Granfalloon ~ poetic prose?
What in the world is a granfalloon? Well, if you need to ask that question, you’ve obviously missed reading what’s regarded by many as the greatest novel ever from the typewriter of Kurt Vonnegut. I’d argue that the ‘granfalloon‘ is one of the most brilliantly poetic pieces of fictional prose ever created. An aesthetic kōan.
Before we look at these two definitions of ‘granfalloon,’ we need to learn a term that one of the definitions uses significantly as a foil, e.g., ‘karass.’
‘Karass‘ is another brilliant term created by Kurt Vonnegut in his 1963 novel Cat’s Cradle. Wikipedia defines karass: “A network or group of people who are somehow affiliated or linked spiritually”—and I’ll add: while not necessarily realizing any of the who, what, when, why, or how of the spiritual alliance; or even being conscious of the fact that there is a shared mission, affiliation, or linkage. I would note the idea of a karass is an awesome concept to leverage for use in discursive contemplation!
n. A group of two or more people who imagine or are manipulated to believe they share a connection based on some circumstance of little or no real significance.
n. A granfalloon, in the fictional religion of Bokononism, is defined as a “false karass”. That is, it is a group of people who affect a shared identity or purpose, but whose mutual association is actually meaningless.
Granfalloon. I mean, just consider the powerful versatility of such a term. Any group (or thing) to which the term coherently applies is immediately cast into an existential void. For example, the hatreds that flow from society’s many “_______ism” stories are subject to the blistering, existence-ending critique of this term, granfalloon. Brilliant!
Granfalloon. Say it to yourself out loud. Listen to the sound of it. Brilliant!
Granfalloon. That is some brilliant word smithing! Right. There. However, I digress.
So, how did we get here?
Last time I invited everyone back this week to discover the answer to the question, “Why do I write it both ‘white’ and ‘White?’”
I’m unaware of any golden dictionary that authoritatively lays out all the definitions used in the race discourse, nor consensus on rubrics for their use. While holding somewhat loosely, the remainder of the article reflects my way of relating to and using these terms. Recall, the notion of “race/racial” on the basis of skin color, itself, is by and large a social construction (see article here), therefore, most of the categories of people identified in the race discourse are actually granfalloons.
When I use the term ‘white’ (not capitalized) I mean it as a general designation for persons who are naturally described as having light skin color, nothing necessarily more in common than that. Similarly, when I use the term ‘black’ I mean it as a general designation for persons who are naturally described as having dark skin color, and, again, nothing necessarily more in common than that. Note, “Brown” “Red,” “Yellow,” and “People of Color” are other designations for not-white persons that I’m not directly addressing in this article.
When I write ‘White’ (capitalized), I mean to intentionally indicate/evoke the socially constructed granfalloon that serves as the systemic/institutional benchmark for “superior” persons (thus deserving privilege) in America (the category for those who, not coincidentally, are ‘white’). When I write “Black” I mean to indicate the socially constructed granfalloon that serves as the benchmark for “inferior” persons in America (a category for those who, not coincidentally, are ‘not-white’). The term ‘white’ linguistically creates the converse, ‘not-white’ category. This drives the problem of establishing just exactly who is White, and, also, by default, who is not.
While we won’t have space to cover it today, obviously, constant bombardment of systemic messages like these of superiority and inferiority (and add ‘dangerous’ in the dark column) naturally install implicit biases (that are often not-conscious) in everyone according to ‘white’ and ‘not-white’ skin color.
“Whiteness” (as a racial category) is a ‘granfalloon!’ From JSTOR.org (my emphasis)…
Whiteness studies is an interdisciplinary arena of inquiry that has developed beginning in the United States, particularly since the late 20th century, and is focused on what proponents describe as the cultural, historical and sociological aspects of people identified as white, and the social construction of whiteness as an ideology tied to social status.
So, while the alternative category of ‘not-white’ persons has rarely, if ever, been confused, the category of Whiteness has been rather fluid over the course of it’s history.
For example, when light-skinned Europeans immigrated to America back in the day, Italians, Irish, Spaniards, and many groups were not considered “White” by the influential of society when they first arrived. That status needed to be earned/gained and then institutionalized and thereby imputed to any particular light-skinned European ethnic group the system deemed deserving of inclusion among those with privileged status.
