by Megan Ryland
My definition of whiteness and its privileges includes a great deal of accessibility and unconscious entitlement. This translates easily into the language of land and maps. Geography tells the tale of historical white entitlement to seemingly anything the earth might have to offer.
[Map: Colour-coded map of Canada showing the areas covered by Treaties 1-11, first signed throughout the years between 1871 and 1930. Most of the country is covered by these treaties, but some of it is unceded land that has been colonized without any kind of treaty.]
I was born in Winnipeg, Canada on the land covered by Treaty 1. I didn’t know this until last year, when I attended an Idle No More event on my university campus. There, people identified the treaties that were a part of their heritage. It’s part of my heritage too, but in a very different way. It is part of being a settler here in Canada, and yet I know nothing about the treaties. That ignorance is my privilege, to never need to know what treaty determines my land rights, my property, my access, my history or my status. I just “belong” in Canada and get the term Canadian by default, no hyphen, because I was born white on stolen land.
Since 1492 and Columbus’ first journey, there is a white history of conquering the land of other people that is written across the globe, and we are all still dealing with the fallout from those imperial projects. In the 1920s, the British Empire sprawled across six continents; France spent generations in the land race as well, collecting colonies of their own. Other European powers wrote their name down on maps that covered South America, Africa, Southeast Asia, almost anywhere you could go by land or sea.
Of course, over the course of human history, conquest of other people’s land hasn’t just been carried out by white people; in the past, there have been major African, Middle Eastern, and Asian empires as well. But the dominance of white colonialism has shaped the lives of significant portions of the world for over five centuries. Today, we have grown up in this world where the British sailed to North America and set up shop, committing genocide in the process; where the British arrived in India, in Barbados, in South Africa, in Hong Kong and set up shop, believing it to be a God given right in many cases to take the land from those who had lived there for countless generations. I am accustomed to this history and it shapes how I see my place in the world. It is often taken for granted in the West that the main world powers will be white, but that’s not a natural state—we’ve just been taught to think of it that way. Dominance is a privilege taken by force and kept by force.
[Map: Map highlights the areas of the globe under British control in the 1920s, including the countries now recognized as Australia, India, Sudan, South Africa, Canada and many others throughout every continent.]
[Map: Colonial Possessions of World Powers, 1914. Map covers the globe and colour-codes the world according to the European/Western power that had taken possession of the area as of 1914. Most of the land shown is coloured in, except for significant portions of South America, Mexico, China, some of the Middle East (Persia, Arabia) and Eastern Europe, as well as six significant countries in Africa, including Ethiopia. France and Britain take up much of the colonial land, but Germany, Portugal, Belgium, Italy and the Netherlands also have their claims. Predominantly, the world was carved up, mainly by European powers, during this era.]
As I get ready to travel new places this fall, the presumption of accessibility is on my mind. I’m largely visiting stereotypical European hot spots for a 20-something with a backpack, but I’m still aware that my whiteness is coming with me. My ease of mobility, access to other countries, and assumption that my tourism dollars are welcome are just some of the privileges I’m counting on in my travels. It’s like having an extra knapsack I can carry onto the plane at no extra charge. Beyond race, what about my gender identity, sexuality, ability, class, or citizenship status? My identity facets aren’t something I can leave at home. My white privilege is inevitably linked up to cis privilege, class privilege, able-bodiedness and my citizenship. How does this complicate the conversation even further?
Looking at the geography of whiteness, it’s clear that our world has had more than enough white conquest and exploitation; we are still mapping the fallout from the expansion of white entitlement. Personally, I’m still trying to figure out my place in the problem, even as I live on unceded Coast Salish territory and get ready to go see new places that are not my own. Figuring out my place on a map or in a treaty is only a first step. Next is figuring out where to go from here.
Anonymous said: Hmmm don't really like the fact you reblogged that stretch mark post with the cation "women are incredible" on it. That kind of comes across as only women have stretch marks when the majority of AFAB people do, as well as many AMAB people (who don't ID as women)...
I know it was in reference to the OPs comment about giving birth but it is still cissexist regardless for what you’ve already said and cis women are not the only people who give birth. I’ll go and edit the post. Thank you for pointing this out.