February 3, 2016

Universal but Personal

"I'm sorry for something I didn't do!" he screamed.

The In My Eyes 7" EP from Minor Threat came out in 1981. No matter what Ian MacKaye's lyrics meant for him, the lyrics to "Guilty of Being White" spoke to the existential crisis experienced by thousands of young white people.

It's easier to deny culpability than wrestle with how complex racism and cultural dominance is. There's not an easy answer to these things. This is not simple. But, my dear white friend, you do not have a choice. If you want to play a part in building a different kind of world than you have to be willing to hold the universality of white supremacy in tension with your own personal experience and behavior.

You're to blame... but you're not to blame.

You're a racist... but you're not a racist.

Self-reflection. You have to be willing to take this personal but not take yourself too seriously. This requires humility and yet it requires confidence. All at once.

By the way, we're not talking here about overt racism. That, I hope we can all agree is ugly and reprehensible. This is not debatable.

We're talking about those of you with a looming existential guilt of racism. Those of you who truly feel like you want to be forgiven ... even while you're not clear on why you're to blame.

Let me offer a suggestion: as much as you hope to forgiven by another, that's not who needs to accept your apology.

You need to forgive yourself.

You benefit from a system which depends on the detriment of others. Do you really think someone who has lived on the other side of that wants to listen to you opine about your white guilt? No.

You're smart. You know this. Confess it. Now ... [deep breath] offer yourself forgiveness.

Guess what's next? The rest of your life. You may wield a hammer. You may wield a gavel. In any case, you wield privilege. Denying, swearing it off .... this accomplishes nothing. It's naive.

If you are brave enough to acknowledge privilege, confess it and forgive yourself for it than you're ready to use it. Use it for the sake of others. Hold it but hold it with an open hand. Change starts with you changing how you use the privilege you have.

Just don't expect to be congratulated by everyone else for finally agreeing that there ought to be an even playing field. No.

I told you, it's complicated. But simple actions can change things.

You can't change what your ancestors did. But you can change what happens next.

NOTE: This is part of my Being White During Black History Month series.

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