Humanity, Or, Saturday Morning at 8:58am


This is one of those moments when I don’t think I have an apolitical Saturday post in me.

I could tell you that a Monarch finally visited my milkweed patch. I was thrilled, yes, but given the other events of this week in America I can’t do butterflies this morning.

Let me leave you with a thought. An American I know who is married to a Swede and lives in Sweden told me there Southern Europeans aren’t considered “white.”

What does that tell us? What then is “white?” What does this mean for the idea of “white” in America? Why is there “white?”

You guys are smart. I’m not going to belabor the obvious. Maybe this will surprise you, as it did me, maybe it will clear your eyes as it did mine. Or maybe you already understood.

There is so much difficult work to be done, but on Saturday morning let’s allow ourselves to believe it’ll be easy. Consider the idea of humanity, and what it means to be humane.

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26 Comments

  • Let’s believe wise man’s wise words:”You must not lose faith in humanity.Humanity is an ocean;if a few drops of the ocean are dirty,the ocean does not become dirty”(Mahatma Gandhi)
    <3
    Dottoressa

    08/19/17
    10:25 am
    Lisa said...

    @dottoressa, Thank you for this. <3

    08/19/17
    2:39 pm
    Tracey said...

    @dottoressa, thank you also

  • “Humane” was one of the favorite words of my late husband’s mentor – it was his first standard for doing something/anything: “Is it humane?” Of course, it implies a regard and respect for humanity, and in some circles this is considered inappropriate, but I still like to weigh my actions in light of this question.

    08/19/17
    1:01 pm
    Lisa said...

    @marsha calhoun, I am happy know the word is part of your approach to life.

  • This has long been the case, this linkage of nordicity with whiteness. And the English long considered the Irish an inferior race. Some of the early settler accounts make these constructions of whiteness pretty explicit, sadly.

    08/19/17
    1:04 pm
    Lisa said...

    @Frances/Materfamilias, I knew this generally, the northern claim to more whiteness, but not so concretely, the not-white of the south.

  • I think that as Americans and in general, we just over-react. The use “white” in other countries may not carry the hysterical, non-correctness that we in this country assume so easily.

    I love your wit and usual directness, so get on with things, know the Trump will not be around in his present job forever and be glad you can say and do whatever you want. Too many people sitting around simply complaining. If one feels badly. over the way things are working, either step back and examine one’s own life and/or get on with doing something that will actually help. People can get around this particularly unnerving time by doing the right things in their own lives. We do have some good politicians and people who can keep the government running -let them do it and encourage people to move on; complaining gets old.

    08/19/17
    1:08 pm
    Lisa said...

    @Margaret Robinson, I can infer a lot from This comment, but given that I’m not sure I really understand what you are saying, I won’t. Except in that I hear more outrage and calls to action than simple complaining.

  • “given the other events of this week in America”

    But but but, –pp- -nn——-y nonetheless! Hugs and cake and streamers!

    08/19/17
    1:09 pm
    Lisa said...

    @Flo, Aw, thanks for remembering:). We did celebrate.

  • Anecdotal stories: my mom’s coworker is Polish and said that when her parents came to Canada in the 50s, they were not considered white by the existing WASPy community. Anyone whose last name ends in -ski is not really European. So when I saw the white nationalists whose names are very Eastern European, I think how short memories are.

    Fast forward to the mid-2000s, my Italian classmate told me he is not white, but Italian. I told him that’s not a race but he was very adamant at about it. Then, my Portuguese roommate told me she’s not white either. I think this is a very European thinking so I’m not surprised Swedes feel this way.

    Even funnier, my Jewish friend whose family was originally from Poland (and he is ginger) told me he’s not white but Jewish. I told him you can be white and Jewish and that on appearance he is one of the whitest people I have ever known. He laughed but agreed. I guess my rambling point is that I learned through the years that the definition of what is a white person is more nuanced by culture and geography and self-identification. In context, I’m Chinese so as far as I’m concerned, all these people are white.

    08/19/17
    3:04 pm
    Lisa said...

    @Niche, “I guess my rambling point is that I learned through the years that the definition of what is a white person is more nuanced by culture and geography and self-identification..” I think I was trying to make this point and I probably should have used more words.

    08/22/17
    5:55 am
    Naomi said...

    Actually there is a lot of scholarship on this, how over time various – to the eye- national minorities “became” white in the eyes of “white/r” Americans. So this kind of identification does actually have a historical context you may find interesting to read about.

  • Thank you.

    08/19/17
    3:05 pm
    Lisa said...

    @Dalit Fresco, Thank you and you’re welcome. xoxo.

