To all the white people warning me about “carrying around white guilt”…There’s no need. To those fretting that I am too fragile, don’t. I’m not.
Let me be clear about this, accepting and confronting white privilege does not require the feeling of guilt. Guilt is a chosen emotion and in my opinion, it is a wholly useless sentiment. And as much as I appreciate your concern, I don’t need a reminder that I “can’t go around feeling guilty all the time.” You’re mistaking my desire to be a better human, with white guilt. You’re presupposing that “I” have anything to do with this work.
Here’s a concept: this work isn’t about me — it is about ALL OF US. It is my duty to my community and to my children to be better. Don’t worry about me. I can handle my shit. I can work through the anguish and pain of empathy. I can listen to criticism. I can withstand the anger of brutalized people. I can even become that anger. I should become that anger.
Now, having said that, as I am doing my own work, reading anti-racist literature and learning to recognize structural racism, I have felt and will continue to feel guilt. And shame. I also recognize that these two noxious emotions will not create action. They are not compelling, they are suffocating. Believing I’m “fragile” will not move me along the path of enlightenment anymore than a hill makes a stone roll. It is not the hill that moves the stone, it is gravity. Gravity.
The gravity that compels me is justice and the knowledge that my humanity is IN TACT, and I can wield it like a weapon. It is the desire to be a better part of my tribe, a better mother and a better partner. It is a righteous fury born from radical love. Nothing about it is fragile. Nothing is defensive. I am deeply cognizant of my flaws, both the fully realized and the opaque. My power is not in perfection, it is in agility. Love nourishes agility. If your gravity is love, then you can move through feelings of guilt and shame and fear and distrust. Gravity is so strong. It is the strongest force on earth.
So, what now? How do we overcome this story about fragility? I found the below quote in an old NASA blog called The Tyranny of the Rocket Equation. I don’t understand the bulk of the essay as I am no rocket scientist, however, the metaphor rings true.
“In planning an expedition into space, we first must select where we want to go. The energy expenditure against gravity is then specified by the starting and ending points of our journey. As humans, we are powerless to change this number. We simply have to accept its consequences. I like to think of this as the travel cost.”
There is a travel cost that we all have to pay if we want to get to the other side of racial injustice. Getting to this final frontier, it will require fortitude, and relentlessness, and selflessness. We are powerless to change that cost. Forfeiture of privilege and power is the main part of it, yes, but also…but ALSO we give up emptiness, disconnection, unreality, anger, lonliness and so many other burdens that come with accepting this race-based caste system. It is true, I cannot go back in time and change the fact that my ancestors owned slaves. Or supported segregation. Or believed black people brought the value of their homes down. Or wanted their children to go to schools where weren’t “problem kids.” That is the gravity, the truth, of where we are today.
But I am committed to this journey. I can see the end point of it and I am willing to spend my quantifiable energy getting there. I am excited by it. I wonder, I hope, I fantasize about what we could make this world become. What if we re-imagined our systems to lift people up. Truly lift them up, regardless of what they look like. What if we follow the arch of the universe and arrive at TRUE justice? What if we get to a space wherein we become our best version?
It is easy to stay comfortable. You might be tempted to dwell on all the privilege that you will lose. You might consider the mission of racial justice work too great, or unwarranted, or unnecessary. You control this paradigm, not the other way around. For you could, instead, choose to consider all the strength you might gain. All the knowledge. All the ways you will learn and mature and grow. So, what would I say to those white folks that feel like they shouldn’t have to feel guilt? Or those that don’t want to feel guilt? To those that want to warn me about it?
I say the heart of the explorer is not intimidated by feelings of guilt. We humans are explorers. It is what we do best, really. The travel cost never stops us. Exploring the concept of defunding the police is frightening, but we pay the cost of fear. Exploring the concept of mass incarceration is intimidating, but we pay the cost of intimidation. Exploring the idea that we (white folx) have privilege, that we are apathetic and complacent and ignorant, it hurts. But we pay the cost so we can move beyond.
Exploring our current systems of injustice — working to change the race-based caste structure in which we live requires energy. A massive amount of energy. It will require all of our brain power, our power of imagination, our power of love. Accept this cost. Don’t agonize over it. Accept it.
And then, get up and GO!
Full disclosure: I have not read DiAngelo’s White Fragility. I don’t know anything about her thesis or ideology. But I know I don’t like the notion of considering myself uniquely fragile because I’m white. I can feel it becoming an excuse for complacency and this troubles me. Yes, humans are fragile. And we are also smart, determined and strong. I can’t figure how dwelling on fragility helps move the conversation along. Hence this essay.