in an email from her sister-in-law.
I have been mildly surprised by their surprise, whether the shock is knowing that families are not infinitely resilient or that politics can matter more than kin, I’m not sure. I put together a string of thoughts on Twitter in response to one such story:
I want to focus a bit on the break-up with whiteness thing. I want to focus on that bit because I fear it has gotten lost in the recent racial awakening among white Americans. I am not being cute when I say that I do not know if the “how to be a better white person” genre of books, articles, reading groups, and self-help communities cover “the break-up”. I really do not know. I do not pay that genre a great deal of attention because I am not the audience. It is not, as I say, my ministry.
Despite not being my ministry, I do empathize with citizen-learners who are struggling with the course material. It is the pedagogue in me. If no one else has mentioned it (or, you missed that day in class), I want to be very clear: breaking up with whiteness is absolutely the end game of all anti-racist, humanist, post-racism work.
Even there, I worry I am not clear enough. I am hiding the uglier part of the reality, the one that is driving so many human-interest stories about broken families of late, in erudition. “Whiteness” sounds fancier than “white people”. It not only sounds fancier but it also feels safer to say. That academic distance between thought and action provides us a lot of cover in the outrage-driven media eco-system that destroys people’s lives every single day. I am generally not interested in falling on that right-wing grenade for anybody, ever. My people have planted enough cotton. This ain’t my row to hoe.I am going to risk it here, not for political gain but for clarity.
If you follow all the prescriptions of checking your privilege, unpacking your invisible knapsack, centering the marginalized, excavating your deeply held white supremacist notions and not becoming a Karen, you will absolutely positively have to break up with actual white people.
You will love many of those white people. You will be related to some of them. You will be married to them. You will, one day, be faced with pulling “whiteness” down out of the clouds and seeing it not in ideas but in people, written on bodies you have touched, scattered across relationships that have sustained you. You will see it in your family photographs and in the age spots of hands that reach for you. You will, one day, look across a table at the kindest sociopaths you have ever loved.
That sounds horrible. I do not understate that. Break-ups are always difficult. They are exceptionally difficult when everything good seems to be tied up in the relationship you are leaving. It isn’t just your family but your childcare in a society where we won’t subsidize public child care. It isn’t just your spouse but your affordable healthcare that is tied to them and their job and your legal claim to both. It is a series of dinners and pool parties and wills and trousseaus that may not be enjoyable or wanted but are better than nothing.
And nothing is what it may feel like what awaits you on the other side of the break-up. I get that, too. As someone recently said on twitter, we who challenge the status quo do not do a good job of writing a secular religion to replace the church of white supremacy (I paraphrase and probably change the intent of the original statement). It sounds like we want you burn it all down and eat ash cakes until you die of exposure.
It also isn’t my ministry to write a secular Pentateuch for the people who have broken up with the white people who tether them to whiteness but I do believe there is one. I believe there is not only a way to live after the break-up but that you do not start living until you break-up. My own little altar to pragmatic hope has me believe that living in a death cult is lonely. It isn’t lonely because you are alone. The death cult of white supremacy never wants for members. It is lonely because your needs are not being met. Your needs are not being met because you cannot have any needs in a death cult. Every emotion, every want, every desire has to serve the cult. There is never any left over for the followers.
That kind of deep loneliness can only be met and satisfied when you develop a you that isn’t built on the cult. That’s what I think comes after the break-up: a you with authentic desires that can be named and met by others who can now see you because you finally exist.
So many of these family-in-distress stories talk about the loss and I am sure that loss is great. But if people are willingly cutting their family out of their lives there must also be something gained? I think those are stories worth telling, too. In fact, they may be the stories that end up being the only ones worth telling.
Most of the discourse around these family break-ups reduce the conflicts to political beliefs: democrats versus republicans; progressives versus conservatives. That is true, it just isn’t all the truth.
Listen, there are two things that people melt down over: safety and identity. Everyone in these stories appear to be safe. They aren’t locked in cages at the U.S. — Mexico border or at Riker’s Island waiting for a bail hearing. They are fine. That means these meltdowns are most likely about identity.
The Associated Press story draws on the political science idea of a meta-identity to explain the intensity of these partisan divides. I think that what they are calling a meta-identity is really? mostly? also? (I’m still debating) a racial identity. More specifically, white people are developing an explicit white racial identity that maps onto politics because politics is all a white identity has ever been about (insofar as politics is about power).
These explicit white racial identities are kind of what we wanted to have happen. Only an explicit identity can be named and negotiated, ideally to better social outcomes.
The confusion seems to be a latent belief that white racial identities are only progressive, that is that they get better as they are surfaced. Which, uh-oh. Nope.
We are watching clashes of white racial identities, between explicit and implicit frames, worked out through implied loyalties of kinship and resource-sharing.
White double-conciousness was always going to be brutal. Break-ups are always hard. Breaking up with empires is always bloody. If we forgot to tell you.