When the story of Megan Williams (20) broke there was the usual universal horror. How could this happen in 2007? What kind of people would do such a thing?
“Well white people” I said to one of my liberal white colleagues. “Not so” she responded with agitated annoyance. “This is a case of serious deviant delinquency. The six abductors have an astonishing cumulative record of 108 criminal charges between them since 1991. This kind of thing is an aberration and it tells us more about class and impoverishment than it tells us about racism,” she concluded.
So poor white people are the agency of racism in America? “No I did not put race in there” she replied.
OK, so poor people, particularly the rural poor, are the agency of racism in America. And in this case, the rural poor just happen to be white then? (Ms. Williams was alledgedly kept in the shed to right of the picture.)
She looked at me flustered and angry. Then she told me about the dangers of imputing a race theory into acts of deviance and delinquency. “Most decent Americans, including white Americans, would not approve of assaulting an innocent woman in this way,” she said.
So I guess most Black people who see this as white racism would be wrong then?
My colleague did not respond directly. Instead she went on to tell me that blaming this case on racism “is not helpful.”
Helpful to whom I wondered?
Ms. Williams is certainly not being helped by this kind of race denialism (racism). She suffered through a week of sexual abuse, eating rat droppings, drinking from the toilet, being stabbed repeatedly, and being called a "nigger" by six white Americans.
What about denying that white racism explains this brutality is “helpful” to Ms. Williams? Will she feel better knowing that if she was white the same thing would have happened to her? Should her family feel safer now that the race of the brutes is obscured by their class and geographic location?
Who this is "helpful" to is obvious.
My colleague identifies as white but wants to believe that you can be white and not be racist, or part of the system of racism.
So this begs the question. Is a non-racist white identity possible? In other words, can whiteness evolve beyond the racism that established it in the first place?
Well my colleague would most likely think it is at least plausible. Being white allows her the kind of flexibility to abhor racism, deny its biological assumptions, and still self-identify as white in racism's hierarchy of privileges.
In Darwinist terms, we should believe that whites are evolving to an uber whiteness that is above racism. But evolution is, of course, not an even process. Some whites will devolve or at least remain behind.
Ms. Williams’ six abductors are of the not evolving kind. They are what Darwin would determine to be the ‘least fit’ in the species. And if one carries this logic further, it would seem that their ‘unfitness’ has removed them from the privilege of being white.
They have been worked out of the race. They are now just rural poor deviants and delinquents. Perhaps we should call them previously-white.
My colleague epitomizes the evolving white identity. She is white without the tedious baggage of racism. Her white identity is sophisticated. Not rural, not poor, and certainly not deviant and delinquent.
In her terms and condition, racism in America cannot just be regarded as an outcome of whiteness.
So I guess we will have to get used to the idea that racism is a previously-white thing. And worse, it may even be a Black thing and a ‘people of color’ thing.
And I am, therefore, obviously a racist for thinking that what happened to Ms. Williams is white racism.