I Don’t Feel Bad About Being White, 1

It’s strange to have to claim it: “I don’t feel bad about being white.” But claim it I must.

The weird and sad fact is that there’s an all too familiar experience among those of us who are white and trying to figure out how to be anti-racist allies. At some point most of us have either been accused of “hating white people” (or being “anti-white”) or pitied for our “self-hatred.”

This has happened to me more times than I can count.

The general demeanor of the speaker in these moments is pretty different. The “anti-white” accuser is angry and the “self-hatred” pitier feels bad for you. But the assertions are based on identical logic. (They’re also almost always made by white people—which is itself worth noticing.)

As for the weird part, for me, that’s in the “anti-white” accusation. When directed my way I just shake my head in wonder: do these folks not realize my partner, my kids, and a lot of people I love are white? How could I possibly, therefore, be “anti-white”? It’s a nonsense accusation.

The sad part, though, is much more troubling.

What does it say about our view of white people, and of who we are as people, that attempts to seriously engage and critique whiteness, racism and white supremacy must mean you hate yourself or other whites? To say so is to essentially conclude that holding degrading views of people of color or “just” tolerating such views quietly when expressed by others, living peacefully with a system that constantly and measurably harms communities of color or “just” tolerating such a system quietly is simply part of what it means to be white.

What a low estimation of white people and our capacity for humanness.

In fact, we should name this view for what it is: the truly anti-white position. Racism and/or a fundamental inability to take proactive and sustained stands against it are simply part of who we are as white people? That’s about as anti-white as it gets.

This is a lot like the view of men revealed when people suggest men are “naturally aggressive” so they can’t help themselves when they sexually assault women. I challenge men in my classes to loudly reject and call out this view of their maleness for what it is: a pathetic view of their capacity to be human.

What’s more troubling, however, is the power these views have to stifle our attempts to grow an anti-racist practice—which is already difficult, slow work that has a never-ending learning curve. The first time I had a (white) professor in graduate school suggest in comments he gave me on “an otherwise excellent paper” that he hoped I could eventually learn to stop hating myself quite so much I felt called out and crappy. I wanted to protest my innocence and somehow show him I really was perfectly “okay” with myself. I wanted to insist he had misread me.

What a misdirection of energy, now turned back towards proving myself to white people (or, in this case, to another white person—who, I think, thought he was being kind) instead of continuing to pour energy into what I was actually doing in the paper he deemed “otherwise excellent”—namely growing my understanding and developing my ability to resist.

It took me some time to learn to see his comments and others that have come my way since for what they were/are: a way to keep me in line; an attempt to keep me in a white line.

It took me some time to learn that his comments had more to do with his own internalized “anti-white” view—his conclusion that part of what “white” means is to just live with or accept things as they are, that anything other than that must mean you don’t like your “white” self—than about some failure in my work or fracture in my psyche.

It took me some time to learn that I’m fine. There’s nothing wrong with me.

I don’t feel bad about being white. I hate white supremacy. And I reject whiteness even though I know I continue to dwell in it, benefit from it and be shaped by it endlessly and every day.

But I can fight and challenge all of these things. Accepting them is not part of “being white.” And the commitment to challenging them, however imperfectly I continue to do so, is actually a sign of a self very much in tact (or at least as in tact as a self can be). It’s evidence that there’s an actual real human being in there—in here—amidst all the brokenness this system embroils me in. There’s a real human being in here attempting to grow towards wholeness by fighting that brokenness.

I don’t feel bad about being white because being white doesn’t mean accepting evil and oppression. And, on the flip side, challenging evil and oppression doesn’t mean I feel bad about being white.

Learning this distinction has been critically important for me. It’s helped me stop internalizing ant-white voices that would have me believe that skin color is destiny and so I should just stop because otherwise…well I’m showing too much.

So maybe, you’re white and trying to grow an anti-racist practice, and you’ve learned this too. Or, maybe you need to learn it. In this case, learn it. And, I hope me putting it out there helps you do so.

Keep naming it and acting out against it. Keep getting out of line. Because you know what? When you do? Well…You’re fine. There’s nothing wrong with you.

