White Guilt

Little annoys me more than white guilt. I find it condescending, grandstanding, smug, and totally racist.

“Everyone’s a little bit racist,” as the song goes, and I include myself in that statement. But I don’t indulge in pitying people of races other than mine, and I appreciate that about myself.

Still, at the risk of coming across like a white liberal bullshit artist, I have to share the following story, or my mind will close in on itself, and I will implode:

This week, as I approached an office building for a meeting, I passed a black male security guard, who was protecting the building from outside. The awareness that this man was keeping the other occupants and me safe, while cops around the country are murdering people who share his skin color (as they have throughout history), wrenched my gut. We looked each other in the eyes and said hello, and I felt so deeply wounded.

I walked into the building, finding two black male security guards inside. The first smiled at me with such heart, I fought back spontaneous tears. While I would be ignorant to assume that the recent media stories cause this man more pain than life as a walking bulls-eye does, it’s certainly more than possible that his heart is extra tender this week at the reminder. Not that he needs one.

The second man looked at my briefcase and asked gently, “Would you please open your bag for me? I need to look inside.” And though my skin crawls at guilty white sentiments, here I was steeped in one: Not only was this man not beating me, kicking me, or choking me to death, I noticed, but also, he afforded me my dignity while ensuring that I was not a threat to those around me.

Protocol at this particular building is to have entrants open their own bags. There was nothing remarkable about the gesture, per se. It was all in his delivery, and that of the other two men in this story: humanity, hospitality, grace in the midst of presumable fury.

I don’t know where this leaves me. I sound like a guilty white liberal, and nobody likes that person. Or at least, as established above, I don’t. But I know what I felt and I wanted to share it, so I did. I have nothing intelligent or wise to say about it. I am just trying to sit with the sadness.

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