A letter to my fellow white people
Chris Rock famously riffed on the proposition "I love black people, but I hate n--gas." Chris Rock is one of the few people who can get away with saying this, since he is a.) black and b.) one of the funniest people alive. I am not 1/48th as funny as Chris Rock, but allow me to say that although I like white people, I've about had it with White People.
Don't get me wrong — some of my best friends are white. In fact all of them are. I myself am a white person, and proud of my white person heritage. (Am I allowed to say that without sounding like a skinhead or klansman?) We are a vibrant people, with a rich cultural heritage in which there is much to celebrate. If you were paying attention during White History Month (March through January) you probably already know about many of our contributions — democracy, the Renaissance, the industrial revolution — and some of our people's important heroes and role models: Socrates, Newton, Beethoven. I wear the traditional garb of my people, speak our distinctive dialect, and enjoy doing our customary dance, performed only at weddings — a flaccid, spasmodic flailing reminiscent of the inflatable tube-men erected to advertise used car lots.
But for all my pride in our many achievements, I do get sick of White People — a.k.a. Whitey.
You know the White People I'm talking about. They're the ones who, every time an unarmed black person is gunned down by the cops, come forward to explain yet again that this regrettable incident would not have occurred if the victim had not broken the law, or if they'd simply complied with orders and been polite. These are the White People who, when they denounce "the violence in Baltimore," are referring not to the breaking of a man's back but the trashing of a 7-Eleven. The White People who warn that this latest wave of immigrants, is, at last, the one that will take everything from us, rape our women, kill us all, and destroy our civilization. I suspect this must be some sort of case of racial mass projection, since the only wave of immigrants in American history who have ever actually done this was the first one — the White People.
These are the White People who lack all capacity for imagination or empathy, who assume that what life is like for them is what it's like for everyone else, or would be if they would just behave. They have a Sunday-school faith in an American Dream where everybody has an equal chance if they're just willing to play by the rules and aren't afraid of a little hard work. The police are there to protect them; society's institutions exist to serve them. They see this country as a home and fortress, instead of as a prison, a place where they can only ever be on probation. They believe in law and order, in a level playing field. But "law and order" always serves the status quo, however unjust or cruel it is, and the playing field only looks level to those on the high ground.
"White privilege" is the p.c. slogan for these unacknowledged advantages and entitlement — the freedom to drive around without being pulled out of the car and beaten up, to walk to the store unmurdered, and, mostly, to never have to think about being white. It's a little unreasonable to condemn White People for what's basically human nature; pretty much everyone takes for granted whatever advantages they happen to have (being white, male, rich, thin, attractive, American, healthy, alive) and complains about their problems instead. It only starts to seem a little obnoxious when you point this out to White People and they get defensive and angry and adamantly deny having any such thing, insisting that they've got it just as hard as anyone else and some people are just whiners.
Let me be clear: I am not opposed to white privilege. In fact, I believe it should be extended to everyone, regardless of their color, ethnicity, or creed. Indeed, White People have been gradually, grudgingly expanding the definition of White People over the centuries: The Irish didn't used to be white; neither did Italians, or Eastern Europeans, let alone the Jews. Perhaps it is time, at long last, to make everybody honorary White People. (Think how mad ISIS would be if we unilaterally declared them white.) Why shouldn't we all be equally free to walk the streets without being harassed, beaten up, and jailed for makework offenses by the people we ostensibly pay to protect us? Everyone should experience the heady, illicit thrill of carrying small amounts of drugs around in their pockets, drinking a beer on their own front steps, and occasionally punching it up to 67 miles per hour. White privilege for all!
I try to be patient with White People. But by now, even the very slow ones have done the back-of-the-napkin calculations on the demographics, and they've realized that the numbers are not looking good for them. The White Man is taking this very hard. At least some of the paranoid delusions fixated on President Obama — that he is a closet Marxist, Islamic Manchurian Candidate, or late-blooming Antichrist — are symptomatic of a mass hysteria at seeing the darkening face of America embodied in our chief executive. The same syndrome is no small part of the support for would-be autocrat Donald Trump and his Speerian fantasy of a gargantuan bulwark against the invading brown horde.
This situation is, admittedly, not without its little pleasures — it is a delight to see the Republican Party, which has banked on pandering to the angry-bigoted-old-white-man vote for the last half century, now handcuffed to the dead weight of that aging, increasingly demented, and chronically apoplectic bloc. But let's not get complacent; White People have, historically, proven dangerous, and you never know what they might do now that their numbers are dwindling and their long, cushy position on top is endangered.
White People, please: You embarrass us all. All these histrionics and tantrums, this aggrieved whining about reverse-discrimination, this shameless appropriation of the language of the oppressed — it's undignified. It ill-becomes the people who calculated the circumference of the Earth, invented the printing press, and successfully exterminated or enslaved half the human race. Let's let it go gracefully. We had our chance.
And hey: It was a good run. As only a tiny percent of the population, we spread out from our little peninsula and, thanks to a few flukes of geography and history — plus, let's give ourselves due credit here, some good old-fashioned pluck, resourcefulness, and sheer merciless cruelty and greed — we basically ran the planet for centuries. Okay, we may have made some mistakes — I'm sure we could all come up with a list of embarrassing dates and place names — but let's not beat ourselves up here. We did some nice things too: the Magna Carta, all those cathedrals, the Moon landing. And we have some lovely souvenirs of our time on top; whenever you get to feeling nostalgic or down in the mouth just listen to Mahler or Bach, re-read some Nabokov or the Henriad, or go poke your head in at the Hermitage or the Louvre.
And, White People, trust me: It's going to be fine. Remember when it seemed like civilization had ended because the Irish were taking over, or when they integrated the schools, or when a black man got elected president? Look around you: Everything is just as inefficient, corrupt, and dysfunctional as ever, there's still plenty of beer, and TV is better than ever! And if it's any consolation, in a few decades the A.I.s will probably wake up and all homo sapiens — white people, Uyghur, Hmong, and Tutsi alike — will be beloved household pets at best.
Many years ago, when I was in a stall of the men's room at the Enoch Pratt Free Library in Baltimore, I overheard one black man say to another, neither of whom realized I was there: "White Man's day is gonna come." I kept quiet, hoping to avoid detection. "Mm-hm," the other agreed. I thought: Jeez, I better tell the other White People! But in the end I spoke of it to only a few close friends, so they could make their preparations. I figured: We've had our fun. And, after all, everyone's day comes in the end.
I tell you this story now only because it's too late. My friends, the White Man's day is upon us.