  • I’ve never been very good at nuanced prose and to make it worse I’m a bit of a bull (or actually a cow if I’m gender-accurate) in a china shop, so I am probably misunderstanding and therefore, responding inappropriately, to your post. Please give me some grace. The events of this week, in America and in Spain, have been horrific. To me, they both boil down to ideologies run amok because people have, for far too long, held on to old slights and grievances. If we erase the past, we cannot learn from it. And if we cannot forgive, we cannot move forward.

    08/19/17
    3:07 pm
    Lisa said...

    @Cynthia Blaylock, It’s a wholly appropriate respond – I should have been more blunt, I suppose. I’m still in shock from what happened in Charlottesville, and saddened by Barcelona. I think to forgive we are probably going to have to go through some more thrashing as we figure out just what everybody thinks happened in American history, and then maybe come closer to agreeing on what did happen.

  • I have read that in the early 1900’s,my Swedish and Norwegian forebears were briefly considered non-white in the U.S.-because they were suspected of having Mongol blood!Our tipped-up eyes,you know.So Scandinavian immigrants considered being called hyphenated Americans(Swedish-American,etc.) an insult,insisting they were just plain AMERICANS.I don’t know what the answer is…

    08/19/17
    3:10 pm
    Lisa said...

    @Kathy Larson, America, from the sad and angry perspective I find myself in sometimes these days, seems like a place where everyone tries to take their share by defining as many people as they can as “other.” And I’ve been a huge fan of America, and what I believe it stands for, all my life.

  • The colour of your one’s skin does not make you any different. We all feel pain – physically, mentally and emotionally. Why does one race need to be superior? Why does religion cause such divisiveness? Why can’t we all live in peace?

    08/19/17
    3:20 pm
    Lisa said...

    @Joanna, I think the need to compete, to fight for power and goods, runs very deep. So deep that even when it begins to do more harm than good for humanity overall we don’t seem to be able to stop.

  • I want you to know that I read this. I don’t feel comfortable commenting here, but I was very angered by the person’s remarks yesterday on FB. It seems I’m in that state a lot in this political climate. I’m grateful for people like you.

    08/19/17
    3:21 pm
    Lisa said...

    @Kathy, Thank you. <3

  • yes !
    this !

    08/19/17
    3:21 pm
    Lisa said...

    @teen!, xoxoxo

  • Dear Lisa
    Thank you for your thoughtful post today. You said a lot without saying a lot. Thank you.

    08/19/17
    3:21 pm
    Lisa said...

    @Tracey, Thank you very much for understanding despite my somewhat opaque technique. xox.

  • As a political science professor who wishes she had retired last year, the most difficult issue is to explain that times of hate (I grew up in the south during the civil rights era) can be used to explore our national values as ideals to be worked toward. We need to work to see where we have failed or gotten lost and rededicate ourselves to do better for everyone.

    08/19/17
    4:24 pm
    Lisa said...

    @Lynn, I can understand why you wish you had retired last year. However, this comment is everything. I do see that this painful process is deconstructing our beliefs and assumptions and I can hope and hope that we get it right as we put ourselves back together.

    08/25/17
    5:55 pm
    Ann said...

    @Lynn,

    What Lisa said!

  • An African American friend of mine making her first visit to Ghana was announced by a a village boy as a white woman coming! She was taken aback and it took her a while to process this view!
    I have had an analysis of my matrilineal mitochondrial DNA which traces mym lineage back to the one African woman who is the ancestor of every living human. We are truly all one family.

    08/19/17
    4:56 pm
    Lisa said...

    @Penelope, Wow. Wow. Thank you.

  • That really illustrates that race is a purely social construct. It makes me sad to say that I think that there will always be those eager to feel superior, excuse their own actual mediocracy, because of the accident of their racial heritage and/or gender. Sigh.

    08/19/17
    7:39 pm
    Lisa said...

    @Kristina, “there will always be those eager to feel superior, excuse their own actual mediocracy, because of the accident of their racial heritage and/or gender.” Yes. Sigh. I think it’s easier to forgive if we see it as weakness and fear, but forgiveness never means giving up trying to get better.

  • As a Swede living in Sweden for all of my 60 years I would like to add that here we do not generally use the term “white” or its Swedish equivalent much. So southern Europeans are not (in my experience) pointed out as non-whites, they are just southern Europeans just as we here are northern Europeans. But I admit that we see cultural differences between southern, northern, western and eastern Europe, and that we frequently guess somebody’s European origin just by looking at them.
    Thank you for your thoughts and this place you provide! I am uplifted by this community.

    08/20/17
    8:07 am
    Lisa said...

    @Helena, Thank you so much for chiming in and letting us know this. And I think cultural differences are to be expected, and celebrated when they allow for every group to be different. Much of my midlife journey has been deconstructing my family culture from my Northern California culture, and figuring out what is what. I think, but am not sure, that the concept of race is much trickier, and more dangerous, than culture.

