Cold Comfort: Tales From Whitelandia. What does it mean?

The concept of Whitelandia began forming for me a few years ago as the result of a conversation with a neighbor, in fact, she may have used the phrase first. It was our way of acknowledging that the place we live is segregated, and not in the sense that there are different parts of town, Black or brown neighborhoods, and white neighborhoods. This place is almost exclusively white, easily over 90%, I'd guess over 95%, I know my particular neighborhood is 100% white. The thing is, when we moved here in 1994, the racial makeup of the area was not on my mind. It was not a criterion that I move somewhere white. It wasn't on purpose I would have told you then. We came here because of a job opportunity. Turns out it's not just our town, the whole region is predominately white. We were priced out of the closest pseudo-city with any true diversity, and of the choices remaining to us, we settled where we did because it was the best school district around and our daughter was reaching school age. My wife and I barely scraped enough together to buy the house, it was over our budget, and ironically considered low-income housing by county standards. It was only years later that I started putting it all together. After I began to relieve myself of some of my ignorance about what it means to be favored in our society, even while not being anywhere close to the top tier of moneyed people. 

I am now aware that it was systemic conditions providing us with enough of an advantage to be allowed to exploit being given the benefit of the doubt for no particular reason. Full disclosure; I cannot get a car loan on my own and can't get a credit card from one of the largest music retailers in the country. Even by musician's standards, my personal income doesn't cut it, so how in the hell are we living in this ridiculously overpriced enclave? For starters, we were not held back by any historical markers. We may not be rolling in green, but we have been able to navigate our lives fairly unencumbered. I am certain the color of my skin kept me from experiencing the worst consequences for my trespasses as a younger man. It most definitely kept me out of jail more than once. I've been able to secure decent work without too much effort even with my limited schooling. There are no college degrees hanging on my walls. I've always been able to live in what I considered nice (read: safe) neighborhoods. When we were shopping for the house we're in now, we were not only not discouraged from living in certain places, we were actively encouraged to overextend ourselves. The list goes on. 

That last point is the glaring, couldn't be more obvious clue I missed at the time. Other than skin color the biggest feature of Whitelandia is that it is priced to keep the less fortunate from taking part. Prices are so inflated we could not afford to buy another house in our own neighborhood if we sold our current house. And this is an older, less expensive part of town. There is no argument to be made that racism, our entrenched systems, and their offspring, systemic racism, are not to blame. The number one creator of wealth for Americans is real estate, and property ownership has been the purview of white men on these shores since the first colonizers arrived. For the first 200+ years, exclusively so. And from the days of reneging on the promise of forty acres and a mule through the entirety of the twentieth century, non-whites have been subjected to hurdle after hurdle, barrier after barrier, and laws on top of laws preventing them from acquiring the property that builds generational wealth, a principal factor that allows people to be able to afford homes in Whitelandia. That's not even broaching the subjects of the lack of access to education and high-paying jobs, the severe over-policing of minorities, and the host of other factors that directly impact wealth accumulation. So, accidentally on purpose, I live in Whitelandia. Adjacent to the heart of it anyway, our neighborhood wasn't nice enough for the local Methodist church to keep their parsonage here, they had to build a new one in a subdivision that would attract a wealthier congregation, but we are part of it just the same. 

From my point of view, one of the defining features of Whitelandia is the smoke screen that everything is as it should be. Life is hunky-dory and golly gee everyone should want to live this way. And they could too, if only they worked hard enough and played by the rules. They could enjoy a world where everything looks the same, everyone acts the same, there are no surprises, and life is above all, orderly. And fake as hell. The secret to maintaining the charade of course is to not acknowledge the parts that are broken. All the failed relationships, mostly torn apart by the relentless pursuit of money, sometimes by getting it, mostly by not having enough to satisfy. The epidemic of people without housing, living on the very streets paved with gold even though there are more empty houses than homeless people. Our fetishized obsession with guns and the daily occurrence of gun violence, whether mass shootings, suicides, or domestic violence, it happens so often in Whitelandia we are numb to it and accept it as part and parcel of our world. Another piece of the discussion is the fact that who belongs and who doesn't isn't only defined by bank accounts. Whitelandia is protected by all manner of phobias and isms. There is no shortage of residents wanting to keep some type of “Others” out. Not that they'd say it out loud, mind you, that would be impolite. But they do vote for those who would make it so and thus keep their own hands clean enough to maintain the denial that any such thing is going on at all. And the more some folks want to accept and embrace diversity, the harder the pushback.

For me, all these factors that make up the false facade of Whitelandia are the cold comfort. That's where the title of the album comes from, and these are the subjects the songs tackle. I am inspired to write about these things because I believe there can be no discussion about curing or healing any ills without first accepting the facts of the disease. Willful ignorance has never been a valid excuse and is now a straight-up choice in the age of information. There is no accidentally living in Whitelandia. The systems that govern the engines of the American machine have built it very much on purpose. And that's a cold comfort indeed.

Still, there is hope. Even as a person who struggles with seeing the good in the world, I feel it is there. I'll get into that subject next time.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           

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