I probably fit every cliche of a white person. When leaving a restaurant I say “Let’s Rock’n’roll”, I get a sunburn while sitting in a car and wearing sunblock, I grew up in a suburb with a back yard with parents who listened to U2 and The Doors. Our neighbourhood was wonderfully wholesome and diverse. I grew up around Chinese, took Maori culture classes, had Samoan friends, went to eat dinner at South African’s homes and was never encouraged to see them differently. In fact, I was encourage to explore and embrace other cultures as mine was so bland and predictable.
I am white. And I have been aware of that for a while now in my life, but ever so much during these times of right protest. I am not American and thus do not share their history. Just because I am not American, doesn’t mean that the Black Lives Matter Movement or racial issues in the USA shouldn’t impact me. It doesn’t mean we should look away but rather that we should reflect on our lives and how we white people have contributed to inequality even if we have consciously tried not to do so. We don’t all have to go through the same things to learn from one another. Like we don’t all need to go through a war to know that they are horrible. We should use other people’s painful experiences to avoid our own. Even if my country is not going through such extremes as in the US, I don’t think any white person out there has not benefited from the colour of their skin, if we want to admit it our not.
I know if I go to the police I will be listened to. I know my story will get heard and I will be believed. I never have to consider that someone of another race doing the same job as me is getting paid more. In fact, I am actually sure that they aren’t.
I never have to worry if a doctor will believe me or if he will refuse to treat me.
No one asks me ever if I can afford to be in a place – actually the opposite, when I am in places or at events that are way out of my pay grade and lifestyle people just assume I belong there – even when I don’t.
These are just a few things in my everyday life that I have the privilege of receiving. Not just in my home country but also anywhere I travel to in the world. I wear this armor of protection around me, that no one in my ancestry had anything to do with and also, had to do anything for. I’ve been silently profiting from racial inequality, painfully unaware of the injustice I am causing. And there is so little I can do about it.
That’s what fuels the guilt. The world treats me better without my consent and there is nothing I can do to change how I am being treated. I can however use this guilt to make sure I don’t actively contribute to it. I can use it to fuel action – I can speak up for my colleagues, support them in getting equal wages by openly stating my wage. I can hire diversely to make sure my staff are hired for their merit and not the name or the college they went to. I can tell off people for being racist, I can educate other white people of their ignorance and I can be there for my friends to support their causes. Which will never be enough, but is the least we can do in our position.
But nothing I will do will ever, ever influence how much better I am being treated. And living with the knowledge of this entitlement and acknowledging the injustice is one of the few things we can do to live with this guilt. But the most important thing is never, never letting the guilt go. We have been found guilty by the court and we should accept our sentence because apathy and ignorance are the roots of evil (read Hanna Arendt to learn more about this amazing concept). Use this guilt as a trajectory to face injustice, but don’t let it go.