Opinion: I appreciate your white guilt, but I really don’t want it

Illustration by Sammy Newman

Tagwa Shammet, Opinions Editor

Dear White People,

This isn’t a Netflix show. This isn’t a Justin Simien movie. This is real life. There’s a serious elephant in the room that we need to discuss: your white guilt.

I’m sure some of you are thinking, “I don’t have white guilt.” Maybe you don’t. But maybe you aren’t aware what white guilt truly is. Think on your life, think back to your last interaction with a person of color; did you pick your words more carefully so you wouldn’t come off sounding racist? Did you stay quiet because you thought you’d offend someone? Have you made fun of yourself and your privilege? If you answered yes to any of these questions, chances are you’re suffering from white guilt.

Well, my diplomatic white peers, I appreciate your white guilt, but I really don’t want it. You see, your white guilt actually does more harm than you think. I appreciate the abundance of care you have for my feelings, but your delicate tiptoeing around me makes me wonder: What would you say if you didn’t filter your words so carefully?

Your political correctness leads to uncomfortable, disingenuous conversations that feel forced and one-sided. Your self deprecation causes painfully awkward silences because I have no clue how to respond to you.

The worst thing your white guilt does is make you the center of attention. Isn’t that what you’re trying to avoid?

White people, let me set the record straight for you: It’s truly not that deep. I understand that you feel shame on behalf of your oppressive ancestors, but I don’t need you to apologize to me every five minutes. If you feel so compelled to reimburse me for the past, I take Paypal, Venmo, Cashapp and just straight cash. What I don’t need is your constant self-reproach and condemnation. 

I know you don’t mean harm with your actions; in fact you mean the complete opposite. I understand that this comes from a sense of you wanting to be my ally. I get it, you voted for Obama, and I see that you have black friends — you don’t have to keep reminding me. I’m going to let you in on a secret: Your “I’m not racist” act just makes you microaggressive. Whether you want to admit it, your cautious treading around me allows me to believe you have a preconceived notion as to how I’ll react. Due to your implicit prejudice, you probably think I’ll get angry and hostile because you’ve offended me. Well, that in itself is microaggressive. 

Microaggressions are more than just insults and explicit prejudice. They come in all sorts of forms such as implicit bias and uninformed stereotypes. Sometimes, we don’t even know we’re being offensive until it’s too late. I’m not saying your white guilt is offending me, I’m saying your white guilt is unnecessary. I promise you, as long as you’re not out here being wildly racist, it’s not that deep. 

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not advocating for ignorance on white people’s end — that happens more than enough without my approval. I’m just coming to the conclusion that you don’t need to go through an agonizing cycle of self-hate in order to realize your white privilege. Sulking in your white privilege, forcing me to coddle you in this systematically burdening era, isn’t getting us anywhere. Frankly, it’s just annoying black people. Black people, and all people of color, aren’t asking you to diminish yourself so we can all be on the same level. We’re asking that you remove your institutional barriers and help lift us up.

White guilt isn’t going to close the pay gap. As a black woman, I’m still set up to earn 61 cents to the white man’s dollar. White guilt isn’t going to release the disproportionately incarcerated black male population from prisons. One in every three black men will still be incarcerated, as opposed to the one in every 17 white men. White guilt isn’t going to stop the police brutality against black communities. Botham Jean, Oscar Grant, Sandra Bland, Mike Brown and so many unarmed black people are still dead and will continue to die. 

“If you feel so compelled to reimburse me for the past, I take Paypal, Venmo, Cashapp and just straight cash. What I don’t need is your constant self-reproach and condemnation.” — Tagwa Shammet

My favorite quote is one by Angela Davis: “I am no longer accepting things I cannot change. I am changing things I can no longer accept.” Well, my darling white people, if you’re so guilty about what your ancestors did, start making a better future for communities of color. Davis said this while your ancestors oppressed her, while they held her down and tried to strip her of her will to be great. Since you’re so obviously distraught about the past, fix the damage your predecessors did. 

You apologizing to me in the privacy of a classroom, a party or wherever we are isn’t going to help me. I want your help to build up my community. I’m tired of you telling me that slavery makes you uncomfortable or that you would have marched side-by-side with Martin Luther King Jr. I’m tired of you bragging about how Obama is your favorite president or how Beyonce is one of your icons. Sitting in a history classroom, having all the white students stare at me during the slavery unit, made me feel far more than discomfort. I still march forward with the vision of MLK and my ancestors. Obama and Beyonce are my idols because they showcase black excellence in this white society. Don’t belittle me by saying my struggles are suddenly yours. They’re not.

Racial equality is apparently difficult; it’s not going to happen overnight. But, for as many of you white people plagued with white guilt, there are those without any sympathy for the black community. Start educating your fellow white people with all this lovely information you’ve learned to stay politically correct. Let them know about how Flint, Michigan, still does not have clean drinking water. Let them know about how Botham Jean’s white killer only got 10 years in prison for murdering an unarmed black man in his home. Let them know inner city school districts with minority-majority schools still have the lowest graduation rates in the United States. Let them know how while the United States poverty line is at 11.8%, the black population makes up more than a fourth of that number. Let them know that they continue to do what your dreaded ancestors did: oppress the black community.

White people, from the bottom of my heart, I appreciate your white guilt. But I want you to do more with it. Rather than bathing in your self-pity, start making a difference. Take that anger and shame to your nearest community of color and see how you can help them. I genuinely mean this: I don’t want your empty apologies. Actions speak louder than words, and right now, your inaction is speaking volumes. The only way to cure your white guilt is to stop sulking in your deprecation and start advocating for racial justice. That’s the only apology we want.

Sincerely,

The Black Community.

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