Emotions are natural. When we are judged or attacked — or even perceive it is happening — it is natural to become defensive or bristle. This is an internal defense mechanism that frequently begins even before we know it has started.
During a conversation, with fellow writer and friend, Jonna Ivin-Patton, she relayed how she was first introduced to the idea of White Privilege, years ago, by a friend of hers. She bristled. “I am as poor as hell and barely have anything,” she initially said with disbelief. “What privilege do I have?”
It was through further conversations and reading that Jonna had what she described as an “Oh shit!” moment. The epiphany — white privilege didn’t mean she never experienced financial hardships. White privilege was not equal to White wealth. It meant she did not have to carry the added burden of massive institutional racism. She educated herself and soon realized that yes, you can be poor and still benefit from White privilege.
Concepts can be difficult to grasp when we first encounter them. She is not alone in having struggled to understand this. I freely confess I felt defensive when the idea of Male Privilege was discussed with me for the first time. “Privilege?” I thought incredulously to myself. “I am a Black man in the U.S. My every failure is magnified, while my every victory is immediately equated to Affirmative Action. I work 3x as hard to be accepted as even a baseline professional. I am not exactly feeling 10ft tall here. What privilege?”
However, after that speeding “Not all men” express came to a merciful stop in my head, I realized no one was blaming or accusing me of anything. This is when the discussions began making sense. It is not all about wealth. I do have a demonstrably different experience in U.S society compared to that of Black Women. I do not struggle with the same hurdles that Black LGBTQ members constantly face. They were not condemning me. They were asking that I lend my voice to their cause.
Policing emotions never works. Feelings are not the issue. It is how one choose to express those feelings that can become a problem. I do not pretend to be any different than anyone else out there reading this. I am just as human for better or worse. I bristled, I felt defensive, I grappled with the concepts of privilege, and trying to understand my place in it all.
However, what I did not do, is go onto social media and start posting passive aggressive hashtags.
“It’s okay to be White” or “I am not apologizing for being White”. Both predictably begin making their rounds as slogans and hashtags anytime the discussion of race begins.
But what exactly does either of these statements mean?
First, yes, it is ok to be White.
No. You do not have to apologize for being White.
There is not a single, rational person asking for or wanting this. A vast majority of Black, and other People of Color do not care that you are White. They hold no animosity towards you simply because you are a White individual.
Second, “It’s OK to be White” and “I am not apologizing for being White” are both part of a disingenuous, nonsensical conversation started by the same type of people who routinely peddle White Genocide/Alt-Right/Reverse Racism/Heterosexual Pride/Attack on Masculinity alarmist noise.
So again, for those of you in the back, yes. It is perfectly fine that you are White.
However, I am not agreeing in the way either of these ridiculous statements are meant. I am also definitely not agreeing with the types of individuals who use these deceptive talking points. My agreement begins and ends with the reality of you being White. That cannot be changed. No one is asking for that to be changed.
Frankly, apologizing for being White, even with the best of intentions, helps absolutely no one and is misguided at best. For instance, I could repeatedly apologize for being a man but that will not help dismantle sexism and misogyny. I can continually apologize for being Cis and Hetero, but this will not end homophobia or transphobia. Also, no one wants or need this.
My acknowledgment of the many issues is the first step and my actions are the best second step. Holding other men accountable, and challenging them when they do behave inappropriately, helps. Fighting homophobic or transphobic views is a far more effective alternative. While the introspection and compassion, it takes for such an apology is appreciated, marginalized groups need genuine allies more than guilt.
As stated earlier, the women who educated me about sexism were not accusing me of being personally responsible for institutionalized sexism. Trans people who have communicated with me about their struggles were not signaling me out as the sole source of transphobia. It had nothing to do with blame. They trusted me enough to engage me in conversation.
Much the same way, a discussion about racism is not blaming you, as an individual White man or woman, as the sole proprietor and owner of White Supremacy. A discussion about White Supremacy is not automatic condemnation of you as an individual.
Then what is this all about?
If you are White, out there still reading this, and find yourself slowly buying into some form of “I am not apologizing for being White” propaganda, try and take a step back, give yourself a moment to breathe, and rationally think about it. Really think about this. This is how indoctrination works. It is a potent cocktail of fear, anger, and hate meant to get new users addicted. The dealer wants you to come back for more.
“It’s OK to be White” is the lie meant to draw you into a fight that is not happening. The statement is not the lie. The intent behind it is the ugly deception. The charlatans, frauds, and snake-oil salesmen who spout this sort of drivel rarely do so out of ignorance. It is a deliberate tactic meant to distract from the actual conversation surrounding Race and Society in the U.S.
The provocateurs, who are being called out and criticized, then use “I am not apologizing for being White” as a defense, are not being attacked for being White. Far from it. People like this frequently express and demonstrate shitty, malicious, racist behavior, but instead of at least demonstrating the courage of their awful convictions, they deflect and play victim.
“It’s Ok to be White” is meant to disguise the public rightfully challenging them for their awful opinions, as an attack on every White person.
“You see!” they feign “It’s not my noxious personality, inflammatory remarks, intentional dog whistles, and the stream of racist garbage water constantly spewing from the noise hole in my face, that is causing people to @t me all over social media! It’s because I am White! They are attacking all White people in America! I will not apologize for being White! Quick, we better stick together!” This is the message. This is the shell game. This is the lie they are banking on.
Being born White is not the problem. Being a White person is not the problem.
Your actions are what matters. If your interpretation of being White is tantamount to some sort of privilege allowing you to treat other Non-White human beings with disrespect, callous disregard, and insults, all with impunity, that is a problem. If you conflate racism with being a White man or Woman, then yes, that is when it absolutely stops being “ok”.
Because it bears to be repeated, yes, it is Ok to be a White person. That is not the conversation.
Discussions about equality and privilege is not about taking rights from one group and giving it to another. Freedom is not a ride everyone is waiting in line to take a turn on. When we are all truly Americans, when love is simply love, then there will be no further need for these essays, discussions and articles. Everyone is tired of talking about these things. Especially, those of us who live the reality.
If you are still failing to understand, or not grasping this concept, let me try and explain this with a simple analogy.
Say, there is a restaurant, filled with people who are having their meals, minding their business, and chatting away the time. Quite suddenly, someone walks in, starts kicking people, stepping on shoes, walking on tables, ruining the food, and generally being belligerent. When the patrons demand they cut it out, this troublemaker indignantly shouts back, “Its Ok to have legs!” or “I will not apologize for wearing these pants!”
Everyone in that room is fully aware having legs is not the problem. The jerk causing the trouble knows damn well the criticisms are not aimed at wearing those pants. It is abundantly clear the grievances are about the sense of entitlement, the need to disrespect, belittle, harm, and dehumanize all the other patrons of the room.
Now, here you are, walking by this restaurant, when the commotion inside draws your attention. You see people are upset, at someone walking all over their meals, knocking things over, cutting in line, and kicking anyone near them. This fool finally turns to you, spilled food and drinks all over their pants.
“Help me!” They demand smugly. “They are just being mean to me because I have legs and will not apologize for my pants. You have legs too. They might get angry at you next.”
Are you really going to buy this clown’s excuse? Are you going to ignore the obvious and join the “Its ok to have legs” side of this disagreement?