Dealing With White Guilt
Today, thanks to Meniere’s Disease, I am confined to my bed. My husband is here to help me and I’m going to be okay, if not miserable.
By now, most of us have already read the piece of clickbait that was Jen Caron’s: It Happened To Me: There Are No Black People In My Yoga Class and I’m Suddenly Feeling Uncomfortable With It. (Clicking these links will not up their page counts). This piece was wrong in so many ways. Most likely, the unnamed black woman (because they are always unnamed, see Eve Ensler’s article on “Congo Stigmata“).
Now, I’ve been told repeatedly that white privilege does not exist. This argument pales because I see it on a daily basis. Getting served first. The extreme politeness of POC towards me when I’m at the grocery store. Often, I want to to stop and say “I’m not one of THOSE white people, please just act normally.”
But I don’t. There are reasons for this.
I use my white privilege when it is helpful to me or my friends. Indeed, when I helped @Suey_Park with a flat tire in the middle of nowhere, I had several people accusing me of abuse of white privilege, even though AAA has a policy dealing with gifting accounts instantly. Many people assumed that because I was white, I was able to do things a person of color would be unable to do. In that circumstance, my knowledge of AAA’s policies was what was useful. I had learned about them while working in Customer Service.
Honestly, I wasn’t using white privilege at that moment.
Times I have used white privilege? When I’ve seen a POC being treated poorly at the hands of white customer service agents. When I see a POC being treated poorly by another nurse. When I’ve seen a Hispanic person clearly struggling with a language barrier who needed help with translation. My college education is a form of privilege. I am determined to use it where ever I can to pull people up, not to bring people down. This is how I use my white privilege.
There are other times White Privilege has benefited me without my intent, so many circumstances I will never know. Other times, I become aware of it as it is happening, and I try to stop it. When I see a white person invoking their privilege, I try to say something about it, if I am able. I do not have Male Privilege, and I am aware there are times when speaking out could cost me my job, and I really need my job.
But how did I become aware of this privilege? Slowly, very slowly. I was raised in Nashville, Tennessee, very close to the projects, and until I went to a private high school on scholarship and my mother scraping by, I went to schools where white people were a minority. Still, I had white privilege.. I wasn’t aware of it, but I was given opportunities black people were not. Classes for the gifted. Extra time with teachers.
I am smart. In some situations, such as memory and language, I have been called “scary smart.” Still, this didn’t earn me additional time with teachers. Indeed, I should have been okay if left alone. So why did I receive so much attention from white teachers in a mostly black classroom? White privilege.
Still, it was years before I learned about white privilege. I credit @judeinlondon with so many things, and through reading her tweets, I learned about white privilege . I also saw Jude say over and over that it was not her responsibility to educate. I googled. I learned some more. I was horrified. All this time, when I thought what had been achieved on my own merit was probably influenced by white privilege. Was I even equally qualified for my job? (After a great deal of thought and introspection and looking over the lives I have saved, I believe I am completely qualified and very good at my job).
Then I did an Ancestry.com search on my family. It wasn’t particularly easy, but eventually I came upon what I didn’t want to see. My distance descendants were slave owners. While I had been told, repeatedly, I was descended from Native Americans, I couldn’t find written proof of this (I have been told by Native Americans I have distinct Lakota features, but I do not know how distant the relationship is). There are several pictures of Native women owned by my family, and I have been told they were my great great great grandmothers, but there is little proof. Definitely not enough proof to claim discrimination due to my ancestry, as many white people do.
The facts, staring right at me, were sickening. I am the descendent of slave owners, which means, like many white Americans, I am unknowingly complicit in the horrible treatment of African Americans and other people of color. I closed the program. I was nauseated. I opened Twitter. I needed to talk to someone. But who? Who would be the right person to talk to? I was very close to tears. I felt sick. But I remembered the words of so many black women, that it was not their job to comfort me, and I decided to respect that. I had never harmed them, but by asking for forgiveness for crimes I personally did not commit, I could become a vehicle of harm.
I closed my computer.
Discovering white privilege and distant relationship with slave owners is painful, but it is not the duty of black people, particularly black women, to comfort us. @TheTrudz has spoken out many times on Twitter about the tendency of white people to seek out comfort and forgiveness from black people when the first pangs of white guilt hit our hearts. This morning, we had this exchange:
Trudy has made herself very accessible online, and paid a heavy price for it. Here is my point: It is not the job of black people to comfort us. For the most part, they do not want to comfort us. The desire of white people to have forgiveness from black people from things done hundreds of years ago does not require white people to “prostrate” themselves to black people. What it really indicates is a desire to have the love and attention of the “Mammy” figure.
@TheTrudz has suggested this article: 28 Common Racist Attitudes and Behaviors That Indicate a Detour or Wrong Turn into White Guilt, Denial, or Defensiveness. She also has multiple articles at her blog, Gradient Lair that are very useful. I have never read an article by @TheTrudz and not learned something valuable. She also suggested this reading: Why Are All The Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? By Beverly Tatum. It contains step by step instructions. I have started reading this book and found it powerful. Unfortunately, my tablet is dead and I’m waiting for it to completely charge.
Mammy is long gone. Yes, black women can be incredibly nurturing and kind. So can all women, should they choose to do so. But black women are no longer obliged to give us comfort. To expect comfort for your white guilt from black women or other women of culture IS AN ABUSE OF YOUR WHITE PRIVILEGE. This is why I don’t just come out and say “I’m not one of those white people.” Instead, I use a different tactic. If there is someone I want to be friends with, I gently approach them and over time they will see I’m not one of “those” white people, and if they are willing, and like me back, friendship will grow on it’s own. There is no need to force it.
Still, I see people, hundreds a day, coming into the mentions of my black friends on Twitter, demanding education. They refuse to read links, valuable links, that could educate them. They will only take education from a black person, THIS black person, as a matter of fact. THIS IS AN ABUSE OF YOUR PRIVILEGE SO OBVIOUS SARAH PALIN CAN SEE IT FROM HER HOUSE. If she weren’t so blind to white privilege herself.
So here is my proposal. If you are feeling a big dose of white guilt, come talk to me. You can reach me at @grimalkinrn on Twitter, and I will be happy to talk about your feelings. These feelings are a part of growth. They are valid, and they are necessary. What is not necessary is burdening women (or men) of color with your feelings. If you need privacy, you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or DM me on Twitter (though you will need to let me know you need me to follow you back ). Needless to say, trolls will be blocked.
If white people talk to one another about our white privilege and white guilt, we will be better prepared to use our white privilege to the advantage of others, and not just ourselves.