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Why White People Are Afraid

By Robert Jensen, AlterNet . Posted June 7, 2006.

What do white people have to be afraid of in a world structured on white privilege? Their own fears.


It may seem self-indulgent to talk about the fears of white people in a white-supremacist society. After all, what do white people really have to be afraid of in a world structured on white privilege? It may be self-indulgent, but it's critical to understand because these fears are part of what keeps many white people from confronting ourselves and the system.

The first, and perhaps most crucial, fear is that of facing the fact that some of what we white people have is unearned. It's a truism that we don't really make it on our own; we all have plenty of help to achieve whatever we achieve. That means that some of what we have is the product of the work of others, distributed unevenly across society, over which we may have little or no control individually. No matter how hard we work or how smart we are, we all know -- when we are honest with ourselves -- that we did not get where we are by merit alone. And many white people are afraid of that fact.

A second fear is crasser: White people's fear of losing what we have -- literally the fear of losing things we own if at some point the economic, political, and social systems in which we live become more just and equitable. That fear is not completely irrational; if white privilege -- along with the other kinds of privilege many of us have living in the middle class and above in an imperialist country that dominates much of the rest of the world -- were to evaporate, the distribution of resources in the United States and in the world would change, and that would be a good thing. We would have less. That redistribution of wealth would be fairer and more just. But in a world in which people have become used to affluence and material comfort, that possibility can be scary.

A third fear involves a slightly different scenario -- a world in which non-white people might someday gain the kind of power over whites that whites have long monopolized. One hears this constantly in the conversation about immigration, the lingering fear that somehow "they" (meaning not just Mexican-Americans and Latinos more generally, but any non-white immigrants) are going to keep moving to this country and at some point become the majority demographically.

Even though whites likely can maintain a disproportionate share of wealth, those numbers will eventually translate into political, economic, and cultural power. And then what? Many whites fear that the result won't be a system that is more just, but a system in which white people become the minority and could be treated as whites have long treated non-whites. This is perhaps the deepest fear that lives in the heart of whiteness. It is not really a fear of non-white people. It's a fear of the depravity that lives in our own hearts: Are non-white people capable of doing to us the barbaric things we have done to them?

A final fear has probably always haunted white people but has become more powerful since the society has formally rejected overt racism: The fear of being seen, and seen-through, by non-white people. Virtually every white person I know, including white people fighting for racial justice and including myself, carries some level of racism in our minds and hearts and bodies. In our heads, we can pretend to eliminate it, but most of us know it is there. And because we are all supposed to be appropriately anti-racist, we carry that lingering racism with a new kind of fear: What if non-white people look at us and can see it? What if they can see through us? What if they can look past our anti-racist vocabulary and sense that we still don't really know how to treat them as equals? What if they know about us what we don't dare know about ourselves? What if they can see what we can't even voice?

I work in a large university with a stated commitment to racial justice. All of my faculty colleagues, even the most reactionary, have a stated commitment to racial justice. And yet the fear is palpable.

It is a fear I have struggled with, and I remember the first time I ever articulated that fear in public. I was on a panel with several other professors at the University of Texas discussing race and politics in the O.J. Simpson case. Next to me was an African American professor. I was talking about media; he was talking about the culture's treatment of the sexuality of black men. As we talked, I paid attention to what was happening in me as I sat next to him. I felt uneasy. I had no reason to be uncomfortable around him, but I wasn't completely comfortable. During the question-and-answer period -- I don't remember what question sparked my comment -- I turned to him and said something like, "It's important to talk about what really goes on between black and white people in this country. For instance, why am I feeling afraid of you? I know I have no reason to be afraid, but I am. Why is that?"

My reaction wasn't a crude physical fear, not some remnant of being taught that black men are dangerous (though I have had such reactions to black men on the street in certain circumstances). Instead, I think it was that fear of being seen through by non-white people, especially when we are talking about race. In that particular moment, for a white academic on an O.J. panel, my fear was of being exposed as a fraud or some kind of closet racist.

