This morning I woke up and fed my dog. I made my wife a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, filled her mug with coffee, kissed her and sent her out the door. The sun is shining and there’s a cool morning breeze, so I opened all the windows, lit a cigarette and opened Twitter—the morning ritual.
I had seen it last night, but I disengaged. I had been drinking, a headache was setting in and I was running on less than four hours sleep. Last night, I closed the page and went to bed. This morning I couldn’t escape #Charlottesville. I couldn’t escape the pictures of White men my age, their little brothers and their dads marching across the University of Virginia campus with Tiki torches in their hands and hate in their eyes.
As I scrolled through, the same two images kept repeating. The first, a head-on shot of the crowd: White faces lit by fire and vitriol. In the second, a man younger than I in mid-chant, skin glistening with hate and his face contorted by false rhetoric. These are the terrorists that we’ve been looking for. This is the face of my White guilt.
My heart is broken and my stomach is wrought by a pain that I’m sitting here, pounding the keys trying to explain. It sickens me to see my people doing this. I see my haircut in these photos. My moustache. My eyes. It almost feels like a part of me is rebelling against everything decent in the world and I’m completely powerless to do anything about it. I have no control. I’m not even from the same country as these terrorists, but it kills a part of me that this is happening today.
It’s easy for me to condemn the actions of my race in the past, it’s easy to point out the systematic failures created by us. I understand the mess we’ve created and the pure fucking mountain that it is to climb, but there’s something that has always sat with me, something that made me feel like the work was going to get us somewhere, but now I see it.
This "march" has taught me that my white privilege has a farther reach than I could imagine. I see this stuff on Twitter and my heart breaks, but I don’t see it in the streets every day. It’s not my life, I don’t see White guys like this with hate in their hearts and eyes on a daily basis—I hear them talk, but it’s never directed at me. For a lot of people, though, it is. This is just life. Millions of humans live with this heartbreak, disgust and fear everyday and I’m just experiencing it now. Why? Because I’m the same colour as these guys? Unfortunately, yeah.
Now I’m left scrambling. How do we fix our house? White people: this is our problem. We need to make Thanksgiving awkward. We need to speak up and speak out against the people who look just like you and cut down the people who are just like you.
James Baldwin once said:
“…what is really happening is that brother has murdered brother knowing it was his brother…white men have lynched blacks knowing them to be their sons, white women have had blacks burned knowing them to be their lovers, it’s not merely a racial problem…it’s a problem of whether or not you’re willing to look at your life and be responsible for it…the American people are unable to face the fact that I’m flesh of their flesh, bone of their bone.”
The (North) American people are unable to face the fact that POC are flesh of our flesh, bone of our bone. That is the theme of this entire event. It explains why there are no riot police. No tear gas, no rubber bullets and no casualties. These disillusioned White men are being forced to feel their privilege for the first time in their lives, and instead of seeing equality, they feel oppression. They feel oppression because they have no sense of the word in context to the world. Oppression, to them is having to listen. They’re done. They’re tired, they feel forgotten—and that’s because by and large, they are.
Even among the most liberal people I know, the American South and poor White people in general are still okay to dismiss. Trailer trash. White trash. Some, including people I know, have taken these labels and claimed ownership, finding pride in it. There’s nothing wrong with that, that culture has given us gems like the Trailer Park Boys and The Devil’s Rejects, but we still love to use these labels to cut each other down.
We never focus on how we treat White people of different classes because of White normalization. They’re not White, they’re just people—and because of that, they can be trash to us progressive, liberal types. There in itself is the biggest problem with the liberal bubble we get caught in. We preach the message of James Baldwin and other scholars like him, but we forget to apply it to our own—because we do not have a view of “our own.”
When we forget the poor, the working class, the wheels of the economy—when we put them into categories such as Racists, Bigots, or Stupid, all we do is distance our humanity from theirs until it’s all but gone. When we forget the poor and the working class, with all the history that went into creating that class, they feel bitter. They’re angry. They see the portrayal of themselves in the media and feel the need to strike back. In 2016, they did strike back in the best way people in a democracy can—they voted, and now we’re here.
I’m on the verge on rambling, so I’m going end with this: As White people, we need to fix the problem at home. We can’t dismiss our brothers and sisters simply based on where they live in the country, the socioeconomic situation of those areas, or even their view points. I am very bad at writing people off because they don’t believe what I believe, but that does nothing but insulate. We need to have these conversations on a firm, rational ground, even if they’re with irrational people (on both sides), because if we can’t talk, this situation will continue to escalate and the power structure will flex once again, causing unknown damage to our society and culture at large.
Writer, performer, producer and musician from Alberta.