I know it’s a nasty phrase, but I’m going to claim it anyway – I have White Shame. The original term is White Guilt, but “guilt” is too soft for what I’m feeling. I have overflowing tsunamis of grief, guilt, sadness, anger, and impotence over current and historical events and my place in them. Sometimes I just can’t read/watch/hear any more and I utilize the privilege I have to turn away. And I feel terrible about it. In the beginning I heard social justice people talk about how they’ve moved beyond White Shame, how it’s ugly and serves no one; they turned up their noses at it like an obvious fart no one would claim.. (Spoiler – we all ate the chili.) I followed suit, put on airs – I’m beyond it too.. I’ve done the work too.. (what work are they talking about??!!) I had no idea. I’ve dated Black people, I have Black besties, I’m trans! (See what I’m doing with my capitalizations?) I love the blues and my grandfather sang with Nat King Cole. Or somebody did; we have a signed picture in our family hallway. Certainly a lot of “the work” got done along the way, right..?
I remember blowing up at my most irreplaceable college best friend because she felt uncomfortable in my white-ass middle class family home. And that made me uncomfortable. I watched her work twice as hard as I ever did, day in day out, piling up student loans and doing “work study,” and still providing all the weed without complaint. It took me years to truly understand. I remember not kicking a loud racist friend-of-a-friend out of my house when he voiced his unsolicited opinions about Black folks, while I was dating a Black man. (As if that should matter.) Oh I gave that guy a piece of my mind alright; I expect more from my faggot brethren.. I should have sent him right out into my 105-degree Sacramento summer neighborhood to make friends. But I didn’t. He had the drugs. I remember reasoning that my family had come to America too late to have killed any Native folks or owned slaves… and it consoled me! Me, me, me and my feelings – as if consolation could bring back a life. I remember every time I don’t donate. Sure I’m a broke artist – but that means I should know the power of $20. Apparently it can get you killed on international TV. I feel like a terrible, horrible white person. Yuck!!!
I have NEVER in my life seen a white transgender man killed on camera, for everyone – including my mother – to see, let alone an endless series of killings of people who look like me. Can you imagine, white people?? I picture my white mother (picture yours), hearing that her child has been killed by police, hearing my character be trashed, well-meaning everyone saying that I shouldn’t have struggled, there must be more to it, maybe it was how I was raised, my mental illness and drug problems, everything happens for a reason, sending prayers.. No one of authority listens or cares, pats my mother on the head and tells her to take her broken heart and go home. FUCK THAT. Just thinking about it makes me want to loot a Target… There is nothing in this world I would not smash if society treated my mother with such indignity and got away with it.
I’ll say it again – I am ashamed to be white. The word “white” stinks of ignorance and arrogance; my first associations are of ugly supremacy, unearned entitlement, and self absorption. A heavy truth about this shame – it is mine. It is mine to carry, mine to understand, mine to work on if I want relief. It doesn’t matter if I hate it, stuff it, drug it, deny it, pretend to be above it, bemoan it or blame it on everyone else – it’s still mine. This is my work to do. It is an incredible mass of energy that scares me.. like it’ll burn me or swallow me, like I might not be able to stand in the face of it. But it occurs to me, rather than a nuclear plant in meltdown, perhaps it can be more like a battery.. Maybe if I can calm my feelings about having it in the first place, I can point its firehose force at something that could actually make a difference. Maybe a steadied, consistent, anonymous effort to better more people’s lives than just my own is the best I might achieve with the advantage I was born into.
I don’t love it, but I don’t want to be ashamed of this shame either. It’s heavy enough by itself, first of all. Second, if I didn’t have feelings about the fundamental fucked-up-ness of racism and the clear advantage I have just by being born white, I would be an asshole. My white shame proves I have a pulse. It pushes me to do better, be better, help make the world better. It reminds me that I am alive, an integral part of the web of life, and that I’m being summoned to help my species overcome huge evolutionary challenges. It can be a gift – but it is to no one’s benefit if I drown in it. This force WILL burn something down – it can either be the antiquated system that is keeping all of us in chains, or it can be my humanity. Choice is mine.