Even if I thought I knew what I was talking about and was being appropriately anti-racist in my analysis, I was afraid that some lingering trace of racism would show through, and that my black colleague would identify it for all in the room to see. After I publicly recognized the fear, I think I started to let go of some of it. Like anything, it's a struggle. I can see ways in which I have made progress. I can see that in many situations I speak more freely and honestly as I let go of the fear. I make mistakes, but as I become less terrified of making mistakes I find that I can trust my instincts more and be more open to critique when my instincts are wrong.

Robert Jensen is a journalism professor at the University of Texas at Austin. He is the author of, most recently, The Heart of Whiteness: Confronting Race, Racism and White Privilege (City Lights Books), from which this essay is excerpted.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ "I have not always been right, but I have always been sincere." ~ W.E.B. Du Bois ~~~~~~~~~~~
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Also neatly put in this fashion:

THE FEARS OF WHITE FOLK

FEAR #1:

THE FEAR OF facing the fact that some of what we white people have is unearned.


FEAR #2:

THE FEAR OF losing what we have -- literally the fear of losing things we own if at some point the economic, political, and social systems in which we live become more just and equitable... in a world in which people have become used to affluence and material comfort, that possibility can be scary.


FEAR #3:

THE FEAR OF a system in which white people become the minority and could be treated as whites have long treated non-whites.... It's a fear of the depravity that lives in our own hearts: Are non-white people capable of doing to us the barbaric things we have done to them?


FEAR #4:

THE FEAR OF being seen, and seen-through, by non-white people... What if non-white people look at us and can see it [[that lingering racism we Whites all carry]]? What if they can see through us? What if they can look past our anti-racist vocabulary and sense that we still don't really know how to [[or refuse to]] treat them as equals? What if they know about us what we don't dare know about ourselves? What if they can see what we can't even voice?

__________________________________________________________________


I also found this statement by Jensen to be rather interesting:

From: White People's Burden

Let's go back to the question that W.E.B. Du Bois said he knew was on the minds of white people. In the opening of his 1903 classic, The Souls of Black Folk, Du Bois wrote that the real question whites wanted to ask him, but were afraid to, was: "How does it feel to be a problem?" Du Bois was identifying a burden that blacks carried "” being seen by the dominant society not as people but as a problem people, as a people who posed a problem for the rest of society. Du Bois was right to identify "the color line" as the problem of the 20th century. Now, in the 21st century, it is time for whites to self-consciously reverse the direction of that question at heart of color.

It's time for white people to fully acknowledge that in the racial arena, we are the problem.

__________________________________________________________________

This is indeed the conscious perspective of a few White "Anti-Racists", Tim Wise in particular:

RACISM IS A WHITE PROBLEM, and a problem that all whites must address.

quote:
From: Paleness as Pathology

In short, the project is to pathologize whiteness, white privilege, and institutional white supremacy. It is to make white culture -- the dominant cultural form on the planet today -- the problem, the enemy, not only of folks of color, but of whites too. It is to demonstrate that white supremacy is not only homicidal to the black and brown but suicidal to those of us who are members of the club that created it. For thirty years or more we've been subjected to one or another analysis, policy paper or best-selling book that sought to pathologize black folks, black culture, and black behavior. Blaming the victim has been elevated to high art in such a short time as this. Only by flipping that script and demonstrating that we have not a "Negro problem" (as it used to be said in the 60s) but rather a "white problem," are we likely to have a future at all, let alone one to which we should look forward.
quote:
Originally posted by virtue:
quote:
Originally posted by Nmaginate:
Also neatly put in this fashion:

THE FEARS OF WHITE FOLK

FEAR #1:

THE FEAR OF facing the fact that some of what we white people have is unearned.


