We Need to Talk About White Guilt: How Grief Perpetuates Racism

As I sit down to write this I am sad, angry and utterly bewildered. In the wake of the Charlottesville Riot, i.e. America’s latest acts of outward White supremacy, I’m not shocked (I’ve been living in this Black racialized body far too long for that). But, I am appalled.

What is shocking, is how many White folks, including friends and supposedly mindful healers, are allowing their guilt and grief to get the best of them and are still unknowingly caught up in trying to distance themselves from the problem instead of being part of the solution.  

I’ve had a lot of real and raw convos this week. I am tired. I can’t say everything I need to say nor will I say it as profoundly or perfectly as I’d like. There will be fuck ups. But, to have any chance of getting folks to pay attention, then I have to say this now. Because sadly if this is like all the other racist events that have transpired over the past few years (or decades), then most White folks will only be interested and outraged for a small window of time. Then it will be back to business as usual...and business as usual will not do.

If we’re going to turn this mess around, something must be said. If my children are ever to have a chance of being judged solely on their merit rather than the colour of their skin, it has to be said. So here it goes.

Note: This is long, because it needs to be. I also want to send a shout to @wildmysticwoman for helping me find the courage (and emotional labour) to share this with the world.

Dear Well-Intentioned White Folks...

You may not like what I have to say my loves, but I need you to sit down, take a breath and read on nonetheless. There is much to be said to my racialized brothers and sisters as well - we all must do our part - but right now the focus is and must be on you. Because the thing is, good intentions aside, too many of y’all keep getting up to the same antiquated antics.

The “no not me,” “it's getting better,” “we’re not all racist,” “I’m angry too,” "that wouldn't happen here," “you're being too sensitive," "it's too much for me to take" kind of crap that’s too often being spewed out to your racialized friends, co-workers or café baristas. And we, as in the human race, simply don’t have time for that shit.

Now you’re likely thinking, “Who the eff does this Black chick think she is? She doesn’t know me?” Perhaps I don’t. What I do know, from my lived experience, is that it is extremely rare to find a White person, well intentioned or not, who is truly willing to listen, acknowledge and accept the very real state of racism in this world. It isn’t just happening some places, some of the time.  It does involve you and every level of government irrespective of where you reside. It isn’t new, it isn’t even necessarily getting worse. It just ain’t getting any damn better. And it won’t unless and until every single person, most notably those who hold the most power and privilege (*cough cough – you!), commit to spreading love like the plague and creating lasting change.

I appreciate that it can be hard to know what to do. What to say. But, if I may, I have a seriously good suggestion for all that ish.

Listen Up.

Lean in close my sweets ‘cuz here’s where I think shit usually goes wrong. When a racialized person exerts the immense emotional, mental, spiritual and physical energy to share some of her experience and perspective. To bare some of his immense pain. To subject herself to an inevitable barrage of White fragility in the form of defence mechanisms, hole poking and dismissal (which I will inevitably receive as a result of this here post). Please. Just. Listen.

White guilt often gets in the way of truly being able to hear what is being expressed and allowing it to call you into action. It is akin to grief in that it can either immobilize you in a state of self-indulgent pain which allows racism to flourish. Or, it can be a major catalyst for creating positive, daily, anti-racist change. My hope, for us all, is it increasingly becomes the latter.

What would it look like if you dropped the need to defend or hold the race discussion hostage with your own pain, and instead just listened? With an open heart and an open mind. I think it might just change the world, because when you truly listen to what it is racialized folks have to say, I believe you’ll truly start to understand and start to do what's necessary to help make this world a better place...for all.

I can imagine the urge to resist or rationalize is tempting. To create a divide between yourself and “them” and help cope with the shame, pain and deep embarrassment caused by those fools waving flaming tiki torches (I guess they also hate mosquitos?).  

I don’t know what your experience is like, but I can imagine. Just like you don’t know what it’s like for me to be constantly reminded - through images, speech, law and policy - that my body is disposable because of its hue and my voice dismissible because of its tone.  

We’re All Grieving This Shit.

It must suck to feel that a bunch of violent, ignorant assholes somehow represent and reflect a system that you benefit from. Like, major ew.  What also sucks, and in a far worse way, is to be subject to a ceaseless experience of outward and internalized hate, fear, and trauma because I fall on the shit end of the privilege stick.  

We’re all in grief, but our grief, it ain’t the same. The spiritual truth is that we are all one, and that when I suffer, so do you. But that does not mean that our experiences in this life are all akin or alike.

You are grieving over a history of belonging to a group that has been responsible for the systemic oppression of anyone who isn’t “White”. Whiteness, as a reminder, is simply a social construct (lest we forget how Jews, the Irish and Italians have been treated). Y’all are in pain over the centuries of strife your people have inflicted right here at home as well as abroad. And that grief is real, I am neither doubting nor undermining that.

However, I am in mourning for a world I’ve never known but continue to hope, pray and wait to arrive. A world where I wasn’t nearly held back in Kindergarten because my teacher assumed I had a smaller brain. A world where my highschool sweetheart’s friends didn’t ask him how kinky I was in bed. A world where I don’t witness people of my colour being murdered at the hands of those who were sworn to serve and protect, on tape, with zero repercussion. Or where I won’t have to sit down with my children and explain how to deal with the daily threat of racism and how to love yourself when you're constantly deemed “less than”.

