Hey, Fellow White People, We Should Be Ashamed and Angry About Racism in American History

When I was applying for jobs in academia years ago, I figured that, depending where I was applying, my whiteness and maleness would work against me or in my favor. It never occurred to me to resent the idea that I might lose out to an equally qualified non-white person or a woman because I believe that diversity in education is an imperative to maybe, perhaps one day overcoming or at least ameliorating the effects of racism and sexism. On more than one occasion, some other white guy would ask me if I was upset that I might lose out on a dream job because of affirmative action or diversity hiring. 

And my answer was always the same: "I'm not angry at people today for getting jobs. I'm not angry at people today for considering race and sex as factors. I am pissed off as hell at all the stupid, racist, sexist white men in the past who fucked it all up." 

See, what gets me, time and again, is trying to conceive of all the people whose genius, whose talent, whose abilities were never even given a chance because of the actual laws and the unspoken rules of white male domination and oppression. If you really think about it, that loss is overwhelming. It's incalculable. And it is frankly entirely rational, entirely normal, entirely expected that trying to wrap your head around it is going to make a white person feel like shit. 

Frankly, we white people should feel shame. We should feel anger. And rather than deny those feelings, rather than repress them and revolt against them, we should embrace them, learn from them, and grow from them. Otherwise, we'll just keep doing all the things that make future whites ashamed and angry, perpetuating the very system that we're pretending we've defeated. 

The fake outrage over critical race theory in schools has morphed from the bizarre idea that a law school idea about race and the judicial system was being taught to grade school kids to an existential threat to the nation. It has gone from banning teaching about white privilege to banning books deemed offensive, like the children's book Ruby Bridges Goes to School, about the young Black girl who integrated the New Orlean public schools and faced screaming mobs of white people while doing it. 

And why is this? Because learning that white people were cruel racists makes white people feel bad so don't teach the truth about the racial history of this country. You think that's an oversimplification? The head of one mothers' group in Tennessee said that the Ruby Bridges book "too harshly delineated between Black and white people, and that the book didn't offer 'redemption' at its end." The book does offer redemption: for Ruby Bridges and those opposed to segregation. There are objectively good people and bad people. And you know what else the book has? It shows a photo of a white member of the Eisenhower administration and says that "The United States government said: 'Segregation is wrong.'" So it does have good white people. It just says that the racist white people were wrong, so that must be the problem.

By the way, that same mom says that it's offensive for students to learn to spell words like "injustice," "unequal," "inequality," "protest," "marching" and "segregation," in case you really wondered what this was about. 

(Yes, of course, it's a grift, a scam to fundraise off the rubes. But it has also become an obsession on the right, to the point of violence at school board meetings and death threats against teachers. So let's take it seriously.)

Those attacking critical race theory believe that some of the racial sensitivity training (which have little to do with actual critical race theory, it's becoming tedious to point out) that some companies, government agencies, and, yes, teachers are undertaking are actually "political indoctrination" in disguise. What makes it political indoctrination? The fact that it asks white people to contemplate that much of what we consider even foundational ideas about the United States come from a white perspective because, for much of the history of this county, the white perspective was the only one that was allowed to be expressed. And that once we recognize that, we realize that we need to revise how we conceive of some of the things that we white people take for granted as true. It's called "growth." I'd call it "evolution," but you know how that would go.

If what you get from that is that white people are bad and that you don't want to feel bad, that's on you. For chrissake, as a white person, why wouldn't I feel like shit about the fact that the country wouldn't exist without the enslavement of one race and the genocide of another, both done by white people? Why wouldn't I feel like shit that the white-run government didn't enforce the very laws that it created to bring about equality between the races? Why in the world wouldn't I feel like shit about lynching and terrorism by whites against Black people? As someone who grew up white in the south, why wouldn't I feel like shit about the Supreme Court-endorsed apartheid that prevented Black people from prospering for a hundred years after slavery? Why wouldn't I feel like shit about policies like red-lining and banking discrimination and environmental ghettoes? We're now talking about things white people have done in my lifetime, not 400 years ago. 

Goddamn, you'd have to be so deep in denial, so delusional, so sociopathic to not think that whiteness has been used as a weapon against non-white people. Don't tell me not to feel like hell. Tell me how you agree that we need to accept it, teach it, learn it, and change it. 

Instead, now we've got things like the governor of Nebraska praising the Board of Regents for the University of Nebraska system for putting out a statement opposing critical race theory in the university curriculum. We've got idiots like Sen. Tom Cotton raging at professors and the Pentagon for daring to teach it to cadets at the military academies. 

As if it was written by a hyper-patriotic child, the University of Nebraska statement reads, in part, "America is the best country in the world and anyone can achieve the American Dream here." Putting aside that the country is actually called "the United States of America" and, by default, you could only achieve the American Dream here, it's just laughable in its pathetic hyperbole. 

A truly great country doesn't have to keep saying it's great. A truly great country can handle more than one idea about itself. A truly great country is one that recognizes its mistakes and treats them as the chance to become, what's the phrase, "a more perfect union," as our flawed, racist, but, yes, wise founders said.