I can already feel the #NotAllWhitePeople contingents’ spidey senses tingling. I can see their mouths already halfway to annunciating their disclaimer. But to say “not all white people” is only to make the conversation about you — the very white person that is objecting to being lumped in with other white people. Singling yourself out. Demanding attention. And isn’t that the toxicity of whiteness to begin with? Its hijacking of power and notoriety.
Therein lies the rub. Anyone that isn’t white has felt the violence of being lumped into a group based on superficial features. Terrorist. Thug. Racially coded language used to profile brown and black folks. Black women get labeled angry regardless of their tone, simply because they have the courage to speak out.
White people have never been grouped as white, stereotyped. We are actively feeling the sting in real time. And it’s a sting and discomfort that we should feel. Because white people have committed atrocities, more so than any other group in history. Yet we dodge a stereotype. We still cling to the idea of “good white people” despite it being countered, disproved at every turn.
If you can’t navigate the sting of a phrase like “no good white people,” knowing based on your own actions and work that you aren’t included in the generalization, then you have much more work to do. Because to cry out in defense is to recenter any political issue or debate around you. And spoiler alert: you as a white person have always been central, for centuries. It’s time to recalibrate. It’s time to turn the tables.
To right a wrong, some people will be made to feel uncomfortable. To redress injustice, people used to default power must concede. There’s no equilibrium with some still holding out for their white hero that will prove they did no wrong. Because they did. We did. We all did, white people. We’ve participated in a system that was unjust to begin with. We are accountable no matter how much we personally recoil from the thought.
And it’s not always our personal fault, but that doesn’t alter the reality. That’s a sticking point for many. We try to do our best. We try to be inclusive. We deny our complicities with racism because we’ve tried to outrun them. But have we actively challenged them? Have we fought them off tooth and nail? Have we tried to unlearn them? Or just tried to brush them off our shoulder on our way to somewhere else without taking direct action?
I’m not writing an essay about judgment, here. And many white people know this. They nod their heads with every paragraph and sleep somewhat soundly knowing they’re trying to make the world a better place. But for those that don’t; for those that continue to object to being characterized with the violence of whiteness and white people throughout history, my question is, “Why?”
Why do you think you’re so special? Why are you an exception? Why are you somehow precluded from being judged based on the larger group of white people that you represent, just like anyone from other marginalized groups has been forced to do forever? What about you and your ego is forcing you to immediately make yourself known as an outlier? And I don’t want you to jump to an answer. I want you to sit in that discomfort and think. Reflect. Consider, if you can.
The sad truth is that the impulse to call yourself out as an exception proves the rule. That it’s not about making the world better for the most people — it’s actually about YOU being seen as a good person. And that helps no one but you. So when you feel you can’t help but object, think about your intentions. If they’re true and noble, you just might find that you don’t need to say anything at all. Because you’re already confident in your own role. Your actions prove your intent, no need to say it. And you know that the #NotAllWhitePeople cry you’re about to make is only about calling attention to yourself and not actually creating a more equitable climate for everyone in the world.
If you’re a white person and can’t sit in the discomfort for five minutes of being lumped in with a group that has done terrible things throughout history, why is it ok that others from more marginalized backgrounds have had to do the same? True, you might object to that as well, but if so, know that scales can’t balance themselves with no action, no sacrifice. Equity, equality can’t be turned into reality without evening the tension. That means sharing, that means compromise. Compromise on the part of power. Compromise on the part of white people.
Part of that compromise is recognizing that we too speak for our entire group. Distancing ourselves from that does no good. Speaking out, objecting, rejecting gets us closer however. Counter-balance. Let go. Be vulnerable. It’s the only way forward. Because we never deserved any of this power and privilege to begin with. And if, even after all of this, you still can’t control the impulse the object as a “not all white people” person, that’s strike three. You proved my initial thesis. There are no good white people. Because any white people that claim to be good are not, and any white people invested in good actions just shut the fuck up and keep working.