Identity: White Individualism and Minority Collective

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Photo by Smit Patel on Unsplash

It’s hard to unpack our identities. It’s not something that comes fully formed from us and, for minorities, it’s even more challenging because a large chunk our identities are, oftentimes, given to us. For you, white people, you often have the luxury of self-discovery; whereas we, minorities, have more of the collective forced upon us. We are always put in groups in relation to our ethnicities, skin color and, of course, our relation to whiteness in this society. We are seen more for the “group” of minorities we are a part of and for the fact that we are not white, than for our individualism.

White Individualism

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White rarely has to identify as white because it is the default in this country. Their whiteness is ingrained in their upbringing, in capitalism, in education and in the government. To even identify someone as “white” can bring an onslaught of white fragility, claims of reverse racism and anger. The reason they are upset is thanks to this default. Society makes white the standard while everything else is an offshoot.

So white children growing up have ample time to discover their individuality and what makes them unique. They are not only told to “be themselves”, but are given the room to be.

You are told you “deserve” certain things in life. But you are never told truthfully why you “deserve” or why you’ll most likely get it. Deserve is usually equated with being white. You are heard, you get the job interview, you get the promotion, you can be forgiven, you are believed. While it may be correct that hard work and education got you the job; it’s also correct that being white got you the job. It can be both. For every “hard-working” white who gets a job, there are a slew of “extremely hard-working” minorities who are overlooked so you get that job or promotion.

When there are shootings with a white gunman, they are a viewed as a “lone gunman” or they “had a hard life” or they’ve experienced trauma. They are individually responsible for their horrific acts and are sympathized with by white society because they “snapped”.

So for white people in this society, on job interviews, in schools, in stores, you are judged by your character alone.

Minority Collective

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Conversely, when a minority like a black student is disciplined, it is not only their actions taken into account, but the actions of all the black students that have come before them and discipline is given based off all black students’ behavior instead of the individual. We are disciplined to “prevent” future behavior.

In education, we aren’t told we are learning white history, just history. We aren’t told we are listening to white music or watching white films, they are just music and films. Anything created from a minority or about minorities is automatically “othered” to separate it.

In the workplace, if we mess up the likelihood of them hiring another minority decreases because they “don’t want the problem”. For minorities it’s basically, “well, we tried. It didn’t work out so let’s go back to what works.” When a white person is fired it’s “wow, that [white] person was awful. Let’s find another [white person].”

When an immigrant commits a violent act, the entirety of immigrants are denigrated and called “animals”. A minority mass shooter is also labeled an “animal” or a “terrorist”. You see this language from the president, Republicans, white people and the news, that labels minority criminals and gunman, in order to collectively dehumanize an entire group.

Even when we try to break free, we are always reminded that we are part of a group. From white people telling us how much they love rap rather than asking us what our musical tastes are, to telling us they’re surprised at how articulate we are, to blatantly following us in stores or stopping us to search our bags in subway stations — we can never be just an individual.

White Individualism vs. Minority Collective

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A prime example in the world of white individualism vs. minority collective is with restaurants and ordering food. There was a recent tweet (there are many others) where a restaurant (Chipotle) asked black customers to pay before they would make their order. Their reasoning was they “looked like” some people who had ordered before and didn’t pay.

My own experience with this was while attending college. My friends and I would take turns ordering from the restaurant across the street from our campus and we would split the food. We’ve done it numerous times. Then one day when I ordered, paid by card, and they delivered the food, they said I had to write and sign an extra sheet because of a “new policy”. I was annoyed but understood.

However, the next time when my friend ordered food (and paid by card) they did not have that paper for her. When I ordered again, the “new policy” paper was there for me to sign. By then I was angry and called and asked what was going on. They said they were ripped off by a hispanic who lives in the projects so that was why my Puerto Rican name required me to sign an extra sheet. We all stopped ordering from them after that.

Now, white people do this too, but there has yet to be a case of a restaurant demanding all white people pay before they will make an order. When a policy is changed because of a white person, it will be changed for everyone and it will somehow always negatively impact those who aren’t white to a higher extent.

It’s challenging for minorities to live as individuals because we are constantly reminded that we are in “X” category and the actions/behavior we exhibit, particularly the negative ones, will be used to judge and label the whole. Our character and the way we conduct ourselves is rarely a sole factor. It is viewed in relation to the minorities that came before us and stood where we currently stand.

Changing Tide

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Unfortunately for you, this dynamic is slowly changing. It’s not only minorities who are being judged as a collective. Thanks to election numbers, mass shooters, white nationalists/militia groups you — white people — are now being looked at as a collective. Statements about white people with “some” or “most” before them is diminishing.

First, welcome. Second, it doesn’t feel good, does it? Arguably, based off these numbers, there is reasons for lumping white people into a collective.

For the 2016 elections, basically about 38% of whites voted to further destroy minorities so their own privilege would be protected. Numbers show about 57% of rapists are white and about 58% of serial killers are white. Out of 953 hate groups close to 700 are white nationalist, anti-lgbt, anti-muslim, neo-nazis, etc. Black nationalism, which is hate toward white people, is on the rise as well (around 200), and is directly related to the increase in racist brutality witnessed on the news, on social media, our justice system and our government representatives.

As for mass shooters, they are mostly male — and there should be a discussion about this toxic and violent behavior men exhibit, especially since the US population is close to 50/50 for male and female and yet almost all mass shootings are done by men, as well as better gun laws to ensure these weapons don’t end up in the wrong hands — but the majority is also white. White privilege and male privilege factor into these numbers. That sense of entitlement, and subsequent rage when their demand isn’t met, is directly connected to their privilege.

Who Is To Blame?

Put succinctly — it’s your fault.

Because you made it about race in this country. Most of us learn the racial dynamics and how we are viewed as a representative for our minority group long before our parents may realize they need to have that “talk” with us.

This would not exist had white people not created it, especially in such a pervasive and all-encompassing fashion, and were you not still perpetuating it from microaggressions to gaslighting to dog whistles to blatant racism.

You make the problem hard to identify and claim we are the ones who are mistaken and we are the ones who are sensitive, while you are the ones who are misunderstood and you are the ones who never intended it to be taken that way. Now, you’re reaping effects of it.

You make it clear on the news, on social media and in society that we are judged collectively, while you are judged individually, and now feels it’s unfair when we group you.

In essence, you create the monster at every conceivable turn, and yet have the stones to cry “Monster!”.

Written by

Multi-ethnic creative non-binary. Spouts nonsense that occasionally makes sense. she/her/they/them

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