Whiteness, For Good
What if there was a Whites Organization dedicated to helping people of all races and identities. That lead the fight against racism. That served as a place to help White people better themselves. Then built an identity for White people on the good White people have done for the world, to inspire them to actualize this better self? What would this mean to society? But most importantly… should it exist?
This article is prompted by the writeup we at Positive Identity did recently titled Something Must be Done. In wake of the Buffalo Massacre of 10 Black Americans and now with the Highland Park shooter who cased synagogues and shot up a mainly Jewish town, all part of the continued escalation of racial violence, our approach to White people and Whiteness calls for new, innovative and transformational change.
Just last year, according to Gallup, race relations in America fell to a new low with 57% of Americans saying things were bad or somewhat bad. This applies to people of all races which mean People of Color (POC) and White people both viewed their relationship with each other with record negative perception. Further, from 2001–2015, on average about 20% of Americans were concerned about race relations, and that has now spiked to between 41%-48%. Again showing people of all races were deeply concerned with what was happening to each other. Hate crimes have now risen to their highest number in more than a decade. Lastly, law enforcement officials have labeled White Supremacists as the biggest domestic terror threat in America among all possible threats.
To put it plainly, the current approach to race, with the aim of defeating racism and hate to create a positive racial society, isn’t working.
Positive Identity was conceived in 2017 when the modern collapse of race relations was occurring according to polling from Monmouth, Gallup, and NBC/WSJ. Americans had grown pessimistic on race relations and Positive Identity (TPI) was launched as a way to counteract the division. The idea was to create content showing people of all races in a positive light. As the American Psychological Association states, “The way we perceive ourselves in relation to the rest of the world influences our behaviors and our beliefs,” and is the foundation of modern psychology. Bias research shows that media shapes how we perceive people of different races and thus our actions to them. Knowing this, TPI’s goal was to make media to create positive perception for people of all races which leads positive action for all. For people who are Asian, Black, Hispanic, Mixed, Native, White and Beyond, positive identity, positive perception, and positive reinforcement is the goal.
While the goal of TPI was to work for people of all races, our mission has changed. Right now we’re seeing an explosion in growth from White Supremacist groups. On top of this the rise of Stochastic Terrorism from these groups has lead to new forms of violence that the current system isn’t equipped to deal with. Which has lead to an even further collapse of race relations. Which prompted our call by the Something Must be Done article to bring in new, radical and unorthodox approach to Whiteness, White people and how we treat race.
Something must be done. A wide variety of solutions have been tried to stop these destructive White groups but the current direction shows that their growth continues unabated. With the violence we have, and the direction we’re going, we know the current path isn’t working. New ideas and an innovative approach must be tried.
Right now the backstory is that for White people in America and around the world, they are seeing themselves as a race for the first time and developing a racial identity because of it. Yet the ‘White’ organizations that exist to address this identity and what it means are the destructive White Supremacist groups that seek to destroy those around them. From the KKK, to Neo-Nazis, various White Supremacist groups and such, these organizations seek to martial Whiteness and White people together to engage in racist or destructive behavior. For them, being White means to be under siege, that you are hated and your identity is based on how you can conquer and defeat those who are not White. These Whites organizations exist from the framework that White people are seen by society as a negative and they have an opponent they view in a negative light. Thus these non-White targets must be defeated, damaged or destroyed in some way. White Supremacists holding the belief that they are viewed negatively, and viewing non-Whites negatively, is the foundation for their relationship with the world which defines their actions. Currently, they are the defining organizations that represent Whiteness and White people.
People become the identity they see themselves as, shown by Social Identity Theory. Social Identity Theory in short “refers to the ways that people’s self-concepts are based on their membership in social groups. Examples include sports teams, religions, nationalities, occupations, sexual orientation, ethnic groups, and gender.” You become what you see yourself as.
So if White people only see their identity from the framing of a destructive relationship with the world, they will gravitate to that. Being White is being what White Supremacists tell them to be. Thus they will become captured by their White Supremacist ideas and world view. Human beings are irrational as we can see by the world around us. Committing mass murder and violence is the height of irrationality and this irrationality is growing at a deadly rate.
The approach that makes sense is to punish these people and anyone who creates an environment of racism, hatred and discord. That does work and we’ll still continue to do it. But negative reinforcement has its limits.
