A Message To White America
There are no “other” White people.
Those other White people you complain about ⸺ the racists, the bigots, the homophobes, the misogynists, the ones that make it so hard for anything to change in this country ⸺ they don’t exist.
The only White Americans are we White people. We White families. We White communities with our racists, our bigots, our homophobes, our misogynists.
They are us. We are them.
We keep pointing at those imaginary White people, the troublemakers, the ones who are responsible for racism and hatred. We kick the can down the road, thinking we’ve been absolved. We haven’t.
Our bleeding hearts can’t handle the suggestion that we are to blame
We are terrible at holding ourselves responsible, but great at taking collective credit. Watch us get all puffed up with pride about America’s freedoms, technology, advancements. But turn the conversation to America’s past or present sins, and we’re quick to point a finger at our fictional bogeyman, the other White person. We loudly proclaim our innocence, point to our political affiliation, working class status, or other bonafides, and stake a claim to the correct side of whatever particular divide.
When faced with the shame of our White racism, we have no problem saying with zero sense of irony, “not all White people.”
About our sins in the name of capitalism, profit, and growth, we proclaim, “I’m one of the good guys.”
As our sons become radicalized, fly white-supremacist flags, and begin shooting people in the streets, we boast, “Not my boy.”
As White women go crazy, screaming at people in Walmart or calling the cops on birdwatchers in Central Park, we laugh at them and ask, “What is the matter with those White women?”
But we are those racist, capitalist, radical, crazy White people.
We, White people are the problem
This is a message for White people from an old White lady. If you aren’t a White American, I’m not speaking to you. Happy to have you here, but this is a particularly White message, for White people.
Are you a white person? Feeling a bit uncomfortable? Getting ready to prove me wrong in the comments, shame me, defend your White position, deny your White privilege?
First, do me a favor.
Stop reading. Go take a look at the White influencers, reporters, professionals, activists, family members, friends, entertainers, and politicians on your Instagram page, in your Twitter feed, on Facebook, wherever.
How many repeatedly say, “they, them, those” when talking about White supremacy or other ills that plague our country?
How many dare say, “we” and count themselves among those responsible for anything bad or wrong in the world?
My count, exactly one out of more than 140 White influencers, reporters, professionals, activists, family members, friends, entertainers, and politicians.
Go ahead. Make your case that it’s an anomaly, it’s selection bias or whatever statistical justification gets you through the night. The truth remains. White people have an accountability problem. They don’t like it.
White people created for ourselves the perfect scapegoat. The mysterious, unknowable, “other” White person.
Our utter refusal to take responsibility is, at least in large part, why the ungodly infection of racism in America still rages. We are unable to root out the sickness in our own families because we remain adamant that it isn’t there, even while staring it dead in the eye.
It is the reason that when Donald Trump picked away the scab, he exposed a river of pus running through each corner of this country. Blue states, red states, purple pink or chartreuse states. Political leanings, wealth, poverty, demographics be damned. It is there.
It thrives everywhere in America. I spent more than 40 years in the bosom of California liberalism, the San Francisco bay area. I lived in 5 cities between San Francisco and San Jose. And I feel quite qualified to say, California does not deserve its glowing reputation as a liberal stronghold.
I grew up a community steeped in racism, homophobia, intolerance and cruelty. That community didn’t die out as it aged. Many of the people I grew up with are still there. They’ve worked hard at keeping that culture alive in their families, schools, churches, and businesses.
As an adult I thought I found my people, my California. They are like-minded, educated, liberals. They insulate themselves with people and organizations who believe exactly as they do, filling their echo chambers with self-congratulations and stoking the myth of those “other” White people. They claim tolerance and acceptance. But they only ever tolerate and accept people who believe just as they do, regardless of the color of their skin or bent of their politics.
