A lot of white people are very offended as they feel they are being branded racists.
That much is clear. Once we pass that territory we get into very messy and tangled terrain of white people getting lost down an endless conversation of whether or not it is fair to say that white people are racist for being the recipients of privileges over people of colour.
It’s easy to understand this feeling. I recently piped up on a conversation I saw on my Facebook feed, having seen the previous comment: My favourite kind of white people are the kind who comfortably accept their lack of personality. As the comment wasn’t directed at me personally, I wouldn’t say I felt attacked as such, but I did feel that it was unfair and obviously untrue. And most importantly (or so I thought), it seemed petty, deliberately inflammatory, and it seemed (for me, as a white person) to be robbing the original status and cause – a status update about cultural appropriation – of its credibility. I commented and promptly received an onslaught of comments essentially ridiculing me for feeling like I, as a white person, could speak out against this comment. It is an indicator of my privilege that I feel I can comment in this conversation. I shouldn’t be here whitesplaining my opinion and policing people’s tones, when there are white people I should be calling out on racism.
I felt attacked. I thought: how can the people in this conversation be judging another race dependent on their skin colour? Surely, as people of colour, they should understand how stereotyping can be damaging and cause tension in between races?
But then I realised that since having that conversation, those questions have been the main thing I’ve been trying to get my head around – whether it was fair to white people or helpful for anti-racism to estrange white people from conversations. And it’s gone round and round my head until I realised I was spending so much time thinking about something that isn’t really a problem. For white people to see occasional comments on the internet which make them feel uncomfortable, or EVEN if we see genuinely discriminatory comments against whites, in the vast majority of cases it will be only for a fleeting moment that we are made to feel wronged or disadvantaged for being of a certain colour. We need to keep the real problems in sight, no matter how offended we might feel. Or even better, we need to use our experience of feeling offended to help us gain insight and be truly compassionate to those who feel judged or disadvantaged because of their colour every day.
As pointed out in the MTV documentary about white people, often we maintain that we are ‘colourblind’. As lovely and glittery and idealistic as this may sound, it’s important to remember that the only reason we can feel this way is because we don’t have to consider our race – for the most part, it will never determine how we’re viewed by society and we will never have to regard it as something that might get in the way of getting a job, a scholarship, a flat to rent. The list goes on.
Ultimately what I want to get across is that – if you’re experiencing similar discomfort at being excluded from these conversations, being ‘accused’ of having privilege, or even genuinely received a vaguely discriminatoy comment – just stop and ask yourself does it REALLY matter? Is there nothing more constructive you can spend your time thinking about? (Says me writing this blog post, ha ha). If you really want to try to rid yourself of the stereotype of being an oversensitive, defensive, egocentric white person, surely the best thing to do is just not be that person. And do something that can actually help sort out a real problem in some way.
How we can try to help is another issue… Coming soon 😉
Please let me know if you have any comments or suggestions.