Katrina Browne on being “White in America”

Posted December 17th, 2012 by
Category: Race and Ethnicity Tags: , , , ,

HuffPost Live's "White in America?"Katrina Browne, our founder, appeared earlier today on a roundtable at the Huffington Post’s “HuffPost Live.” The topic was “White in America?“, inspired by a blogger’s recent call for CNN to complement its “Black in America” series with a look at what it means to be white in our society today.

I’m having one of those: “I wish I had said” moments.  I’m thinking about what I would have said more bluntly than I did, to tie together: Susan Bodnar talking about poor/working class whites not getting enough love (my word) in our culture, as well as talking about their racism; host Alicia Menendez asking why they aren’t covered much on TV; and then Morley Winograd talking about the film Lincoln showing how far we’ve come as a society.

I half-said what I wanted on the show at that point; here’s the more I’d say:

A big shout out to my ‘redneck’ brothers and sisters!  President Lincoln actually had a shamefully hard time getting the Emancipation Proclamation passed because most NON-southern members of Congress (the whole Congress at that point) were not on board.  Which puts a lie to the myth of northern heroism.  All slavery is blamed on white southerners, and all racism up to the present day too.  We conjure images of wealthy plantation owners in the past, but today, of poor white men – rednecks – who have Confederate flags in their pick-ups and use the “n-word” without apology.  And thus we don’t empathize with at least that southern branch of “poor white trash.”

Knowing what I know about the historic heavy duty racism of the northern states, not to mention the Midwest and the West—the ways they all profited from slavery and on-going discrimination—and knowing that many poor white southerners are still poor through multiple generations, I think there’s re-organizing many of us need to do in our brains, and then some compassion needs to be extended to all who suffer from the ills of economic hardship and lack of resources, whatever racial or ethnic group they belong to. Not to defend the overt racism, but consider the white pot and the white kettle!

Also: my last line shoulda been: Yes! Please! CNN, take up the call: produce a “White in America” series!

4 Responses to “Katrina Browne on being “White in America””

  1. Nancy M. Thurston Says:

    I recently discovered Oregon's Jim Crowe past. I've spent much of my life angry at my home state of Texas, and now know about that progressive Oregon's past and present racism. You are right on that racism is far more pervasive than our geographical or class stereotypes indicate.

  2. James DeWolf Perry Says:

    Thank you for your comment, Nancy. We've consistently found that one of the most shocking parts of our message, for people across the country, has been learning that the North, Midwest, and West were deeply implicated in slavery and racism. The Civil War encouraged a mythology that suggested the North had little to do with slavery, and the Midwest and West virtually nothing at all, while the South practiced slavery and, later, resisted emancipation with Jim Crow laws.

    In fact, as you've discovered, Jim Crow laws and practices could be found across the country, between the Civil War and the civil rights era. This isn't truly surprising, as slavery was once widespread in the northeastern United States, and could certainly be found in the Midwest and the West. More importantly, until the Civil War, the economies of all of these regions were heavily dependent upon southern slavery, and the public was well aware of the connection between slavery and their own prosperity.

    This can be a very discouraging message for many people. However, it can also be liberating: for white southerners who have long borne the burden of this history alone; for white people elsewhere who have suspected the truth or seen signs of racial prejudice they could not understand; and for black Americans, many of whom have long sought acknowledgement of this history.

  3. Nancy M. Thurston Says:

    For those who have long known that racism was alive and well around the country and across the years, hearing this truth acknowledged is long overdue. For those of us who hadn't noticed, waking up to the facts is a critical part of our being able to move forward with clarity and gives us the possibility of aligning our deepest values with our actions. Only then are sustainable partnerships possible.

  4. Holly Fulton Says:

    Thanks, Nancy and James for these important words. I am reminded of my experiences with some people's reactions to my decision to move to the West coast, "Why are you going there? Shouldn't you continue your work back here where the history is and it's needed?" with the assumption that California doesn't need this work. I responded with, "You think there isn't a need for this kind of awareness on the West coast then?" It's needed everywhere, as we learn all this history, bit by bit. Yes indeed.

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