Notes on White Guilt

“So it is better to speak—remembering—we were never meant to survive.”

—Audre Lorde, A Litany For Survival

I suppose I should start with this: I am in pain. I am in more pain than I don’t know what to do with. This physically hurts to write, and I’m doing it anyway.

There’s nothing I can say now that hasn’t been said before. There’s nothing I can say now that I haven’t said beforeloudly, angrily, sadly, to anyone who would listen (and to many who wouldn’t). Since George Floyd’s murder, and the subsequent fury and anguish that’s splashed across every news outlet and medium, I have been battling with the pure, unfiltered rage of every memory where I’ve been silenced whenever I tried to talk about racism. It didn’t go away. Anger never goes awaynot for me. Sometimes it’s the only thing I have to remind me that I am surviving in a world that gaslights me into questioning my own sanity on a regular basis. I have lived in multiple societies, surrounded by people who made it perfectly clear how socially unacceptable it is to remind them of this basic truth. I have loved and fought for and torn my life a part for people who made it clear to me that talking about racism would be punishable by anything from social isolation, to character assassination, harassmentor worse. I swallowed it, because I have to live in a world that’s run by, manufactured in the image of, and enforced by Whitenessbut you can choose to acknowledge the pain and anguish and heartbreak of what that has meant for me. You can choose to exist in my world where your cowardly endorsement of racism has meant my continuous dehumanizationor you can choose not to. That is a choice that you have always had, but I have never known.

Laquan McDonald. Murdered by police in Chicago, October 2014, age 17

I told you. We told youloudly, angrily, sadly. In every way imaginable, but you didn’t care. I won’t speak for anyone else, because every Black person I know is raging in their own unique, beautiful, heartbreaking wayand you need to listen to every single one of us. Every choked sob. Every righteous rant. Every outcry is an indictment on your silence, and I hope it haunts you at night. I hope it makes you lose sleep. I hope it turns your stomachs inside out. Because while you’ve been choosing to look away, people are dying. Our experiences are varied and important and crucial and enraging, and you’ve dismissed them so that you can continue to think of yourselves as good, decent people.

You’re not.

Sandra Bland, murdered by police in Waller County, Texas, 2015, age 28

In 2014, I wrote a blog post called Riot Mentality and The Case for Resistance, after the video of Eric Garner being murdered by a police officer went viral. Then I updated it again in 2016 after the murders of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile. I went back and re-read it recently, and there’s not a single word I would add or subtract to make it more relevant to what’s happening right now in 2020. When you look at the scenes, the only thing that’s different are the names of the victims.

And I want you to say them out loud:

Ahmaud Arbery.

Murdered in Glynn County, GA, 2020, age 25

Breonna Taylor.

Breonna Taylor, murdered by police in Louisville, KY 2020, age 26

George Floyd.

Murdered by police in Minneapolis, MN, 2020, age 46

Actually…there is one thing I would change about that blog post, and I have to thank Matt Gonzales for pointing this out: What’s happening in the US is not riotingit’s rebellion. Rioting is what White people do when their favorite sports team loses the championship. Rebellion is when marginalized people rise up and resist state-sanctioned oppression. And if you’re calling for an end to the violence, but not calling out police brutality, or housing discrimination, or voter suppression, or lack of access to healthcare, or the demiliterization of the police, or mass incarceration, then what you’re really asking for is a continuation of the silent oppression that we’ve been living through all alongthat’s been killing people.

Atatiana Jefferson, murdered by police in Fort Worth, TX, 2019, age 28

When you say that violence isn’t the answer, but you “don’t agree” with racism (spoiler alertyou do, that’s why you worded it like that) you’re actually prioritizing damaged property over human life. And you do that so that you can delegitimize the unrest that you are responsible for creating.

Yes, I’m anti-violence. But being anti-violence means destroying the tools of violence. You cannot talk to me about being anti-violence unless you talk to me about ending racism and police brutality, just like you cannot talk to me about forcing a woman to carry her child to term unless you talk to me about ending the death penalty and feeding the thousands of children starving in the world’s richest economy.

Black people built that country for free…and you want them to respect the laws and buildings and institutions and processes that protect their murderers?

Eric Garner, murdered by police in New York City, 2014, age 43

Just admit that you don’t care. No wait, you don’t need to admit it anymore. Because now, everyone can see that you don’t care. Everyone can see your moral bankruptcy. And now, you can see it too.

But surechange your profile picture to a black square if it makes you feel better. Change them if it makes you feel good about doing literally nothing else. Change your profile picture to make yourself feel better about supporting cultures of silence in the work place. Change your profile picture so that you can pretend that you don’t say “I don’t see color” as a dog whistle to avoid being uncomfortable with the fact that you damn well do. Change your profile picture if it makes you feel better about standing aside idly while the people around you are racist, because deep down White privilege is all you have, and you refuse to let it go.

