“I’m dreaming of a white Christmas.” ~ Bing Crosby
This is the hottest year on record, just like the one before this year, and the year before that year, and the year before that one, too. Perhaps our children will only ever know every year as the hottest year on record. Maybe it’ll be something they celebrate and representatives from the Guinness Book of Records will be on the scene to make the results official and everyone will cheer “New record!!” and confetti will fall from the air and people will drink and embrace and sing a round of Auld Lang Syne and only the very old will remember when we counted the Amazon or the MacKenzie river delta, or the rhinoceros, or the Siberian tiger, or the Great Barrier Reef, or the Blue Whale, as our acquaintances.
We went trick or treating and the kids didn’t have to wear snowsuits under their costumes or carry umbrellas to shield themselves from freezing rain. That’s unusual in this part of the world at the end of October. Ruby was a Kitty and Charlie was a Pikachu and everyone was polite and smiling and saying “thank you” and “you’re welcome” and “my, what a lovely costume” and “Happy Halloween!” The night was cool but not too cold and the lights from the houses were warm. Even the monsters were friendly and when things were a little bit scary, well, that was fun.
Just yesterday, I was picking up garbage outside of my work and I was wearing a t-shirt and the sun was shining and I wasn’t cold. That was on the 8th of November. Remember, remember the 8th of November…
Today is the 9th of November and the snow has yet to fall. But a white Christmas it will be, a white Christmas it already is, Christmas came early for white people.
For everyone else, a prolonged Halloween has gone from being a spectacle to being the horror that you wake up to every morning, and the monsters have stopped being friendly and the masks have stopped being masks, and it’s not fun being afraid anymore. It’s the hottest year on record but everything feels cold, cold, cold.
Kurt Cobain (from his suicide note): “I have… a daughter who reminds me too much of what i used to be, full of love and joy, kissing every person she meets because everyone is good and will do her no harm. And that terrifies me to the point to where I can barely function.”
I have a daughter, too (although she isn’t really mine, as if a daughter is a thing that can be owned). She is a little black cat who likes to parade around the house and pretend to do tricks and fetch things and say “meow,” in the faintest little high-pitched voice. I sit beside her bed every night and rub your back while she falls asleep.
“I’m going to close my eyes now,” she tells me, “but you can keep rubbing my back.”
“Okay,” I say.
And I do keep rubbing her back as she falls asleep and then I sit beside her a moment longer (if my legs haven’t already fallen asleep, if I’m not too caught up in other petty distractions) and I look at her tiny little hands and her tiny little face and her tiny little body and I sometimes think about all the big things in the world — the big men with big titles and big stories and big, big hands — and I think maybe I’ll just rub her back for a little while longer because what else can I do?
II. To Have Everything But Love
I’ve been trying to think about white people and what it might mean for me to love them given Malcolm X’s call for well-meaning white folks to go back to white communities and address the racism there (Taiaiake Alfred says something similar to well-intentioned settlers who are colonizing Turtle Island). I have tried to heed this call. Of course, Malcolm and Taiaiake don’t call me to love white people or settlers or white people qua white people or settlers qua settlers, but I find myself wanting to try to love them because otherwise I get too angry and hopeless and frustrated and I lash out and I alienate people and instead of being a bridge to another way for white people to be, I end up contributing to people retrenching themselves even deeper into the racist, colonial violence of their daily lives.
Plus, you know, I’m white. I can empathize with these people because I am one of them.
As I have been thinking about white people and their inability to love, and their powerful hatreds, and their fundamental violences, and as I have been thinking about what it mean mean to love them and what that might or might not accomplish, one particular point of comparison keeps surfacing in my thoughts. White people are like the children of the 1% — they receive all the most expensive and desirable presents at Christmas time (and they receive them in abundance) but what they don’t receive are parents who are attentive to them and their emotional needs. Instead of a secure attachments they get Bugattis. Instead of intimacy they get a docking space at Ibiza. Instead of love they get stuff. That’s white people — because we’ve got it all, the whole wide world, but we don’t have love. If we did, we wouldn’t be doing what we do. We wouldn’t be voting for Trump. But we are loveless and we voted for Trump.
But, here’s the problem: children who are deprived of love, who are never given a safe place to explore their emotions and fears and insecurities, and who have no secure attachments to develop their identity, their sense of meaning, and their idea of how they fit into the world, often never learn how to develop things like empathy. They end up being self-absorbed, narcissistic, hyper-sensitive, and very reactive to anything that sounds like criticism. Because they weren’t given a chance to develop as people — people with ethics, people with a sense of who they are, people who recognize others as people, who recognize themselves in other people, and who recognize other people in themselves. Instead, despite their growing bodies and bank accounts, they remained totally unsure of who they are and if they’re doing what they’re supposed to be doing, and where do they fit in and what really matters?
