How Do I Stop Feeling Bad For Being White?

White People Asking Questions is a series where White people submit questions and they are posed anonymously to the public for a 24-hour period and are answered anonymously.

Oftentimes White people have questions about themselves, People Of Color (POCs), or awkward situations, but are afraid to ask them due to public backlash. On the other hand, POCs get asked these questions everyday and are burdened with the emotional labor of constantly explaining the same concept to people that will never relate because it is not their experience.

But just because you can’t relate doesn’t mean you don’t want to learn and do something about it. Amirite? As Angela Davis said, “You have to be intentionally and actively anti-racist.” 

Therefore, this series is having the conversation on how White People can be ACTIVE in dismantling racist systems and not passively watching. What is unique, though, is this series is set up to be answered primarily BY White People FOR White People teach each other about their privileges. 

POCs are always welcome to participate in dialogue, but this also creates a space for POCs to watch White People do the work in educating each other. Many times our communities are so disconnected that we don’t know the conversations happening amongst other communities. This is also meant as a resource for POCs to direct White People to for difficult concepts.

How Not To Travel Like A Basic Bitch wants to acknowledge and thank everyone who took on the emotional labor of sending in these responses. We include all responses that are directly relevant to answering the question. We don’t filter or edit, but we do correct spelling and grammatical errors. Highlighted in red is an answer deemed most appropriate, although we recognize this is strictly opinion based.

The Question

I am currently struggling a lot with the idea of how my privilege (White, American, money, etc.) promises me to always be fine and to always have a good life, I just want to know how people combat those feelings of wanting to travel, and see places and experience things.

The Situation

Basically, I currently live in a small town on the Amazon River and my friends are amazing, but they will never be where I am and sometimes I worry that I’m just causing much more harm than good by being their friend? For example: this week none of us have to work, but I’m the only one who can afford to leave. And I’m one of the only ones without a child because I’m not from a town where it’s normal to have a baby at 16. I’m not looking for reassurance.

The Clarification

I don’t think it’s necessarily pity, I think it’s just feeling like weird about the unfairness of life, not saying one is better than the other, but just that it is inherently unfair? I think it’s just knowing that they want what I have, but I didn’t do anything to have that and that’s unfair and now am I just being an accidental show off? Also, sorry again, I have never messaged a stranger before and now I am putting you in a weird position to be a therapist for an Instagram weird lol.

White Responses

Ok, so I’m White and here are my thoughts…The key here, I think, is recognizing privilege instead of feeling White guilt. White people should use that discomfort and channel it into conversations, in dialogue, and work to deconstruct oppressive structures that give White people the inherent privilege that makes them uncomfortable in the first place. White people need to feel uncomfortable for them to want to change.

Offer free childcare so they can have time to themselves or with their partners. Wait, also don’t assume they are unhappy. Everyone has a different gauge of wealth/happiness etc. White girl here!

…I just feel like this question is really, “how do I not be an asshole?” …like just don’t be an asshole. If they’re your friends, stop acting as if they’re lesser than you. She might not look at them with pity, but she makes it seem like they’re looking up to her like praise hands emoji. I’m sure there’s people who are richer than her and you should know the difference between, “oh they told me about a cool thing they did,” and “they’re flaunting their wealth and throwing it in my face.

How did she miss that she’s assuming what other people desire in their life? She missed the whole conversation when she assumed her friends wanted her White life. Sounds like she needs to have some real conversations with “her friends” perhaps deeper conversations beyond “how’s the weather”.

Like, if she was actively supporting and speaking up for her friends of colour, etc. she probably wouldn’t’ be worrying about this shiz.

To have this type of guilt, means your thought process is deeply rooted in the theory of realism, which says shit like ‘the strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must,’ but you should honestly challenge that. It’s a very Western way of thinking. So I think trying to reflect more on how to be more aware of all possibilities is a good place to start. Maybe they aren’t weak, and maybe (in their eyes) you’re not strong. There is more than one way of thinking and being in the world.

Recognizing your own privilege doesn’t mean making yourself feel guilty, it just means being aware of it and using it as a catalyst for awareness. I think this is important for any traveler from a “developed” country traveling to lesser developed countries (I’ve been living in India for the last 6 months), but ESPECIALLY important for White travelers. But this also applies to White people in general. It’s the same conversation I have with White people in the US who somehow are made to feel ‘uncomfortable’ with groups like Black Lives Matter. Racial minorities are not asking for your guilt or your pity, they’re just asking you to recognize your privilege and ‘use it to deconstruct oppressive structures that give White people inherent privilege’.

I think it’s important that that girl brought this up. I don’t think she’s asking for pity, I think it’s an important thing for us to talk about acknowledging our privilege and our Whiteness and talking about it is a good thing.