 

 

 

 

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Comments
8 Responses to “I Don’t Feel Bad About Being White, 1”
  1. *victoriana says:

    Thank you for this! Much love from London xx

  2. Reblogged this on Roots of Justice and commented:
    So true: Critiquing “whiteness” doesn’t degrade white people. Rather it expects white people to be mature and open to growth.

  3. Ashley says:

    Hi Jennifer! Came across your blog yesterday and now have a bunch of tabs open to basically the read everything you’ve ever written here. 🙂 I’m looking forward to checking out your books.

    What you wrote really resonated with me. I think in this work it can be so easy to believe what people tell you – that you’re wrong in what you’re doing – because the work makes them uncomfortable. I do think there’s room for self-evaluation and asking whether I’ve done something hurtful that needs to be remedied, but often the issue is not with me, it’s with the other person. A while back I had to tell myself (and now this is a frequent reminder) that this work is often not going to be pretty and that’s just the way it is. Using my old standard of “If it hurts/is so hard, it must not be right or I must not be doing it right” doesn’t work anymore.

  4. Michael says:

    BRAVO!!!!!!!!!

    Excellent words, Ms Harvey.

    I am thankful for a white person to voice something that totally NEEDED to be said.

    First off, I’m black. I am the type of person who believes and knows that racism is alive and well…BUT I am not one to see Racism where it is not.

    For a long while, I have had issues with these so-called “culturally aware”and “socially hip” White people who constantly go around apologizing to high heaven for wearing feather earrings and “checking their privilege.” This whole auto-white shaming that is going around saddens me. It saddens me because of the Non-white people (Black, Hispanic, Asian, etc) who help to enforce it…and the white people who self-enforce it out of a sense of guilt, undue shame, and feelings of shame of who they are in life and what they have (such as, you have good credit, your parents sent you to college..you dont know my struggle, check your privilege!)

    What is bad about this, is it does the EXACT OPPOSITE of uniting people. It creates Non-White people who have resentment to White people, for whatever reason, and any suggestion that someone White is appearing to “take” a piece of their culture, and take it home to the “White World,” to experience it under an augmented and exploitative lens. Such as White people wearing Corn Row braids. It seems that people call this “cultural appropriation” and shame the White person. This speaks of Racism on the part of the person pointing the finger. How so? Because, if one accuses a White person of racism, because said person is appearing to experience a part of a culture outside of themselves; this shows the INITIAL belief that, BECAUSE the person is White, they do not have the capacity to respect and admire all culture, and earnestly admire an aspect of said culture. The White person is seen as a hedonistic culture-eater. That is a Racist idea. One could equally say that black women chemically straightening their hair is a form of “cultural appropriation” of White-textured hair. This is equally valid, an argument, if one is using the basis for the argument; a culture using/adopting/consuming aspects of another culture.

    It seems, in the hidden Racist world, white people fit in 3 categories concerning an outsiders view of them being potentially racist.

    1. The stereotypical White Person. Has a good home, comes from a good family, Good Credit, Nice, Has a “White” voice, White this, White that. The second branch of this is “the hick.” Alabama, etc. Still viewed as “typical white person” by general public. This grouping has the hardest time being pegged as Racist because they appear to be “fully white” without any visible or known associations with “ethnic” things…so one may assume that they have disdain for things that are not White.

    2. This statement sums this: “Im a stereotypical white person, but I totally hate being white, and Im sorry to you, Ethnic person, for me being White, and people who look like me totally screwing your people over. I will apologize to you for everything that remotely suggests I’ve offended you in any way, cause I’m White…so it might have been Racist…because I’m White. Please dont hate me. I’ll do anything to not appear to be Racist.” This grouping gets a “free pass” from society. As long as they meet the following condition: They continually insinuate that they really feel guilty/bad/disdain for being White, and consistently speak out against injustice/mistreatment for people of color…and throw words like “White Privilege” out every 5 minutes….and make constant comments on how they “check their privilege.”

