On the John
Originally published in the Indiana Daily Student on November 6, 2001
What does it mean to be white in America?
It means that you only have to think about race if you choose to. It means that you can live your whole life without looking at any black-white conflicts. You don’t even have to know what it means to be white, because you probably don’t feel a connection to a white community. I certainly don’t. I don’t feel a calling to any particular white culture, or white traditions. My Judaism, (which I don’t subscribe to as a religion), is part of my identity because of my home life growing up, but my whiteness? I feel no pull towards a white identity, which is in many ways what the white identity is all about. I’m not even comfortable talking about “the white race,” because the only people who use that term are White Supremacists.
It means that because of the predominantly white media, my popular culture will never be referred to as “white.” Filmmakers like Martin Scorsese and Kevin Smith are as much “white filmmakers” as Spike Lee and John Singleton are “black filmmakers.” But Scorsese and Smith will never have that label placed upon them.
Being white means that even though I am a fun-loving kid who hates to work and is by all accounts quite lazy, I will have opportunities of financial stability and prosperity placed in front of me. With my work ethic, if I were a minority I probably wouldn’t have made it into college.
What does it mean to be an American in our species?
It means that you are surrounded by two oceans and two countries, all of which help to separate you from the problems of the rest of the world. It means that someone can make millions of dollars in the entertainment industry while others make $40,000 a year teaching kids to read while still others make minimum wage working sixty hour weeks to barely feed a family. It means that while 12.7% of Americans live below the poverty line and 4% are unemployed (according to year 2000 estimates), those numbers are as high as 70% and 50% in other countries around the world.
Living in America means that you have the power to elect the world’s most powerful man every four years. It means that instead of searching for the land of opportunity, you are living in it. Living in America allows you to be out of touch with the rest of the world, if you want to. Since September 11th, I’ve learned about entire countries I didn’t even know existed.
What does it mean to be a human on Earth?
It means that you give yourself supreme authority over all other beings on this planet. It means that you can kill animals, nature, and the environment without facing any severe penalties. It means that you can live your life without regards to all other species, and in many cases with little regard to your own.
I wonder what it means to be an Earthling in a nine-planet solar system?
Copyright jm silverstein, 2001