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Barack Mandela
Human Rights Attorney

What is Whiteness? Going Beyond Racial Labels

I am a strong black man. I have always been a strong black man. I will always be a strong black man. I cannot change my black race. My heart, spirit, and soul are also black.

However, what is whiteness?

When I was a small child, I remember watching the TV show “I Love Lucy” with Lucille Ball where I saw ‘white people’ for the first time. There were no black people on the show. At three years old, I asked my maternal grandmother: Who are those white people on TV?

This was my introduction to whiteness and white people. In my earliest memories, I had never met a white person face to face. At that time, I thought all the world was black like my African American family.

Black & White Double Standard?

Today, after many years of life experience, I still have unanswered questions: What is whiteness? What does it mean to be white? Do all ‘white people’ have European roots? What does it mean to be ‘white American’? Does pure whiteness exist? What is white pride? Is ‘white’ the opposite of ‘black’?

In the United States, there appears to be a ‘double standard’ when it comes to racial and ethnic pride. For example, when I was in university and law school there were student groups called the black student union. However, these universities would never allow a ‘white student union’.

In other words, it’s considered acceptable for minority groups and people of color to have ethnic affinity groups. However, all-white social groups are automatically considered racist and discriminatory.

Moreover, during the 1960s and 1970s there was a significant black power movement in the United States. Civil rights leader Malcolm X was known as a purveyor of ‘black power’ as he empowered black Americans and African people.

Therefore, being a supporter of ‘black power’ is acceptable and positive; however, it is considered unacceptable and negative to support ‘white power’. To support ‘white power’ is considered synonymous with white supremacy and white racism and white violence.

Are There Levels of Whiteness? Are Jewish People White?

As a black man, I cannot tell the physical difference between a German Aryan and an ethnic Jewish person. When I look at photos of the late Anne Frank, she seems to be a white teenager. I also cannot ethnically distinguish the difference between Benjamin Netanyahu and former German chancellor Angela Merkel. Both look like ‘white people’ to me.

Moreover, I am confused by the current war between Russia and the Ukraine. I cannot tell the physical difference between a Russian person and a Ukrainian person. Both ethnic groups look physically indistinguishable. Are both Russians and Ukrainians ‘Slavic white people’? Is this a conflict between two ‘white’ groups?

As a black man, I am training myself to mind my own business. In other words, I am focusing on black rights and black socio-economic empowerment. Admittedly, I don’t understand ‘whiteness’ or ‘white identity’ or ‘white history’.

After the death of George Floyd and the civil rights protests, I have learned to focus on helping my own people. I can never know what it’s like to be a white person. I will never have white skin. I will never have blond hair and blue eyes. On the contrary, I am forever black.

It’s better to accept myself, love myself, and embrace blackness. I’m too black and too strong.

About the Author
Licensed Attorney. I earned a Doctor of Law at the University of California, Hastings College of the Law (1997). I earned a Bachelor of Arts from the University of California, Riverside (1994). I was an international student at the University of Costa Rica Faculty of Law (1991-1992) and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem Faculty of Law (Summer 1996). I am a military veteran of the United States Air Force, United States Army, and the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). I am a laureate of the National Defense Service Medal from the Pentagon (2006). I am a financial donor to following: Harvard Law, Yale Law, Stanford Law, Berkeley Law, UC Hastings College of the Law, UC Davis Law, Columbine High School, Choate Rosemary Hall, Phillips Exeter Academy, Sidwell Friends School, Viewpoint School, Beverly Hills High School, Eton College in the United Kingdom, Special Olympics, Children's Defense Fund, Obama Foundation, Clinton Foundation, Barbra Streisand Foundation, Princeton University, Florida A&M, Howard University, Spelman College, Morehouse College, and the British Red Cross. I am former special assistant and staff attorney to Governor Pete Wilson of California. I was public affairs assistant to US Senator Barbara Boxer and Mayor Ehud Olmert of Jerusalem and Jerusalem spokesperson Haggai Elias.
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