    3. The “I’m White, but only in appearance….and I totally only like Black people, and Black things…all White things and White people are bad…except for White People who appear to be Black in mannerisms, speech, food choices, friends, etc.” This group is rarely seen as Racist. This group gets a free pass most of the time, because they appear to have shunned everything belonging to “White Culture.” To the point of actively saying bad things about White People, making fun of foods, clothing, etc – associated with general White Culture…and always insinuating in some kind of way that White people are inferior to Black People. This group gets a “free pass” because the Ethnic community grants the entrance near-fully, at the cost of the abdicating their association with the “White World.” Thus becoming a sort of adoptee; and getting to experience being “IN.” These people are often in some form of subservience to the Ethnic community in question, and only says/does things stereotypically believed to belong to the general population of the Culture in question. (Such as R&B/Rap music being associated with the Black community/ and Country music being associated with the White community.)

    The issue with the above is that This is an example of Racism against White people, and things they are forced to do to not just be seen as a “White Person.” There surely is a “White Struggle” that exists just as there is a “Black Struggle.” The White Struggle is harder to pinpoint and identify but it is surely there. The Black Struggle makes the news. Poverty, Discrimination, Rights, etc. Its an active, and tangible struggle. The White Struggle is not a financial one, its not about low education, etc etc. Its an intangible one. Its a silent one. The boiling resentment felt by others and aimed at White people simply because they are white! Which is pure and absolute racism. Resentment because one has a good job – or the other has good credit – or the other owns a company at the age of 30. They see this and think “You are White, so this was handed to you…you did not have to work hard for this, you have everything you want, and you do not understand my struggle, and I hate you for this.” It doesnt matter if the company owner worked as a bartender and Starbucks Barrista for 5 years and lived in a shitty apartment, saved most all of their income, shopped at thrift stores, and had a Savings account. The public sees it as “an easy ride…because you are white.” This is totally unfair. It is not right at all. The White Struggle is increased because of the White People who ARE racist and their actions define the whole race.

    Now…that being said. Black people have a similar problem with “Ghetto” Black behavior making the media. Black dysfunction becoming a running joke, and Black people trapped in the legal and unemployment systems….defining a race to the public as well, and trying to distance themselves from it!

    The irony!

    I believe that all human beings are equal. We are all afforded the same luxury of having the best life that we absolutely can, despite our upbringing. Some of us get a head start financially, or education-wise (such as intelligent parents having a child, versus a crack mother. One will be exposed to examples of far reaching thought. The other will not. One may, by upbringing, be conditioned to save money. The other may be conditioned to spend it as soon as it lands in their hands.) Either way, We are creatures of FREE WILL. Ignorance is no excuse, because Ignorance is NOT a disease! It is a willing choice to stay ignorant in life. Knowledge, and growth are why we are even human in the first place. We are here to lean, and to grow by any means necessary.

    I will not side with Black people because I am Black. NOR will I side with White people because I want to be liked. I am a seeker of pure truth. I will side on the side of Right and Good within the best of my capabilities.

    I have experienced Racism before. As we all have been discriminated against. For Gender, Race, Religion, Physical Disability, Sexual Orientation, Class Level, Intelligence Level…everything.

    None of it is right. But it is all done. We all must work together to change this. Acting cordial, but still being separate is what happens a lot in the world. It keeps wars down. The body count stays low this way. But it creates a race of human beings who are barely living, barely loving, and barely understanding. We must come together. It is the absolute and only way!

    I appreciate your words. A wise woman you are, Ma’am.

  5. Really helpful framing for me, a fellow white person. I read Kendall’s Understanding White Privilege earlier this year and started a practice for a while based on an exercise she gives: every morning I went through my to do list and added “as a white person.” “Today I am prepping for my creative writing class as a white person. I am going to bike to work as a white person. I am dropping off mail and making a grocery run as a white person.” I was surprised how uneasy I felt tagging on that simple phrase. There are several reasons Kendall encourages her white readers to see themselves in their racial identity, mostly as a way to overcome our blindness to privilege, but I was surprised at how quickly it brought up my desire to dissociate from other white people because I was assuming to claim my race meant to also claim supremacy, whiteness and privilege, plus all the things in our American history that have been done in their name. So I like that you made a distinction in this post between my race and racism. Very provocative. Thank you.

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