I am a white female, born and raised in San Diego, CA. I am young, or at least I think I am. I turned 26 a few days ago. I have been fortunate enough to graduate college. Even luckier, I am now in graduate school.
I lived in Dallas from 2008 to 2014 and now I live in Los Angeles. I also used to be conservative, or at least I thought I was.
First, let me make it clear that I considered myself a moderate conservative. I was never a “crazy conservative” who couldn’t acknowledge racism, or sexism, or classism, or all the other “-isms.” I knew they existed. I knew I was born into a world where privilege was bestowed on people with white skin, but a part of me really believed, or wanted to believe, that we lived in a world where equal rights meant equal lives.
After I left home, I quickly realized that I only thought I was conservative. I confused a political ideology with a hopefulness that our policies could dictate our culture. I just didn’t get it, and this is why: My knowledge of structural inequity did not translate into an experience of structural inequity.
I knew that I had white privilege, but I didn’t know what it was like to live without it. I still don’t.
Many articles have demonstrated why saying #BlackLivesMatter doesn’t mean that all lives shouldn’t. Focus does not mean exclusion. This truth has been explained much better than I ever could. So I, a white American, am writing because I want other white Americans to know that it’s okay to feel uncomfortable. It’s something we aren’t used to – that’s privilege. It’s okay to say we don’t understand – that’s privilege. We must educate ourselves on how to become advocates for breaking a cycle that we don’t understand, but unconsciously perpetuate.
White Americans, we need to teach ourselves and our children to continuously examine our own beliefs, to listen more, and to argue less. We don’t understand, but we need to make sure that we want to. We must seek out opportunities to publicly confront the reality we live in – or rather the reality we are privileged enough to ignore.
The past several weeks have been a piercing reminder that our systems are broken. The culture we live in values some lives more than others. We can continue our fruitless attempts to wish away the brokenness or we can acknowledge the sad truth that in many ways our lives are easier because we’re white. That does not mean our lives are easy, but they are certainly easier.
I struggle with the notion that some of my white friends abide by: “This police violence is heartbreaking. It’s not fair. It’s not right, but I can’t apologize because I didn’t do this. I’m not that police officer.”
Please know that I see your logic. I really do, but listen just as closely when I say that being sorry is not the same as being responsible. Many of us don’t want to accept personal responsibility for the deaths of innocent black and brown lives across this country. We don’t have to, but we have to say we’re sorry. Not because we held the gun, but because we benefit from the system that provides it.
Consider this: A friend or family member experiences a tragedy, a death perhaps. What are your first words? “… I’m so sorry.” Not because you caused the tragedy, but because we live in a world where tragedies occur. Because there is nothing you can say to make it better. Because you love that person and wish they weren’t in so much pain.
I’m here to say I’m sorry for the pain that I can’t understand. I feel guilty, and I regret not feeling guilty sooner. Not for being white, but because my white skin prevented me from truly acknowledging the black and brown experience in a way that actually made a difference.
We have to endure this guilt, work hard to understand it, and come out of the process a more united, compassionate group of neighbors, friends and advocates. People are dying because we don’t.
So, white Americans, please join me in humbly saying that: