A Black Press Media editorial was published Aug. 20, titled ‘It’s Okay to be White,’ and I’m here to tell you that it was a punch to my biracial gut.
The editorial, which has since been deleted, legitimized white guilt, giving inappropriate praise to “good” white people who are gladly riding the wave that is the genetic lottery instead of calling for actual change to Western culture, which is founded on the disadvantage of non-white folks.
The catalyst for the editorial was a Keremeos pub that has been called out for using ‘It’s okay to be white’ stickers in their establishment with a not-so-subtle white supremacy hand gesture attached. (I get this gesture was created by trolls on 4chan, but it is intended to hurt people, and that is not OK and not the point… read the room.)
It is laughable that, amid protests to stop American police from gunning down Black people, whiteness is so status-quo white guilt is now also becoming as mainstream as a sticker.
The editorial has since been removed from our websites, an action swiftly called for by Black Press Media’s senior management early Friday morning. My colleague who wrote the editorial is kind, hilarious and a good journalist.
Her intentions were good.
But as I write that, I can’t help but feel the need to scream that publishing “good intentions” is the definition of white privilege.
Unsurprisingly, the editorial was called out loudest by white allies – or at least that’s what it feels like on social media – undoubtedly because they are newest to the world of racism (welcome, by the way). Meanwhile, myself and a few of my fellow non-white colleagues took a deep breath, felt a familiar pain and spent the evening trying to not internalize.
The truth is, it is OK to be white – in fact, by all standards it is great. How could it not be when from birth your dreams are rarely met with obstacles you cannot control and you don’t have the responsibility of constantly reminding the rest of the world that your voice and talents and goodness exist, that your hurt – again, which is for no fault of your own – matters.
It means you have never been called the N-word, squ**, or other derogatory words – all which make “white trash” and “hick” feel like playground speak.
It means you have likely never been berated in public spaces for simply speaking with your friends.
It means you are likelier to see a street on Google Maps bearing your last name (according to Statistics Canada Road Network Files) than have a highway named after the ongoing kidnapping and murdering of your women and girls.
It means that being able to speak multiple languages will bring you accolades instead of rejections by prospected employers.
It means no medical professionals have made a game out of your pre-disposition to alcoholism and substance use because of intergenerational trauma due to residential schools.
It means you don’t have a TV channel dedicated to your skin colour and culture because every channel includes your representation and “culture.”
It means when you show your proudness of being white it’s defended as patriotic and harmless, while Black people demanding basic respect and recognition of their existence is a dangerous protest.
It isn’t just OK to be white – white people have ensured it is fantastic, a privilege, to be white before anyone else had the chance to decide otherwise.
I can hear the frantic typing of shook-up white people right now. How dare you try to tell me what it is like to be white?
Listen. This doesn’t mean you haven’t faced hardship. White people still live in poverty, suffer from mental or physical illnesses and disabilities, and are targeted with sexism and sexual harassment.
I’m not saying white people have every “advance to Go and collect $200” or “get out of jail free” card in this life – intersectionalism, a social theory coined by Black sociologist Kimberlé Crenshaw, accounts for all of that.
In simple terms, intersectionalism explains why white, straight, able-bodied men typically have the most opportunity, wealth and social power while Black women represent the other side or the spectrum and hold the least – if any – of all those advantages.
In between those two polarizing life situations include queer white men, men with disabilities, white women, queer women, others who are LGBTQ2+, who are biracial – like me with my half-white, half-east-Indian olive skintone – Black men, and Indigenous folks.
But if you are white, relatively healthy and grew up in a middle-class functioning family, you hold most of the life chips and your lack of success is not because of lack of opportunity.
To quote Robin DiAngelo, author of White Fragility, it takes “major effort” to get whites to simply acknowledge that being white gives them advantages.
What I’m learning is it clearly takes even more work to get whites to take inventory of their world and use those advantages to get rid of toxic and deadly systemic oppression from which they directly benefit.
You may not be that first group of settlers who colonized and assimilated this country, but those moments in history sure made life a hell of a lot easier for you.
So with all that extra time to live compared to whose were dealt the short end of the melanin stick, what are you going to do?
“Stopping our racist patterns must be more important than working to convince others that we don’t have them,” says DiAngelo. “We do have them, and people of colour already know we have them; our efforts to prove otherwise are not convincing. An honest accounting of these patterns is no small task given the power of white fragility and white solidarity, but it is necessary.”
Here’s a pro-tip: To continue living how you have and not use your naturally gifted power to make change is not enough. And if I have anything to say about it, that’s going to start right here at Black Press Media.
Ashley Wadhwani is the digital content editor for Black Press Media.