Negative Reinforcement isn’t always the best way to deal with challenging behavior. There is also a high price of negative reinforcement. Punishment doesn’t work. Further, “Negative reinforcement can be effective, but scholars generally agree that it must be used sparingly, and is best for reinforcing short-term behaviors.”
Further, when anyone is exposed to something that stresses them or frightens them, the fundamental human psychological response of Fight or Flight kicks in. If people are exclusively told about the bad things they have done, that is threatening to them. So they either shut down and avoid the situation… or they could radicalize and fight back. This applies to everyone.
It’s no surprise that our metrics for race relations have gone the way they have. People are fundamentally drawn to things that make them feel good and avoid things that make them feel bad. So what will happen if White people, when they acknowledge their identity have to have a negative self-perception because of it, seeing themselves as only associated with destructive behavior? The answer is they will either avoid the ideas, become defiant or even potentially radicalized. Lastly, are people more likely to join groups or movements that make them feel bad about who they are, or do they join groups that make them feel good about who they are?
At Positive Identity we’ve spearheaded a different model, which is positive reinforcement. Which works.
Positive reinforcement works exceedingly better and faster than punishment. Positive reinforcement is one of the most powerful and effective tools. Positive reinforcement increased the frequency of the wanted behavior.
People are drawn in to what makes them feel good and ideally they’re rewarded by society because of it. At Positive Identity while the concept is five years old, it’s still relatively new in regard to generational ideas. We know over time it will catch on, but sometimes you don’t have that time. As mentioned above, because of the direction of the current climate, Whiteness is now a focus. And our ideas will be what inspires what we do next.
So… what if we created a Whites Organization, for Good? That did the opposite of what these negative Whites groups have done and sought to build up and create instead of tear down and destroy. Which instead recognizes and celebrates the relationship between POC and Whites. That creates a positive racial self-perception based on the good things White people have done for the world. Which works to have White people better themselves in that positive way. That White people could instead connect their identity to and be a part of. To ultimately help people of all identities like we would want anyone to do.
People act the way they see themselves as. We know that from Social Identity Theory yet even further, Self-Perception Theory comes into play. “Self-perception theory posits that people determine their attitudes and preferences by interpreting the meaning of their own behavior.” Essentially that means that your behavior changes your attitude, not the other way around. This was tested on terrorists where the authors looked at how “the new converts may form increasingly radical attitudes to be consistent with their increasingly radical behavior. Self-perception theory, then, has strong ties to social identity and social influence in this scenario.”
When someone of your own identity group, of a thinking based off of your identity, engages in a certain behavior, you attitude begins to mirror that. For many White people in America, The UK, France, Australia and around the globe, they see what Whiteness means and are pulled in to that attitude and behavior. Then conform to it because they want to be perceived as normal by the group.
There are a number of identity based organizations that exist for Black, Jewish and Muslim identity groups that take into account Self Identity Theory and Self-Perception Theory in a meaningful way. These groups seek to highlight members of their community, their positive contributions to society and explicitly point out their identity as individually and as a group. The understanding being, you become what you see yourself as. And they have been very successful in this work.
For Positive Identity, we have focused on this innately. We want people to see themselves at their best, in a positive and constructive relationship with people of all races because we know how powerful and constructive that can be. But considering what we’ve raised with White people and Whiteness, we are now expanding our work. Our mission now is to also create a positive identity for Whiteness and White people to see themselves and others in a positive light to create constructive action for all.
How would this manifest itself?
The first stage is to frame Whiteness around the positive contributions White people have made to humanity and the world. Of course the initial response might be that this already happens, that textbooks and media around the globe show White people in a positive light. The counter-argument is that these people don’t explicitly have their White Identity attached to these contributions. That they’re seen as individual people, separated away from their Whiteness. Again thinking about how Black, Jewish and Muslim organizations in America and around the world have done it, we would follow the same model. There are a number of White groups and White majority countries that have been agents of change, progress and advancement of people of all identities. This must be featured and the core of our work.
Another element would be to spotlight and celebrate White people around the world who have helped all people. Role Models are a major part of socialization where “individuals compare themselves with reference groups of people who occupy the social role to which the individual aspires” People want to be like those that society looks up to and we should do just that. Also this approach would honor and laud POC who have helped White people in the past and present. This would foster positive perception of POC which would lead to constructive action toward POC communities, build trust and lead to positive unity and action for all.