FEAR #2:

THE FEAR OF losing what we have -- literally the fear of losing things we own if at some point the economic, political, and social systems in which we live become more just and equitable... in a world in which people have become used to affluence and material comfort, that possibility can be scary.


FEAR #3:

THE FEAR OF a system in which white people become the minority and could be treated as whites have long treated non-whites.... It's a fear of the depravity that lives in our own hearts: Are non-white people capable of doing to us the barbaric things we have done to them?


FEAR #4:

THE FEAR OF being seen, and seen-through, by non-white people... What if non-white people look at us and can see it [[that lingering racism we Whites all carry]]? What if they can see through us? What if they can look past our anti-racist vocabulary and sense that we still don't really know how to [[or refuse to]] treat them as equals? What if they know about us what we don't dare know about ourselves? What if they can see what we can't even voice?

______________________________________________


I also found this statement by Jensen to be rather interesting:

From: White People's Burden

Let's go back to the question that W.E.B. Du Bois said he knew was on the minds of white people. In the opening of his 1903 classic, The Souls of Black Folk, Du Bois wrote that the real question whites wanted to ask him, but were afraid to, was: "How does it feel to be a problem?" Du Bois was identifying a burden that blacks carried "” being seen by the dominant society not as people but as a problem people, as a people who posed a problem for the rest of society. Du Bois was right to identify "the color line" as the problem of the 20th century. Now, in the 21st century, it is time for whites to self-consciously reverse the direction of that question at heart of color. It's time for white people to fully acknowledge that in the racial arena, we are the problem.



tfro


yeah

You know, in a way, it almost makes me feel sorry for White people. It must be disturbing to live in fear that someday you might reap the enormous negative karmic debt that your people have sewn.
quote:
Originally posted by HonestBrother:
Why White People Are Afraid

By Robert Jensen, AlterNet . Posted June 7, 2006.

What do white people have to be afraid of in a world structured on white privilege? Their own fears.


It may seem self-indulgent to talk about the fears of white people in a white-supremacist society. After all, what do white people really have to be afraid of in a world structured on white privilege? It may be self-indulgent, but it's critical to understand because these fears are part of what keeps many white people from confronting ourselves and the system.

The first, and perhaps most crucial, fear is that of facing the fact that some of what we white people have is unearned. It's a truism that we don't really make it on our own; we all have plenty of help to achieve whatever we achieve. That means that some of what we have is the product of the work of others, distributed unevenly across society, over which we may have little or no control individually. No matter how hard we work or how smart we are, we all know -- when we are honest with ourselves -- that we did not get where we are by merit alone. And many white people are afraid of that fact.

A second fear is crasser: White people's fear of losing what we have -- literally the fear of losing things we own if at some point the economic, political, and social systems in which we live become more just and equitable. That fear is not completely irrational; if white privilege -- along with the other kinds of privilege many of us have living in the middle class and above in an imperialist country that dominates much of the rest of the world -- were to evaporate, the distribution of resources in the United States and in the world would change, and that would be a good thing. We would have less. That redistribution of wealth would be fairer and more just. But in a world in which people have become used to affluence and material comfort, that possibility can be scary.

A third fear involves a slightly different scenario -- a world in which non-white people might someday gain the kind of power over whites that whites have long monopolized. One hears this constantly in the conversation about immigration, the lingering fear that somehow "they" (meaning not just Mexican-Americans and Latinos more generally, but any non-white immigrants) are going to keep moving to this country and at some point become the majority demographically.

Even though whites likely can maintain a disproportionate share of wealth, those numbers will eventually translate into political, economic, and cultural power. And then what? Many whites fear that the result won't be a system that is more just, but a system in which white people become the minority and could be treated as whites have long treated non-whites. This is perhaps the deepest fear that lives in the heart of whiteness. It is not really a fear of non-white people. It's a fear of the depravity that lives in our own hearts: Are non-white people capable of doing to us the barbaric things we have done to them?