Instead of gaining these things, white people were given money and, along with money, power. Money and power can be used to create powerful distractions to try and repress feelings of uncertainty, insecurity, and lovelessness — just scroll through Rich Kids of Instagram for evidence of that. But wealth and power can also be used to strike at anyone and anything that triggers that sense of insecurity or that reminds me of how I felt as a child who was unloved. Power can be deployed as a force against anything that threatens or causes negative feelings or appears to want to pop the bubble I have built around myself. And what is this bubble? The belief that I am a good person and that it’s not my fault and that I’m the victim here. This belief is the survival strategy of a neglected child. But, as with most survival strategies, what works well to get you through a moment of crisis (or a place like prison, the streets, or childhood neglect), often works to hold you back once you move into a different environment. But if you’ve got all the money and all the power, like white people do, well, you’re going to have a hard time thinking you’re the one with the problem. Other people are the problem. Obviously.
Thus, kids who do not receive love — but who do receive all the things — tend not to develop any empathy for others, especially if those others are different than them.
Now, by making this analogy, I’m not asking for sympathy or pity for white folks. This isn’t a “woe is us” story. I’m not asking that black people or Indigenous people or other members of racialized populations just love white people more, as if that’s gonna change anything. Because it won’t. Kids who have lost the ability to empathize, who then go on to act abusively towards others, don’t usually get the ability back as adults. So I’m not asking people of colour to just try a little harder to love white folks. Love only gets us so far and with sociopathic narcissists who have all the money and power in the world, it’s probably not going to get us much further than a well-mannered line up into the showers full of people saying “please” and “thank you” and “my, what a beautiful costume” and “Happy Halloween!” Because, yeah, whether or not love was involved it was the explosives that took out Crematorium 4 in the Auschwitz uprising. Maybe people gave their lives in that struggle out of love for others, maybe they gave their lives out of despair, maybe they gave their lives out of rage, maybe they gave their lives because all that they had ever loved was murdered. Who knows? But, regardless of their motives, it was the explosives that slowed down the machinery of death.
So why do I want to love white people? Because the anger, hatred, and violence of white men is not to be trusted. And I am a white man. I need to learn more about sorrow and grief and longing and mourning. I need to learn more about love. I don’t love them because I think my love will change them. I love them because I am trying to change myself. If I am to work among white people (Malcolm X, presente!), this is my opportunity to learn these things. I am trying to learn. What else can I do?
III. Coming Together as Race Traitors
“It is time for us to come together as one united people.” ~ Donald Trump
In response to the Dakota Access Pipeline development, hundreds of nations and thousands of people, from Mayans to Mongolians, are gathering in solidarity with the Standing Rock Sioux. It is, indeed, time to come together as one united people. And this is what Indigenous peoples are doing. Traditional enemies are shaking hands, embracing, and tending to those wounded by pepper spray, rubber bullets, beanbags, and batons.
But over against the unity of the people, are the unity of big oil, big banks, and the big guns of the government and the police. Trump wants white people (“us”) to come together regardless of class or location or age or gender (and they did, they really did). I do not desire this unity. Unity with Standing Rock, yes, unity as one people under Trump, no. So, if I love white people, I do not wish to love them in a way that fosters this unity. I want to love as a race traitor. Now is not a time for the unity Trump desires, now is a time for treason. And so if you want to love, love treasonously. If you want to love white people, use that as a tool for fighting whiteness. If you want to love men, use that as a tool for fighting patriarchy (bell hooks, presente!). But don’t be fooled into thinking that love will change white people or will change men (sure, some people may change and that’s great, but most won’t until the structures themselves change). Love in order not to be changed into them but fight for change, especially structural change, by any means necessary.
Key to some of those structral changes is the recognition that people incapable of love, even if we want to love them or be kind to them, should not be in charge. White people should not be in charge. They should not have power over vulnerable people. They should not have militaries and police forces (if you can tell the difference) at their disposal. They should not be recognized as legitimate authorities.
(And, nota bene, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, when commenting on Jesus’ sermon on the mount, said that we love our enemies in order to turn our enemies into friends; but, at the end of the day, he concluded that a bomb was the only way to turn Hitler into a friend.)
Charlie is home sick today. He is laying beside me in bed while I write. I wrap my arm around him and kiss his fingers and he sighs a happy sigh and pulls my arm a little more tightly against him. We sit for awhile and then I go into the kitchen to cry because I love him and because of the world my people are giving him. Him, my beautiful blonde-haired, blue-eyed, boy.