On Having Whiteness - Donald Moss, 2021
Patty lives in Brentwood, in a five bedroom home in the lower hills below the Getty museum. She is a high powered advertising executive. She does yoga. She is gluten-free. She lives as a minimalist. She is not religious but is spiritual. She shops at Whole Foods. She drives a Tesla. She is married to a plastic surgeon. She recently was seen on Instagram holding up a sign that said “Environmental Racism - it’s time for action.”
After suffering through four years of Trump, the worst four years of her entire life where, every day was a misery of the most recent terrible thing Trump did or said, after being on lockdown, the double masks, Instacart, the misery of no screenings or movie theaters or in person yoga classes, finally she had Joe Biden but especially Kamala Harris in the White House. The first woman of color, WOW!
When the Black Lives Matter protests erupted on the street, Patty was one of the strongest voices advocating for being a “good ally.” She set out to lecture her other privileged white friends who kept telling her there was no racism or white supremacy. She furiously sends out subtweets about them: “how can I teach people about systemic racism if they are pretending it doesn’t exist?” This causes Patty deep pain.
So she joined with other like-minded people instead, working on pushing antiracism programs in their place of employment, at their yoga studio, at Gelson’s, at Tesla. Anywhere she put her money, she wanted them to know that they were participating in racism. And they needed to be antiracist. To commit to it. She knew that money talked. And she had it. Lots of it. Movie studios, social media platforms. She was well connected and finally had a good reason to feel good about that. She could reach people. She could change the world.
She could understand why some had a problem with what she spent her days doing - but honestly, everyone on Facebook applauded her. Who was complaining? Bitter Trump supporters. The occasional deplatformed person. And anyway, that’s just typical parasitic White Supremacy. They just can’t see it but Patty sees it everywhere.
Traffic is racism. 31 flavors is racism. The beach is racism. Human sexuality is racism. Her marriage is racism. She is racism. And every day, after her soul searching she would be infused with rage and take to her keyboard to tap out a furious take on Facebook that she knew would give her hundreds of likes. It would be shared in all of her Facebook groups and every time it did there would be that ‘ding’ in her brain that she has accomplished something. Whiteness, she knew, had to be SCRUBBED out of her, and everyone else, like a bloodstain.
Patty is mindful of her whiteness every time she leaves her house. Driving, walking down the sidewalk, whatever she buys. If she sees a person of color she smiles as broadly as she can and she always waits for them to walk through the door before her because she knows it’s a micro-aggression otherwise. Sometimes they give her kind of a strange look but she knows that’s because SHE is surprising them. They expect her to be a Karen and to push them aside when both of them arrive at the door at the same time. But she waits. And she smiles. Big enough that they can tell she’s smiling OVER her mask. Only one person has ever asked, “are you okay?”
Her children attend an extremely expensive school in Brentwood. She is one of the parents that encouraged them to separate the kids. Children of color in one room and white children in another room until such time as the children of color felt safe around the white children. Every day was another exploration into that feeling of safety. Well, that was before lockdown. Now the kids are not at school. They still do separate zoom calls during the separation times. Hopefully they will be integrated soon with a little more therapy for the white children still to come.
Patty participated in an antiracist training session, all the parents had to, wherein they all came clean about their daily micro-aggressions. Example: “Today I called customer service for my cable. I was kept on hold for an hour. I got mildly angry with the person on the other line. And I thought, that is a person of color and then I thought, that is a racist thought.” It was cathartic. It was revolutionary. Patty and her friends were transforming America one micro-aggression at a time.
Her son Leonard asked her one day, “Is me being white the only thing that matters about me?”
“Of course not sweetie,” she’d answered back. But you being white is a problem for everyone else who isn’t white so it’s important for you to understand that as you become an adult. So you can be better. Treat people better.”
“I hate being white,” he said.
“I know, honey. It’s a terrible thing. It really is. But we’re working on being better. On being ANTI white because whiteness is racism. Dr. Moss told me that. When you’re old enough you can start seeing him too.
She always felt better after atoning for her whiteness. She didn’t really need to donate any money - her husband would not let her anyway. After all, THIS was about WHAT was inside her, and her skin color, not the problems other people are actually having. Once she is fixed, once her parasitic whiteness is reckoned with, that will set the universe back on track. And there won’t be any racism or crime or poverty or anything like that.
Today’s epic Facebook post as follows:
“My son’s school has decided not to read the classics in their literature course. Instead it will be hand selected works that mirror the community more inclusively. Yes our community is very rich and very white but we see it as more of a global community. Like the kids in Baltimore share with us the need to purge whiteness from our literature. It will help them too. Eventually. We’ve had enough of white male worship, I think. Every famous book is by a white man. Enough! It should be a very interesting school year! I’m spending a lot of time doing some serious work on myself right now. I hope all of you are doing the same. We have to be better. We have to DO better. Our kids need and deserve a better world.”
Patty breathed. She sat at her desk and leaned back and stared at her poster of Maya Angelou with the following quote, “What you're supposed to do when you don't like a thing is change it. If you can't change it, change the way you think about it. Don't complain.”
