It was May of 2018, and there was, yet again, another mass shooting in America.
This time, a High School in Santa Fe, Texas had been the target. Like many Americans, I was outraged. I posted Facebook, talking about the blood that was now on the hands of the NRA. One of my insightful activist friends, Darnell, added a comment to my post. It changed the way I look at events like this forever.
He noted that the mass shootings in America were not the caused by NRA, but white fragility. I initially wanted to argue his point. To me, it seemed racist.
Then there was the pile-up - the immediate avalanche of angry white male responses to his comment. None of these men bothered to ask for an elaboration. Instead, they immediately went on defense. If I were a Republican, I would probably call them “snowflakes”, but I am not, and I truly value differing opinions. I wanted to hear Darnell out. I messaged him privately and engaged in a conversation that I will elaborate on below. I learned a lot about #whitefragility, and I hope to use some of what I’ve learned to teach you.
In 2008, the country elected its first black President. We claimed we were entering a post-racial America. But the very sight of President Obama smiling caused outrage among many white Americans. Why?
The first reason so many republican voters claim that they got behind the Tea Party was that they believed that the President raised taxes on the middle class. But, in 2009, President Obama signed off on two major tax cuts for middle class families - the Making Work Pay tax credit, and a temporary reduction in Social Security payroll taxes that went into effect in 2011.
The second reason was because they claimed to be worried about Obama’s lack of experience. These are the same individuals who voted for a reality TV game show host in 2016, but I digress. Obama attended Harvard law in 1988, and graduated magna cum laude with a JD degree. In 1991, he was elected as the first black president of the Harvard Law Review. Later that year he began his twelve-year tenure teaching constitutional law at the University Of Chicago Law School. During this time he led Illinois’s Project Vote, a voter registration campaign, and from 1997-2004, he served as an Illinois state senator until he was elected to the US Senate in 2004. His body of education and work most certainly proved that he has both the knowledge and the specific skill set of empathy to serve as President of the United States of America.
I believe the real reason the Tea Party and other right-leaning folks had a problem with President Obama was because he is not white. They claimed that the racial divide in our country was President Obama’s to own. This is a gross misstatement. It’s been said before, but Obama winning the Presidency was like turning a light on in a dirty kitchen - it made the cockroaches wake up and start running.
I want to share a personal story with you. When I was younger, I worked in a bank. There was a very small hallway where the coffee and the fridge were located. Because the hallway was so narrow, when two people passed each other, it was customary for the person without anything in their hands to move to the side. There was a man that worked there by the name of Andrew, a white man aged 45-50. He never moved to the side, regardless of who had something in their hands, and we all knew it. One day I was walking through the hallway with a cup of tea and a bagel, and Andrew came walking through in the opposite direction. Now, I am not sure what my emotional mindset was that day, but I knew I wasn’t stepping aside. So I stood my ground and we bumped into each other. As he began to yell, I realized I had two options - stand my ground, or fold. I stood.
As he continued to yell, I stared Andrew straight in the face and said “I need to get to my desk“. He turned bright red, and later went to our manager and stated that I purposely collided with him, intending to spill hot tea on him. He also said that I was smug and rude.
Why do I tell this story?
With white fragility, when the oppressor is forced to treat the oppressed as equal, they feel that they themselves become the oppressed, the victim - just like Andrew. This is the narrative in nearly all cases of white fragility.
When Europeans arrived here and stole the land from the Native Americans, they justified it by saying that the Native Americans were not White and Christian. As those same Europeans looked to build on their new land, they stole Africans from their homes and brought them here as slaves. This was also justified because the slaves were neither White nor Christian. When the Europeans expanded their conquest westward and stole land from Mexico, this was justified by Mexicans being dark skinned and not speaking English. Even as late as World War 2, Japanese Americans were put in internment camps because as non-white Americans, they couldn’t be trusted. The very system that America is built on is that “White is Right”.
When people of color were provided equal rights and protections, many white Americans began to see this as an injustice. They felt that the non-White population was being given handouts and advantages. But no one was ever given anything. The fragile white ego was unable to see this. This is when a deeper resentment developed.
“Convince the lowest white man he’s better than the colored man, he won’t notice you’re picking his pocket. Hell, give him somebody to look down on, and he’ll empty his pockets for you.”
This timeless statement explains why this deeper resentment grew to be nationwide. When people of color began to, for the first time, get access to some of the resources that white Americans had, they began to achieve heights previous out of reach for them.
So what does this have to do with Texas, and shootings? Well, there is a clear and concise reason that so many workplace and school shootings have angry white men behind the trigger. It is because, for many white men, they were always told that being mediocre was ok. While they were raised to believe that they deserved success, regardless of work ethic, people of color were raised to believe that they have to work 10 times harder to achieve half of what a white man has.
When these same entitled white men don’t see the success they expect, disaster happens. People of color were never given these expectations, and so they don’t lash out. It’s why there aren’t any mass shooters of color. When a black man is called the N word for no reason at work, or a Latino has to hear endless jokes about immigration, they don’t react with violence, because we are raised to EXPECT these things will happen.
White fragility, when left unchecked, will destroy everything and everyone. It (on top of many other issues, including Russian influence) is how Donald Trump was able to ascend to the White House. Seeing people of color being financially successful, watching LGBT couples marry, watching women demand respect, and other nationwide progress made it obvious for white people to seek out respite in the arms of an egomaniac. He preached what they wanted to hear. He spoke to their white fragility.
This can all be changed by instilling one basic principle into EVERYONE - no one is promised success. Success must be worked for. Failures must be overcome.
I hope that in America in 2018, being white doesn’t mean less than , nor should it, and it doesn’t mean greater than, nor should it.
Contributing Editor: KEN MEJIA-BEAL
Ken Mejia-Beal is a concerned citizen, who cares deeply for his country. Ken wants to make the world a better place for all people. A capitalist with a heart who believes in free thinking and human rights. Ken wants to use his words in order to shine a light on political ventures in order to allow those without knowledge to form strong positions through fact based conversation. Ken resides in DuPage County, within Illinois. He has ambitions to motivate those around him to communicate differing ideas while remaining civil.