Culture Wars/Current Controversies

Speaking Queerly About Whiteness

By Nicky Reid aka Comrade Hermit

Exile in Happy Valley

White people hate to talk about race, even the supposedly woke ones. When they do, the entire conversation is almost inevitably governed by fear. With white conservatives, it’s usually the fear of being made irrelevant by darker bodies. With white liberals, it’s usually the fear of being outed as being just as scared as the conservatives they mock. I’ve never really had much trouble discussing race myself, though that does seem to get me into a lot of trouble. Identity fascinates me, probably because my own has always been so goddamn elusive. In spite of the color of my flesh, I can’t recall a time in my life where I wasn’t treated as an “Other”.

It’s why I’m so fascinated by the various notions of tribalism that play such a huge roll in my work and my worldview. Now, with notions of White Supremacy and White Privilege once again becoming hot button topics, I naturally can’t help myself but to enter the fray. I can’t be just another pale face on the sidelines, and once again, white people are gonna be pissed. What else is new?

By far the most controversial thing I’ve ever wrote was an article from about a year ago in which I openly rejected my whiteness and embraced my lifelong queerness as my race. It’s also naturally one of my favorite articles, but it royally pissed off my mostly white readers on both sides of the aisle, from fuzzy feel-bad hipsters to that charming old paleo grouch, Paul Craig Roberts (still love you Paul, lighten up.) People on the left seemed to think I was shirking my responsibilities to White Guilt, while people on the right seemed to think I was unfairly vilifying their race. For me, it all goes back to my queerly idiosyncratic philosophy, one ironically governed by thinkers on both the left and the right.
I’ve long viewed race and other class structures like gender, sexuality, sanity, and even age as being largely social constructs. It was a hardcore communist named Noel Ignatiev who taught me that whiteness was a concept designed by and for racism and imperialism. It was invented to justify the racialization of the slave trade and to control the landless Europeans, who had previously been slaves themselves, with a petty sense of privilege over the empires black property. The reason why white people, especially self-proclaimed progressives, are so goddamn shitty when it comes to talking about race is that they’re left in the impossible position of defending an identity manufactured to control them and everyone else. Your average White Supremacist wouldn’t have even been considered white a century or two ago. My own ancestors who came to this country to escape an Anglo genocide called the Potato Famine weren’t considered white until they lost who they were and were properly assimilated into the puritan values of the same race of people they fled from.

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