The Unbearable Blandness of Being White

I’ve recently started a reading-before-bed habit, something I’ve always wanted to do, but somehow it never came together until now. I went upstairs last night to look through my books and pick out some to read next. Only after I got in bed and looked at the stack and glanced at the dust jackets did I realize that all four of the books I had picked out were self-help books written by white dudes. Oh. Crap. That’s probably most of my books, now that I think of it. 

The books on my shelf, the ones I’ve held onto for years, hoping I would eventually develop some interest in reading them, are just going to have to wait, maybe forever.

I don’t need to read things I already know. I need to read things I could never imagine.

I don’t want to read books by people-who-don’t-look-like-me because it’s the hip, woke thing to do. It’s just that being a white person can make your world so damn small.

And when you retreat into the positive, feel-good-and-be-productive world of self-help, it can get even smaller. Safe, supportive…and small.

Being white means living in a world that continually reflects back to you your white perspective.

We have white friends and white teachers and white family members and read books and articles and watch TV shows written by white people, or sanitized for white people.

I’m not talking about how that makes us racist, or fragile. That’s all valid, but it’s not my point. It also just makes us boring. It sucks the realness out of life for it to be constantly whitewashed into acceptability. It’s like living inside of an egg. A rosy, warm, bland-ass egg.

When I volunteered in prison 8 years ago, where I met my husband, it was because I wanted to see what was outside of that egg. And now that he is out and the prison part of my life is over, I feel it closing back in on me again. Like a warm, soft, suffocating blanket.

Racism is about how we hurt other people. What I want us to understand is we are also hurting ourselves. We are atrophied in the ability to appreciate difference and feel part of the entire human race.

This isn’t about being virtuous. And it’s not about “borrowing” (stealing) other people’s culture because ours is boring. It’s just about trying to be a full human being and a citizen of the real world.

I’m not posting a book list.

I’m not trying to be comprehensive or read the “right” books. I’m going to read books that interest me. This isn’t about “educating myself”, at least not on purpose. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that, I just do that in other ways). This is about the fact that there’s so much more world out there, and it’s not going to impose itself on me the way white culture does to everyone else. I’m going to have to go looking for it.

The point of growth is to expand beyond our limits. And whiteness is a limit that most of us don’t realize we have. It constrains our perspective, our imagination, and our awareness of reality. And because of the violence we inflict on other people’s lives and cultures and bodies, it limits our access to spaces where those people go to be safe from us, to be fully themselves in their own culture. I respect that, I understand that, and I’m also missing a lot because of that. But books are an open door, and it’s a place to start.

Where in your life are you safe and warm and bored?

Maybe you don’t suffer from white-self-help-cocoon-itis like I do. But maybe there are things you have longed to do or try that you’re not sure how to access. Find a way. Find inspiration, find support, find role models, find books, find forums. Ask for help. But don’t let your life pass you by. It’s too short. There’s a whole world out there, beyond what is safe and familiar. Make a commitment to yourself to find it.

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The Unbearable Blandness of Being White

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