If I am reading American and world history correctly, I see a world shaped greatly by the harm caused by people who look like me. In my own country, I see lynchings, exclusionary acts, separate but equal policies, slavery, internment, genocide, chemical castration, xenophobia, and nationalism. Looking more broadly across the globe, I see colonialism, eugenics, anti-Semitism, the Holocaust, Apartheid, and much more.
Reading history forces me to pause. A thought then rolls through my mind which is not new. Are white people the most wicked thing to ever exist on this planet? This question is then followed by another. Am I or should I be embarrassed by my skin color?
Of course, I can talk of countless heroes who worked to undo these injustices and cruelties. History is littered with names known and unknown who share my skin color who worked against these acts from the outset. Some sacrificed their lives and others lost everything. Still, I cannot help but think of which race served as the genesis for such brutalities and indecent behavior. Over and over again, it is people who look like me who served as starting points for some of history’s darkest periods.
The proof of this is written in history. I once heard it said that a white man could travel back to any point in history and still live in relative dominance and safety. While a person of color is currently living in the best moment in history and traveling backward would only reveal horror and pain.
So, yes, as of today, I find myself embarrassed by my skin color. I am embarrassed by those who use it as a weapon to dominate others. I am embarrassed by those who believe pigmentation determines superiority. I am embarrassed by those who think they speak on my behalf while fervently preaching of our place over others. I am embarrassed by those who cling tightly to an evil past in the name of heritage. I am embarrassed by those who do not understand the science of evolution and believe the survival of the fittest gives white people a blank check. I am embarrassed by those who think tolerance is a bad thing and those who benefit from a system that was created for them. I embarrassed by those who see the Civil War as a war fought over a state’s rights and not slavery. I am embarrassed by those who want to enshrine a lack of tolerance in a statue.
I am not a proud white man. I am an American and a citizen of the world. Despite the pain and shame, I am moved. My country finds itself reckoning with its past and once again coming to terms with who we have been and who we might become. Before us is an opportunity to write a different future. Before us is an opportunity to perfect a newer version of this grand social experiment.
So, while I find myself embarrassed, I am also moved. I am moved by those unafraid to face reality. I am moved by those who are using their power to make room for others. I am moved by those in leadership roles choosing not to close the door behind them, but instead, pull others forward. I am moved by those who believe in an inclusive society built upon equity. I am moved by those who do the arduous work of silencing toxic voices with better arguments. I am moved by those of us who can remove their rose-colored glasses when analyzing history. I am moved by those who see the diversity of thought, people, abilities, orientations, and beliefs as a bonus. I am moved by those working to undo a system meant for the benefit of one race. I am moved by those willing to truly understand our country’s Civil War. I am moved by those willing to remove false prophets from our public square and place them solely in the books of history.
And, if I may be so bold, I hold some pride for myself. Coming to such realizations has not been easy. I have found myself distraught after family arguments, disappointed in friends, and heartbroken by loud corners of the internet. Through it all, I found myself determined to come to my own conclusions. This essay serves as the tip of the iceberg. While I feel a sense of pride, I know it will need to be retired quickly. Waiting in the wing is real work. It is not enough for me to feel moved. I am a white man and I have a part to play.
Be good to each other,