Dear Fellow White Americans,
I think we need to drop the pretense, we need to break free from this code we’ve implicated ourselves in. Seriously y’all, we need to talk about the way we talk.
This code we tacitly keep our polite communications corralled in. The cipher where our “true” intentions are merely fleeting posts on the scrolls of our character, where we avoid discussing our salaries out of embarrassment our pay isn’t equal, where long discussions of injustice are eschewed less it compromise the overall positive work environment we are trying to cultivate.
We phrase our world through positive growth and action, every mention of the wrong and bad is just a stepping stone towards something ostensibly better. We never dilly-dally on the problems because we believe we can’t waste time re-litigating the past, we should be spending that time on the solutions. And so we immediately move on to crafting our band-aids of intentions before we grasp the depth of the mess we’ve wrought.
Optimism is central to our code, and our code causes us to forget that positivity has its limits. Hope is something to be nurtured and hope needs cheer to grow. But the soil of society cannot bear the fruit of truth, and optimism feels hopeless to the ignored when it lacks the patient candor necessary for an honest conversation.
We grew this Nation from a fledgling genocidal annexation into a world power. Yet we don’t talk about our deeds accurately because the truth doesn’t feel positive. It doesn’t feel good to acknowledge that we used SLAVE LABOR to build the foundation of the United States. It doesn’t foster an uplifting environment to admit that PRISON LABOR continues to form much of the manufacturing base of our economy. And so we cover it up because growth is necessary and good, it’s in our code, and therefore injustice is justified if it helps continue our profit.
Today we dare not pause to discuss the scars left by our compulsory growth. We’re happy to talk about the actions and intentions we believe will help, but we dare not confab about how we’ve built a bifurcated society that still reflects the inequity our ancestors set up. We’re still trying to endlessly flourish, what if we have another bad fiscal quarter because we stopped to consider the torment we’ve inflicted?
So we just don’t talk about it, or we imply that bygones should be bygones.
This veiled perfection infects every part of our culture. We confine ourselves to small talk and corporatism as the world melts around us. We dissimulate discomfort in ourselves because we wary to admit the malaise our development ideology creates for those stuck in its grind.
We all stick to our white people code because even a momentary lapse in our veil of positivity might bring the entire house of cards crumbling down. But bygones are not bygones, and our code has been broken. It’s been broken by the very people we dare not admit are hurt by it. Hell, I’m not sure we fully realize the code ourselves because we’ve been stuck in it since we learned to talk.
There has been plenty written about code switching, yet I never hear us talk about the code people of color are switching to. Our white people code is inferred by the reality that it needs to be switched to at all. Those who bear the scars we inflicted on their ancestors are acutely aware of what we still hide with our code of positivity and banality. Our oppression is less obvious today, the treachery is now hidden in the complex pages of jargon and legalese we govern with, but we still use the same everyday code of good intentions to make sure conversation doesn’t dwell on the injustice we’ve crafted.
Someone needs to say it, our positivity cypher sucks. It’s crushing and cruel to our black brothers and sisters and it’s leading us to disaster as a world. We built this world in our code, and I know the first rule of White People Code is “don’t know about white people code” but let’s cut the charade. We’re never gonna be able to merge our codes and co-exist equitably until we admit ours actually exists.
White people code is more than the words and phrases we use to cover up the plight of those powerless in the world we’ve built for ourselves. It makes it hard for us to talk about any uncomfortable feelings. We feel the need to phrase everything in the upbeat. Everything is about feeling better in the short-term; self-help is a national pastime. Our cumulative swell is measured quarterly or better, and we can’t let bad feelings hinder our success.
White people code doesn’t allow for sitting in discomfort, because we’ve never collectively had to. We’ve never had to feel for generations that our right to live was in question. We’ve never had to really consider what it would be like to sit in our home in fear as dozens of men on horses dressed as racist ghosts ride around with torches throwing bricks through our windows before they dragged our mother or father away to hang them from a tree until they are dead. We know it happened, and we feel horrible that people who looked like us did this. But do we really consider it?
Do we really consider what it would be like to fear for our lives every time we speak to a police officer? Do we consider what it would be like to feel our life was in danger merely by existing in this world? Do we consider the idea that the color of our skin may cause us to be STRANGLED TO DEATH in broad daylight? That protesting for our rights might lead to our abduction and MURDER? That the color of our skin will cause us to be LYNCHED IN CALIFORNIA in the 21st Century?
Do we stick to small talk and sarcasm because we truly enjoy it or do we stick to petty banter because it’s necessary to keep the curtain hung in the hallowed halls of Oz?
As we quip and meander from discussions of the weather to how much we drank last weekend we soothe our guilt by rushing to intention. We rush to post black squares on our Instagrams because we need to show that we aren’t truly racist. We rush to signal our intentions because the important step of ponderance isn’t comfortable.
We need to abandon our code of good intentions and hollow conversation if we are ever to actually improve. Rather than just talking about how we are analyzing and investigating and taking actions and explaining our intentions anytime uncomfortable truths bear their head, let’s be frank, let’s ponder where it hurts so we can help ameliorate the inequity we disregard.
White people code just like endless growth forever isn’t necessary. We cannot hope to have an equitable world until we acknowledge where our injustice has hidden for centuries. We need to listen for a moment. We need to hear the pain of our tacit silence through forced positivity causes.
I am not sure most of us even realize we’re talking in code, I think most of us just assume the way we talk to each other is the only way to talk. We have our profitable code-talking that ensures our economy keeps growing and just as it ignored the plight of those we enslaved for said growth, it still to this day glosses over the injustice endemic to our nation.
I think breaking the code starts with rising above our own inadequacies and being honest with each other. It starts with tearing down the walls of our pleasantries to acknowledge the hidden truth we created. Our instagram intentions mean nothing if we only discuss them until the collective conversation has returned to White People Code.
Jefferson Thomas Freeman