As tragedy struck in Charlottesville this weekend, we as Americans all flocked to our computers to post our reactions on Facebook.
These posts generally took the form of condemnations of violence and white supremacy, but a few Trump-loving troglodytes who I never bothered unfriending after high school laid all the blame on the counter-protesters, while some members of the Bernie crowd posted about the moral duty to “punch Nazis.”
One post, though, caught my attention more than any other.
“Everyone who participates in and benefits from whiteness is complicit in the hateful atrocities in Charlottesville,” Duke Divinity School Professor Christena Cleveland wrote.
I’m not sure how one “participates in” whiteness, although I would guess all you need is white skin, which I have. I obviously resented the idea that I was somehow to blame for the open display of Nazi symbols and the murder of Heather Heyer, and I commented that I was “definitely not complicit.”
One Facebook user, whose bio declares that he has “no interest in being polite,” responded by informing me that he had shared my comment with Rare, “just so they’re aware of your callous and uncaring white privilege.”
He then proceeded to send me some links so I could educate myself about white privilege, to which I replied, “Oh, screw you, man. You’re trying to get me fired.”
I’ve since been blocked.
There are a lot of stupid people on the internet. That doesn’t surprise me. What surprises me is that, according to this person, I was expressing an opinion so unacceptable that I deserved to get fired from my job.
If I had been behind the wheel of the car that plowed into the crowd of counter-protesters, I would be complicit.
If I had been at the march, I would be complicit.
If I posted on social media in solidarity with the march or its ideas, I would be complicit.
If I had voted for Trump, you could perhaps make a strained argument for my complicity.
I didn’t do any of those things, but according to Dr. Cleveland, I’m still complicit.
And so, by the way, is Heather Heyer, who was white.
When your racial ideology makes an anti-racist protestor complicit in her own murder at the hands of a white supremacist, perhaps it’s time to rethink what you believe.
To an extent, I can understand Dr. Cleveland’s arguments. All white people, say she and those who agree with her argument, benefit from white privilege and harbor some covertly racist attitudes. I willingly admit the first point, but the second is dangerous and racist in and of itself.
Perhaps I, along with most other white people, am subconsciously racist to some degree, but I do my best to treat people of all races with dignity and respect. That’s not enough, though. Nothing is ever enough. Even if I spent the rest of my life donating every penny of my paycheck to the NAACP, I would still be “complicit” in every act of racism simply because of the color of my skin.
The biggest problem with this ideology is that it leaves no room for a solution. Only after a slew of punitive measures against all white people and a decades-long forcible reeducation program aimed at dismantling our privilege could we at last perhaps be declared free of our complicity.
White oppressors spent hundreds of years using the biblical Curse of Canaan (Genesis 9:25) to justify slavery and racism. The solution now is not to burden white people with our own inexpiable original sin.
This brand of identity politics plays directly into the hands of white supremacists by fostering an ‘us versus them’ dynamic that leads them to cling even more tightly to their own threatened identity. We’ve been warned many times against creating such a dynamic by blaming all Muslims for the crimes of ISIS, and in both cases, extending blame to an entire racial or religious group only fans the flames of conflict. For healing to occur, we must recognize that, although white privilege and casual racism do exist, the real conflict is between a peaceful majority and a tiny, violent, hateful minority.
I will acknowledge my white privilege and work hard to purge myself of any racist attitudes. I will denounce white supremacy and take every opportunity to mock those ass-clowns with their Tiki torches and ill-fitting polos. What I will not do is turn my life into an apology.