Mass murder, genocide, racism
We uncovered the fundamentals of what racism looks like when we say all white people are racist. If you missed the foundational post on this concept, you might want to backtrack before reading on. Now let’s look into predictable reactions white people have when learning this. And also, the term white guilt.
It’s a complex topic to be sure.
It’s no secret that BIPOC (Black Indigenous and People of Color) have experienced, and continue to experience, racism imposed upon them by white people. This includes historical or institutional examples of racism. When white people learn about or reflect on these instances of racism from other white people sometimes they feel guilt. A kind of guilt by association. The only association is a commonality of race. This is what’s referred to as white guilt.
It’s important to acknowledge that race is a social construct. More than once it has been proven scientifically that there is only one race. However, it’s undeniable that race is a term we all understand and use to better understand racism. While race is a social construct, racism is not.
As a white person, it’s ok if you feel a mix of emotions. I know I did when I absorbed the concept of being simultaneously racist and anti-racist. Personally, I felt this concept shone light on many things I had not previously considered. In short, it gave me a lot to think about for a long time afterwards.
However, my white privilege became impossible to ignore. Even if I wanted to, I couldn’t pretend it wasn’t as wide-reaching and systemically rooted as I was led to believe. It felt unfair that I benefited from something that I hadn’t earned. Especially when I acknowledged that it came at the expense of disadvantaging BIPOC.
The other confusing emotion I felt was sadness. This one was twofold for very different reasons. When reading this excerpt, I knew that I would never truly understand what it is to live life with any melanin in my skin, therefore I would never fully comprehend the struggles that come along with it.
Admittedly, I felt defeated because I would never really ‘get’ it. To be clear, I’m not suggesting that I have a desire to experience racism. I simply mean I could talk to BIPOC and research endlessly and I would still never fully comprehend the impact of experiencing racism.
At the same time, I felt devastated that BIPOC were experiencing racism in every avenue of their lives. On a merciless and relentless basis. How could we justify subjecting people to that? How? The last emotion I felt was that of shame. Shame that people who looked like me had created a world in which white people could thrive at the expense of everyone who didn’t look like them. Shame to be associated with people like that in any way.
For me, these emotions ebb and surge. Still, I’d be lying if I said that the more I learn the less emotional I become. In fact, I have found the opposite to be true. I sat with the emotions I described for a long time, thinking them over, examining them, reflecting on where they came from, and what I could do to change systemic racism.
Things started to shift. I became less focused on how I felt and more focused on how I could help. This is an important transition for every white person when it comes to allyship. We’re allowed to feel emotional about the subject of racism.
We’re allowed to be angry, ashamed, guilty, sad, defensive etc. Feel however you feel, but keep the door open. Don’t use emotion as an excuse to shut down the conversation. Have the courage to press on. Take time with those emotions and when you’re ready, refocus on action. How can you help? What can you do?
The Next Step
The more you learn about systemic racism, the more passionate you’ll become about advocating for human rights. At the same time, be sure to monitor your mental health. White people don’t have the same ‘racial stamina’ as BIPOC because our privilege shields us from race issues.
This is important to acknowledge. You need to take time to build up the ‘muscles’ that will allow you to dig further and further into this subject without it overwhelming you or deterring you. Just know that being emotional about this is ok, it’s expected. But don’t let that be your excuse for exercising your white privilege and opting out of racial issues. Pause, reflect, regroup, refocus, and build those muscles.