I agree with you about the N-word and the advantages of institutionalized racism; my main issue was with that simple phrase “we fucked up.” Assuming the “we” in this sentence is referring to white people, one can only assume from the language you have used that you feel white people today bear some responsibility for dead peoples’ actions. If I am incorrect, and this was perhaps a typo or mis-thought, cool. As we can all see, I too am privy to saying stupid stuff, ie. “especially if they don’t have ancestors that were racist/sexist/etc.” because obviously that would be an impossible thing to determine…what I meant to say is more specifically related to my situation; my ancestors are from Faial, Portugal, which is an island in the Azores populated by ranchers and farmers (non-commercial), not slave owners. My great-grandfather came to America in 1906 and while I have no idea if he was racist/sexist, I do know that he was too focused on herding cows to do anything else.
Before I say anything else, I do want to commend you for not being a jerk. Your responses have been presented in a way that is honest and polite and I can tell that you really aren’t coming from a place of prejudice and hate. That being said, I think you’re totally wrong.
First off, did you really mean to say that the Portuguese didn’t have anything to do with the slave trade? Really?
Second, I completely understand that instinct to want to claim that your Portuguese heritage lets you off the hook. I know how it is. I’m Italian. Our people arrived after the Civil War was over so we’re not culpable for maltreatment of blacks, right?
Wrong. And here’s why: Portuguese and Italians (and Poles and Greeks and Serbs and Russians and every other immigrant group) haven’t always been “white.” “Whiteness” as a concept is entirely unrelated to ethnicity or genetics. It’s simply a way to divide people into those society deems worthy of full citizenship and the sub-human “Other.”
When the southern and eastern Europeans first started arriving in huge numbers during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, they were mostly poor, uneducated peasants. They were treated horribly by white Americans and the only opportunities they had were either farming or manual labor in factories, etc. Eventually, the sheer number of these immigrants allowed them to gain enough political clout to buy their way into white society, just as the Irish had done before them. And then, once they were deemed to be “white enough,” what did these ethnic groups do? They actively joined in the oppression of blacks and other non-whites.
Maybe not your grandfather specifically. Or mine, for that matter. But our families have benefited from that oppression. We enjoy all the benefits of white privilege, despite the fact that we are genetically more similar to Northern Africans than we are to Anglo-Saxons. Peoples from all around the Mediterranean are all part of the same genetic pool, but because of the circumstances surrounding the immigration and assimilation of those various groups, some of us are considered white and some aren’t. It’s one of the best examples of how meaningless the concept of race is.
(I think it’s somewhat akin to the phenomenon of black people “passing” as white. Our skin is just fair enough and our hair just straight enough that we get to join the club, while our cousins in Turkey and Morocco are left out. I may be completely off-base with that comparison, though. Someone let me know if I am.)