This Positive Whiteness approach would also provide a place for self-improvement for White people, so they can work to better themselves to be able to emulate those inspiring White individuals or groups. It’s one thing to say “look at this great person, just be like that!” Yet it’s a much more effective strategy to create a space where White people can work together for short and long term individual and group self-improvement. Then take that improvement to better all of humanity.
But the two most important parts that this must encompass is Philanthropic Charity and Fighting Racism.
The fighting racism part is obvious as negative Whiteness exists in the global White community, which manifests itself through Neo-Nazis, White Supremacists and so forth. They present not just a threat to POC, but to White people as well. Speaking from just a moral perspective, helping people of all races is paramount if we want to someday achieve that utopian and ideal society. There is no other path except for this. Any moral person would agree that no person should live in fear of another and our POC friends deserve that life. Everyone deserves that ideal life. White society as a whole must be aggressive and assertive to turn these negative Whites away from their destructive and hateful ideologies. Or must be a part of destroying these evil groups if need be.
We must also be reminded that these White Supremacists are a danger to White people as well. Their extremism, which is clothed in the coat of Whiteness, causes POC around the globe to mistrust and fear the White community. Think how you would you treat or act to an individual or group that you mistrust? Or fear? This opens the door for damage to be done in turn to White people. Further, these negative Whites organizations exist in an exclusive sense, often excluding other White people from Whiteness. They will concoct reasons to why some people aren’t White, and then turn their destructive behavior on them like they would do to POC. In every sense negative Whites and White Supremacists are a threat to everyone and must be guided away from this path through all methods possible. Or fought at every turn.
The philanthropic charity part is crucial and a key pillar. Sure we can have White people become their best, but that best must turn into action that helps people of all identities and backgrounds. Whether it’s financial giving, taking action, volunteerism, civic work and so forth, an outreach approach must be baked into the White Identity. This creates the pathway for us to become our ideal selves by working toward the upliftment and advancement of disfranchised groups and communities. To be a positive White is to give, help and aid all those who are less fortunate. No matter what your race or identity is, our nature should be to have a life dedicated to gaining knowledge, to understand the moral questions of our time and then taking material action to solve our human malaise to build a more perfect world. Charity for a Positive White Identity is key.
To manifest this we must create a Whites organization dedicated to good, celebrating and approving of the positive things White people have done as a society. Then embodying those ideals. Again something like this has been done. Black-Americans have many organizations with a history of sticking up for those that are fighting to be free around the world. Jewish people and their organizations support “Tikkun Olam” which means to perform acts of kindness to repair the world. We see Muslim organizations speak out again radicalism in their communities and take action to help the less fortunate. Then they celebrate their positive accomplishments as a community and seek to emulate those inspiring people. White people need to create a system of thinking that does what our friends in the Jewish, Black and Muslim communities do to improve the world. We need a Whites organization that takes action to defeat hate and concurrently to provide support to those that are less fortunate. A positive Whiteness organization would exist in the world just like them. In totality, this would be the first modern Whites organization.
There is so much good that exists in the world. So much joy to be had. Laughter to bring out and friendships to create. Our human capacity to help each other continues to amaze us in wonderful ways and our want for peace is a real part of ourselves. This is who we are and yet also who we need to be.
Our mentality also has to be that the actions we take aren’t win — lose for society, but that we engage only in ways for everyone to win. So much of our division is people thinking in this mindset. If people think they will lose, they won’t engage and will most likely fight back. But if people know that you are working toward their success and well being, no matter who they are, they will engage. That is what our ideal society to be, for everyone to win.
It’s not enough to write an article and then hope some people latch onto the idea. No, a sustained group dedicated to actualizing this concept must occur for us to measure this approach. It must be tried. Either it will work and we will have saved lives and helped society in potentially enormous ways, or it doesn’t work and we continue to try other methods.
Our racial climate continues to deteriorate and partisan division threatens to entrench racial separation. The history and reality of the world is filled with different ethnic groups having long running and many times unsolvable division that leads to societal alienation, dehumanization, destruction and bloodshed. The conflict and violence we already have is unacceptable. Anything worse should be unthinkable to the good people of this world. If we’re serious about making that better tomorrow, we must take steps now to rethink how we approach Whiteness and White Identity. The future depends on it.