Nine African Americans—a beloved pastor, a track coach, and a grandmother among them—were murdered by a White racist who, in his own words, hoped to spark a civil war and get his country back. It is obvious that the killer/terrorist is a product of racist thinking, overt as well as of the dog whistle variety. He may also be deranged, psychopathic, and so on. But even if he is mentally infirm, his deficiency followed a well-worn path created by rational people who embrace the color line either because they benefit from it or are afraid to be without it. In addition to this layer of rational racists, there are strata of White people who do not think of themselves as racists, and who may even actively oppose racism, but whose lives and economic wellbeing are better off for being White and not Black, and therefore who also bear responsibility for the production of this White racist killer. Who are these White people? All of us.
And here is where I have to bring up Rachel Dolezal—not the actual person, whom I cannot possibly know, but Rachel Dolezal the symbol. What she symbolizes is the White person who opposes racial hierarchy and discrimination but who cannot tolerate the discomfort of being White. Being White is not everything that White people are. In my case, being White goes along with being female, Jewish, and, like all of us, many more particular and individual things. I am not just White.
But being White, and not Black or Brown or Native, includes benefitting from the privileges that accompany a socially constructed status that is at the top of the racial hierarchy. To pretend otherwise is to deny the very structures of racialized thought that anti-racist Whites purport to oppose. Being an anti-racist White person is therefore constantly uncomfortable and difficult. We have to face, on a regular basis, that we (not personally, but as beings situated in a structure of inequality based on race) are part of the problem. We can, through individual and allied efforts, strive constantly to undermine the structures that benefit us and harm others. And many White people do. But there come these moments, like now, when we must also stand apart and simply say we are sorry. We hate this, but we are not suffering the same way you are. Tomorrow, we will again channel our discomfort into trying, with all our might, to eradicate the conditions that make me White and you Black. And until then, we will cry next to you and for you, but not pretend that our experiences are yours; that your pain is ours.