We use words every day to convey thoughts and expressions of how we feel, who we believe we are, and what exists in our world from day to day. However, how many of us actually pay attention to what is being conveyed through the definitions of the words we use every day? How often do we dissect these words to gain a deeper understanding of how these words and terms affect our lives? It is evident that these seemingly every day words and the phrases they produce have the effect of conditioning and indoctrinating our minds into belief systems, whether culturally, politically, religiously and/or psychologically. Indeed, it would appear indoctrination and conditioning might be a great deal more difficult if we took the time to examine and evaluate many of the words and phrases that enter our minds. I often write about the words, “Whiteness” and “Blackness.” Most often when discussing these words, I use them within the context of the term, “state of being.” I have discovered that using these words within the context of this term can be very confusing to both white people and Black people for various reasons.
Therefore, in order to understand the term, “state of being,” within the context of Whiteness and Blackness, it requires breaking the term apart, defining Whiteness and Blackness and then associating them to the term with the new understanding. To begin, what do I mean by the word, “state?” Merriam Webster has no less than eight definitions of the word. That in itself can be confusing, especially for people who generally only associate the word state with the United “States of America.” For purposes of this essay, let’s say that “state” means the condition of something. Next, what do I mean by the word, “being?” Merriam Webster defines it as, “the nature or essence of a person.” Together, the two definitions mean, “the condition concerning the nature or essence of a person.” Therefore, the “state of being” relates to "the essence of the human and the condition of that essence in expressing its being" So, what does it mean to associate the words, “Whiteness,” or “Blackness” with the term, “state of being?” Absolutely nothing if there is no understanding of the words beyond the simple physicality of color.
Everyone in America unless living under a rock knows that color is the determining factor in identifying races of people, where ethnicity and then geography are second and third identifiers. In America, the predominate identification is Black and White and has been this way since its founding. Notwithstanding these physical identifiers, the idea of manifest destiny in relation to the right of ownership of the nation and the world, indeed, the “state of being White,” and superior, became more than just skin deep. It became its own ideology of “whiteness” as supreme. It became the “who” in terms of identity instead of the “what” of the color. Therefore, Whiteness, taken with the ideology of supremacy means “Whiteness as the condition concerning the nature or essence of White people being white."
In the early 70s, a Black Consciousness Movement (BCM) was emerging in South Africa. There are books and many scholarly references to this period of time in world history. What I call the “American Black Identity Consciousness Movement” of the 70s, a time not particularly discussed but rather folded into the “Civil Rights Movement of the 60s,” saw Black American men, women and children finding pride in a new found “state of being” Black in the midst of systemic and individual racism borne out of the ideology of White Supremacy. Again, It became the “who” in terms of identity instead of the “what” of the color. Many came to call it “Black pride,” turning it into its own ideology, which means, “Blackness as the condition concerning the nature and essence of Black people being Black.” Why is understanding whiteness as a state of being important today? It is important to differentiate the tools used from the ideology itself. Color itself is merely a tool used to reinforce, support and perpetuate the ideology. The tools are not the power. The ideology is. Let me repeat:The tools are not the power. The ideology is. Think about this for a moment. Who are you? What are you? The answers to these questions depend on how you identify yourself. In terms of race, which in and of itself is a fallacy, but with which we must deal in America, what you are is a color, Black or White. “Who” you are depends on the essence of your humanity and the condition of that essence.
White people, you did not actually stop being white during the period of the Colorblind Post Racial era, but many of you lost your "state of being white," and the perceived power associated with it; the “who" of your identity, or the essence of your humanity, and the condition of that essence, which “changed,” replaced with the conceptual terms of “normal, neutral and natural.” For the masses of white people, this is all you had, because the power of those who subjugated you had been chipping away, little by little from your ability to perceive any economic parity with those you identified with by color but who held the power over you.
Black people, you didn’t relinquish your state of being. You didn't need to. It wasn't tied to any notion of supremacy over anyone. It didn't require animus or negative treatment of white people. It was a celebration of "who you were as human beings" despite generations of abuse. Bear in mind, there would never have been a need for Black people to develop their own ideology of Blackness as a state of being, a pride of Blackness, if systemic, institutional racism had not been created to support, reinforce and perpetuate unrealistic notions of whiteness as superior by subjugating and oppressing Black people. But the fact that Black people even established a positive state of being despite generations of oppression only further enraged those masses of white people who “lost” theirs.
White people in power apparently thought that by hiding the ideology of whiteness, they would serve the dual purpose of hiding racism for the masses of white people. Of course, this only fueled more animus among white people who viewed Black pride only through their own narrow lens of superiority, a state of being they could only express among themselves and no longer embrace openly. When one of the major underpinnings of Whiteness ideology is the degradation and humiliation of Black people, how dare Black people have pride when they are inferior. Conversely, why couldn't they be "proud" of their Whiteness? Since any notion of power lives within the ideology of Whiteness as Supreme, the masses of white people who lost this state of being lost the only thread that bound them to the notion of power.
So they were left with the tool of color and no power to wield the tool.
Think of it as having power tools and no electricity or battery power to run them. How then could they feel superior about what only meant being natural, neutral and normal, when there is no power associated with that? This is why today, many powerless white people are enraged over the thought of losing their association with their newly found state of being, gained through the various white supremacist movements. Even faced with and caught within their own economic subjugation, power for them does not exist. In reality, none of that matters for them, since "who" they are, their existential reference has returned. They will continue to fight for a semblance of reassociation with those whom they identify by color and who possess the real power. Who they are, when tied to this ideology, however negative, makes them extremely fearful, especially if, by sheer projection of their own behavior past and present, they can conceive any kind of retribution by Black people, even though those fears are unfounded. Therefore, White people must begin to examine their state of being.
Who are you? What are you?
This subject is complex because of the paradoxes associated with it. There are many doors and some lead to dead ends. However, One key to opening the door to the eventual end of white supremacy is literally destroying the old way of how whiteness is expressed, and by removing the devastating power of the ideology. Using the definitions provided above, White people can start by virtually reordering the very "essence of your humanity and the condition of that essence in expressing your being," thus reentering the world with a brand new state of being. Think of whiteness in its the present state of being as dirt over which the root of white supremacist power grows. If there is no soil, then no root can form even if there is a seed. Those seeds will eventually dry and fly away. If there is no root, then the tools designed to support, reinforce and perpetuate them will no longer be necessary to maintain.
Take the key and open the door.