  • I’ll be attending my 50th high-school reunion this fall. I could never have imagined when I was young that this would be the state of the country and the world. I thought that we were on a path to enlightenment.

    I am a scientist working in academic medicine, at a top university. Of all the people I work with, very few were born in the US. I don’t think most people realize how dependent we are on foreign-born scientists and doctors.

    And the “white” thing – placing value of the shade of skin, with lighter being better, is so pervasive. Hard to believe this is still a factor today.

    I used to watch the news; now I am dependent on late-night comics to get through this period.

    08/20/17
    8:13 am
    Lisa said...

    @Marie, I too thought we were on a path to enlightenment. Sometimes the discussions I see on social media actually give me hope that’s still true – and that this is just a very very dark time on our way to better again.

    I understand about talented immigrants – guess who powers a lot of Silicon Valley’s innovations? I shake my head at people’s need to call someone other, even when that other is contributing so much.

    If you have any good late night comic videos, feel free to post a link;).

    08/20/17
    8:41 am
    Marie said...

    @Marie, Lisa, this is one of my favorite clips:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=swcJzacZkWU

    In general, I like Bill Maher, Stephen Colbert, Samantha Bee, and John Oliver. It’s too bad that Jon Stewart retired. I used to read the NY Times and watch my favorite TV commentators. Now I need to have the news filtered through the biting wit and solid values of late-night comics and their brilliant writers.

    08/20/17
    11:23 am
    Lisa said...

    I totally understand.

  • I think it boils down to: not like me. And when people become afraid, they show it with anger which is much more acceptable, especially if you are male. Anybody who is “not like me” has to have a tag attached. Here in Yorkshire, there is an ambivalence towards people from the south. Less than 200 miles away on our small island. Seen as lesser, spoilt, lazy, indulgent and wealthy. That came as a surprise to southern me. I’ve lived here for over 20 years and my southern status is still pointed out to me with what is perceived as northern honesty. This is a mad time but it will pass. Hold the line.

    08/20/17
    8:20 am
    Wendy in York said...

    @Annie Green, Annie , in these difficult times I think we need to be careful not to make sweeping statements . I do not have such opinions of those who live 200 miles south of me & nor do my friends .

    08/20/17
    8:21 am
    Lisa said...

    @Annie Green, Hold the line. I like that.

    And I remember learning that the French had the same ideas about their North and South and being bemused. But, of course, Northern and Southern Californians think each other to be “other” too!

  • The thing of it is, race is a false construct. It does not exist. There are evolutionary adaptations to heat, cold and etc. It just makes me crazy that people put so much importance on skin color, epicanthic fold (or not) or hair texture. We’re all human! We can all breed and have viable offspring.

    08/21/17
    9:23 am
    Lisa said...

    @Allison Mohr, I love that root identifier – can all have children with each other. Which does make us a human family. xoxox.

    08/21/17
    9:08 pm
    Marie said...

    @Allison Mohr, The voice of reason. I take comfort in my belief that intermarriage will make race an increasingly meaningless concept.

  • It may be helpful to distinguish between forms of collective identities („them“ vs. “us”) and the concept of “race” which arose in the context of conquest and domination. It was first used by the Spaniards during the so called “recoquista”. In order to justify the expulsion of the Arabs from the south of the peninsula (where they had been living for 800 years!), they invoked their white skin which allowed the “blue blood” to shine through. The Spanish of the 16th century were the first to apply the concept of “race” (until then limited to the breeding of horses and dogs) to human beings. They then took it with them to the New World where it served the same purpose: present the dispossession, exploitation and even extinction of indigenous people as natural and biologically determined. No wonder that this concept was willingly adopted by other colonial powers, especially in the context of slavery. So racism does not begin when you comment on somebody’s colour of skin or eye shape, but when you use these observations in order to justify political or economic inequality. “Race” as a biological fact does not exist, it is a social and ideological construct.

    08/21/17
    10:34 am
    Lisa said...

    @Eleonore, Thank you so much. I had no idea of all the background to this. My initial deeply emotional reaction has led to you guys helping me to understand. Thank you again.

    08/21/17
    9:09 pm
    Marie said...

    @Eleonore, Very interesting, thank you.

    08/22/17
    9:49 am
    Patsy said...

    @Eleonore, I love hanging around with the smart people. This is it exactly, but I lacked the skills to articulate it.

    So much beauty and diversity around us. Notice! Rejoice in the difference! Never use it as an excuse to treat anyone as unequal.

  • Hi Lisa
    I’ve been thinking about your post and appreciate your thoughts. At times like this, a retreat into literature can help. I recommend The Time of Our Singing which delves into race, family, music relativity, history and humanity in a way I find profound. The author is Richard Powers who is sometimes way too abstruse for me but this one is pitch perfect(pun intended). I also recommend listening to the music he references if you aren’t familiar, specially the Bach. I am rereading it now and it’s as good as on first reading and germane to the times.

