As the saying goes: another day, another dollar, another white person trying to claim oppression, racism, victim status for nothing more than getting their feelings hurt. I might have added that last part myself, but that doesn’t make it any less true. I don’t mean to sound callous and insensitive but other white people’s feelings are not terribly important to me — especially seeing as how important the feelings of black folks and other people of color are/were/have been to other white people throughout history. If we, as white people, want to use our feelings as justification of oppression, we’ll need to take a long hard look at the bad feelings we’ve created, over centuries, directed back towards us. We’ll need to interrogate the environment we’ve created and come to terms with it — NOT ask everyone else to ignore history, deny oppression, and pretend that hundreds of years of racist violence have not been lived. In other words, we’ll need to do A LOT of work.
The problem is this: white people don’t want to do any work. We want the slate to be wiped clean. We want the past to no longer exist or be remembered. This is, in effect, white privilege at work in U.S. society: the idea that white people’s concerns should be central and that whatever we want goes, regardless of the wrongs that have yet to be made right. Under this rubric, talking about race becomes racism against white people. Calling out white privilege becomes white oppression. After all, all these “good” white people would gladly leave the past in the past and not continue to be racist or continue to oppress people of color IF ONLY we would just stop accusing them of such.
But it’s not that simple. White people — and I say “white people” referencing an entire group of people, not individuals — have a lot to answer for. And our only answer has been the twiddling of thumbs. I find it completely ethical and important to address “white people” as a group since it goes to work against the harsh reality that people of color and folks from marginalized groups get stereotyped into “groups” every second of the day while white people believe their individuality should save them from that very same fate. Sorry, but no. That’s also called white privilege. And what’s good for the goose is good for the gander, as another saying goes.
I recently got into trouble, from white people especially (which is no trouble to me at all), for doing just this: lumping all white people into the same group. After the asinine performance of Rachel Dolezal in which she attempted to claim racial allegiance in a group to which she did not belong, I wrote a series of tweets about the fact that now, as white people, we wouldn’t each have to answer for the actions of Dolezal and how that was unfair based on privilege and our system of stereotypes for all those that aren’t white. One tweet, in a series of tweets (as each can only be 140 characters), and which was largely taken out of context and reprinted, read: “Until the system changes, THERE ARE NO GOOD WHITE PEOPLE. only less bad white people.” Under current logic applied to marginalized groups, if one person does something underhanded, the entire group is seen as suspicious. Under that same rubric, if Dolezal as a white women engaged in underhanded, sneaky behavior to benefit herself, all white people should be suspect. I was making a point and yet that point was lost on the majority of the internet. The fact that it was lost on the majority of white people on the internet though, only further cemented my point.
I was inundated with messages not-at-all-graciously letting me know that I was actually the racist for lumping white people together and failing to see the differences in individual white people. “I am a good white person,” said many, “and how dare you say that there are no good white people.” It was and will always be my own conjecture that the people who respond most angrily to statements in which they have no actual stake, have the most to hide. Therefore, those that took the most issue with my statements (context or no context) probably had the highest levels of racism to contend with. But don’t tell them that; they will just tell you YOU are the racist and they are the victim. See how that works? White privilege has given them the perfect cushion.
But let me just define racism for of you out there that aren’t basic. The dictionary (and this a favorite for actual racists) says: racism is “the belief that all members of each race possess characteristics or abilities specific to that race, especially so as to distinguish it as inferior or superior to another race or races.” Ok. Cool. That seems easy. But the most commonly overlooked facet of the definition is the power dynamic involved. Racism involves power, as evidenced by the clause about distinguishing superiority and/or inferiority — these class distinctions cannot be determined outside of power. This is where being a critical thinker and not being basic comes in: you have to apply that definition to our current society. Nothing exists in a vacuum. Seeing as how whiteness is already devoid of rash generalizations — aka stereotypes; whiteness already reigns supreme. When one white person commits a crime, not all white people become immediately suspect. That’s called white supremacy. Whiteness is an invisible marker — one that doesn’t invoke negative stereotypes and continues to function as invisible, under the radar, supreme.
Guess what that means, folks? Racism against white people in the United States DOES NOT and CAN NOT exist. Yep. That’s right. Racism against white people in America is impossible given our current system. I know that’s hard for racists to hear because they want to turn the tables and claim racism against the people accusing them of racism. But…that’s impossible. The United States was founded on racist principles that rendered whiteness invisible and superior while positioning everything else as inferior. The ability to dictate superiority and inferiority involves power. No one (i.e. racists) wants to locate power in the definition of racism, even though it is ever present, constantly rearing its ugly head.
So, what do we have? We have a system in which racism is power and racism wields power and racism requires power. In other words, white people can NEVER be the victims of racism, in so much as our system was constructed. In fact, given this system, ALL white people are racist UNLESS they actively counter racism. We are born into white privilege whether or not we feel it individually. My tweets that many took such exception too are completely valid. I am not racist against white people. No such thing exists. I couldn’t be if I tried. I am simply asking my fellow white people to be critical; to demand more of ourselves, to do better. I am trying to be the least bad kind of white person I can be. And even at that I fail sometimes.
If the script got flipped and white people were judged by the worst of what any of us has done, we would go down in history as the most despicable, disgusting group of people known to man, and we probably should be recorded as just that. But it doesn’t happen because white people write the history. Until folks can recognize that fact, I will continue to use the group “white people” against myself and the rest of white people to illustrate the absurdity of using group characteristics to define any other group. White people that are doing their best to combat racism most likely will not take issue with that usage. My usage will continue to expose the white people that consider themselves “good” but actually have the most invested in our racist system. They will continue to come for me. What they don’t anticipate though is then being marked as the problem through their outcry. Racists can’t hide long. They have to center their own voices and they have to do it publicly — otherwise their message is lost. And they center themselves under the guise of white people’s feelings. I will continue to not give a shit about those feelings because those feelings will be the death of us all. Or they will be the marker of the problem. Whatever we allow/accept.