In October 2018, the motion ‘It’s OK to be white’ was introduced in the Australian Parliament by White Supremacist Senator Pauline Hanson. The motion called for the ok-ness of Whiteness while denouncing ‘anti-white racism’ and ‘attacks on Western civilization.’ Astonishingly, it was only narrowly defeated 31-28, with many members of the ruling conservative Liberal-National Party coalition supporting it. This short text was written in response to this vote.
In the text, I use white to mean a white-skinned person (which as many academic works have shown is a far less straight-forward description than it might first appear). On the other hand, I use White with a capital W to indicate a White who has a conscious or unconscious investment in a Whiteness that they think they possess. It is someone who mistakes, in a classically racist way, an identification with their skin colour, as they imagine it, for an identification with Western Civilisation, and, someone who derives as a result of their identification with White skin colour, as they imagine it, a national and colonial sense of supremacy, that is, someone who thinks that their skin colour, as they imagine it, entitles them to certain privileges over and above what other beings are entitled to. (For a more in depth discussion of this complicated process of identification see my book White Nation: Fantasies of White Supremacy in a Multicultural Society).~
Dear white, it’s ok,
It’s ok to be white.
but it’s ok to be white and nice.
It’s not ok to be White and mean.
It’s ok to be white and generous in spirit.
It’s not ok to be White, envious and stingy.
It’s ok to be white and ill-informed, and try to know more.
It’s not ok to be White, ill-informed, ignorant and mediocre, and be proud of it.
It’s even ok to be white and prejudiced, as long as you’re trying to work on yourself to be less prejudiced.
It’s not ok to be White and prejudiced and ignore and justify your bigotry.
It’s ok to be white and demand and struggle for a better life because you deserve more as a human being.
It’s not ok to be White and demand a better life because you think you deserve more because you are White.
It’s also ok to be a socially unrecognised and low-achieving white and still be proud of the many wonderful cultural and scientific successes, attainments and accomplishments that white people have achieved across history, but it’s not ok to think that just because you share the same skin colour with those high achievers that their achievements have something to do with skin colour and are yours only. Most of these great white achievers wouldn’t touch you with a ten-foot pole, so stop acting as if you represent them.
It’s ok to be white and be the descendant of people who have plundered, exterminated, enslaved and subjugated other peoples and their lands across this planet, if you recognise it and deal with its consequences. It’s not ok to be a White who is aspiring to perpetuate what your ancestors have done in this regard.
If you don’t recognise any of this no amount of official and non-official declarations and proclamations will change the fact that you are a shitty White, a racist scum, and a scourge on all of us, white and non-white, who are struggling to make this already damaged planet as bearable to live in as possible.
On the other hand, you would be so great if you can recognise all this.
So why settle with being ok when you can be great?
Orignally published by Cordite: Poetry Review.
Ghassan Hage is Professor of Anthropology and Social Theory at the University of Melbourn and the author of, amongst others, White Nation (1998) and Against Paranoid Nationalism (2003).