Apologies in advance for the simplistic nature of this post.
I learned a lot in grade school history class. Unfortunately, many lessons surrounded (accurate yet) horrible incidents of slavery, exploitation, racism, and oppression.
A few of my memories (apologies for any inaccuracies):
- European entrance to North America: many native peoples were oppressed and/or killed off.
- American slavery and slave trade: Africans were collected from other places on the globe and forced into slavery by and for Americans.
- Civil War: United States North and South territories warred against each other largely over the issue of slavery. Southern plantation owners wanted to keep the practice legal.
- Holocaust: Hitler killed six millions Jews.
- Martin Luther King, Jr: African-American civil rights activist who was assassinated during the 1960s Civil Rights Movement.
Many of these incidents involved a “white” person/”white” group oppressing a minority ethnic group.
I remember noticing this when I was young and developing a sudden, overwhelming shame for my unavoidable whiteness. My mix of European ethnicities made me able to relate to any of the oppressor groups, leading me to feel a heavy weight of responsibility for the sins of my ancestors.
It didn’t help when we visited the Museum of Tolerance in seventh grade, and my mother, a volunteer chaperone, informed me that I was one-part German. I remember suddenly feeling huge regret for what “my people” had done to Jewish people during World War II. I know; it doesn’t make sense logically. But I remember vividly the pain and guilt that overcame me.
It sounds ridiculous, I know. But to this day, I can’t read an article about an impoverished minority community without feeling a twinge of guilt for having the “standard” race– the statistically wealthier race, the more secure race, the more socially acceptable race. I can’t hear about a racist incident at Santa Clara without feeling guilty for being in the majority ethnic group that was so insensitive. I feel guilty by association.
Is it just me? Has anyone else ever felt guilty for being “white”?