I would disagree with your opening sentence, that “I cannot feel shame for something I had no control over.”. Not complete disagreement, for I do understand what you are saying, but I do feel the need to more clearly define what is meant by shame and being ashamed . From “Difference Between” website: “As a noun, shame is described as a painful feeling that may arise from the thought or the realization of something disgraceful, vile and detestable whether it be done by someone else or by oneself. … Conversely, ashamed is generally used as an adjective. It is when one is feeling the guilt or shame.”
“…shame is…a painful feeling…from the thought or realization of something disgraceful, vile and detestable whether it be done by someone else or by oneself.” (My emphasis). When I say that I am ashamed to be white, I mean that I have a (very) painful feeling of something disgraceful, vile and detestable done by someone else who is also white. I don’t have to be a racist to realize that racism is disgraceful, vile and detestable no matter who perpetrates it. I also don’t have to be a man to realize that men have beards — and to have some sort of a feeling about it. I know that’s a silly comparison, but that’s the point.
For those around me who are not white, I may be their specific example of whiteness. For others of color, racists may be their mind image when they think of white people and as a white person, I will be judged according to their experiences.
Would it be clearer if I phrased it as such: I am not proud of my white heritage because of what that actually means to a majority of the world, which is decidedly NOT white? And I clarify: I am not proud of my white skin; it has no particular redeeming value that makes it superior. It is NOT the single factor that sets me apart from others who are Not Like Me AND makes me superior to them. In fact, I claim no superiority based on the things I cannot control, such as skin color or being female or being born in the USA.
I want my readers to understand me; I try to be clear and apparently the whole “shame” thing is creating a logjam. I elucidate: I feel shame about being a member of a group that is not superior but has a loud and obvious subset that insists on its superiority based solely on the levels of melanin in the skin, or the lack thereof. I FEEL shame. Shame is an emotion; I am NOT, repeat NOT, my emotions. I have them, they are not me.
I identify as a Tibetan Zen Buddhist and in a enormous twist of irony, am more of a Jesus follower than I ever was as a Christian. I have my own views about the man from Nazareth, whether he even existed and if his death somehow actually does prevent going to a place I’m not sure exists either. HOWEVER, his words are good ones to use as for inspiration and being a good person. “Love your God” and “Love your neighbor”. I’m on board with that. “God” is a really nebulous term. It HAS to be, because if God is infinite, infinitely beyond us, using ANY word name immediately reduces that concept to a human-based level and does not encompass the infinity of a Supreme Being (which is also a limiting word name).
I turn to Marcus Aurelius for a better explanation: “Live a good life. If there are gods and they are just, then they will not care how devout you have been, but will welcome you based on the virtues you have lived by. If there are gods, but unjust, then you should not want to worship them. If there are no gods, then you will be gone, but will have lived a noble life that will live on in the memories of your loved ones.”
I am much less concerned with <some concept of some sort of god> than in living that good, noble life.
“Love your neighbor” is only useful once it’s clearly understood that “your neighbor” is every single other person on the planet. No limitations, no exceptions. Back to Jesus, who in Matthew 25: 31–36 is discussing Judgment Day and how he will separate his true followers from all other. Verses 35 and 36 tell us what Jesus’ followers were to do, the 6 specific tasks that were his instructions for them: feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked; welcome the stranger, comfort the sick and visit those in prison. The first 3 are basic needs; the second 3 are social justice. He also tells them that “when you do this to the least of these, you do it to me”. It’s a reminder that in loving our neighbor, we cannot exclude those who “have-not” or who “are-not”; they are, in fact, the very ones who need our attention the most.
I condemn no one for their choices or how they live their lives. It’s none of my business. Everyone has their own problems, their own things that limit and hurt and interfere with living the ideal life. I try not to add to anyone else’s problems and I try not to burden them with mine. So when I speak of how I feel and how I think, these are not permanent, unchanging and implacable obstacles to my life nor do they define who I am at the core.
I have confidence in the ability of the human animal to rise above its own pettiness, to be *more*, to be *greater* than thought possible. We have many, many examples of this greatness; you know the names: Albert Einstein, Margaret Mead, Marie Curie, Clara Barton, Colin Kaepernick, Martin Luther King, Galileo, Isaac Newton, Neil Armstrong, Julia Child, Justin Trudeau, FDR, Barack Obama, Babe Ruth, Hank Aaron, Johnny Unitas, Dale Ernhardt, Maya Angelou, Sylvia Plath, and on and on and on.
No special star over their cradles, no particular area of expertise, no specific religion or skin color or length of hair or where they were born; just people, like the rest of us people, who have done and are doing amazing things.
This belief of mine, this confidence in the greatness of humans…is actually a part of the shame that I feel when talking about racism (or any other form of discrimination). I believe, I KNOW, that we can be better than that <whatever bigotry>. And when people in large enough numbers are being that low, that vile and detestable, it makes me angry/sad/despairing. I consider it to be, in the old fashioned term, a sin. The word “sin” comes from the Greek and that word in Greek also means “to miss the point”. People who insist on being racist, sexist, homophobic, terrified of the “others” when the differences are so small that we can interbreed…are missing the point of their own humanity. They are sinning, doing harm, against the very great person they could be if they would stop focusing on the minutiae of differences — especially since those differences are usually something one is born with like skin color or gender.
THAT is unacceptable to me. THAT offends me in the heart of my being. And I am ashamed to be associated with anyone that stupidly blind and hateful, even if it’s only an association by skin color.
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Peace and blessings.