So, I’m not black.
I’m able to say that I’m not white, either — ironically, through the very mechanism of white privilege. If you’re white and you choose to reject whiteness, you are able to do so only because you’re white. People of color can never deny their color; they carry the evidence on their faces. So when I tell people that I’m not white, all I’m doing is calling attention to the utterly arbitrary nature of race, and try to squirm my way out of the unwanted privilege (and the oppression on which it rests) that I was born into.
And when I hear people tell me, when I speak of the endless and daily indignities we heap on black Americans, that I suffer from something called “white guilt”, I understand it is meant to be an insult, but I can never quite understand why. America is not unique in being marbled to the bone with racism, but our racism is unique; our relationship with the descendants of our slaves is like nothing else in any country, because we alone developed a system of slavery that carried into the modern era and was predicated entirely upon racism against blacks. For me to feel white guilt seems the only reasonable reaction not only to the historical crimes people like me have committed against blacks for hundreds of years, but also to being part of and benefiting from the toxic soup of prejudice, bigotry and injustice that we force black Americans to swim in every day. When I think about the unimaginable subjection blacks have encountered in my country’s history and the fact its legacy is a near-universal assumption that we’ve done enough to make up for it and from this point forward they’re on their own; when I think about the soul-stirring beauty and grace of what they have brought to our national culture, and in what base, worthless coin we’ve paid them back — what could a reasonable person feel other than guilt and shame?
I am poor, and I am from a low family, and I have had to claw and scrape to get by as have many people whose skin defines them as “white”. But since the day I was born, I was spared the million daily debasements and indignities that I might have suffered if I’d been born black. No matter what I try to do to erase my own privilege, and to make people like me aware of theirs, no matter how deep my embrace of what blacks have brought to our culture, I will never be one of them; I will never fully understand what they must feel and how they must live in a world that judges them in a way that, whatever barriers are set in my path and whatever blame is directed my way, it will never judge me.
But sometimes I think about them. Recently I have thought a lot about Trayvon Martin, and the way the public has reacted to his death. I think about the way the leader of our country, whose skin knows some things mine never will, has reacted to his death, and I think about how a man who wants to lead the country, and who looks a lot more like I do, reacted to that reaction. I think about the way that so many people are trying to treat this incident — the dreadfully inevitable result of a law that could not have been better designed to end with the death of young black men; this incident which could not possibly be more about race — as if it were not about race. And I feel like I should say something, but who am I to say anything? Other people in a much better position than I to appreciate how an innocent young man ended up dead on the ground have already said it better. His tragedy is not my tragedy. All I own of it is my part in sustaining a culture where blacks are under suspicion merely for being alive.
It’s still not enough, though. I have heard endless times since the election of Barack Obama that we live in a “post-racial society”, that racism is no longer a serious problem, that the “real” racism is something called “reverse racism” and that it injures only whites, that by talking about racism I am only making it worse. I have been told to look on the president’s race as clear evidence that racism is over, as if sexism ended when the first woman was elected to high office or poverty ended the first time unemployment dipped below 10%. I am assured that open racism has flattened away to nothing under the weight of public disapprobation, that the victories over the blatant violence and oppression of the past are enough and the improvements that have been made mean we can now stop fighting against all the still-present prejudices and cruelties, that we have collectively transformed the world through some mysterious event horizon of multiculturalism into a world where the only true form of tyranny comes from the stalking spectre of “political correctness”.
I hear all these things and try to make sense of them, but I can’t. Because wherever I go to read a story about Trayvon Martin — who no more deserved to die than the purest, most innocent little white blonde girl who was tormented to death by some brain-fogged maniac — I see this:
– “Anyone recall the carjacking, torture, rape and slayings of a beautiful couple Channon Christian, 21, and Christopher Newsom, 23 by 5 blacks? MS media didn’t touch it.”
– “Jesse Jackson is a race baiting POS. This had nothing to do with white people, so why is he bringing it up? Because he is a shitsttarting racebaiting POS”
– “The media spin on this is amazing! The race card is alive and well with the left.”
– “Nigger tried to front, got owned by a gun.”
– “Blacks ruin every community in the U.S.”
– “Common sense dictates that when black men stop being sperm donors and instead become responsible fathers we will see the end of stories like this one.”
– “O PLEASE – tell the truth. The neighborhood had the same problems that exist in any ‘diversified neighborhood’ The neighborhood is a Gated Ghetto NOT WHITE.”
– “Trayvon Martin was a wannabe thug, a 6 ft tall bully in school who was suspended, and wasn’t the innocent teen the media made him out to be. don’t be brainwashed by that Reverse Racist Propaganda that the news throws at you.”
– “Because Obama is a RACIST BIGOT for all to see now!!!!!”
– “If this kid was 17, where’s a recent photo? These pictures are clearly many years old. All violent offenders were ‘peaceful’ until they weren’t. So far, this is all about those who thrive on promoting racism.”
– “Hispanics are valuable people they pick the berries and keep the coon population down.”
– “The Congressional Caucus is planning on showing solidarity by having its members get teardrop tattoos and L.A. Dodger jackets with a hoodie…….wont that be nice?”
– “So now this thugs family has the colored panthers on thier side. Good choice, call the taliban and see if they will help you also!!!”
– “Timothy johson BLACK Hoodie killed a computer store owner in Lancaster CA .north of LA, Johson was caught today wearing his NIGGER hood. shot all BLACKS,totally worthless.”
– “The media and Obama have really taken advantage of this ‘opportunity’ to set race relations back several decades. What a sade time to be an american!”
– “The moral to the Trayvon Martin shooting: ‘If you make it a point to walk like a duck… talke like a duck… and to look like a duck…. don’t be surprised is someone concludes you are a duck… and decides to go duck hunting…'”
– “buy stock in KFC and colt 45, monkey boys parents will be spending lots of that money they will be getting there and the local meth dealers will make a haul also”
– “just keep wondering what was he doing in a gated community?”
– “Hopefully Zimmerman has started a trend that will continue.”
I read these things, and I think about how Trayvon Martin’s family can read them too. How they watched their son go out to buy some candy for his little brother, and the next time they saw him was cold and dead and gone forever, in the morgue with his chest blown open for the crime of being black, shot because some cop-loving motherfucker saw him put his hood up in the rain and decided he was a criminal and a drug addict; and how now the name of their dead child is on the front page of every newspaper in America, and all they have to do is scroll down a few inches and read ten thousand anonymous racist cowards salivating out pure acid about how he deserved it and worse. And I think, I should say something. But what can I say that will make one goddamn bit of difference to them, to their grief and pain, to their dead son whose crime was his color?
The murder of Trayvon Martin: it seems like the only thing we should be talking about. But it seems like there is nothing we can say.