When Orlando happened, a large group of my friends fell into public shock and grief. Then last week, another group of friends fell into public shock and grief when Alton Sterling and Philando Castile were murdered.
To call it anything else is to lie…it was murder.
And these acts, along with watching my friends who felt whatever false sense of security was robbed from them, struggling as they moved through life, wondering if they might be next – struck me how oppressive this whole system really is.
Because I don’t know. I don’t. The closest I get is my experience as a trauma victim, and even then, it would have to be the moments when my thoughts were their worst. In public spaces, surrounded by men, much bigger and stronger than me, who didn’t see me as a person, watching me walk, digesting me with their eyes – meanwhile I struggled to put a smile on my face (or at least keep it neutral) while I wandered through. That’s the closest I can get to that feeling, and while there were decades when I didn’t feel safe anywhere at any time, it’s not the same.
I’m still white.
That still gives me a modicum of personhood, despite my uterus. It still gives me an island of safety.
Should white be vanilla?
Whites don’t talk about race – especially whiteness and how it’s maintained. I don’t think I ever talked about it with white friends, but the fact of the matter is, most of my white friends married white. Now they have little white babies (I am one of them.).
I read a Pew Study recently that determined whites are statistically more likely to pair with other whites, over other groups who tend to mix. And when considering the accumulated social advantage, it makes sense. Being in an interracial relationship, even in 2016 requires straddling a line, and talking about difference. And polite whites don’t talk about race.
It makes sense that whites would consolidate their whiteness because parents – at least subconsciously – want to pass advantage to their children.
Some do it consciously, but many do it subconsciously.
And this is on top of the centuries of cultural messages for everyone to “stick to their kind” as if skin color somehow separated us into classes and we needed to maintain class purity – race purity.
But of course, skin does separate us into classes.
We’ve done it for millennia across the world. It was codified in texts like the Manu Smriti and even the US Constitution. Pretending like it’s not this way is a disservice to everyone harmed by the system, belittling their experiences and dehumanizing their lives.
I, for one, can’t do that.
The Human Dominance Hierarchy
When I was writing my werewolf novels, I researched social structure and learned a lot about how other social species. All social species create dominance hierarchies. These structures maintain order of the group. Every creature has a role, which is clearly defined, and every role is needed.
There is upward and downward mobility, but the structure holds. To engage in moving from one place to another in the structure requires rituals (yes, even with animals). The structure is what keeps packs together.
Humans are social animals. We have dominance hierarchies. To deny this, to deny we have structures and defined roles is fetal. They exist, and it is best to understand how they function if we want to make changes.
Our society is complicated because of food and language. The roles are not as explicitly stated as they might be in a wolf pack, but nonetheless, they exist. There are leaders. There are seconds. There are subordinates that make sure everything runs as it should. There are those at the bottom, arguably the foundation for the whole structure. And some are groomed from birth to anticipate their roles.
People get attached to these roles. They get attached to social structures and order. They also get attached to false understandings of these things, especially when it comes to the top.
In wolf packs, the most difficult and consuming role is the alpha. It’s not a glory role – it takes extraordinary responsibility. The alpha’s job is to make sure every pack member is taken care of. It’s a servant role.
The problem in humanity is when people at the top of the hierarchy do not understand how the hierarchy is intended to work – when they want to be “alphas” but they do not embrace the responsibilities of the role, letting people go without adequate care or respect.
This is our present state.
Generally people don’t mind the dominance hierarchy. Most people like someone in charge. Most people like to have their roles clearly defined. And when people are treated with respect and their needs are filled (anything from food and shelter, to self-actualization) we do fine.
The problem is when the dominance hierarchy is based on something arbitrary. This necessarily places some in power who have no interest in respecting and filling the needs of all.
We’re never getting rid of the hierarchy. It’s there. It’s part of the fabric of social creatures. We can, however, redesign it. But what would be involved in redesigning this thing?
The Great Redesign
There are many parts to redesigning something as all-encompassing as a dominance hierarchy. But let’s have a thought experiment – how would we determine social roles?
Merit may be a good basis for placing people, but how do we make sure we’re measuring merit effectively? We’d have to agree that a set group of attributes were ideal for different roles. Such things develop and change over time. Could we allow our hierarchy to be fluid? Can it be called fluid for someone to move from one role to another within a class, never leaving the class?
Context is essential. We can’t make flash judgments on people without knowing context, and inevitably, there is always more we don’t know. Where do we start? Where do we end? Who gets to choose?
These are the questions we need to answer, and quickly, because as we deliberate, people are dying. People are dying.
I know how I would choose these things, but it’s not widely accepted as a way of knowing – I would go with my gut. I would go with intuition. I would let love be my guide. But practically, I don’t know if this can really be applied in such a far-reaching way.
And that’s the whole problem. There are no easy answers to these questions. But there are some things we can do immediately as we continue to wrestle.
It’s been said this sick dominance hierarchy is a white problem – the great redesign can only happen when whites have “the great race conversation” we’ve been putting off for ages. They say that safety, security, equality, and fairness can only happen when advantage is freely given up.
But that sounds like a bad thing. That sounds like loss.
I want to reframe this way of thinking – because this assumes the scenario is win-lose.
If we frame this as win-lose, change will never happen. Why would anyone willingly give up advantage if it means they lose? That’s a ridiculous thing. Only someone crazy would do such a thing.
So let’s think about it differently. What does equality and respect of all people’s needs and rights do for the ruling class? What does taking care of people’s needs, no matter what, do?
It does two key things:
Security is assured when everyone gets everything they need. No one rocks the boat because they are happy and have everything they desire. Time and again, this has proven to be the best strategy for maintaining societal stability. We avoid social unrest. We avoid many physical, mental, and emotional illnesses in the wider population, saving us not only from physical conflict, but millions upon millions of dollars in expense.
We remove the “spoiled child syndrome.” Anyone who has encountered a spoiled child, a truly spoiled child, knows they are ruined for life. It is a disservice to them and everyone around them. It does psychological damage. We have an entire class of people suffering from this syndrome, and it needs to be cured. It is unhealthy, exacting a toll on those within it (often unrecognized and undiagnosed) as well as those without. It is a sickness, and we need to take emergency action to purge this sickness from the hearts and minds of humanity.
There are many things that would need to happen in order to make this possible. I don’t know what they all are. I can imagine, and extrapolate, but first and foremost, we white people need to accept a simple truth about the present state of things: This “advantage” isn’t actually helping us. It hurts us. The longer it goes on, the worse it gets.
If we really want our friends and neighbors to be safe, secure, and have all the opportunities they deserve, we need to re-examine ourselves. We need to have the great race conversation we’ve been putting off for ages. We need to acknowledge reality. Only then can we change it.
What do you think about all this? Any suggestions for making things better? Leave a comment below!
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