“It’s time for white people to fully acknowledge that in the racial arena, we are the problem. We have to ask ourselves: How does it feel to be the problem?
The simple answer: Not very good.
That is the new White People’s Burden, to understand that we are the problem, come to terms with what that really means, and act based on that understanding. Our burden is to do something that doesn’t seem to come natural to people in positions of unearned power and privilege: Look in the mirror honestly and concede that we live in an unjust society and have no right to some of what we have. We should not affirm ourselves. We should negate our whiteness. Strip ourselves of the illusion that we are special because we are white. Steel ourselves so that we can walk in the world fully conscious and try to see what is usually invisible to us white people. We should learn to ask ourselves, “How does it feel to be the problem?” (Robert Jensen)
Robert Jensen’s question “how does it feel to be the problem” and the simple answer “not very good”, how do ‘white anti-racists’ or those who want to be it answer this question for themselves?
White guilt, white denial, this is not what I am talking about here, also not white paternalism or “do-gooders”. I talk about “feeling it”, something I believe Robert Jensen is doing, according his writings.
But not only the question how it feels to be a part of the problem but also how it feels to want to be a part of the solution is an important one for any white participating in anti-racist work.
Because with whites the European mindset also comes which can interfere in all what we are doing. Some or many whites use the same language to other the ‘enemy’, simple targets are produced to detect the ‘real racists’ (Neo-Nazis etc.), the feeling of “we (anti-racists) are better than you (racists), multiracial gatherings used to demonstrate how ‘diverse’ somebody is, exotism perpetrated without realizing it, listing the nationalities or skin-colors of friends or imitating other cultures to be ‘cool’. Whites who use organizing as a place to justify their desire for violence or looking down on others, white “anti-racist” organizations which are led by white males who see nothing wrong to ignore the voices of PoC and women. Organizations which fall apart because even within a small organization many whites can’t live what they want to preach: justice and equality.
Criticizing other people isn’t so difficult. Criticizing oneself and actively listening to criticism is more difficult, but the most important part for any white I think who once started the journey away from Eurocentrism or wants to. I believe that many whites who overcome their feelings of “white guilt” end up in some sort of vacuum. An empty space where there is no culture left one can identify with and a “sub-culture” has to be developed. I also think that with that a lot of frustration can follow as well as anger against mainstream society, the feeling of being stripped of a place within this society without visible alternatives left. Hardly we will find our white role-models in history books, they are mostly the invisible ones who led their lives in silence and history doesn’t talk about them. Whites who tried to remain humane or to regain their own humanity and sometimes or often probably failed.
The greater the knowledge becomes for an individual white about European history and white supremacy the less is left, the realization that there is no way to walk through life without leaving white footprints and also no real answers which way will be part of the solution and which way part of the problem.
The feeling of running into a dead-end-street or talking against walls when having discussions about race with other whites, the tedious “code-book phrases” like “I am not racist”, “others did the same”, “people will always be the same”, as well as self-reflection of who ‘I am’ within this world, this society, which approach, which style is appropriate or perhaps successful and the fine line between talking for others or talking about racism.