What Am I Apologizing For?

With everything going on our country, there is a subculture of people experiencing something commonly referred to as “white guilt”. At best, this is a genuine but somewhat misplaced sense of shame. At worst, it is yet another chance to make the conversation surrounding racism all about white people.

I apologize for a lot of things. I apologize for too much, to be honest — my favorite (or at least, most used) word in the English language is “sorry”. I apologize when someone has had a bad day, even though I had absolutely no impact whatsoever on that badness. I apologize when I submit a project 2 days early instead of my usual 4 days early. I apologize when I decide to go home instead of go to my parents. I apologize for being myself.

And, yes, I apologize for racism.

I apologize for age 6 through age 11, when I was afraid to go into Save-a-Lot because that was where the Mexicans in my neighborhood shopped. I apologize because I never stopped to consider how sad it was that that was the only place they could afford to go for groceries. I apologize for age 14, when I parroted my dad’s ideology that Obama would steal all of our guns and send us into a downward Communist spiral. I apologize for age 16, when I repeatedly poked a friend’s afro because it was poufy, and “I couldn’t resist”.

I am NOT apologizing for being white, a) because being white is not inherently wrong and b) because no one is asking me to. (Not to mention that I’m just as Asian — Vietnamese, to be specific — as I am Caucasian.) I am not apologizing for any actions taken place by my ancestors because I have no control over that.

And, yet, it is the latter list, not the former, that people who most often express “white guilt” apologize for. It is also the latter list for which so many racists (and pseudo-racists, the ones who think you’re being silly for apologizing for something you didn’t do) make fun of white supporters. No one — at least, no one sane — is asking us to take back our past. No one is asking us to act like our lives don’t matter. No one is asking us to become slaves in order to somehow level the scales for people of color around us.

What they are asking — and what we should be unselfish enough to already know — is for us to take control of our futures. We cannot fix our past, but we can always, always move toward a brighter future. In a lot of ways, I have not changed from the person I was when I was 6. But, in a lot of ways, I have. I like to think that one of those ways is becoming more aware of how the people around me might be marginalized. Of how their struggles are no more or less important than mine, but completely different, and worthy of my respect, support, and sympathy.

I do not apologize for the past of others. I apologize only for my past, and only for my future.

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