What do white people at large have in common with the shutdown protesters?

As I grow more and more furious at the white people protesting stay-at-home measures set up to keep all of us healthy, the temptation to see them as “other” grows stronger, too.

Thousands of White people are ignoring calls to “flatten the curve” by continuing to socialize in groups. Not only that, we white people are gathering in large groups to insist we have the right to gather in groups, all while a very deadly virus that can be transmitted in the air floats around.

The “we white people” is purposeful. When I was asked if I had any insights to offer about the white people who are putting so many people at risk, I flinched at the idea that I might understand their actions.

But that means I’m trying to deny commonalities, and part of addressing white supremacy involves a willingness to examine what we have in common with other white people, no matter how abhorrent their behavior. When I focus on how other white people are different than me (though they may well be quite different in many respects) that tends to be one of the many ways whiteness plays its tricks so I can slide into denial—convince myself that the only real problem is “them.”

As I resist my tendency to separate myself from them, what do I see that is common across most of us white people that plays a part in the selfish and potentially deadly decisions my fellow white people are making?

1) White people assume we will be treated as individuals, with individual rights and freedoms. Unlike Black, Indigenous, and other people of color, white people’s behavior tends to be treated as if we are individuals rather than as representatives of our “race.” So, if we are treated like we are a part of a group, we get insulted or angry. We don’t know what to do with ourselves when we’re told we need to behave as a part of a group.

2) Lack of solidarity or mutual aid as a cultural experience. Related to #1, most white people I know don’t have a lot of practice thinking of others before we think of ourselves. I say this with love in my heart, because it has been a hard lesson for me to keep learning. There are socioeconomic class differences here, for sure. The poor white people I know lean on each other in community and solidarity in ways the wealthier white people I know rarely do. But, generally speaking, white people’s expectation that we are individuals also means we might not learn how our actions impact other people. We may lack the skills or experience of what it means to adjust our behavior to benefit others. We don’t always fully understand interdependence.

3) Tuning out information that doesn’t support our world views. Because white people’s survival doesn’t depend on understanding other racial groups’ points of view, I believe we white people are probably more likely to tune in to news and information that validates our already-formed opinions. Black and brown-bodied people have to understand the dominant (white) culture’s point of view for many reasons, including the fact that until very recently it was the only version of history most schools were teaching. So, while there’s probably a human tendency (unrelated to race) to read or listen to sources of information that build on our already existing world view, we white people have to take extra steps if we want to get outside of our bubbles. Add this to this tendency a reliance on source of information like FOX News, or other mainstream media that covers Tr*mp and his supporters’ lies as if they are facts, and we find ourselves with the white mobs protesting for the right to kill themselves and everyone around them.

4) The police are here to protect us, not to punish us. Anyone who is honest with themselves knows that if the protesters demanding the right to ignore health and safety recommendations were Black or brown, the police would be shutting them down, likely with violence. We white, gender-conforming, able-bodied people can pretty much do anything we want—especially in groups asserting our rights—and the police generally won’t hassle us. And as white people—particular the cis-gendered and able-bodied ones—we need to become completely aware on a cellular level that while the police are likely to protect us, they are mostly tasked with hurting our more vulnerable neighbors because of their race, gender, mental/physical status or income levels.

As an individual, the people still gathering in groups or protesting for their right to expose themselves and others to this virus scares me. I’m immuno-compromised and many people close to me are also in high-risk groups. As a member of the wider world, I’m filled with fury and rage that these people—with whom I share common traits—are being so reckless with other people’s lives.

I don’t really know how we can fight back against these awful, self-centered people directly, so for now, I am focusing on local mutual aid projects. Donating money (thank you, stimulus check) and, once the supplies arrive so we can begin sewing, masks to people who have no option but to be out there in public. I’m an individual who is a part of a wider network of people caring for each other. I can shed whiteness bit by bit, if I keep changing my world view and my actions.

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