Hidden Fees: The Price of the Ticket

Baldwin’s On Being White and Other Lies and The Price of the Ticket left me with more questions than answers. I come from a mixed line of Irish and Filipino, but I’ve always called myself white. Upon coming to college, I joined the Filipino-American Student Organization, and my friends there encouraged me to embrace more of my ancestry. But I always came back to the question: what right did I have to claim my Filipino heritage? Baldwin seems to fundamentally disagree with that question. Baldwin bluntly states in On Being White and Other Lies that “White being, absolutely, a moral choice (for there are no white people)” (canvas document, pg 4). The claim that whiteness is a moral choice stems from the reasoning that being White means to choose safety and assimilation. To subjugate identity and subsequently accept an oppressive society for the purpose of subjugating everyone else. But Baldwin goes much further in The Price of the Ticket when he writes, “The price the white American paid for his ticket was to become white…I know very well that my ancestors had no desire to come to this place: but neither did the ancestors of the people who became white” (pg 842). I know this is true because all I remember of my Irish grandmother is how she pined for Galway. And the paintings on my wall of the Philippines from my great-grandfather’s memory. Reading Baldwin changed the question in my mind: why did I claim whiteness? In doing so, I inadvertently relinquished my heritage for the prospect of fitting in. 

Furthermore, Baldwin offers a much deeper understanding of systems when he discusses politics. Baldwin states that “This necessity of justifying a totally false identity…has placed everyone now living in the hands of the most ignorant and powerful people” (canvas document, pg 3). The dissection of the political atmosphere, of which everyone has grievances of varying degree, struck a similar note as a section of a reading from a separate class. Donella Meadows’ Thinking in Systems points out that the respective purposes of individual people or groups may add together to form a system that does not match anyone’s interests. Thus, economic interests, corruption, capitalism, self-serving protection, and poor support for recovery can result in a society where crime and drug addiction are difficult to combat (Meadows, pg 15). Baldwin does an excellent job of pointing out a similar vein in systemic racism: “Those who believed they could control and define Black people divested themselves of the power to control and define themselves” (canvas document, pg 4). The action of “white” people to control Black people causes them to become White, in what Meadows’ labels as a feedback loop. White people rise by forcing Black people to sink. The similarities of systems are strange but ultimately convey one of the reasons racism is so extremely woven into American society.