This piece was reprinted by OpEdNews with permission or license. It may not be reproduced in any form without permission or license from the source.
You've probably already seen the footage of a white police officer named Derek Chauvin cheerfully suffocating a black man named George Floyd to death with his knee while Floyd pleaded for his life. This went viral around the same time as another viral video where a white woman in Central Park called New York police on a black man who posed no threat to her while making sure to inform the police that he was black, and just weeks after video footage surfaced of a black man named Ahmaud Arbery being shot to death by a white former cop and his son while out for a jog.
So race is on everyone's mind, and rightly so. And whether we're honest with ourselves or we throw a bunch of verbiage at it to try and compartmentalize away from it, white people are all aware when we watch George Floyd being torturously murdered that there's no way it could have been us on the business end of that knee. Not because of our impeccable manners or our sparkling personality, but because our skin is a certain color.
And whether we choose to directly acknowledge this reality or not, we're going to experience discomfort on some level. And mainly what I want to say here is, that's okay.
It can be tempting to try and distance ourselves from this discomfort by making it about individuals: that individual cop was a bad, bad man and I would never do such a thing, and I didn't, so I have no accountability here. And of course it's true that you were not personally directly responsible for George Floyd's actual murder, but white people who urgently advance that truism are only ever doing so to avoid confronting the more uncomfortable reality that they live in and benefit from a society which guarantees that they will never be on the receiving end of such brutality.
White people have a lot of unprocessed feelings about racism, their role in it and the extent to which they've benefited from it, both in America and here in Australia, where the bright sun on my pale skin is a constant reminder to me that I am an alien on stolen land. Those unprocessed feelings will probably express themselves in angry vituperative comments on this essay by white people who are afraid of simply feeling their feelings and getting real with themselves, because this is uncomfortable, confrontational stuff.
"Identity politics!" is an objection I often get when I try to talk about the reality of racial power dynamics in our society, probably because I have a lot of readers who follow me because of my criticisms of the Democratic Party which often cynically exploits race and racism to advance political agendas.
But this isn't identity politics; it's not about politics at all. This is about healing, and being real with ourselves.
"Bah, white guilt!" is another common objection. "You just want us to feel guilty! How does white people feeling all guilty help fix racism??"
They always talk about guilt. Guilt, guilt, guilt, guilt, guilt. I never brought guilt up, but that's what they argue against. Which is of course very telling.
Obviously guilt in and of itself is not the objective here. Nobody's claiming that the world's racial wounds would be healed if white people just went around feeling guilty all the time; that's a vapid strawman that is advanced by white people who don't want to viscerally grapple with the reality of the advantages their whiteness brings them.
But also, why such a fearful, defensive response to the possibility of experiencing guilt? Why treat guilt like it's made of molten lava? Guilt is just a feeling; it won't hurt you. You just feel it, listen to what it has to say, and then once it's been felt all the way through it subsides. There's no need to fear it, and it's not legitimate to reject ideas on the basis that they might cause you to experience it.
It's not about guilt, it's about consciousness and curiosity. Consciousness of the way racial power dynamics play out in our own lives, and curiosity about the experience of other races in our society.
White people are averse to emotionally processing the reality of their privilege for the same reason rich people aggressively insist they worked hard for every penny they have even though they know they received way more opportunities and advantages than the average person ever sees. Life is hard and abrasive for everyone, even for white people and even for rich people, so acknowledging you've received a head start in some way over other people can be one more thing in your mind telling you you're deficient, in addition to your father's voice and your first love rejecting you and all the other painful inadequacy stories you've got circling through your consciousness.
White privilege doesn't mean white people don't suffer or that some white people don't have it harder overall than some black people. All it means is that having white skin is an advantage, and that all other factors being equal a white person will have an easier time in our society than a person of color. And that this is because our society has been shaped by white supremacy for many generations, leaving many remaining effects.
(Note: You can view every article as one long page if you sign up as an Advocate Member, or higher).