I’m waiting for a world where I no longer have to live in a perpetual and unequivocal state of loss and grief. You have the luxury of choosing whether to acknowledge that loss is even occurring. Or whether to just eat some cake. And that, my light-skinned loves, is because of White privilege.

If Ya Don’t Know, Now Ya Know.

There are many examples of how White privilege plays out in daily life. It is insidious, ingrained and incredibly challenging to overcome, particularly because White folks have such a hard time actually acknowledging it exists. But here’s the thing “If you don’t think White privilege exists - congratulations, you’re enjoying the benefits of it.” Ain’t that a bitch?

Listen my sweet blanc babies, all of this must make your skin crawl and I have mad compassionate for that. I do. Still, I want you to take all the heartbreak, anger, confusion etc. that you’re feeling and multiply it by 1,000,000. Then multiply that by 33 years. Now sit with all of that sustained sorrow and try to imagine having to constantly explain to those with the most power and privilege exactly how it is they benefit from people and systems who seek to uphold their right to that power and privilege.  

Head ‘bout ready to explode? Cuz mine sure AF is. But this is my experience as a racialized person; and I will continue to be asked, and expected, to do exactly this. Why? You guessed it…White fuckin’ privilege.

If I sound angry my sweets, it's because I am. Justifiably so. As they say, "if you're not outraged, you're not paying attention." As a spiritual person, and as a Black woman in particular, anger is not something I'm supposed to express. It is something to be absorbed, suppressed, transfixed by love and meditation. Well, I say eff. that.

Anger can be a helpful and healthy emotion. It can call people to action and create actual, necessary change. Not with violence or hate or a mean-spirit (which I do not condone), but simply by allowing ourselves to really fucking feel. Truly, deeply and strongly. Then lovingly activate that anger into responsive action. 

So…What the Eff Can We Do?

There are so many ways you can help and your participation, everyone’s participation, is essential. These are just a few of my loving offerings so I hope you can take a minute to get quiet. Get still with yourself. To take a long, loving inhale and commit to really letting this all sink way the fuck in, without ego, without the need to defend. With empathy and an earnest desire to listen.

1) Own Your White Privilege.

Stopping asking “if” you’re part of the problem and start asking “how”. Start to examine "Whiteness" rather than assuming it is a normal, natural state of being. We are all impacted by racism, it’s just that some of us benefit from it.

Own your heritage – not so you can feel guilt and shame (I don’t wish that upon you nor will that help). But rather so that you can start to see how it is you can dismantle the systems that have created the deadly divide. Then, feel all the feels. It’s a shitty thing to sit with, I get it. So, cry. Scream. Do what you gotta do so you can get the heck to work.  

2) Educate Yourself + Check In.

Educate your own damn self. Please. Not by asking racialized people to do it for you. People of colour, in particular women of colour, have had to bear the brunt of this unpaid emotional labour for far too long. Google “White privilege” and “White fragility,” read, listen, watch whatever you can. Bring up the issue to woke White folks and talk it out. 

Only then should you consider asking if your racialized friends have the time or energy to engage in an informed discussion on the topic, where your job is to primarily to listen (and likely buy them dinner for their time and effort). Ask your racialized homies how their hearts are doing and how you can best support them as people, not as a representative of their entire race.

3) Commit to Daily Anti-Racist Practice.

I’ve had so many White folks tell me how upset they are but when I ask them what they’re doing about it - it's like a deer in headlights. Here’s the thing mon cheries - if you are really and truly outraged you have no choice but to act. Racialized folks are called into action because it is our lives and livelihoods on the line. We are literally dying out here because racism still thrives.  

Let me be clear, if you aren’t actually doing something - you don’t actually care (and once again, you only have the option of not caring because of your privilege).

If you ain’t part of the solution, you’re part of the problem. I hope you’ll choose wisely.

4) Speak Out.

Silence is no longer an option. And please don’t pat yourself on the back just because you posted something on IG this week, or called someone out on their racist rhetoric that one time. Call racist folks out on the regular, even and especially when it is uncomfortable. Stop supporting or fraternizing with folks or businesses that perpetuate racism.

This fight is ongoing. It is every. damn. day. It’s everywhere, all the time. What is required here is a total paradigm shift.

A complete and utter overhaul of the White patriarchal system we all operate within, know and understand (despite it being completely fucked). Get brave and get vocal.

5) Heal Your Pain.

No one who truly love themselves is out there preaching hateful shit. Hate is a disease spread by people in pain. Folks who are afraid, who don’t have healthy outlets or tools to cope with their trauma and who are blaming the "other" as the source of their own grief. So, please, please, do the work.

Do not shy away from your shit - and we all have shit. Face it, name it, ask for help. There are therapists, coaches, healers etc. who would be honoured to assist you (and yes I am one of them). Do what is required to truly love and accept yourself so you can authentically commit to loving and accepting everyone else – and helping others do the same. This is the work my friends. Now is the time.  


"Not everything that can be faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced."

- James Baldwin


The truth is that shit ain’t really gonna change unless and until ALL folks, especially those who have been directly or indirectly at the helm of oppression, are willing to truly listen, examine their role and do the work. Not just today, or tomorrow, but every single day for the rest of our lives. I am hopeful that together, love (with action) will prevail. xo R

Looking for kick-ass tools and resources on loss and grief of all forms, including the FREE e-book The Shit You Need to Know About Grief, sign up for loss&found here.


Photo by William Stitt on Unsplash

Anita Cheung