I am so sick of being embarrassed by white people.
I wish I could choose to stop being a white person, somehow abdicate that identity and be someone else, even if only a white exile from the deplorable group, kicked out for not being terrible. I’d like to take off my whiteness like a football jersey and go play for another team. I want to shed my privilege and let it fall to the ground in a smelly little pile of everything I was given and everything I was able to do, everything I got away with and everything I didn’t have to see or think or worry about because I’m white.
I especially want to stop being a white woman because, collectively, we’re the worst. The status quo, where we are the beloved wives and daughters and mothers of the white men who run the world, is our drug, whether we realize it or not; we will elect a sexual predator or vote for a child molester, when the alternative is the kind of equality that makes us feel less equal. When something threatens our place not at the top, but in a peculiar place of honor just below, our instinct is to assert the dignity, the sanctity, of white womanhood. We reach for this power to summon the extra credibility we need to convince the teacher, police officer, judge or juror to believe us; to master a hauteur that threatens consequences for cashiers and waitresses who don’t treat us with every ounce of respect to whichever we’re entitled; even to send a distress signal that demands aid from the very people whom we threaten when we casually wield our privilege, as we do now, insisting that our need has priority, denying that we have ever done anything to lose the right to ask them for favors, as if we expect to call forth Big Sam himself to unreservedly forgive us his enslavement and instantly leap to our defense against whatever troubles us. The privilege of white womanhood is our orb and scepter, to be taken out and displayed when we feel the need to reassert our position in the social order, a reminder to others of the deference we expect to be shown. It’s also a threat, no matter how we deny it; while we may only intend to wield this power softly, subtly, less brutally than the barbed wire that tied Emmett Till to a cotton gin fan, we are all potentially Carolyn Bryant when our privilege is threatened.
The power of white womanhood is also the power to destroy a black or brown life, and whether we brazenly wield that power to motivate our husband and brother-in-law to beat, torture, mutilate, and murder a black teenager over his attitude, or whether we try to deny our privilege–or to ignore it, or even to refuse to wear it and instead wad it up like a hooded robe and hide it, ashamed, behind our back–the threat is palpable, a shadow made solid by a hundred and fifty years of white supremacy on the offensive. The power to sacrifice black lives and welfare on the altar of white self-righteousness is the dangerous undercurrent of white privilege, and the unwillingness of white women to acknowledge their past and present role in perpetuating it notwithstanding, as long as our understanding of what it means to be white and a woman is rooted in white supremacy, we’re all counting down to a day when, like Mayella, we give in to the temptation to use our privilege to win, even at the cost of another person’s life or freedom.
And so I come to realize that resigning my whiteness, even if it were possible, is not the solution. My original wish to walk away from these idiots wouldn’t solve anything, not even my own privilege. White people, and especially white women, are my problem. If I really want other white people to stop being such huge goddamn fucking embarrassments, I have to encourage them to change. If I really want an end to the problems caused by white privilege and white supremacy, other white people are the place to start. We’re the ones with the problem. I have a responsibility to myself, to people of color, and especially to other white people, to help solve it.