Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Sirens and Whiteness

Storm on the Rhine (M.A.Reilly, 2019)
I.

Night has come on and Basel has grown quiet. In the distant, a siren sounds—familiar across all of Europe, and my mind calls forth images from old black and white movies set in WWII. The iconic siren sounding there too.

Dev told me before we arrived that I had to be out in the city at 3 a.m.

“There’s no noise. It’s completely quiet.”

He is right. This city is quiet, save the occasional siren.


II.

Two weeks ago DNA test results were returned, identifying my genetic makeup. I expected to be 100% Irish thinking that because I was born there, I must be Irish. I learned that I am just a smudge more than 50% Irish/Welsh/Scottish. The remainder is:English, Greek, Southern Italian, and Balkan. At the top of the read out, it proclaimed I was 100% European.

Each time I come back to Europe I realize how far away I am from being European, regardless of what DNA results state. Culture is determined by lived experience, not biology.

III.

In the United States where I have lived since I was two, the myth of genetic superiority has once again reared its ugly head with the rise of #MAGA enthusiasts. Before we left to come here, a white man driving a Suburban in Oakland NJ cursed at my son because he was taking too long to exit a parking lot. In the car with him sat his white wife and two white kids. He told Devon to get the f**k out of his country and to go back to China.  Dev is Korean-American, an immigrant like me.  His words hurt my son although Dev says he really has come to expect it of white people. You do not need to be in the south of the USA to experience racism. Dev has known this since he started school.

IV.

Contrary to the rhetoric of white nationalists in the USA and Europe, there is nothing superior about any race. Thinking so leads to genocide and hasn’t history shown this.

Sirens are sounding now and I wonder if white folks are listening and more so will we have the conviction, the courage to stand up and speak out against the racism and privilege that causes so much harm?  Will we honor the obligation to speak directly to our families, friends, neighbors whose sense of privilege is acted upon daily?

Our silence is our complicity.


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