Escaping Whiteness: Racing, Raising, and Razing Moses as White
by Paul Alexander
Only one person raced as Egyptian (White) exits Whiteness alive—Moses. Can people raced as White locate themselves in Moses’ narrative and escape? Moses was not raced as ‘White’ from his mother’s womb. He was raced by Whiteness as Other. Being raced as nonWhite in the space and time of Whiteness meant he would be controlled, subjugated, exploited, and oppressed by the coercive voice of Whiteness and all systems that obeyed it. He survived long enough to be assimilated into the systems of Whiteness, was re-raced as White (Egyptian), and could have experienced the privileges of White Supremacist power, for Moses became the grandson of Pharaoh, the coercive voice of Whiteness. But when Moses saw the abusive labor system and the beating of “his own people” by a person raced as White, he began a journey of excising Whiteness. He killed part of the White domination system (the slave master) and the coercive voice of Whiteness responded by seeking to kill Moses—assimilation had failed, and Moses had to be terminated.
Moses fled from Whiteness into the desert, where he worked with women who were drawing water. Women and water had saved his life before, and now in his exit from Whiteness he journeyed with women and water toward a new post-White identity, another birth: “I have become an alien in a foreign land.” Moses un-asks and re-asks the questions of identity while in the desert, remembering his racing first as nonWhite, then as White, and now as something else.
Moses discovered he was not White—he was of the slaves, he was Hebrew. And he walked back to the bodies enforcing the structures of Whiteness and said, “I am not White, and I reject all the privileges Whiteness provides.” In exiting Whiteness, and deconstructing that identity, he became an enemy of Whiteness, which sought to destroy him. Is Moses a way for people-raced-as-White to renounce White privilege and cease to swear allegiance to the past or future of Whiteness? To stop defending the centuries of colonialism and genocides, to leave the country (the space and time of Whiteness), to journey into the desert of new identities, and perhaps into a promised land beyond Whiteness? Can people raced as White experience conscientization—becoming aware that they have been deceived by systems of oppression?
Moses as exemplar does open space to separate from and criticize the practices that sustain White Supremacy and White oppression even in its subtle institutional forms. But this is neither the end nor the exiting of Whiteness; it only initiates episodes of conflict with the coercive structures of Whiteness within Whiteness itself, and much more is required if Whiteness is to be exited and a promised land entered.
Moses is told to speak a liberating message to the coercive structures, but Moses explains to God that he himself is afflicted with a stammering tongue. Is this the stammering speech and tongue of Whiteness and White-racing? Moses cannot say what God wants said to the White powers without the assistance of his brother who has not been raced-as-White. Moses needed the voice of one raced only as Other, and never raced as White. Are those raced as White less capable of speaking such strong truth? They stammer. In this reading, Moses had been raced as White by Whiteness but he ‘re-raced’ himself in the desert as “alien,” “immigrant,” and “foreigner” and then accepted his ‘pre-racing’ as Israel. Even as re-raced and pre-raced he suffers from the stammer of White racing, a stammer that is transformed into clear speech only through Aaron. Moses and Aaron together, as Israel, approach the coercive power structures of Whiteness and speak the liberating message together.
But Moses cannot be the body through which people raced as White from birth enter into the promised land. With Moses as the exemplar of exiting Whiteness, people raced as White may learn that they have hybrid identities—that they have been raced by a system—but they still die overlooking the Jordan River unable to enter the promised land beyond the desert.
Paul Alexander is a former director of the Sider Center.
Moses was saved by the midwives, his mother, his sister Miriam, the Pharaoh’s daughter, and her female servants (Exodus 2).
Paolo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed (New York: Herder and Herder, 1970). “The process of developing a critical awareness of one’s social reality through reflection and action.”
J. Kameron Carter, Race: A Theological Account. The Pentecost story in Acts 2 presents public discourse in a way that challenges structures of domination—young male and female slaves are empowered—but the initial glossolalia had to be translated into a discourse understood by the people. The message that Moses could not present well had to be delivered clearly.
For instance, I can acknowledge my ancestry that includes France, Holland, and Wales. The reality of this hybrid genealogy was conglomerated into a false ‘purity’ of Whiteness.