Cold Comfort: Tales From Whitelandia - What Does It Mean Pt. 2

In part 1 I began to discuss the meaning behind the idea of Whitelandia. In this installment I want to dive into why this supposed Utopia, this pinnacle of the white way of life is a cold comfort. Some of the reasons are obvious. I borrowed the phrase Cold Comfort from the lyrics of One Way Ticket, track 4 on the record. I wrote One Way Ticket after reading and researching several news articles about something that was a trend a few years back, and almost, but didn't quite make a bigger splash in the headlines. It's one of many things we'd rather not talk about. There were several places, Nashville being one of them, but a few smaller cities too, that decided the way to best deal with their homeless population was to offer them one way bus fare to somewhere else. In one of those smaller cities it was a campign promise in a mayoral re-election. The city of Nashville's official stance was that the program was voluntary, and those taking advantage of said program had to prove that had someone or something at the other end of the line waiting for them. It was just coincidence that the people who participated happened to mostly be found in the main tourist areas of the city. And the city couldn't be held responsible if there wasn't, in fact, a person or job waiting. Cold comfort indeed. 

On a personal level, I feel the cold comfort of living in Whitelandia more and more as I expand my awareness and learn more about what it's inhabitants are hiding from. It's not guilt so much as a tint of shame as I come to understand how I've benefited from being in the club when someone else, having lived the same life, would have had a much different outcome based simply on skin color. I think a lot about a couple specific examples. First, I grew up in Elmhurst, Illinois, a near-west suburb of Chicago. Elmhurst has not been officially recognized as a Sundown town, but is on the list as a highly-likely. I only recently learned what that meant, but it makes sense looking back. Living on the edge of a major city, with all those millions of people and going to a high school with 2,500 students, there was exactly one Black kid during my time in that education system. It is mind blowing to me that I grew up in a 90+% bubble of whiteness surrounded by all that diversity. And it never hit my radar. My youthful obliviousness aside, I recognize now that bubble protected me in ways the exact same system would have failed a Black or brown person. Having successfully survived my first 17 years on Earth, the path to 18 was highly problematic. I was getting into a lot of trouble. A DUI, public drinking, contributing to the deliquency of a minor (even though I was technically a minor too), and culminating in a house fire after a party in which the cops had already made an appearance. I was decidedly very drunk, and again, the oldest person in the house at the time of the fire. In one of the weirder experiences of that period, I was arrested before getting out of the house. Even the fireman who found me was surprised by that one. The fire department investigation pointed to faulty wiring but that didn't stop the insurance company taking us to court and trying to pin the fire on those of us who were there in an attempt not to pay out. It was only through the skill of my very expensive lawyer, already  representing me in all my other cases, that we walked away from that charge. I have no doubt that had I been a Black teenager living east of Harlem Ave instead of a white kid living west of Harlem, that would have been my last summer as a free person. 

I was protected by the system again a few years later. I was living in Minneapolis where the police force has just been recognized by the DOJ for it's years of racial abuses and corrupt policing. Myself and a friend had become involved in running an illegal music venue. It was great, I won't lie, even the cops who conducted the raid were impressed and said we should have just gotten the permits because it was such a nice set-up. Speaking of the raid, my buddy and I were working the door, our events were invite only, when the cops appeared out of the dark. Jake hopped the railing and took off to ditch the money, I was too slow to get away. At the end of what was a long night we were allowed to go home on our own. No ride downtown, no overnight in a cell, nothing. Only a court summons. I don't like to think about how different the police response would have been if it was two Black men standing in front of that door that night, or if any of the other people involved in our operation had been Black or brown. 

There are other ways Whitelandia has given me a leg up, an advantage not offered to others, but I am now stunned with the knowledge that only my skin color kept me out of the prison system. Any young Black man that had done the exact same things, in those places, would have been incarcerated without a second thought. And at the time, and for years after, I had no idea. My obliviousness was that all encompassing because I had no reason to know, Whitelandia's veil of protection was that complete. But now I do know. And yes, I still live in Whitelandia but the comfort is a cold one to me knowing the reasons for it and how it's based on exclusion and the selfishness of wanting to keep all the advantage and access to the good life to itself. That's why I'm trying to expose it in my creative work. I can only speak from the perspective I have, I hope to use it to help others with a similar one to see beyond the veil of Whitelandia and to deconstruct it once and for all.

Leave a comment