So I’m a progressive whitie, right. I say all the right things, I’ve spent ages examining my whiteness, feeling guilty, feeling responsible, and at the bottom of that pit, like somehow whiteness is wrong because of everything that’s been accomplished in it’s name. So I’ve done the work right?
I’ve studied it, I’ve lived it, I’ve workshopped it, I stand up often and talk about how white people walk around ignorant of our privilege and how that plays out day by day in small interactions, and the ability to easily access all sorts of things, like constant employment, good service, easy bank loans, unsuspiscious shop clerks, great education, and lots and lots of other things big and small. I’ve examined my own responses to certain situations and realised how deeply ingrained my racism is in how I treat people, my expectations, my language, my practice.
I’ve publicly acknowledged how this shapes my life, how my privilege is only possible as a result of the oppression of black and coloured people. I’ve gotten over naming. I’ve spoken about how race is a social construction (i.e. a story we make up about who someone is based on an arbitrary genetic characteristic), and yet how it is real because of the ongoing impact on people’s lives. I’ve grappled with what to do with my privilege. Should I be ashamed (a la Samantha Vice)? Should I go lie on the beach and enjoy myself and hand over money for printing when asked (a la Andile Mngxitama)?
I rant against the kind of comments that people feel free posting online after articles that touch on race, the ones where white people get defensive, blame others, infer that white people are the only holders of culture and ‘civilisation’ (whatever that means). Who bemoan ‘the country going to the dogs’. I treat everyone with polite respect, and when there is space, with love and friendship doesn’t matter who you are or where you come from. I judge, I examine why I get scared of black people walking down the road, and why I racially profile people based on name / colour / accent…
Hell, I even married a black man! I’m a good whitie, not like those other ones, and I’ll demonstrate it in many ways, taking my partner’s surname rather than keeping my own which gives me a childish thrill when people do double takes. About a year ago, it hit me like a plank over my head that I had assumed that now I was married, I thought my work of dismantling my racism was done. Of course it isn’t, it never is.
And then, in a conversation with my partner in bed one morning, I suddenly saw how what I was doing was asking him to validate my reconstructed ‘good’ whiteness, absolve me of my guilt, shame, grappling, privilege, taking of that privilege. And I have no idea what to do with that. That our relationship can’t just be about the usual man-woman stuff, working things out, the bigger work of being in a relationship, there is no way to escape that race plays a part in that. And I wonder did I marry him cause he’s black, not because of who he is to me? Did he ever have a similar thought? I have some defensive anger about it too, why can’t it just be about two people in love? And then I recognise those white narratives I rant against that try and deny the part that race plays in our lives on a very fundamental level. And then I buy into the race doesn’t matter for a couple of seconds, and then I’m back to of course it does. And then I’m left with but how DOES it matter?
I think perhaps it may be an unsolveable conundrum, another plank come to bash me over the head and demand some further examination, work & thinking. Because truth is, marrying him doesn’t change my skin colour or all the things it delivers and has delivered to me on a silver plate. Absolution doesn’t lie there, and I have no idea where it does, or even if it’s necessary…