Of course it is OK to have white skin. Just like it is OK to have black, red, yellow or any other shade of skin colour. But this isn’t about race; it’s about culture. Specifically, it’s about feeling as if the culture you identify with is under siege. Displaying the sign, or supporting a Senate motion, asserting that it is OK to be white, is a clear symbol of distress. This signalling shows that, for some white people, who they are and what they stand for seems to be under threat. Specifically, in this case, that the privileges they previously took for granted are being taken away.
You get it: once you have gotten used to having something, you get a sense of entitlement pretty quickly, and it gets hard to let it go. No-one likes to lose ground, face or privilege. So how did white people get here – to the place that some of them now think they’re losing? This goes back to the industrial revolution, which took place in Britain and Western Europe a few hundred years ago due to a large number of fortuitous factors, or a kind of ‘Golden Age’. In short, there was support for scientific enquiry, intellectual freedom of thought, a willingness to apply findings in the name of development (bloody capitalism again!) and a previously untapped resource. Add coal to the steam engine et voila, you have global dominance.
We all know what else came with this age of rapid machine age colonisation. White people spread across the world, taking their newfound freedom to move around, extract a seemingly unending stream of ‘resources’ such as fossil fuels and forests, and processing them into … modern society. The dominance of cities, buildings, railways, ships, cars and planes all grow exponentially. With this came modern medicine, huge monoculture crops and food security, roads and other infrastructure (cue the hilarious scene from Monty Python’s Life of Brian on “What have the Romans ever given us?”).
But even to the extent that these can be experienced as ‘good’ things, they come at a cost we are now seeing more clearly with each passing year. Modern society and rampant technological development relies upon treating our environment as a set of resources available to us and used for our benefit; as these are depleted so we see the devastation we have wreaked upon the earth in the name of progress. And just as the machine age of the military industrial complex has chewed through the earth, so it has treated the people of the land; colonising without hesitation, in Australia even declaring Terra Nullius as if the First Peoples didn’t even exist, simply because they didn’t subdue nature and build civilisation the way our ancestors did.
All of this is part of white privilege; of sensing that ‘we’ are the winning team, the unassailable leaders of the rest of the world, the winners in the race for more stuff. Now, lots of other people have caught up and even overtaken western leadership in terms of technological evolution. Globalisation makes us more even with other societies and their markets.
The “It’s OK to be white” movement is part of a knee-jerk reaction against losing privileges that came from fortuitous circumstances. It is also part of a slippery slope towards fascism, which we are seeing way too much of in the west of late. If we want to be leaders now, we need to recognise the cost of what has brought us all here, to the precipice of climate collapse and the IPCC’s recent 12 year warning that we have to change fast or risk inevitable collapse. No matter what racial or cultural alignment we identify with, we all need to evolve into better ecological citizens and lead wider society to do the same, or we’re screwed.
We can only succeed in the radical transformation of modern society required to pull this off if we work together; this is a movement that makes skin colour, like sexual orientation, less important and more a matter of personal choice. Choose something more deeply rooted in the earth than cultural politics and side with becoming more mature ecological citizens, as self-aware primates capable of conscious evolution, compassion and generosity. Lead with that and it won’t matter whether you’re white or purple.