An Open Letter To White People

There has been a rapid increase of racial tension in our nation. Whether it’s the recent police shootings, Rachel Dolezal scandal, Ben Affleck’s ancestors controversy, or San Francisco’s policy that does not turn illegal immigrants to federal officials which lead to the death of a young woman by a criminal, we can all agree that the tension is high. Even pop culture has been vocal about those tensions with MTV’s new documentary “White People”. This is what each white person should know and non-white person should consider:

 

Dear White People,

First off, It is impossible be 100% unbiased but I hope that I am able to share a more objective writing given the fact that I grew up in Egypt, a far away country where almost 100% of its’ population is the same race and it’s not one of the main three races in the US. Secondly, I hope that non-whites can also read this and consider the following points before throwing stones.

– Do not be ashamed of being white (even though the media is telling you that you really should).

The word “white privilege” has been loosely used lately. Even though statistics does show that being born white is more likely to lead you to a more successful life, and you should acknowledge that there is racial inequality to fight, we should never loosely assume that every white person has a special “privilege” and that life is easier for every single white person compared to those of different races. Those blanket statements cause us to judge blindly and they can lead many of you to feel guilty for being white. Even “professional journalism” has been freely and unprofessionally sending an indirect message that you should feel guilt; Here is a classic blog from The Huffington Post telling you in the very first paragraph that just because you are white, you have a special privilege and then the article carries on by stating that you do not realize it. Yes, You! every single one of you.

Why is it culturally acceptable to stereotype every white person but culturally unacceptable to do the same with different races? 

 

– You have the right to be proud of your heritage and that doesn’t make you a racist.

As an Egyptian, I am proud of my ancestors who built some of the most famous structures in the world, were masters in engineering, and created one of the most advanced civilizations in history. An Asian can be proud of the history of their ancestors who contributed to medicine and science. An African can be proud of the history of their ancestors with a family-oriented culture that has passed through the ages. But, if you are a white person, let’s say, with a French descent learning about your ancestors’ accomplishments, you are more likely to start feeling guilty for wanting to be proud of your descent. Being white doesn’t automatically mean that your ancestors were slave owners, and even if they were, you should not take that shame on yourself or your children. When we read and learn about the great injustice of slavery, it is only normal to feel a sense of anger. However, we shouldn’t take that anger on you for being white and you shouldn’t carry that shame.

The truth is, many inventions, humanitarian aids, and advancements in societies have been by white people and had nothing to do with slavery.

A recent example that shows the shame many white people carry for something they have not done is with Ben Affleck’s recent controversy. PBS genealogy program “Finding Your Roots”, discovered that one of Affleck’s ancestors owned slaves. In fear of being attacked for his ancestors’ actions or for losing credibility and popularity for something he had no involvement with, Affleck asked the producers to suppress that fact. When the matter became public, Affleck admitted “I was embarrassed”. Then he added, “I regret my initial thoughts that the issue of slavery not be included in the story. We deserve neither credit nor blame for our ancestors and the degree of interest in this story suggests that we are, as a nation, still grappling with the terrible legacy of slavery.” There is a big possibility that you ancestors had nothing to do with slavery or may have fought against it. Even if you have evidence that they were slave owners, don’t carry that burden on yourself and don’t let the next generation carry it either.

 

– Mocking you for being white is not okay.

One instance I can remember was when I was working as a server during college. I had a sweet black family at one of my tables, when I introduced myself and said that my name was Johnny, One of them passionately responded, “Johnny?! Why is your name Johnny? That sounds like a boring white man name and no one wants that! Your parents should have named you something more exotic!”. If I had a common black name and a white family at one of my tables said something like “Why is your name ______? That sounds like a boring black man name, no one wants that!”, it would have been an awful thing to hear. Let’s treat others the way we would like to be treated.

Whether the stereotypes are small or big, do not limit yourself by them. Just because you are white does not mean you have to believe that you are boring, ignorant, or unable to dance, etc…

 

– Being white has its disadvantages too.

I remember when I was in college and my friend was helping in a ministry that primarily works in the wealthier suburbs reaching out to a mostly white demographic of high school students. My conversation with the friend went something like this, “Why are you guys reaching out to rich white high school kids? Shouldn’t you go after the inner-city kids that deal with poverty and high crime rate? Do those rich kids actually need you?” His response was that white rich kids are becoming the most ignored group in society because everyone assumes that due to their wealth and race, they don’t have any legitimate needs. We somehow believed that money can buy happiness. I got to help with the ministry and the closer I worked with those high school students, the more aware I became of their own depravity and unique challenges. Many still come from abusive and broken homes despite the happy face they put upfront, many with so much fear and pressure of not meeting their parents’ expectations and being able to carry on the family’s success, many with extreme loneliness and self-hate, and many struggle with drug abuse. We somehow overlook all those challenges and assume that those kids are brats that need to get it together.

Another story is of a friend and I who applied to grad school together. There was a scholarship offered to minorities and we both applied for it. I was born in Egypt and her dad was hispanic. Despite the fact that she looked white with blue eyes and fair skin and that she grew up in the wealthy suburbs, she received the scholarship because she was 50% Hispanic. I, however, was not considered because Middle Easterners are considered to be genetically close to Caucasians so I didn’t qualify despite the legitimate financial need I had and the fact that I faced the challenges many minorities face. Why is it acceptable that a white student from a poor family living in the inner-city can’t qualify for a minority scholarship while a wealthy black or Hispanic student can qualify for that exact scholarship? It is injustice to offer a scholarship for one race and not the other. Scholarships should be based on either financial needs or one’s accomplishment despite the skin color of that person. Otherwise, a white student growing in poverty has their skin color as a disadvantage.

 

– Being racist goes both ways. Don’t wait for others to treat you better so that you do the same. Be intentional about choosing compassion and love and to stand against injustice.

The purpose of this blog is not to create more division or hostility. It is to give you permission to have a sense of pride of who you are and in what you accomplish, to not carry shame, to recognize that you too have disadvantages and challenges that you should learn to deal with, and most importantly, to be intentional about justice, compassion and love towards your race and others’.

We should never embrace “Non-White Privilege” as a way to fight back “White Privilege” or vice versa. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

 

How did your racial identity affect you in the past? Did you ever feel that you were treated unjustly in the past? Would love to hear your thoughts below.

– Johnny Youssef