I don’t have much time today, but I wanted to post a quick thought on something. I often see folks on Twitter remark that “white people” (anyone who has white privilege is what I assume is meant) need to feel some kind of cultural guilt for what is wrong with the world. When a white politician does something terrible, people on Twitter are there to say, “Hey, white people, come collect your own!” as if every person with fair skin shares a collective responsibility for everything that all other people with fair skin does and has done in the past.
I don’t know who thought this was a good idea. For one, if we want to accept the notion of generational guilt in the first place, then you also have to come to terms with the historic fact that large swaths of the fair-skinned population had nothing to do with European imperialism or the slave trade or the systems that are in place in countries in North America and much of Western Europe. Can the indigenous Sami people of Fennoscandia—who no doubt would have white privilege in the context of U.S. society—be held accountable for slavery in the U.S.? Do they deserve to be ostracized because they happen to share a skin-tone with some other people? Can we not accept the fact that systemic racism exists, and that a Sami person (among others) would stand to benefit from it in the context of the U.S., without jumping to, “Well, this Sami person is white too, so come collect your people, white Sami girl! This other white lady just said something racist!”?
As I said, I don’t have much time today, and I fear that I may be rather inarticulate and lacking eloquence in what I am trying to say here, but it seems nonsensical and foolish to hold fair-skinned people accountable in such a way. On the one hand, we hear the slogan that “there’s no such thing as white culture”, but on the other hand, we hear that “white people”—whether you are Irish, Welsh, Sami, Icelandic, Latvian, Estonian, or actually a conservative English lord from a long line of oppressors whose great-grandfather was an overseer in an African colony once—are somehow collectively responsible and need to own up to that responsibility. More than that, we can infer by the social justice hot-takers of Twitter that it’s good practice to guilt fair-skinned people into accepting that kind of collective responsibility.
Here’s what I’m not saying: I’m not saying that white privilege doesn’t exist. I’m also not saying that people with white privilege shouldn’t be taking the necessary steps to build a society where their white privilege no longer exists, especially since, institutionally, they presumably are in a better position to do so. What I’m saying is this that I’m not descended from the people who invented this society despite having fair skin myself. So I don’t have generational guilt on this. I also don’t have any particular position of power to do anything about it, so I don’t have personal guilt for perpetuating it. What can I, personally, be blamed for? Benefiting from it? I didn’t ask for it though, and I would give it up if there was a button to press that would make it happen. I do what little I can while also trying to live a meaningful life of my own. I feel compassion for the victims of systemic racism, and when I can do something about it I do. Rarely can I actually do anything since having fair skin, surprisingly, doesn’t give me some magical personal authority to instantly change much of anything about the way society works, and I find myself relatively powerless except for being empathetic and compassionate and as generous as I can be of my time, money, and personal efforts. And no, I’m not looking for credit, I’m simply stating what it’s actually possible for me to do. I don’t possess the magic bullet for ending racism, I don’t know what to else to tell you.
So please don’t ostracize me or blame me for what is simply because I have fair skin. Besides the fact that this is just intuitively wrong and I’m undeserving of this kind of blame, it’s also just not clever. So many activists say that it’s impossible for a “good” white person to become an insular racist. Truly, they must have been racists all along, right? Though I don’t see myself ever becoming prejudiced and hateful towards people with skin darker than mine (which is everyone, since I’m the palest of pale) just because some people are obnoxious on Twitter, is it certainly true that if you perpetuate this category of “white people” (which isn’t supposed to really exist or have its own culture, you say) and place me firmly into it and make it hostile for me to interact with those people outside of it on account of my skin tone and some sense of shame you believe I’m meant to feel, then yes, I probably will start hanging out only around other pale-skinned people, and I perhaps could be influenced by the worst of them to adopt some unwholesome beliefs. In the very least, I might feel resentment for being ostracized, which is a perfectly human reaction. Why perpetuate the category of whiteness by sticking me in it and insisting that I belong there and that I deserve contempt for it on account of what others who vaguely look like me have done? I don’t want to be a white girl. You want me to be just another contemptible white girl so you can hold me accountable for other people’s wickedness!
Guilting “white people” is just a bad tactic, if nothing else. It’s not going to work because a lot of fair-skinned people are never going to be convinced that they are to blame for the way things are. And to that I say yes, they are actually right about that, because not every white person is English, French, Spanish, or Dutch, descended from the people who built the systems that have ruined the world. The world isn’t so simple as black-and-white, so to speak. I didn’t want this, I didn’t ask for it, and I wouldn’t be a part of it if I had a choice. Don’t stick me in a weird gaslighting scenario where I have to be personally blamed for it as well and then expect me to . . . well, I have no idea what is expected of me, honestly, and maybe that’s the biggest problem here.