An Open Letter to Guilted Whiteness
From someone who knows you’re not evil
Dear White People,
We have, for centuries, been born into, fed by, educated under, lied to, groomed for, and brainwashed by a marinade of systemic white privilege. A system which assumes our supremacy as a matter of course, even of kindness and merciful leadership. It isn’t.
White supremacy is systemic oppression which we have had not only the privilege, but the atmospherically implied duty, to remain blind to in order for the world we know to survive.
In our blindness, so very many of us are trying to use white supremacy to combat the problem of white supremacy. By simply denouncing the system we, yet, still participate in. By “not seeing” color. By distancing ourselves from whites who embody racism to a greater degree than we do — including our ancestors — and calling it good. By vowing to be different than those whites and to uplift the oppressed.. by reaching down to them once we’ve made it to the top rather than raising them from below. By policing, challenging, ignoring, or seeking validation from activists color who are rising against white supremecy — us.
Like any abusive relationship, in our relationship with white supremacy it is impossible to see the forest for the trees without distance: A distance that very few of us, unfortunately, will ever get. We are corroded and reactive and have absorbed its tendencies. We have worked unconsciously to maintain this status for the entirety of our lives, and it stays with us. Even having awoken to the injustice of global white dominance, we are fighting that system from inside our own centuries-old institutionalized echo chamber.
We want to do right by others, but keep what we’ve worked hard to attain within the system of our privilege, including our inflated regard for ourselves as leaders and problem solvers. Not because we are evil, but because it is all we’ve ever known.
We are also the ones, guilty whites, who choose to be in this, examining ourselves, each other, and our culture, to face the hideous truths in our origins and history still so alive and well. That we can to some level acknowledge and admit to behaving badly and being indoctrinated into a system which benefits us is an indication of our humility and ability to ultimately address the problem. Our guilt, while often insufferable, is indication of our promise.
Our shame, however — our often unconscious personal damnation of ourselves as being bad for being white, as being attacked when our collective illusion of supremacy is checked — is not. Our shame is what drives our desire to defend ourselves, our compulsion to be validated and to distance from our own behavior. In most situations in which the psychosocial phenomenon of white guilt is pointed out, it should actually be called white shame.
Even the best of us, the most outraged of us, the most earnest of us, will have our asses handed to us in this movement.
Hopefully, more and more, by our fellow evolving whites. When those knocks come, we must imbibe ourselves with our own kindness and compassion. The system which told us that our voices meant everything ensured there was no other way for us to be without the immense challenge of transformation and a time period of skinless, raw discovery.
Our pain, as we are seeing a sliver of the reality of what life is like for people of color in this country, is real. Our world as we know it is threatening to crumble down around us, and many of us are deeply afraid, in our DNA, that the people we have wronged over the centuries will return that treatment to us. Part of us is terrified. Part of us is certain that we are going to die. And in a way, that is true; our identifications, our matter of course in how we fit into this world, needs to die.
Part of us wants to be the exception to that, the ‘not me’, the wronged one, the ‘good’ white person. Sooth it. Hear it. Honor it.
Honor it, and also know that we are not the wronged ones. By being called on our shit we are feeling a hurt that doesn’t amount to even a mere minuscule fraction of the hopeless suffering of those who challenge the position we were gifted by a barbaric, unjust system. We, in these moments of pain and shame, are feeling the pangs of our own humanity. Only through our authentic ownership of our experience of that can we play our part in a fight for equality that is, and is also not, ours.
Our white shame has no place in progress. For as long as we remain ashamed and paralyzed rather than responsible, we continue to be the system being rightfully rejected. A system that, by its own existence, has created us ignorant to the extent to which that position endures, illiterate to the ways it thrives and survives within us.
We must not make our white pain the responsibility of those our race has systematically oppressed. We must listen to it, hold it, heal it, and then let it the fuck go. Over, and over, and over again, together. Only through our courage can our shame transmute, supporting us in our strength, and to allyship.
Transition is messy. The pain you feel is a tide turning.
And that is exactly what we want.
Courtnee Fallon Rex