Deconstructing Whiteness: Discovery of the American Soul Wound

At 46, I'm old. I'm so old, I remember sitting inside a Fairview Elementary School classrooms being taught who Christopher Columbus was in early 1980s Anchorage, Alaska.

From 2019 standards, the Fairview neighborhood was progressive. My first grade teacher was a Black woman. My principals all through elementary school was either a Black man or a Black woman. I had Native friends, Korean friends, so-called special ed friends, Latinx friends, etc.

Christopher Columbus was taught to us as an individual Italian sailor, sponsored by 15th century Spain, who wanted to find a route to India. Why? For trade. Indians had fantastic goods, like seasoning and spices. These seasonings and spices were needed to preserve food.

I am saying this to show and prove how Columbus was presented to me as a human being having a human experience. He was presented as no different than the teachers who were teaching him.

When I got to college, I was taught the Christopher Columbus story in a totally different manner. Instead of a textbook written BY HISTORIANS, I was given Christopher Columbus' actual words. I learned he kept a diary of his voyages. Each day. I learned we have those pages preserved.

When I read Christopher Columbus, I learned NOT how my elementary school teachers saw him, b.u.t. how he saw himself and how he saw the Native persons he encountered.

What I read horrified me. I felt rage at Columbus. "He came here looking for slaves!" I glared at my college professors.

I became amazed at how nonchalant each shared Columbus’ words. When I say nonchalant, they shared his diaries as IF THEY HAD NO CONNECTION to what he wrote. They did not share in my rage.

What do I mean? When we got to WWII and spoke of Hitler, it was a totally different experience. While discussing Hitler, it was like the same historian and classroom of white-bodied students LIVED through World War II. Hitler was evil and the teacher expressed how evil Hitler was.

The same emotion was not expressed when discussing the Japanese internment inside the United States of America. Even now, when Goerge Takei, from the original Star Trek television series, sends a meme around social media discussing his time in said internment camp, it doesn't have the same emotional impact among our white friends and family, as a meme using the Jewish Holocaust.

It took me some time to discover in my own mind why. Hitler killed white-looking bodies. When the collegiate historian SAW the photos of those who were in the German concentration camps, they could see themselves staring back in those haunting photos. The young white students could not tell the "Jewish" persons being starved to death as different from them. In their imaginations, Hitler killed them - the white college student.

The same is true for 9/11. On that day, the news played scenes of white bodied persons falling to their death over and over again. White people saw themselves being killed, not Black and Brown bodies.

When my college class read Christopher Columbus' diaries identifying which Native people looked ripe for enslavement, the same recoil of revulsion did not occur. The information was not speaking to them. Instead, it was intellectually processed. Logical. Objective. Facts. Events. No emotion.

When the Japanese American accounts of internment were read, the same response. No recoil and revulsion. Logic. Objective. Facts. Events. No emotion. The information was not speaking to them.

When I pointed this out, I was told I was viewing the professor and my fellow collegiate students through an unfair historical lens. I was using racialized goggles, and not choosing to view them as fellow human beings. Of course, they felt recoil and revulsion, just not in the same way that I did.

When this explanation did not suffice, the white students started to look at me and question if I was racist towards them. The logic of our being fellow human beings fell out of their mouths. Of course, they felt what I felt. They have a nervous system just like I do.

After my first year in college, I did not wish to read history from/through the lens of Eurocentricity. I could see what the white teachers and students around me could not see: that they viewed the world through the lense of their white bodies and not through a universal lens of humanity.

There is no universal lens to read history through, because our bodies are not universal in that ssense. We are dependent on the other lenses to gain a comprehensive view of history.

Thank you for reading these few words. I hope they assisted you in accepting that there is not ONE correct perspective. If you are in a white body and felt these words in a way that doesn't feel good, I invite you to sit with these ideas.

It is okay to cry. It is okay to grieve.

It is not okay to wallow in self-pity or low self-esteem.

It is not a failure to BE connected to history and other human beings.

Black and Brown bodies do not wish to make you depressed about who and what you are.

We do wish to live in a world where TRUTH is the organizing principle.

And, no, ignoring Columbus' diaries is not a solution. Just like we should never forget 9/11 or the German-based Jewish Holocaust, we should not forget the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade or the American Japanese Internment.

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Kokayi Nosakhere

Kokayi Nosakhere

Black man living in Oregon's Rogue Valley, teaching pathways to greater humanity. Community organizer! Author. Speaker. Workshop facilitator. Royalstar907@gmail