    08/22/17
    8:36 am
    Lisa said...

    @Barbara from Guelph, Thank you. I’ve read a couple of Richard Powers’ books, and loved them, so I will gladly give this one a shot. Art is a source of hope.

  • My husband and I both grew up in families where our immigrant relatives were alive and active (him Irish, me Sicilian). While there was never a time he and I was considered anything other than white, we both have the stories from our families and the lessons about how important assimilation is for survival, as the choice to come here was one of life or death. There’s a book that talks about the assimilation of the Irish called “How the Irish Became White” that is an excellent read.

    Our families’ immigrant experience is different than more recent experiences, which sharply contrasts with the experience of refugees, also different from the slavery experience and its legacy. That’s part of what makes empathy so hard…if we hear a narrative that doesn’t fit ours, we discard rather than absorb. I think the best thing we can do as people is strive for empathy.

    08/26/17
    10:39 am
    Lisa said...

    @Jenn Cross, “if we hear a narrative that doesn’t fit ours, we discard rather than absorb.” This is the natural tendency. I think it’s one of the greatest tasks and definitions of humanity.

  • I am almost ready for the robots to take over. I’m so disappointed in human beings. We aren’t doing a very good job of civilizing ourselves, are we?

    I told good friends last year that I would love to become a citizen of some “country” that was not geographically defined, but where we were granted citizenship on the basis of shared values. And on that basis, I’d like to immigrate to Humanityland.

    Who wants to come with me?

    08/26/17
    10:47 am
    Lisa said...

    @Ann, I am SO with you. We can bring all the good robots too. I know that “country” exists, unfortunately it seems that the country of Shouters is louder right now:(.

  • Thank you for this post.

    08/26/17
    10:47 am
    Lisa said...

    @Mardel, You are welcome.

  • Dear Lisa (and others),

    I’ve lurked and read and enjoyed for quite some time. Thank you, simply for being here and doing what you do.

    I’ve never posted before, mostly because A. I am male (most posters here seem to be female), B. I have no personal experience of privilege (in the purely monetary sense anyway, in other ways though, yes), and C. most posts seem to be about clothes, travel and food (which I must admit I’m hopelessly unsophisticated about.)

    All that aside…

    All my life, I have quite naturally identified with WASP culture, manners, and so on, even if not from any actual Vanderbilt-ish/Astor-sh Mayflower-type derived family history.

    I’ve always had a strange nostalgia for leisurely strolls along sandy Atlantic beaches in summer , despite never having seen the Atlantic. Go figure.

    Until very recently, I’d believed my ancestral background was mostly if not purely German, per my surname, and the known country of origin of the vast majority of my progenitors.

    However, last Christmas, I was given the gift of the most thorough possible genetic analysis by my sister, and was stunned to learn that, despite having the most German imaginable surname, I am almost purely English/Scottish!!! Less than 8% is NOT from The Aisles, and even that little bit is French/Scandinavian.

    How this happened will likely remain a mystery forever, as my sister has already gone to the trouble of traveling to Europe to track down old genealogical records in churches, town registries, meet and interview our distant relatives, etc.

    I am beyond skeptical of any Jungian notions of racial memory, as that can all too easily be used to justify and rationalize dark and ugly narratives, for those who seek such specious pseudo-intellectual crutches for their worldviews.

    THAT aside, I admit to a bit of a thrill to know that, at least on a historical/genetic level, I am in fact a WASP, through and through (if not a High WASP, per your distinction.) My mild but lifelong obsession with all things WASP makes (perhaps) a bit more sense.

    My Actual Tribe, if you will. But my identification with this is soft and gentle, and lacking any venom whatsoever.

    Just… A Somehow Comforting Fact.

    The current crisis of crude and very ugly tribalism in the political sphere (and it is that, a crisis, make no mistake) distresses me greatly, sometimes hourly, but I know I am very far from alone, as evidenced by what I read here from you, and also from your readers who comment here.

    All this is simply a way of introducing myself, should I comment in the future (but it won’t be about clothes or fine dining or jewelry, haha.)

    tldr; Hello there Lisa, good to know you!

    And, of course, congratulations on embarking upon your new partnered life!

    Wishing you, your family, and your Gentle Readers well…

    09/09/17
    9:07 am
    Lisa said...

    Kurt, Thank you for checking in. You aren’t alone as a male reader, Jim who comments as Parnassus comes to mind, but yes, you are fewer.

    And who knows whether we feel some real connection to the land where we originate? I certainly felt that way in Scotland, but then I knew about the connection? How fun to find out your conceptual affection for WASPy stuff is supported by geography. And,we can certainly feel connection, as I do, to anyone who expresses distress with the ugly and hostile tribalism we see expressed so openly today. Welcome, and thank you so much for reading.