TW: discussion of racial violence and self-harm
For a long time I’ve hated my skin. I hate the way it looks: all pale and pimply, puckering in the cold, burning in the sun. I hate its translucency, how it reveals my deepest secrets to the world. But most of all I hate what it represents: genocide, slavery, the KKK, Donald Trump, oppression, colonialism and murder. I look at my skin and I see internment camps, the Trail of Tears, and black people gunned down in the street.
I hate that this skin grants me privilege, privilege not based on anything I’ve done, but based purely on my ancestors at one point acquiring guns, boats, and a feeling of racial superiority. Some days I wish more than anything to peel off this horrid ghostly hide and dance around as a skeleton laughing maniacally at the idiocy of it all.
But I don’t.
I have problems with self-loathing anyway, a history of self-harm related to my struggle with depression. I know that self-harm, while at times a temporary relief, is ultimately useless. It does not change the underlying issues. It does not balance the chemicals in the brain. It does not convince me of my worth as a human or make me feel loved or cared for. Self-harm, like self-hatred, is only a way for me to feel slightly better for a very short time.
And in the struggle for justice for all people, self-hatred is equally worthless. White guilt is simply a way for me to distract from the real issue, a way for me to feel better without having to do any of the work that radical change requires. “Look at me, I feel bad!” does not absolve me of the racist thoughts I still sometimes have. It does not negate my past. It does not bring anyone back from the grave. It does not vote for better politicians. It does not educate my fellow white people. “Look at me, I feel bad!” is nothing but a slight of hand. Self-pity and self-hatred is not enough to create radical change.
Radical change requires radical love. Love of my brothers, sisters, and non-binary relatives who are struggling for the cause. And even love of the ignorant who deny them justice. James Baldwin wrote in his essay “A Letter to my Nephew”: “But these men are your brothers, your lost younger brothers, and if the word ‘integration’ means anything, this is what it means, that we with love shall force our brothers to see themselves as they are, to cease fleeing from reality and begin to change it…” (Italics added for emphasis).
This does not mean forgetting their sins or allowing the white-cis-patriarchy to continue unchanged, it means forcing them to be better people for their sake and ours.
I am not a perfect ally. Such a thing does not exist. I am a coward and I often hide behind my shame and self-pity. But I will not allow myself this escape anymore.
I will listen and listen and then listen some more. I will pay attention. I will vote. I will read and read and read. I will correct myself when I fail. I will correct those around me when they fail. I will struggle with my racial identity every day, knowing that having the choice not to is white privilege at its pinnacle.
I will continue to look for more to do. I will not give up or give in to self-hatred. Because hatred of any kind is not enough. It is a quick burning flame that leaves nothing behind but ashes. And I want to live in a world that is vibrant and alive.
All the love.