We are not decent
White people hide behind our decency. Dinner dates with our Black neighbors, party affiliations, immigrant in-laws, blue-collar roots, do-gooder jobs, liberal viewpoints, our good hearts, our Black Lives Matter yard signs.
But our decency is just a facade. The truth looks much different for most White Americans. Maybe your truth includes an uncle with a swastika tattoo that no one talks about, a niece who tells homophobic jokes that everyone dismisses as harmless, a mother-in-law who claims she’s not racist, but says, “you know what, those Mexican people at work have to be watched every second”, a father who goes unchallenged when he declares, “if they don’t like it, they can just go back to where they came from,” or a brother who shows up to dinner in a MAGA hat.
It isn’t just in our families. It is everywhere ⸺ our jobs, our schools, our churches. We know it. We see it all the time. And we continue to ignore it and claim the protection of our good intentions, our intersectionality, our understanding of the issues, our support of the correct causes and candidates.
Our denial is as systemic and far flung as the racism and ugliness it protects. All we’re really doing is guaranteeing that Black Americans will continue to suffer, that our country will never heal, and that our families will remain sick and broken.
The solution is simple, but not easy
How do we fix this? Distinguish the myth of the other White people. Start telling the truth. Take responsibility. Say, “we” instead of “they” when you’re talking about White supremacy, or the other sins of our past and present.
And then act accordingly in everything you do.
Admit what we’ve done, and listen to the people we’ve done it to when they tell us how to fix it.
Believe Black Americans, Gay Americans, Trans Americans, Disabled Americans, all Americans who have been oppressed or lied to by White America. When they tell you what their America is like, really listen to them. Try to see things from their perspective. Do what they say needs to be done. Don’t seek credit. Don’t try to be in charge. Educate yourself.
Look inward. Be honest about your own failings as a fellow human being, as a worker, a parent, a teacher, a student, a citizen, a friend. Fix what’s broken and ask every other White person you know to do the same.
Admit what you didn’t know then, but know now. Pledge to do better, now that you know better. Demand more from each other.
Set the bar higher. Draw a new line. Redefine what is acceptable behavior in your family, in your community, in your politics. Actively enforce those new boundaries. Do it with love and compassion if you can. But do it, whatever it takes.
It is all possible I think
Racism and intolerance run deep in our White American families. But I think we can root it out once and for all.
I’m tired. I know it isn’t okay to say that. Because other people are a lot more tired than me. But I am. Actually, I’m exhausted.
I’m exhausted by White people like me, and what we have wrought.
But I am also responsible. I am responsible for how I interact with my community. I am responsible for enforcing boundaries with other White people. I am responsible for learning. I am responsible for doing my best to be anti-racist. I am responsible for getting back up when I fail. And, boy howdy, I fail a lot! I am responsible for leaving this world a better place than it was when I arrived. So I am going to try. I may not accomplish any of it. But I betcha if most of us tried, we could get a lot done together.
Change might be hard. We may lose friends or family members. But I’m willing to bet that what we gain will be greater than anything we could have imagined. Something brand new. Not different. Not changed. But something that has never existed before in America. Can you see it?
It is not brave for us to stand up and say, “I am not a racist.”
Be brave. Say out loud to other White people that you as a White American are responsible for the way White privilege is wielded to hurt other people. Say it, “I am responsible.”
Say out loud that you are going to do what you can to stop the injustice. Then show them how you’re going to do it. Let go of fear and use your gifts to make the world a better place. Say it to your friends, your family, and your co-workers. Say it in church. Say it in school. Say it to your children. Then act accordingly. Then say it over, and over, until it doesn’t need saying any more.
I am just an old white lady. I live at the intersection of many states of being. I claim membership in a diverse set of communities. But my Whiteness has been the defining factor of my life. It informs all of my other parts, and every one of my life’s experiences. And it is the thing that gives me whatever power I have in America. So I think I’ll try to use it, and the gift of these words, to try to make the world a better place.
That’s it. That’s my Old White Lady Manifesto.