Confessions of a White American

Confessions

To Non-White America:

I am a white American. I have lived most of my life trying to distance myself from White America – to claim indemnity because of my origins (I grew up in Kenya), because of my associations (I live in an urban neighborhood in which I am a minority), because of my friends (a number of whom are neither white nor American) because of my self-righteousness (I am one of the “good whites”). In short I seek to condemn the evils of my people without taking on any of the blame.

You have heard it all before – It is not my fault people of my color enslaved and oppressed people of your color. It is not my policy-making that continues to discriminate against people of color. I vote on behalf of your rights, I am outraged at the brokenness of our criminal justice system, I am on your side, I am not to blame.

But enough with the excuses and distancing and blame-shifting, this letter is not to absolve myself of guilt.

I am a White American. That means I have certain rights and privileges that you do not. It means the decks are stacked in my favor and to your detriment. It means I benefit from cycles of inequity that have plagued our country’s history since its inception. It means I am innocent until proven guilty, and that I have never been wrongly suspected. My skin color shapes my experience of life in the US in ways I don’t even realize because I am a happy and often oblivious beneficiary of White Privilege.

So as a part of the system in which I benefit and you lose, I claim my guilt and responsibility. I see your rage at injustice and I receive it – not to deflect it upon others, but to take the weight of it upon myself. I hear your grievances, because they are long and legitimate and have so often gone unheard by ears of my color. I cannot stand with you because I am a member of the oppressive class, so I kneel before you and grieve the many, many, injustices you face every day.

I am not free while you still wear the chains of systemic injustice. Oppressed and oppressor alike we are held in the bondage of slavery. But it is an easier bondage for me to bear and so it is easy for me to forget that I too am bound. The unloosening of those bonds will be uncomfortable, inconvenient, painful – for so much of my lifestyle is enmeshed with and built upon these shackles.

So as a White American, I confess that the White American way is corrupt and the White American system is broken and the White American response to your cries for change is far too often trite and belittling or downright offensive. I confess that we are not comfortable with blame, with your grievances, with the complexities of our shared history. I confess that I do not know how, as a White American, to help or respond so I often just ignore. But you do not have the luxury of ignoring the bonds that restrict your movement, your speech, your employment, your innocence. So this is my attempt to stop ignoring and start listening. I receive your anger, I hear your grief, I accept your distrust.

I am a white American, and this is my confession. I participate in a system that is unjust and I am therefore guilty. To ask for your forgiveness seems an attempt to too quickly gloss over the sins of my people. So I come before you to own my guilt, not to ask you to absolve me of it. Perhaps someday, brother, sister, mother, father, perhaps someday we will be able to join together as members of the same free family. Until then, I mourn with you our broken nation and I raise my voice with yours against inequity and discrimination, repression and corruption. May we fight with tireless hope.

 

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