Having read little more than some screen shots of the Bible, Princess Karen version, also known as White Fragility by marketeer Robin DiAngelo, the only thing I know for sure is that I don’t self-flagellate with sufficient vigor. And, I’m told, I should because of my “white privilege.”
We are determined to do that work and determined to let everyone know we are doing it. This work is deemed necessary so we can become better allies for black people in the fight for racial justice. There are so many anguished conversations among white people taking place right now about what to write on our protest signs, about that time we said that thing to a black friend and it changed the energy in the room, about whether rewatching the movie “The Help” counts as progress.
There is a frantic race to catch up, and that’s got to be the correct instinct, right? I mean, look at this moment in history. I swear, if I don’t do it right I’ll ask to speak to my own manager.
The “we” are the “good white people.” I know this because the title of the NYT op-ed says so.
To White People Who Want to Be ‘One of the Good Ones’
And to her credit, Maeve Higgins manages to sneak in some Karen jokes, as well as notice something of actual substance.
I catch myself wanting to be “one of the good ones,” and I have to laugh at myself. Who exactly do I imagine is paying attention to me? Is somebody out there doling out points? Black people are being killed in broad daylight by the police, by actual representatives of the state, and I am fretting over the wording of an Instagram post.
That black people are being killed, not to mention stopped, tossed and treated like shit, is true, even if the impression that cops are slaughtering black people like buffalo on the open plains is less than accurate. But that her deep feelings of being an inadequate ally are kind of petty and narcissistic compared to somebody being killed is surprisingly real. After all, doesn’t Karen feel it’s all about Karen?
Maybe, just maybe, this work I need to do, this learning and unlearning, is not all about me. As a white woman in America, it’s second nature for me to center myself in the discourse, but also to vanish from it when it’s convenient. So permit me, please, to make this work of undoing my complicity in white supremacy in the name of racial justice all about me, you and literally everybody else.
You go, girl.*
I, on the other hand, not only enjoy my “privilege,” but have every intention of keeping it. I worked for it and, let’s be frank, it beats the hell out of not having it. But then, I’ve spent a career fighting to eliminate the burden of racism. I’ve got a few black kids named after me, and there’s a brown guy driving around with my office phone number on the license plate of his car. I didn’t do this to show the world I was one of the good ones, and I make no claim to being one of the good ones.
What I am not is one of the white people who feels guilty about being white. What I feel bad about is that everybody doesn’t get to enjoy his (or her) privilege the way I do. I’ve already explained my theory, the “Bastardized Herzberg Theory” of equal opportunity, and I’m sticking with it. This requires a finely honed grasp of the difference between burdens and benefits, that no one should start out at a detriment to others in the ability to gain privilege. And that eliminating the burdens imposed by race, poverty and any other causes that put someone at a detriment is critical.
But what it does not mean is that there’s anything wrong with enjoying the privilege one has managed to amass. There are plenty of white people who have failed to succeed, even though they didn’t begin at a detriment because of their skin color. And there are plenty of black people who have managed to achieve great success, despite their skin color. They deserve enormous credit for overcoming the burdens that would have impaired lesser people.
I’m painfully aware of what those burdens are and mean, not because I read about it in a book or sat through a lecture in my sophomore critical theory class, but because I held people’s hands as they mourned the death of their daddy, or made the decision of whether to cop a plea to ten years so they could see their baby graduate high school rather than get crushed at trial and never breathe free air again.
But you are worried about how you look to your stans on Facebook?
In a culture fixated on self-improvement, perhaps you could think about rescinding your power as a kind of barre class for your moral compass. In the beginning it will be difficult on those tiny, rarely used muscles, but boy will you be aligned after some years of daily practice.
My moral compass is doing just fine as far as I’m concerned, and when it comes to moral compasses, no one else gets to tell me how mine should work. But if Karen feels the need to do something, self-improvement isn’t going to make any black person’s life better. It’s not hard at all. Black people (and brown, red and green too) are just people. Fight for them to get a fair shot at the same success you fought for, because not all white folks sit in bed eating bon bons all day while checks roll in from their trust accounts. But beyond that, they’re just people, like you, Karen. Some will succeed if the burden is removed. Most won’t, just like white people.
Or if you really want to be “one of the good ones,” you could give some black person your house, your car, the inheritance you got from grandma and the seat Yale gave your li’l darling (but pay the tuition, because Yale needs money). That should make you feel much better. I, on the other hand, feel just fine.
*Because I haven’t done this in a while.