Essays

Dear (Other) White People

It is long past time for white people to start having some difficult conversations with each other.

I’ve noticed a reflex, even in some of my most socially progressive friends, to “why are people like this to each other?” and “this isn’t even about race, it’s about treating people the way we want to be treated” and “we can’t truly know how he came to this point”. Kudos to those of you who didn’t rush to the tired “troubled teen” or “mental illness” tropes.

But no.

We don’t get to erase race from this conversation this time. That shooter in that church? That photo of him sporting a set of apartheid South Africa and Rhodesia flags? That plan? The fact that he talked to more than one person about this, that no one took him seriously because, well, lots of people say racist shit and there’s an “acceptable” level of racism coming out of the mouths of our friends and family that we, as white people, can apparently comfortably ignore? This was – is – about white people who hate black people.

Do not erase that.

“We’ll never really know why he did it.” Bullshit. Who are you to say it isn’t about race? Even this murderer, who sat in bible study for an HOUR beforehand (I still can’t wrap my mind around that) said he decided to massacre these good people, in their church, because they were black.

He drove all the way to Charleston to do this because Emanuel AME has been a pillar of the civil rights movement for two hundred years. It was burnt to the ground by white supremacists four years after it was built, and rebuilt years later – the congregation met in secret in the meantime. Think of what it takes to carry on in the face of this for two hundred years- and the history of slavery in the “New World” goes back another two hundred years before even that.

Turning our attention away from this specific act of terrorism, away from NAMING IT FOR WHAT IT IS, and the larger pattern of racism that the United States was founded upon (right? think about it for a minute), to focus on “the big picture” of “humanity” is a luxury we enjoy because we’re white. It’s understandable to want to do so, but see it for what it is. We GET to turn away if we want to. Isn’t that lovely that we have a choice to do that? Argue about fate and free will all you want, but many levels of so-called free will are because we have extra autonomy in the form of our whiteness.

“This is so sad. What can we even do?”
“Why is the truth so hard to name and own?”

Because the truth, for us white folks, means admitting that we have, each and every one of us, materially benefited from racism- that the opportunities and nice things we have in life are a result, in part, of value stolen from enslaved people.

And that’s hard because when we fancy ourselves good people, we don’t want to admit that we have reaped the benefits of that, even unintentionally or systemically. The false narrative that we came to where we are purely as a result of our own hard work and free will is seductive. And ridiculous.

Your education
your status
your family inheritance
your neighborhood
your salary that lets you buy nice stuff to put in your house

…is all a little nicer, a little higher, a little better for no other reason than the fact that you’re white. We didn’t earn a bit of that; we got lucky.

This was an act of hate, a massacre of nine people and an assassination of a black political leader, in a state where the confederate flag is so protected that they can’t even fly it at half-mast without an act of the state legislature.

This is not unthinkable. Think it.

This is not unspeakable. Speak it.

Or you can choose to be complicit in the giant lie that is our “post-racial” society, because it’s easier. Of course it’s easier not to talk about it. But is that the kind of person you really want to be? Go say something.

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