Are We White?

20 Oct


I’m almost halfway through HIlton Als’ White Girls and I have a bunch of unscattered thoughts that I’d like organize, so why not do it here?

1) Hilton Als writes about race better than he writes about sexuality. He’s black and gay and works at the New Yorker so you’d think he could be a master at both. I’m brown and gay and I think I have a handle on issues of sexuality more than I have on issues of browness. I have astigmatism, so before I wore glasses I had to close my left eye in order to see something clearly. I wonder if being gay and brown is like having astigmatism, like two visions in your eyes, and you have to close one permanently in order to describe the other.

2) Because of point 1, Als is unkind to Truman Capote, accusing him of attempting to be a woman writer before making a switch to big important male writer in his serious In Cold Blood. He’s considerably kinder to Basquiat despite both men being gay/bi creatives who had issues with drugs. Capote’s central sin isn’t his whiteness, but his acting, which reminded me of my idea of gay people being accused of acting. Basquiat seems to be more authentic. He acts the way he is; a black man.

3) Als unkindness to Capote might be something they are bound up in together. Meaning that Hilton Als sees Capote’s failing as something they have in common. The bulk of the initial narrative (which is great) involves Als stand-in and his relationship to a straight black man, and their dancing around whiteness. Als writes beautifully about his experiences as a black man, and most of the experiences are bound up in the white world. On a white girlfriend’s deathbed he is mistreated and seen with suspicion, at white parties they are approached with strange questions. Als understands why these questions are asked even in his frustration, but he never stands separate from whiteness, he continues towards it.

So the big question here is: Is HIlton Als a form of white? Am I white? I’m talking about whiteness as the core of America, the default that we subscribe to. I’m talking about the exact same way Ursula K. Le Guin is a failed state of a man.

Brown and black people in America love to assert our otherness, but it feels internally strained, especially when we do it on twitter which is a very expressively white tool (or “the Masters Tool” if you’ve done the reading). I’m speaking from experience here. Saying that I am Latino is harder than saying I am gay, and I think the question of whether or not I am white is what causes this strain. Some call this post-racial, asserting that we are now colorblind, but this is faulty reasoning. The real nightmare scenario here isn’t that we are colorblind, but that we’re all moving towards whiteness, and some of us are more hobbled and damaged by this move.

I’ve seen activists of all types being accused of merely fighting for white privilege, but isn’t that exactly what we’re all fighting for? A plea for human decency, for justice, for good representation, aren’t all those pleas for white privilege under our current political reality?


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