I’m White, But…

By Erin and Carrie

Editor’s note: Guest blogger Carrie Basas comes back this week to joint write on the topic of whiteness. Welcome back Carrie. 

I'm whiteMany of us have heard or uttered the phrase “I’m white but…” as an excuse, rationale, or as a way to justify or explain a thought or an action. Often times the intent is coming from a place of wanting to be understood or rationalize they aren’t a bad person. People of color, often times when we are the ones with privilege, sometimes say these things too, just swap out the word white for other racial groups. 

I’m White But…

  • I’m white but, I grew up poor. You still have white privilege.
  • I’m white but, I now live in a diverse neighborhood. So you’re a gentrifier now.
  • I’m white but, I married an Asian. For real, a white-dude told me (Erin) this and I had to leave the table before I spit my soda on him.
  • I’m white but, I’m disabled. Carrie gets this a lot in the form of “I’m not disabled but…” and it’s awkward.
  • I’m white but, I grew up/taught abroad. You’re still white. Go learn about colonialism too.
  • I’m white but, I speak Spanish and my kids are in bilingual programs. Great, you speak another language; you’re still white.
  • I’m white but, I didn’t vote for Trump. Good for you, but you’re still white and many other white people did vote for and continue to keep him in power.
  • I’m white but, I went to racial equity training. Training isn’t enough, you’re still white and you still have white privilege.
  • I’m white, but my best friend is Black. You’re still white.
  • I’m white but, I am not like those other white people. You’re still white. Yes you are an individual but you’re still white. Also, go collect your other white people and help them learn about racism.
  • I’m white but, I’m not racist. Racism isn’t personal actions alone. Hello, you’re white and you’ve been born into and benefit from racism and white supremacy.
  • I’m white but, I love Ethiopian food. You’re still white. We also hope your Ethiopian food is coming from an Ethiopian owned restaurant and you pay full price and tip them well.
  • I’m white but, Oprah and Pres. Obama are my personal heroes. Great, let’s reduce race to famous people.
  • I’m white but, my Ancestry.com results say I’m also 1% Cherokee/Syrian/Brazilian/Nigerian. Why are you supporting an industry that perpetuates race as biological, and therefore, trades in a eugenics mindset for your money?
  • I’m white, but my children are multiracial or I adopted kids of color. You’re still white. You kids need to learn from you, so do your work around learning about race and how to disrupt racism.
  • I’m white but, I donated to Black Lives Matters and am wearing the t-shirt right now. Support POC activism but don’t equate charity for some personal transcendence of racist systems.
  • I’m white and believe discrimination does exist but needs to see data. White people love quantitative data. Qualitative data and personal stories are important too. As our friend Heidi says “Create space for multiple truths and norms,” accept that data is one form of truth and stories and experiences are another.
  • I’m white but, did you see my yard sign proclaiming all are welcome here and Black Lives Matter? If a tall Black man you don’t know shows up at your house or is driving around your house will you call the cops? Have real relationships and real people in your home and life, not as a slogan on display. Learn about bias and do the real work instead of putting out yard signs.
  • I’m white but, I’m not that white. You’re still white.

What people mean to say or want people of color to understand in these statements are:

  • I want you to like me.
  • I’m not like other white people; please see me as an individual.
  • I feel really uncomfortable right now because I’m white and you’re not. I’m trying to reconcile my (unearned) white privilege.
  • I’m working on being a better white person. Please acknowledge that and give me a cookie.
  • Please don’t blame me for our racist past. I get that racism is wrong but I’m stuck and don’t know how to undo it all by myself.
  • I know other white people have hurt you and I don’t want to be them. Please trust me. Carrie says: I really struggle with this one as a white person but I also know trust from anyone has to be earned. As a white person, there are many reasons I might not deserve it. And I can’t expect it just because I’m white.
  • This is so hard right now. I keep saying the wrong things. My very white foot cannot reach my very white mouth. Hold on. (There’s no reasonable accommodation for this one, sorry.)

One of the many privileges of whiteness is white people are accustomed to being accepted and comfortable. White people often don’t have to face their whiteness and when they do it can become uncomfortable especially when around people of color who don’t want to soothe away their discomfort with race. When white people don’t get comfort and acceptance from POCs, they become hurt, offended, angry— or as Carrie has sometimes joked painfully— “self-conscious, self-hating white people.”

Whiteness means the world is your safe place. Denying whiteness or trying to distance yourself from it is demanding that POCs overlook systemic racism. The “but,” by itself, is racist. The “but” distances you from other white people and says “see I’m not like them,” rather than owning you are white and have a responsibility to disrupt racism.

How can white people do better?

White people need to accept their whiteness and learn to be ok with discomfort. Being ok with discomfort means different things. Sometimes it means being quiet and listening to learn from people of color. Other times it means being uncomfortable and asking questions to learn more. This needs to be done in a way that doesn’t draw you into the center or unfairly takeaway focus from people of color. White privilege also means you need to use that privilege to disrupt other white people who are perpetuating racism. The next time a white person says “I’m white but,” in front of you, use your white privilege to say, “I’m white too, and that isn’t ok.”

Congratulations, you’re white. No “buts” about it. 

Bios: Carrie is white but she contributed to this blog post. See, there’s no good way to use that “but.” Erin is Asian, and periodically welcomes Carrie to joint write or blog on Fakequity.

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