A final fear has probably always haunted white people but has become more powerful since the society has formally rejected overt racism: The fear of being seen, and seen-through, by non-white people. Virtually every white person I know, including white people fighting for racial justice and including myself, carries some level of racism in our minds and hearts and bodies. In our heads, we can pretend to eliminate it, but most of us know it is there. And because we are all supposed to be appropriately anti-racist, we carry that lingering racism with a new kind of fear: What if non-white people look at us and can see it? What if they can see through us? What if they can look past our anti-racist vocabulary and sense that we still don't really know how to treat them as equals? What if they know about us what we don't dare know about ourselves? What if they can see what we can't even voice?

I work in a large university with a stated commitment to racial justice. All of my faculty colleagues, even the most reactionary, have a stated commitment to racial justice. And yet the fear is palpable.

It is a fear I have struggled with, and I remember the first time I ever articulated that fear in public. I was on a panel with several other professors at the University of Texas discussing race and politics in the O.J. Simpson case. Next to me was an African American professor. I was talking about media; he was talking about the culture's treatment of the sexuality of black men. As we talked, I paid attention to what was happening in me as I sat next to him. I felt uneasy. I had no reason to be uncomfortable around him, but I wasn't completely comfortable. During the question-and-answer period -- I don't remember what question sparked my comment -- I turned to him and said something like, "It's important to talk about what really goes on between black and white people in this country. For instance, why am I feeling afraid of you? I know I have no reason to be afraid, but I am. Why is that?"

My reaction wasn't a crude physical fear, not some remnant of being taught that black men are dangerous (though I have had such reactions to black men on the street in certain circumstances). Instead, I think it was that fear of being seen through by non-white people, especially when we are talking about race. In that particular moment, for a white academic on an O.J. panel, my fear was of being exposed as a fraud or some kind of closet racist.

Even if I thought I knew what I was talking about and was being appropriately anti-racist in my analysis, I was afraid that some lingering trace of racism would show through, and that my black colleague would identify it for all in the room to see. After I publicly recognized the fear, I think I started to let go of some of it. Like anything, it's a struggle. I can see ways in which I have made progress. I can see that in many situations I speak more freely and honestly as I let go of the fear. I make mistakes, but as I become less terrified of making mistakes I find that I can trust my instincts more and be more open to critique when my instincts are wrong.

Robert Jensen is a journalism professor at the University of Texas at Austin. He is the author of, most recently, The Heart of Whiteness: Confronting Race, Racism and White Privilege (City Lights Books), from which this essay is excerpted.


This is so true and I would like to thank you for sharing your honest opinion in such an ariticulate manner.
This exerpt chroniclizes 'one' white man who "supposedly" grew a conscious.

The modern white man will never give up an iota of his vise-grip on civilization to the black man...cause the apple falls not far from the tree--they still retain the ["sakhu"/psyche is corrupt Greek word] of their forefathers.

IMHO, paranoia mixed with racism is a more suitable synonym for their mental illness.
quote:
Originally posted by Nmaginate:
Also neatly put in this fashion:

THE FEARS OF WHITE FOLK

FEAR #1:

THE FEAR OF facing the fact that some of what we white people have is unearned.


FEAR #2:

THE FEAR OF losing what we have -- literally the fear of losing things we own if at some point the economic, political, and social systems in which we live become more just and equitable... in a world in which people have become used to affluence and material comfort, that possibility can be scary.


FEAR #3:

THE FEAR OF a system in which white people become the minority and could be treated as whites have long treated non-whites.... It's a fear of the depravity that lives in our own hearts: Are non-white people capable of doing to us the barbaric things we have done to them?


FEAR #4:

THE FEAR OF being seen, and seen-through, by non-white people... What if non-white people look at us and can see it [[that lingering racism we Whites all carry]]? What if they can see through us? What if they can look past our anti-racist vocabulary and sense that we still don't really know how to [[or refuse to]] treat them as equals? What if they know about us what we don't dare know about ourselves? What if they can see what we can't even voice?

