Let’s make a few things clear.
I don’t feel guilty for slavery. That ended in 1865. Neither do I feel guilty for Jim Crow Laws. That was 1877-1954. I don’t feel a twinge of guilt when the KKK burns crosses and spouts their racist bullshit.
In general, I don’t feel guilty for things that other people do. Even if they are in the same category as I am. For example, I don’t feel guilty that The United States dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. I’m an American, but that wasn’t me. I didn’t bomb anyone. I wasn’t even alive. And if my cousin Frank beat his wife, I wouldn’t feel guilty because of what my cousin Frank did. Or if my dad embezzles money or my neighbor robs a liquor store, I’m not sure if that means I’m guilty of something. Men rape women thousands of times a year, but the police don’t coming knocking on my door, simply because I’m a man. That wouldn’t make much sense.
I was born in 1972, and lots of shit has gone down through the centuries that I haven’t been a part of. My white guilt is not based on those things so far removed from me.
My white guilt is based on the things that I have done. In my lifetime. Here are some examples:
- In 1992, at the blissfully ignorant age of 20, I was having a discussion with a diverse group of people at my University. In that conversation I defended the actions of the officers who beat Rodney King. My defense was something like, “Well, you know… the guy was on PCP.” I don’t remember exactly what I said, but it was something like that. It is years later that I think back to that and think to myself WTF?? I consider myself a good person, so how did I so easily get behind such a prejudiced viewpoint? If you haven’t seen the video lately, go take a look for yourself and ask yourself: How is it that we could have watched that video and then made excuses for the officers? Change the clothes of the participants and it would be difficult to tell if the year was 1991, 1891 or 1791. To top it off, the four officers were tried and acquitted by a jury of their peers ( I suppose “peers”, in this case, means mostly white people. 10 of 12 jurors were white.)
- I’ve passed on spurious rhetoric about black on black crime. Note that I’m not a KKK member. I don’t ever remember either my mother or father saying ANYTHING racist or demeaning toward black people. And yet, here I am, making my way through life and I hear the narrative of black on black crime, and I think to myself “Huh, yeah never thought of that before. That makes sense, though.” You don’t have to be a bad person or a racist to be influenced by racist narratives or ideas. You just have to be regular Joe Schmo, hearing something and then believing it, not stopping to realize that black on black crime isn’t even a thing. It’s just crime. It’s no more a real thing than white on white crime. Most whites are killed by other whites. Most Latinos are killed by other Latinos. I’m sure that if there were such things as unicorns, they would most likely be killed by other unicorns and it doesn’t take a genius to understand why this is. We are still an incredibly segregated country.
- In the past I’ve agreed and perpetuated the idea that blacks should be more “cooperative” when pulled over by police officers. As if the onus is on innocent unarmed black people to behave in a certain way, so as to not get shot and killed.
- I’ve believed fallacies about black people being more racist than white people and that reverse racism is a thing. These ideas I learned about from Larry Elder’s book The Ten Things You Can’t Say in America. I love that catchy title, implying that politically incorrect white people are somehow being unfairly silenced in America.
- In light of the above items, I’m sure that are lots of other things I’ve done because of, well, ignorance.
And that’s the thing, isn’t it? White people grow up with a lot of ignorance of race in America. That is the “privilege” we have. We don’t have to think about race, because race isn’t about us. It’s about people of color. If there is one crime we white people are guilty of, it’s ignorance. And if there’s one crime black people are guilty of it’s…what? Pointing out that ignorance?
No, we aren’t on an even playing field when it comes to race, not even close. White people seem to have a long history of not understanding racism. Black people, on the other hand, have a PhD in that shit. And yet, on the whole, white America still won’t listen to black America because we think we know better. And we have our own agenda. We have arguments and logic and analogies and statistics to whitesplain away everything.
But here’s the point: In order for racism to continue to exist in America, we don’t need a bunch of KKK members or Jim Crow laws or slavery. What do we need then? How many white people does it take to continue the systemic racism in our country? Answer: 100. One white person to do something absolutely horrible and racist, and 99 white people to explain how it’s not actually racist. It’s actually this, that or the other.
The continuation of racism in America doesn’t actually require a boat load of malicious intent. All it takes is for the majority to be ignorant of what’s actually going on and to ignorantly allow it continue. In some cases, even perpetuate it. And if you throw in some whitesplaining, that’s just fuel on the fire.
This is where we are in 2016. People burning crosses and shooting unarmed black men do not make up the majority. The majority is instead made up by ignorant people who shame and blame black people. Who excuse and defend racist acts and and who ignore or try to downplay the inherent racism in our institutions.
I’m pretty sure there are some white people out there going “I never burned any crosses. I never owned a slave. I never told blacks to go drink at another drinking fountain. What do I have to be guilty about?” There are probably a lot of whites out there going “You and your white guilt. You must hate yourself.”
No, I don’t hate myself. This isn’t about me and my white guilt. In fact, guilt might not be the right word. Maybe shame or embarrassment. But I try not to dwell on the past. I just try to make the future better.
I don’t hate myself and I don’t hate America. I just happen to be growing day by day, and the older I get the more I learn. The more I learn the more I realize that we still have a problem with racism in America.
So, dear white people. I’m a white person just like you. But I’m tired of hearing the whitesplaining. Let’s chill out with that because when people of color talk about racism, they might not even be talking about you. They might be talking about slavery or Jim Crow or the KKK. They might be talking about some other white person. Maybe they’re talking about the cop who is shooting unarmed black people.
And the possibility exists–
that they could be talking about the white person who is blaming the black person for getting shot. Or saying that racism isn’t a problem any longer. Or saying “why are you black people so angry? Why do you complain so much?” Or the masses of well-intentioned white folk creating that oh-so-familiar roar, reverberating down through the centuries.
Come to think of it, they might actually be talking about you. I sure as hell know they’re talking about me.