Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Don't Call Me White


I was never much of a NoFx fan back in the day, but I always dug this song and in light of my blog posts about Waitangi Day and race relations in New Zealand I found myself singing this song, out of the blue after years of not even hearing it...

I made a note on my writing board - where I write all my random ideas for books, e-books and articles the simple words "Don't Call me White!"

And I don't actually mind being called white...I mean it's just a simple descriptive value right?
But the funny thing is I've never actually considered myself to be 'white'. Even as a little kid I never thought of myself as white, because it never occurred to me to think of myself as anything - even in spite of societal and cultural conditioning to do just that. Of course I didn't consider myself 'black' for quite obvious reasons, and of course if I had claim to that it would merely be another label.
Now when I think about it there is still a strange resistance from deep within to labeling myself as anything.

A compounding factor is that I don't really know my family heritage. The only things I do know are that my paternal Great-Great Grandfather came across from England to Aoteroa and my Mum was born in England. What makes up 'me' is an unknown picture of potentials and family myth.
On my Mother's side we are probably at least in part Romani and/or Spanish and on my Father's we have a family lineage stretching back to Brittany and Normandy by way of England and Ireland and of course the ubiquitous other Romano-Celtic, Anglo-Saxon blend that makes up the history of the British Isles. And what happened here in Aoteroa is somewhat of a mystery too, given that the family tree has more holes than a piece of Swiss cheese...

And I'm guessing a lot of Kiwis are in the same boat - in fact many people born into settler families in countries like NZ, Australia and Canada may have the same lack of firm ties to, and community with, any particular ethnic groups.

I have often wondered if this is one of the reasons many 'white' people in these countries can feel a little baseless. They don't feel like they belong in countries that they know they have lineage from, and yet the only country they know, they may on some level feel as if it is not quite 'theirs' either.
They are trapped in the morphology of being part of a settler culture (and may be still marked as an outsider by some) in spite of the place where they stand being the only place that they truly feel they belong. I remember as a child telling a teacher in a Maori studies class that although I may be considered Pakeha I felt as if I was drawn from the depths of the very earth of this land we call Aotearoa.
But in spite of this I have traveled and wandered like a leaf drifting over foreign soil, blown by a wind fueled by doubt and frustration that would only be exhausted by the search itself.

And this - my hybridity, my mongrel, my path, my wanderings; have led me to feel like a universal everyman. And one still not comfortable with the label 'white'.

There surely must come a time when these labels cease to have the same level of meaning and identification (by self and others).
For the time being there is work to be done, because where there is still racism and xenophobia the labels themselves do have a need. But as we become, more and more a greater tribe of humanity, I for one hope that perhaps we'll no longer be white, black or brown as an identifier of who we are.

*