Similarly, ‘Blackness’ is also a granfalloon, e.g., social construction [see article on the “…enduring phony science of white supremacy“]. The ways in which negative messages about “Blackness” are sent by a White supremacist system are almost endless. For instance, separate water fountains, restrooms, schools, restaurants, hospitals, prisons, and, well, separate everything back in the day (pre ’65); white, ‘angel food,’ vs dark, ‘devils food,’ cake; “White lies” are OK vs the bad “Black Sheep” of the family; brave knight rides in on white horse to vanquish evil villain on dark horse; White magic (good) and Black magic (evil); white cowboy hat (good guy) vs black cowboy hat (bad guy); light is good and darkness is bad; and on and on. Remember, this is but a very small fraction of possible examples. Of course, some of this was coincidental, had nothing to do with a system based on light and dark skin, and preceded White supremacy. We find that White supremacy naturally harnessed most of the extant light/dark imagery for its own purposes. Below, we’ll have an opportunity (e.g., Baratunde Thurston video) to discover one particular way ‘language’ plays a significant part in how racism is systemic, structural, and deadly destructive.
White supremacy lumps dark-skinned people all together into a granfalloon. Much as our system of White supremacy sees ‘Whiteness’ as intrinsic to ‘superior’ in American society, conversely, ‘Blackness’ is seen as intrinsic to ‘inferior’ in American society by the White supremacist system. Thankfully, the system’s imputation of negative images and associations with “Blackness” is being challenged. The term is being re-claimed by people of color who are redeeming the term Blackness (very powerful Imani Perry article here) as the extraordinarily rich cultural dimension of African American people in American society that it presently is and always has been.
This very powerful article describes the recurrent serial trauma and grief black people have been visited with over the past couple centuries. From the Atlantic article, “Racism Is Terrible. Blackness Is Not,” Imani Perry writes:
People of all walks of life are protesting the violent deaths handed out by police officers. This is extraordinary both because the victims were black—and when does black death elicit such a response?—and because Americans in general have a hard time dealing with death. Think about how uncomfortable many Americans are with grief. You are supposed to meet it with a hidden shamefulness, tuck yourself away respectably for a season, and then return whole and recovered. But that is not at all how grief courses through life. It is emetic, peripatetic; it shakes you and stops you and sometimes disappears only to come barreling back to knock the wind out of you.
Both black and white people find racism to be a somatic experience. For white people what the system provides is often like having a wonderful massage and sauna. For black people, the system is frequently experienced like a full beat down, or lynching. When together everyone watched George Floyd cry out and moan, “I can’t breathe,” and “Mama,” it somehow made the black “full beat down/lynching” experience of the system a somatic one for white people, too. I’ve used the term ‘crucifixion’ to capture the power reflected in the very proud—e.g., they knew full well that phones were capturing video of them and their actions—tragic public killing of George Floyd by Derek Chauvin and three other former Minneapolis policemen.
Bob the Tomato
If you are familiar with Veggie Tales, then you will recognize the voice of Phil Vischer, the creator of that media franchise, as that of Bob the Tomato. If you’re still not sure you understand how White supremacy became systemic, structured, and institutionalized, and still not sure why Black Lives Matter protesters are so angry, let Bob (Phil) break it down for you. Please don’t hide your heart from this as you watch:
Shifting approach now, with humor and candor, Baratunde Thurston shows how language forms significant parts of the systemic structure in institutional racism. “Systems are just collective stories we all buy into.” This engaging Ted-talk will feel more holistic (deliberately engaging both head and heart):
Areas for policy transformation are abundant in Bob the Tomato’s (Phil’s) analysis. The stepping stones to transformation in education (and, especially, in language engaged in cultural creation) are abundant in Baratunde Thurston’s Ted-talk.
The way (action) is clearly before us
So, white people don’t need to have hateful intentions, and they don’t need to say or do anything as Whiteness is a system of control that has social structures and institutions (like language, for instance) representing and sustaining it. The structures and institutions of Whiteness hold a system of privilege in place for white people. When white people recognize this systemic privilege, it forms a state of awareness through which intentionality now naturally factors in for white people. Therefore, in this awareness, silence in decrying the injustice of the system betrays the conscious complicity of white people in the system of Whiteness.
Whiteness is an old collective story—once conscious and deliberate, now, mostly, systemic, subtle, and not-conscious to white people; and, of course, still deadly harsh to black people—that we are all affected by significantly, e.g., white people affirmatively, and not-white people adversely. I’d assert that now is the time to finally recognize it, own it, repent from it, and heal it. Covid-19 and George Floyd have acted, respectively, as apocalypse revealing the faults in our reality, and catalyst for transformational change.
However, the harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few.
[this post approx. 1,825 words (8 min. read)]
I never know what I’ve said till I hear the response. What did you hear me say?
Note: I know, trying to introduce a big-picture idea like Spiral Dynamics (a complex developmental anthropology) in this format is ambitious. So, I’m using a serial-approach. Blog introduction (June 30, 2018). First in series (July 1, 2018).