White Privilege Fatigue, Part 2
I don’t know the way right now.
I just know I’m tired.
I feel like no matter how hard I try, I will say/think/feel/do the wrong thing. I’m scared I’ll be skipping along in conversation, and someone will whip out their index finger and say, “THERE IT IS. Right there. What you just said? That’s exactly what I’m talking about!” And I won’t have a clue. And then they’ll explain it to me, or some well meaning friend will pull me aside and explain it, and then I’ll understand, and I’ll have one of two reactions:
- Really? That was a big deal? She didn’t know I was talking about this other thing? She took it personally? But I didn’t mean it that way!!! Why can’t everyone just chill!? or…
- Really? Oh my God. They’re right. I feel terrible. There’s no way to undo this. I could give my whole life away to the poor and it still wouldn’t be enough.
I know I’m speaking in generalities, and that’s a coward’s way out. So I’ll say it plain: I’m white and privileged, and I feel terrible about it, and I’m not sorry. All at the same time. I’m disgusted by the system that gives me advantages over people of color. And I enjoy those advantages thoroughly, without even knowing what 90% of them are.
So what do you want from me? What shall I do/not do? Tell me. Write me the book, and I will do it. Really. Just show me where you want me to stand.
Wait, that’s not right. That puts all the power over there with you. We must have equal power. We must both — you the disenfranchised, and me the privilege— meet each other from the power within each of us. But we have to get the press and the pontificators out of the way. Make everybody else go away, till there’s only just you and me. Then we stand face to face, and speak, listen, argue, learn, concede, persist, ask questions, and then ask more and more questions, and keep listening and listening for the answers. Being quiet. Leaving space for the answers that lead to more questions until there aren’t any good answers left — only silence, and the pair of empty mugs on the table..
No, that’s a pretty thought, but it’s not gonna work either. It’s just more patronizing bullshit, more naive, dangerous assumptions: ‘Let’s put our weapons down and share our hearts.’ Really? If your heart is so battered that you’ve put it where nobody can find it, and mine is so armored against counter-attack that I can barely move, where does that leave us?
Not much of a conversation, is it?
But see — HERE IT IS. Right here. What I just said? (about ‘I’m tired of feeling like I’m under the gun all the time,’ and ‘let’s just drop our scary words and have a heart to heart’) That’s exactly what they’re talking about! It’s like I’m saying, “Ew. This sucks, I don’t like it.” And I imagine many of my friends from the disenfranchised community reading this and saying, “Oh you poor baby. Welcome to my world. You are suffering and nobody’s even been mean to you yet. Nobody has murdered you, or your father/uncle/husband/lover/brother/son. Nobody has ripped your children from you, or thrown you in jail for no reason, or assumed you were a criminal, or that you weren’t as smart as everyone else because of the color of your skin. Nobody has told you you’re an aberration of nature.
You’re just tired of…what, exactly? Being asked to understand something you can’t understand? Welcome. Being asked to jump through impossible hoops, after which, even if you do it, it won’t have mattered? Welcome. Yeah, the water’s fine. We’ve been doing it for decades, centuries, millennia.”
So — I have my feelings. They don’t matter to you, but they matter to me. And now that I step for a few moments in your shoes, if only in my imagination, I realize that this is just too big for any one person to figure out. I will have to count on my friends from the non-white, non-privileged side to have an important, hard, civil conversation with me about all this.
Maybe then I’ll be, we’ll all be creating the community we all crave. The one where everyone gets to be who they are, nobody shouts anyone else down, and we all begin to feel the ground under our feet shifting. We begin to really get that there is no way to “understand” the Other without losing all our bearings about the Self…And if we can go with that, all the way down the river, we might end up in the ocean — where none of this matters. At all.
Namaste, my friends.
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