There’s a TED talk by Brene Brown where she shares her attempt to “engineer being small” when it came to her career. I think this idea is a great way to look at how White guilt and shame are actually really unproductive and even selfish. The point of discussing White privilege is not to discourage White people from reaching their full potential, from traveling and/or from being successful in their careers. It’s to point out that on the way up, we have the ability to elevate other, more marginalized people as well. Which is not an invitation to become a White savior. Rather it’s a chance to pass the mic, invest in projects by POC, hire marginalized people and otherwise use our power and privilege as a platform for other people to share their experiences, ideas and plans for the future. One of the most important things we can do as White people when trying to understand how we can be of service to POC is to not make assumptions, to ask powerful questions, and then to listen, listen, listen. Ultimately, we have to accept that we have a limited understanding of how the world can be as White people. By engaging in conversations with POC – without seeking out free emotional labour and/or reassurance that we’re one of the “good ones” –and actually hearing what they’re saying, we can then make more informed decisions about how we can use our power and privilege to support our marginalized friends instead of adding to their suffering. As uncomfortable as it might be at first, talk to your friends about their experiences, ask them where they’re struggling and/or need support and then figure out where and how you’re able to meet them in that space. Most marginalized people are already acutely aware of what it is they need to feel empowered. As White people, we have the ability to listen and then collaborate with POC to support marginalized people in meeting their needs.

POC Responses

Give your unprivileged friends lots of money.

White tears, or nah?

1. The first thing is recognizing your privilege… 2. You know it’s unfair, you know you have privilege, but what are you doing about it besides complaining to someone on Instagram? Like what are you doing to tip the scale and attempt to bring some balance. If you’re not doing anything other than complaining to someone on Instagram then your White tears mean nothing. You’re just some whiny piss pants feeling sad about your privilege. If you’re not trying to be a voice for change. Trying to be better than nothing matters. If you’re not trying to do better than you can save your White tears, colonizer. Recognize your privilege and try to be that change. Other than that, nobody cares. Boo hoo, I’m privileged. Spare Us Becky.

I mean I know she said it’s not pity or whatever, but the ‘I know they want what I have’ WHO TOD YOU SUSAN? Maybe they’re content. Maybe they don’t care. Who knows.

Does she have conversations with her friends about what they want in life?

I have those same feelings and I’m not White. I fluctuate between ‘how did I end up never worrying about money as a child/in my family/never worrying about food/never suffering’ I call it survivors guilt, but I try to take that and do good for my people and donate even though donating makes me feel even worse sometimes like here let me throw some White mans money at you (though I don’t give money to people unless they specifically ask, mainly organizations.)

Oh my God I can TOTALLY relate to this. In India, the salaries you get are REALLY weak, like you make $400 a month if you’ve graduated from a great university with a great degree. If you struggle for several years, you might make it to the $1000 make. EVERYONE (all salaried regular people) live on a paycheck-to-paycheck basis. All my friends did the exact same things I did, and some of them – I secretly believe – are even smarter than me. But I’ve made a life for myself in which I can afford to travel and do things that they can’t even hope to do at this point. So when I share all my stories with them, I almost feel GUILTY about what I have. But the thing is, I’m not the one who should be feeling guilty. I was speaking to an English guy the other day and he said his dad hired Indians to work for him cause they were FAR more proficient than those from the UK and worked for a fraction of the salary. So it’s society that’s messed up, obviously. So I refuse to feel guilty about what I have and my friends are nothing but happy for me. In fact, I think it should be a disservice to my friends to hold things back cause I think they’ll be jealous.

She grew up in a scenario wherein she didn’t feel pressured to raise a family at a young age. And while it’s great of her to acknowledge that privilege, it’s not something she should ever be ashamed of or guilty about. And when it comes to friends, if they’re not happy for you, I’m not sure they’re really great friends to begin with. But that’s just my 2 cents lol, I could be TOTALLY off base as well.

Regardless of the subjectivity of happiness, I still think I have this OPTION of trying to use travel as a solution (misguided as it may be) and others don’t have that option. So it still makes me value it lol

Most of the time ignorance is bliss and majority of my conversations leave me feeling as an American extremely overstimulated and spoiled. In Cuba nobody missed anything I had because there isn’t a need for it. In Jamaica everyone I met was content, my appearance was nice, but they didn’t desire anything I had. White people naturally walk around with the air that someone desires their lot in life. In my opinion that couldn’t be father from the truth. Some White people get joy from going to underprivileged areas. It’s grief and struggle porn for them. I see them when I’m in Jamaica or Mexico and sometimes you can see the joy in the suffering. But it’s not suffering. It’s people who live modestly and have no desire to accrue ­– a concept lost on most non-melanated folk.

All walks of life have something to offer to the world, and we can learn something from anyone. I think if that person is genuinely grateful that she/he hasn’t struggled as others, they should stop feeling bad about it. I don’t see how one can be an “accidental show off” unless they lack self awareness when communicating to those they perceive to have a lower quality of life.

To submit a question, go to How Not To Travel Like A Basic Bitch and submit a question in DM or email alohakiona@gmail.com.

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2 thoughts on “How Do I Stop Feeling Bad For Being White?

  1. This is a great discussion on an topic that goes to the very core of who we are as human beings. Having lived and worked (as a teacher) in developing countries on four continents over the past 15 years, I agree it’s misguided to assume the locals in a given country envy us for being white and having privilege based on our skin color or lifestyle. Happiness has many different meanings in various parts of the world, and while poor people rightly desire a system that shares wealth more equitably, I’ve personally found them to be (in most cases) far more content than the vast majority of Americans. These are the very topics i write about on My Quest Blog. Please stop by. Thanks for providing this forum for discussion!

  2. I appreciate this topic and this format. Thank you for providing this opportunity. What I noticed is what a huge range in responses there are. Everyone had such different perspectives about the questioner’s intentions and motives.

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