Then, Patty checked the like count on Facebook. 54 already! Wow. But then a comment came onto her post that stood out. Like a tick on the neck of her Portuguese Water Dog sucking itself to the size of a walnut. It said:
“What a load of self-serving garbage.”
Her heart pounded in her chest. The blood pulsated in her temples. Patty stared at this person’s name. She clicks on his profile. Jake Blatke. From Columbia University. Married, no. Kids, no. Good looking? No photo. Racist? Definitely. She thought about giving him Donald Moss’ phone number. What he needed was WHITENESS THERAPY. He needed to be sat down and given a strong talking to. No, not that. He needed to have his whiteness confronted and then stripped away little by little so that his every waking day isn’t consumed by his systemic racism. Who knows how much harm he does every single day he goes outside?
She thought about writing him but did what Dr. Donald Moss told her to do: take a deep breath, wait 30 minutes and if she still felt like confronting him she could do it then.
30 minutes was just long enough to take a drive down San Vicente and look at the setting sun. How lucky she was to live here, right up against the Pacific Ocean. What a beautiful coastline California has. The homeless don’t make it up as far as where she lives but they have become much more prevalent. Patty signed the petition to give them permanent camped housing down in Venice. That was the right thing to do, she knew it.
She tried to look at the beautiful beach and not see racism - the racist white beach full of racist white people. And comfortably sitting in her racist Tesla she cried. She cried because she feels helpless against all of the benefits she’s had for her whole life just for being white. She could give it all away. She could force her husband to sell the house, give it to ten or so needly families in Chicago or Minneapolis. She could donate ten million dollars right now to an inner city elementary school. Or she could drive home, crack open a bottle of Pinot and go back on Facebook.
Driving back home she could see the sun at last sinking onto the horizon and the sky turning to twilight. There weren’t many people outside. The restaurants were all empty. She missed restaurants. She missed EXPENSIVE restaurants. Not delivery. Not take-out. It was all getting a little … cramped.
She eased her Tesla into the driveway and hurried inside, just as her Apple watch dinged 30 minutes had passed. Was she still mad enough to write back to that guy on Facebook?
Once inside she found the wine or it found her. A big gulp that relaxed her immediately. She was drinking WHITE wine and that suddenly felt like it was weird? White wine? But that was too much to contend with right now. She turned on her MacBook and typed into the search bar: Jake Blatke.
She thought about what she wanted to say as the words pinged around in her brain. Finally she landed with: “You know, I’m sure you think you’re witty and everything but your comment makes you look like a racist. I just wanted you to know that.”
She waited a few minutes and then saw he was formulating a response. His response:
A minute later a picture arrived. It was him and his son. She knew him. His son went to the same school as her son Leonard. They were both black. Her face drained of color. Her palms began to sweat. She remembered suddenly that he was the one who sent around the letter objecting to Critical Race Theory at her school, along with four other dads all of whom were white. She didn’t remember him by name. Jake Blatke - did that sound white or black? It wasn’t her fault. It wasn’t a…
“Oh I’m so sorry!” She typed back, frazzled.
“I’m just messing with you,” he typed back. “That isn’t really me. I just wanted to freak you out.”
Then she was angry. Jake Blatke was one of the dads who wrote that letter but he was WHITE and sent a picture of the other dad. He was appropriating a black man for humor. That was really racist. This could get him kicked out of their school. He was evil. Pure evil. Whiteness indeed was a parasite. Incurable.
“I’m going to tell the headmaster,” she typed back.
“HeadMASTER? Didn’t you change that to something else?”
“I’m going to tell the Head Person.”
“Lol. Go ahead. I pulled my kid out of that cult last week. You wouldn’t know that because all you do is rant on Facebook.”
“All I do is stop people like YOU from polluting the minds of our children,” she typed.
All of the afterglow from her cold wine, her trip to the beach, her deep breathing was GONE. This encounter was like a gut punch no amount of wine could cure, red or WHITE.
As he was starting to type back she decided she was done. “I’m blocking you,” Patty wrote and with that, he was gone from her life forever.
Patty sat there as she sometimes did and allowed herself a few minutes of free thinking about everything. She took another big gulp of wine and finished the glass. This was going to be a long night of more wine and Facebook.
She thought about that letter from the other parents. She wondered if all of this was doing real harm to her kids. Was it? Her younger son Colton asked her one time out of the blue, “mom, what is my culture?” "She knew the answer but she could not tell him the answer because that is racist. She could not say “whiteness is your culture” because by now he very well knew that whiteness was a parasite. So instead she said, “your dad is Jewish and I am French and German and so we’re just sort of … rich white privileged with much to learn. That’s what you can say to people when they ask you.”
She remembered her son’s tormented look. She felt it somewhere too. That wasn’t right. What WAS her culture? She didn’t know anymore. She still felt stung from her Facebook exchange and needed to put it all out of her mind. We’re just living through the extraordinary moment of racial reckoning. We need to hold on, stay strapped in and make it through intact.
“I am only here to help,” she said out loud. “I am only here to help.”