__________________________________________________________________


I also found this statement by Jensen to be rather interesting:

From: White People's Burden

Let's go back to the question that W.E.B. Du Bois said he knew was on the minds of white people. In the opening of his 1903 classic, The Souls of Black Folk, Du Bois wrote that the real question whites wanted to ask him, but were afraid to, was: "How does it feel to be a problem?" Du Bois was identifying a burden that blacks carried "” being seen by the dominant society not as people but as a problem people, as a people who posed a problem for the rest of society. Du Bois was right to identify "the color line" as the problem of the 20th century. Now, in the 21st century, it is time for whites to self-consciously reverse the direction of that question at heart of color.

It's time for white people to fully acknowledge that in the racial arena, we are the problem.

__________________________________________________________________

This is indeed the conscious perspective of a few White "Anti-Racists", Tim Wise in particular:

RACISM IS A WHITE PROBLEM, and a problem that all whites must address.

quote:
From: Paleness as Pathology

In short, the project is to pathologize whiteness, white privilege, and institutional white supremacy. It is to make white culture -- the dominant cultural form on the planet today -- the problem, the enemy, not only of folks of color, but of whites too. It is to demonstrate that white supremacy is not only homicidal to the black and brown but suicidal to those of us who are members of the club that created it. For thirty years or more we've been subjected to one or another analysis, policy paper or best-selling book that sought to pathologize black folks, black culture, and black behavior. Blaming the victim has been elevated to high art in such a short time as this. Only by flipping that script and demonstrating that we have not a "Negro problem" (as it used to be said in the 60s) but rather a "white problem," are we likely to have a future at all, let alone one to which we should look forward.


Happy to see you back, Nmaginate! Smile
Another take:

quote:
Originally posted by MBM:
Here's my theory:

  • People are not inherently good or bad. People are people. All people essentially respond to their environment in the best way they know how.

  • For the most recent epoch of history white people have been in power and control over the Earth. The wealthy of that race have propogated a system of blind capitalism which, naturally, seeks maximum profits as the ultimate goal - at the expense of any human or other societal factors and at all cost. Hence, people and nations routinely get raped and exploited in that effort.

  • The poor and working class live in a society that is dominated by consumption. The same advertising and marketing and cultural messages that are desinged to stimulate consumer consumption not only direct consumer behavior, but also impact our definition of culture and society. The poor and working classes see that some are living 'high on the hog'. They also very clearly know (and feel) that they are not living that way and know that they will never ever live that way - which creates extraordinary angst, resentment, and anger in them. They have to express that anger somewhere - so with the help of the wealthy and ruling elite showing them where to point the finger - they direct their animosity toward brown and black people. It's just like the phenomenon of a man getting yelled at at work who comes home and beats his wife. His wife has nothing to do with his problem, but she is a convenient target for his frustration. So - with black and brown people.

    Bottom line: white folks, like all people, act in ways to further their interests. The rich feel pressure to make more - hence they continue to exploit. The poor feel pressure just to feel like they're treading water - which positions them against blacks and browns. The middle class are busy striving to be rich - so they can then exploit too! Hence, from the perspective of an African American, whites largely interact with blacks in decidedly negative ways. Again, from the top, the wealthy exploit and use black people to further their economic interests. From the bottom, whites express their misdirected class frustrations toward blacks to prop up their deflated sense of self-esteem. Blacks and browns receive the brunt of it from both.

    Hence, it's not difficult to see why some black folks think that whites are evil.


  • White people are afraid because they know it is getting increasingly difficult to propogate the system of increasing capitalistic returns. The system is set up to always expect MORE - every quarter, every year. As it gets increasingly difficult to deliver that (as resources expire and as other groups gain greater power), it dramtically ups the tension and causes fear and anxiety that they will lose their very way of life.

    I think this is also compounded by a general 'Fear Of A Black Planet' syndrome as well.

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