Tamir Rice, murdered by police in Cleveland, OH, 2014, age 12

But don’t you dare slip into my inbox and ask me if I’m okay (I’m not). To cry about how you don’t understand (really?). To ask me to educate you on how to be better (get tha FUCK outta here). That’s not about me. It’s about you. It’s about placing the burden of your feelings onto me so that I have to shoulder them on top of my own. I don’t want to hear about how “ashamed” you feel. If you really feel ashamed, then talk to your racist parents. Talk to your racist siblings. Talk to the racist friends I deleted, and who you defended! Look in the mirror, and talk to yourself. Stop traumatizing me with your ignorance. Take advantage of the many resources available so that you’re not awful, and to make sure that your children aren’t awful either. Put your money where your mouth is and donate to the bailout funds to free protestors for fighting for their human rights. Stand up for something other than the right to brunch!

In the words of Astead Wesley, I’m calling a moratorium on texts from guilty white liberals. I already know who I can talk to right now. I know who gets it. So if I haven’t approached you directly, ask yourself why, and start there. Ask yourself if you’re a person taking up space or creating it. Ask yourself about the last time we had a conversation about social justice and how you knee-jerkingly reacted with what-aboutisms, and respectability politics. Ask yourself about all the times you asked me to explain the actions of all Black people, because I’m the only one you knew. Ask yourself why you can quote Salinger by heart, but have never read The Autobiography of Malcolm X. Ask yourself about that conversation we had where you defended someone’s racist comments by saying she came from a hard life and built herself up, and you “respect her for that.” Ask yourself about that time you said nothing while your mother berated Palestinian women and her partner called Barack Obama a “closeted Muslim,” and then turned around and cried and screamed saying they felt attacked by me for calling them racist. Ask yourself how much you truly value human life. Because I already know the answer, and that’s why your messages are left on read.

**le sigh**

Philando Castile, murdered by police in St. Anthony, MN, 2016, age 32

You are not ready to talk to me about this. You are not mentally prepared for the anger—or despair. You could not fathom the depth of it. My White friends who are actual allies, are already doing the work without dragging me into their guilt-ridden tailspin. They know that Black people are looking to each other for healing conversations. They know that their love for us means allowing that space, and doing the very necessary community work to clear the way. Until you’re aware and educated, I’m not wasting the emotional energy. Without action, and self-education, and financial contribution, and political agitation, your messages are performative at best. You don’t want to change. You want me to absolve you of the need to—and I refuse.

There’s a small history lesson to be learned whenever I encounter people who demand absolution without contrition. It tells me what you would have done during Apartheid South Africa. It tells me what you would have done during the Holocaust. It tells me what you would have done during slavery…it tells me why you’re doing nothing now.

David McAtee, murdered by police in Louisville, KY, 2020, age 53

I grew up in all white neighborhoods. I went to mostly all white schools. My parents didn’t talk about race as much as they should have, because in their eyes, that meant acknowledging that I would be at a disadvantage—and they didn’t want to believe that. They wanted to believe that the world was better, even while they frequently underwent routine discrimination at work, by the police, at the store, by our own neighbors—denied promotions and stalked by patrol cars and harassed on the streets. Even then, they told me I could have it all by being a well-dressed, upstanding negro with my good Indian hair and my high cheek bones and non-regional accent. They wanted to believe that things would be better for me. I am so angry on their behalf for being wrong about you—not me.

Mike Brown, murdered by police in Ferguson, MO, age 18, 2014

This isn’t unique to the United States. I am also an Australian citizen, and I have been *cackling* at the people railing against police brutality in the US, crying “Black Lives Matter” over there, but who also think that Aboriginal lives don’t matter where they are. There have been more than 400 Aboriginal deaths in police custody since 1991, but they want to continue acting as if racism is an American problem, instead of a European import—one that Australians are just as attached to as Americans. One that still runs through the fabric of the European Union from Brexit-Britain, to Germany, and all the way through the East. If you think racism in the United States is bad, but have turned both your left and right eye to the treatment of Aboriginal people and African migrants, or refugees, then you don’t give a shit about racism. You only talk about it when it’s convenient. When it’s scenic. If you only address racism when everybody around you is talking about it, then I cannot believe that you actually care.

Tony McDade, murdered by police in Tallahassee, age 38, 2020

Just today, US President Donald Trump threatened to deploy the military against American citizens, on US soil. Even while peaceful protestors outside of the White House were being hosed down with tear gas, rubber bullets, and flash grenades. These are, by the way, the same weapons deployed by the US military around the world, in case you haven’t been reminded lately that America has always been invested in brutality—but you didn’t care as long as it was far away from you.

People are being murdered by police, and putting their lives on the line to protest against a fascist government and a dictator who then reacts by threatening to murder them with their own tax dollars. If you were uncomfortable talking about racism before—wait.

Their lives mattered before you decided to care!!

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