I mean, I get her. I get the fear, the desire not to be lumped in with those bad other people who do the bad things. I get the desire to continue to enjoy the privilege of not having to think about my race day to day. I’ve been a straight person in the group of LGBT folks, the man in the group of feminist women, the cis guy talking to transfolk. Hell, I’ve been the only white person at the dinner table more often than I can count. I get that desire to start out each interaction with a pat on the back to assure me that I’m “one of the good ones.”
Don’t do me that favor.
I’ve been exceedingly fortunate in this life to have met people who have been willing to school me when I get something wrong, when I make assumptions about people’s lives based on my own experience. I’ve been fortunate to have people willing to instruct me out of my ignorance about the world outside my skin, and to do so mostly patiently, but not always. Sometimes that instruction came with justifiable peeve, or even anger.
And like Walsh, I’ve occasionally wanted to wave my lefty bonafides in front of my critic of the moment to defuse the topic, to make it more academic and a bit less uncomfortably about me. I’ve protested that just because I’m white doesn’t mean I’m conservative, or rich, or racist — and if I am racist, it’s at least not the kind that prompts me to drag people behind my truck. Like Walsh does somewhat academically in her essay, I have protested that far from being a racist, I am in fact a Nice White Guy.
But I’m learning that that criticism, as has been said here before in other contexts, is a gift. That the person taking the time to engage with me is, to appropriate a phrase from this important 2007 essay by the blogger Nanette, giving me the benefit of the doubt.
Like I said, I get Walsh’s desire to protest that we’re not all bad. I suppose I’m kind of doing it myself with this post, making my views distinct from her seeming ignorance of race privilege. Except that my goal here isn’t to separate myself from Walsh the way she wants you to separate her from the Klan. She and I are basically the same, after all, with our defensivenesses and privileges worn slightly differently.
Rather, my intent here is to thank you for the hard work you’ve put in to change the whole conversation, which you continue despite prominent people like Walsh telling you you’re doing it wrong. In ways incremental and massive; whether you were a one-time commenter on my blog with a sharp word or, well, my ex-wife who offered me two decades of private instruction in precisely where my white privilege lay; whether we’ve spoken directly at all or you’ve dissected a post of mine on your Tumblr or I’ve read something you wrote about something else and didn’t weigh in…
Well, I’m weighing in now. Thank you. You’re making the world a better place by speaking your mind candidly. Eventually, more of us will listen more of the time.
And don’t be too unnerved by Walsh’s admonition that whites need to be insulated from the scorn of people of color because “Democrats still need white support.” It’s an ugly threat on her part, but it’s an idle threat. Some of us don’t change our basic sense of ethics just because someone called us a name. I’m pretty sure Walsh is one of us, deep down. Yesterday’s essay just wasn’t some of her best work.