Archive - Jul 27, 2016

Goddammit, White People!

« July 2016 »


So, during Michelle Obama DNC speech, she mentioned that every day, she wakes up in a house built by slaves. She said this because every day, she wakes up in a house built by slaves, because she wakes up in the White House, and the White House was built by slaves. And it's in fact remarkable that she wakes up in that particular house every day. So she remarked on it.

She did not say this to hurt white people, or make them feel bad, or make them feel guilty. But whiteness isn't just about the color of one's skin, it's about the shockingly insufficient thickness of it. So a dozen or so words from her speech traveled around the globe, and, like daggers, deeply hurt the butts of white people everywhere. Because apparently the terrible legacy of slavery isn't the institutional racism and oppression left in its wake, it's that white people are forced to repeatedly confront the fact that it existed.

Here's how much white people hate thinking about the history of slavery. They've invented an alternate history of slavery they can think about instead. It's a version of history where the only people who enslaved black people were other black people, and white people just sort of took the slaves like they were temps from an agency. It's not their fault the temps were being exploited! Oh, and also, white people were totally enslaved by other white people so black people need to SHUT UP SHUT UP SHUT UP ABOUT SLAVERY LA LA LA WE CAN'T HEAR YOU.

White people also love any excuse to believe that maybe slavery wasn't so bad. They cling to stories of slaves not wanting to leave when they were freed as if they were significant evidence of how pleasant slavery could be, even as they live out the actual truth - that having lived their entire lives in one way, it's difficult to impossible to bring yourself to live it another way, even if it's ultimately in the best interests of yourself and society.

This, inevitably, brings us to Bill O'Reilly, who, I am contractually obligated to remind you, once went to a restaurant in Harlem and was shocked that the black people there acted like normal human beings. Bill O'Reilly, High Lord Of White Butthurt, said the following quote most of you have already seen. ACTUAL QUOTE TIME!

"Slaves that worked there were well-fed and had decent lodgings provided by the government..." - O'Reilly, in what he claimed was.a "fact check" of Obama's statement, proving that you can in fact devalue the phrase "fact check" a little bit more.

I thought Bill O'Reilly was opposed to the government keeping people well-fed and in decent lodgings, but I guess not! This is a real end-of-The-Christmas-Carol moment for old Bill. Any minute now, he'll be running down the street, asking women what day it is and then apologizing for sexually harassing them.

O'Reilly-style white people often accuse liberals of "white guilt" whenever the topic of how we've treated African-Americans over the centuries comes up. But here's the thing. We're not the ones who feel guilty. We feel bad. We acknowledge the history, accept that it happened, accept that its effects reverberate and persist to the present day. We accept the wrongs our society has perpetrated and want to correct them. That's not guilt.

Guilty people behave like Bill O'Reilly. They deny, they minimize, they weasel, they excuse. They desperately try to shift blame to others, which is why every comment thread about race includes the usual Republicans ignoring the post-Civil-Rights-Act party shift to try to make Democrats feel bad that their party name used to be associated with racists. That's the white fucking guilt right there.

So here's the deal. You often say you want black people to "just get over" slavery. While I can't speak for the black community, I can say it'd be a great fucking gesture if you got over it first. Not pretending it didn't happen, not pretending it was better than it was, not pretending white people weren't particularly responsible for it, not pretending everything got fixed the instant the ink dried on the Emancipation Proclamation. Actually getting over it to the point where someone saying the White House was built by slaves doesn't cause you to go an a frantic desperate rampage trying to reinforce your worldview. You'll understand if I don't hold my breath.