Technically there are no White people who look the color White. There are no Black people either who look the color Black.
But there is a story of Black and White people. One of the greatest stories ever told. A story originating in Europe. Brought over to the land we now call the United States of America. The European settlers started living this story.
In this hard-to-believe story, a turbaned and bearded man with heritage from India is labeled in the late 20th century as White.
This bizarre fantastical story became the foundation for a new nation. The lighter-skinned settlers were labeled as White. White man was seen as the most refined human being.
Ships full of African people labeled as Black were forcibly brought to the Americas as slave labor. They were not seen as full humans in this story. This made it easier to keep enslaving, torturing and raping them and their descendants.
The founding fathers of the United States of America who crafted the principles this nation is founded on- equality of men with access to fundamental rights- were all White men, some themselves slave owners.
A civil war was fought in the 1860s over freeing enslaved Black people. As the war progressed, this race story was edited so that politicians and the general White populace would begin to learn how to view Black people as full humans.
After the war, the free Black people could not own land in most parts of the nation. A forced displacement of Black people continued well into the 20th century. Highways and factories in cities from north to the south were built through Black neighborhoods, razing down the few places Black people were allowed by law to own property.
It was only in the 1960s that Black people earned the right to vote after decades-long movements for justice, equality and civil rights.
We have come a long way from the devastating pain and suffering inflicted by the origins of this great American story. But we have a long way to go. The majority of Americans still identify themselves as White or Black. Our entire political, social and civic infrastructure remains organized around this story.
This story is so ingrained in our body politic that even this turban-and beard- donning American, who has been stereotyped all his life as the ‘other’ by fellow Americans, stumbles on the powerful spell of this saga. I keep seeing Black and White people with their associated stereotypical histories. The pervasive ideas about most Black people being impoverished, violent and lacking education are stereotypes that are often confused as character traits rather than an intended cause of this story.
The biased narrative of blackness is something I have learned all my life. I failed to recognize it until well into adulthood. I had to unlearn this black and white story by learning the true story behind this story. I am not done with unlearning. Some days my memory of the old story clouds my judgement.
It is hard to extricate this story of race from our body and brain. It is embedded deeply in our soul. Forgetting this story is not how we will become a better version of who we are. To genuinely and thoroughly move past the great tragedy of this black and white story we first have to acknowledge the full extent of this story.
It will be painful at times. We will feel exposed and vulnerable. It will be our collective grief and therapy. For many Americans who associate with the white identity there will be moments of shame and guilt.
White Americans today are not the villains of this story but the beneficiaries and victims of the violence this story has inflicted on black people.
Beneficiaries because their white ancestors did not get enslaved, raped and pillaged for centuries; rather they benefited from, at worst perpetuated the enslavement of black people who experienced all this violence.
Victims because a large part of their white heritage is founded on a fiction of skin color. They will have to relearn their past which will invariably recreate a new identity.
America achieved its financial and military greatness in large part on the foundation of this black and white story with the ensuing slave labor of black people.
America’s future greatness depends on whether we wrestle to keep the race story alive by denying its origins or carve a new story by embracing its origins.