Grieving in America: Who Is Having The “You are White” Talk?
Warning: While no White males were harmed in the writing of this essay, the series of questions exploring race reflects the psychological exploration of the white male experience through the lens of the Black male experience in America. Some white males might experience white racial anxiety while reading these words. Please choose to be brave and consume this mental food.
Let me begin by stating, I am a human being. I am a Black man living in North America.
Yes, I am in pain. I have seen the video of my brother, George Floyd. being murdered by four, recently fired, Minneapolis police officers: four white bodied and one yellow-bodied. As I stated when Ahmaud Arbrey was murdered, I can see myself in the video. With a fresh murder video within a fortnight, even in my pain, I am now starting to have compassion for a layer of white racial violence victims that are usually overlooked: young white males.
For the past 25 years, I have been on the forefront of race discussions. My social media is so saturated with the issue that I am considered extreme by some residents of the Southern Oregon Black community. Why? I imagine they are secretly afraid of my being so outspoken, I am putting myself in danger. They do not wish to see me hurt for leading white persons towards greater humanity.
In my mind, I see no benefit in being silent. The threat to my existence remains whether I choose to speak on it or not. That being said, my heart, despite my pain, is turning towards white people.
In 25 years, it is my lived experience that white people collectively tell me race is not a part of their lived experience. Most people do not discriminate against them, and by most people, they mean, people of color. When a fellow white person treats them with injustice, another satisfactory meaning to the motive behind the injustice outside of race is found. Race was not an issue talked about in their childhood or currently processed in their family.
I am going to choose, for the sake of this discussion to accept such as true, even though, normally, I supremely disagree with the premise that such a disassociation from race is possible. So, that leads me to ask the following questions:
I wonder how the young white male, with no guidance from his Elder white males, concerning race, racism and whiteness is processing the news cycle right now? Does he see the evidence for what it actually is: or, out of programming, is he processing the information through a racial lens that he must, for his own sanity, deny he is using?
How does the young white male internalize the picture of a white male police officer calmly murdering a Black man - for 10 minutes?
Is there such an emotional overload that little to any logic is happening to discipline his conclusion? Is his Father, Uncle or Big Cousin sitting him down and having the talk with him?
You know, the same kind of talk a Black Father or Mother is sitting down to discuss how to survive a police encounter. Is a young white male receiving the talk about how to be an oppressor?
I am an oppressor.
Does that idea flow through the mind of a young white male? Does he come to that conclusion on his own? Does his mind run amok, looking for the good in his situation?
Does the young white male feel horror, imagining the idea that Black people, who do not already know him, will see him (in their subconscious) as no different than the white male police officers calmly murdering a Black man?
Does he feel horror, that HE sees himself reflected in the picture of the white male police officers calmly murdering a Black man? Does he imagine that there is a part of him who wants to do the same?
Does he choose to go numb in order to not feel this horror?
Does his nervous system almost shut down under the stress of viewing/defining himself in racial undertones? I am a white man.
Does it feel good to be a white man, as defined by race relations in America? Does the young white male feel trapped in the identity of being white and not valued as himself? Does he feel his ability to define himself stripped away by a racial identity he has no influence to change?
Does he feel it is unjust to be associated in the mind of persons of color with the image of the white male police officer calmly murdering a Black man.
Does he have nightmares processing his emotions?
I wonder what that young white male is learning as he watches the living examples in White America of older white males defending the actions of the white male police officer calmly murdering a Black man. Does he see the pain they are in? Does he feel a connection to their pain? Does he believe they are sharing in the same confusion and denial of culpability that he feels?
Out of necessity, to view himself as a good person, does the young white male internalize their arguments and defenses? Does he use their arguments to soothe his own pain?
Out of necessity does he learn how to emotionally disassociate from the concept of being a white male and choose to not feel race?
Does he choose to embrace the idea that he has no physical, mental or spiritual connection to the white male police officer calmly murdering a Black man?
Does he choose to feel no responsibility for the actions of any other white males, even while hearing defenses of that white male from white males? Even though he is studying these older white males to figure out how to navigate the emotions he is feeling?
I wonder what the young white male is learning as he witnesses the pain Black people across the nation are in via social media. Does he see a unity he wishes he was a part of?
Does he hear the arguments of Black people and see the holes in the answers given to him by the older white males?
Does he force himself to judge the validity of the arguments before him?
Does he feel horror when he recognizes that the counter arguments by Black people make a lot of sense? They make more sense than the defensive arguments of the older white males?
Does the young white male feel absolute confusion over what is going on and just want to return to a sense of safety? Does he feel that there is nothing wrong with who and what he is?
Does he feel this need to forge a positive self-esteem out of desperation? Is he grasping for straws for positive self-image building material in the answers given by the older white males? Does he feel pressure still from the validity of the counter arguments of Black and Brown-bodied people?
Pressure. Does he feel immense psychological pressure to view himself as a part of a monstrous system, yet, not want to be burdened with such?
Does the young white male look at an “It’s Okay to be White” flier and feel a surge of pride that someone finally sees him as he sees himself.
Or, does he feel embarrassed that the flier is needed in his life. That he really, really has low self-esteem because the message and the defenses the older white males gave him sound like oppressor thinking in his head.
He knows Black people are being oppressed. And, he is scared. He is scared because the emotions he is feeling are not given voice too or direction. He is not given a positive racial identity for white males.
He has been given the image of a monster. He knows he is not a monster. He knows he is a human being. He is a good person. He is someone who is trying to survive and seek self-actualization just like the young Black males, young Native males and young Latinx males that he interacts with.
He wants equality. He has no guidance towards achieving equality because he has no living example of what that looks like.
What he has been offered is the culture of individualism and white supremacy.
What does he do if he rejects both because that is not the truth of who and what he is?
I wonder who is going to have a “You are White” talk with this young man.
Who is teaching this young white male how to not be an oppressor?
Who believes it is possible?