Knowledge of Self

Invention of the White Race Theodore W. Allen (1919-2005) told me where white people come from. We like to think we know who we are, and indeed many things about ourselves we can easily define: male, muslim, American. But I am white and I could not explain to myself what that meant. Any meaning I set was either too narrow, too broad, or defined by negation. The Invention of the White Race, newly republished in 2012, makes plain the nature and origins of whiteness over 2-volumes and 700 pages. Reader, I never read it. But on the internet is a synopsis written by Allen himself that condenses his argument down to a mere 146 paragraphs, and I read that. It was mindblowing. I summarize Allen’s summary:

  1. White People as a term, concept,  or social grouping did not exist in Europe before the 1600s. The English already practiced a system of severe race-based oppression against the Irish, only possible because they were not together a People called White.
  2. Slavery in the 1500s and 1600s was not chattel slavery but various forms of indentured servitude that affected both European- and African-origin peoples.
  3. European and African slaves fraternized extensively in this period, and African freedmen enjoyed social mobility on par with freed Europeans, such as it was.
  4. An armed rebellion of hundreds of European and African slaves and recently freed men burned down Jamestown in Bacon’s Rebellion of 1676.
  5. In response to the prospect of unrest and rebellion among lower-class Europeans and Africans, colonial oligarchs enacted, consciously and with malice aforethought, a series of laws aimed at reducing Africans to hereditary slavery and granting immunity from enslavement to all Europeans, henceforth termed White People.
  6. By design, the invention of whiteness also deeply hurt the interests of poor whites by preventing them from making common cause with blacks and by psychologically allying them with their exploitative overlords, a situation that continues unaltered to the present day, cf. the Tea Party.

When the Nation of Islam said white people where created in a lab by evil black scientists, they were half right. White people where created in the American Colonies by evil white lawmakers.   There is so much more detail in Allen’s online summary: check it out if you don’t believe me.

Good News for Mixed Kids

Malaysia never stops changing. Controversial areas like race, religion, native privilege (bumiputera status), and national language are constantly in a state of flux. Most recently, when I registered the birth of my latest child, I discovered that the birth certificate itself had changed (for the second time), and that now the race of the child was explicitly stated on the birth cert. Prior to this, the race of the mother and father were stated, but not that of the child. I didn’t really know what that meant, but I figured it implied some latitude in determining the child’s race at some future time, like when he got his national Identity Card, for example. Instead, now, the child’s race is designated on the birth cert, AND the child takes the race of the father. Well that’s clear enough. Except wait. What race am I?

They call me Orang Putih over here, and I’m white back home (let’s not get into that again), but Lo! There is no Putih option. I didn’t even ask about Jewish. I tried to put American, which would be great if it would stop people from telling my son he’s an Englishman, but the counter clerk said that wasn’t an option either. So, my son and I, we’re Europeans now. It’s been a long 150 years from the Motherland, but finally, in Malaysia, I return to my roots and throw European offspring.

That’s fine really, if that’s what it has to be. But does it? Jordan MacVay, who is expecting another child, got on the telephone and tried to get some straight answers out of JPN, the National Registration Department. And it appeared he did, until the exceptions, the workarounds, and the contradictions started cropping up, as they always, invariably do. Check out the comments section for more.

Along the way at Jordan’s, I took the chance to whine again about the extra-special immigration and registration laws here in the Land of the Hornbill. The most bizarre inconsistency being that in the rest of the country, children born of one bumiputra parent inherit bumiputra status, whereas in Sarawak, both parents must be bumiputra. Combined with the ruling above about inheriting race from the father, and you wind up with West Malaysians who are ethnically European but receive Bumiputra privileges, and Sarawakians who are ethnically Malay or Iban but do not receive Bumiputra privileges. The recent Marina Undau case in particular caused widespread murmuring in Sarawak, which our Chief Minister could probably not ignore, considering his own children of mixed descent.

Barely had I finished venting on the topic at Jordan’s, when I received a government circular in my Inbox. As of November 23rd 2009, all Sarawakians and Sabahans with one bumiputra parent are to be considered as bumiputera by all government agencies. Amazing. No newspaper headlines, no parliamentary act, no public debate – just a government memo and it’s done. Download it and read for yourself.

An Annotated List

Ethnicities, Nationalities and/or Socially Constructed Identities That I’ve Been Mistaken For

Put on a kufi and grow a beard and it becomes harder and harder to take advantage of institutionalized white privilege.

Middle Eastern

  • I’m sure all the converts have gotten that one before.

Turkish

  • The late Mawlana Shaykh Nazim al-Haqqani (q) emerged from a doorway. Huge smile on his face, he gave me a heavy pat on the chest, spoke to me in Turkish, and laughed out loud. He, of course, knew English and this was in Chicago.

Arab: unspecified

Arab: Syrian

  • On the flip side, a Syrian I ran into at a gas station looked at me and said, “you’re Ukranian, aren’t you?” My mother’s side of the family is in fact from Ukraine. He explained that he had met a number of soviet engineers who were in Syria offering technical assistance, the Baathist government being soviet-aligned in those days, and I looked just like them. Huh.

Arab: Lebanese

  • When I lived in Dearborn, home to tens of thousands of Lebanese, I had to memorize the Arabic for, “I’m sorry, I don’t speak Arabic”, to which a lady once cocked her head at me and said, “Eh? Why not?”

Iranian

Afghani

Pakistani

  • When Malays guess this, I can understand. I was more surprised when I went into a store last week and asked the Pakistani uncle “Adakah jual songkok disitok?” (Do you sell malay hats here? …in Malay.) He cocked his head to the side as if to wonder why I would speak Malay to him and answered gently, “Nai, beta.” (No, my child.…in Urdu.)

Bosnian

Chechen

  • The boiled sheepskin hat I was wearing at the time contributed enormously, I’m sure.

Malaysian

  • Back when I was barely aware of where Malaysia was, and had not yet sprouted facial hair. In fact it was about 12 hours after I had taken shahada.

Black

  • I was working this temp job and had been there several weeks when a few of the Black guys I worked with started telling this white girl that I was Black. I don’t know what they could possibly have presented as evidence besides the fact that Islam is the Black Man’s Religion ™ but they had her fooled.

In Malaysia, the response I’ve gotten most often when I clarify that I’m actually an American is,

Aren’t you kind of short for an American?

To which I reply:

“I’m an Asian export model.”