I’m a Middle-Class, American, White Woman and I’m Confused as Hell

I don’t even know where to put my feelings

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Photo by Engin Akyurt via Unsplash

Please don’t call me Karen. My mundane life exists without incident. I went out in public for the first time a week ago and was overcharged for my tab. I don’t even remotely care. I’m not complaining. I don’t wish to speak to your manager. I know my privilege.

My privilege is what’s giving me anxiety right now. It’s like survivor's guilt only it’s privilege guilt. I know how I have it easier than most and I feel horrible because of it and that, in and of itself, feels stupid. I don’t know what to do.

I’m an empath. This means I’m a total disaster right now. I have every feeling, for every person, every minute of the day. And I can’t figure out how to reconcile that.

At the same time, I’ve been told not to ask my friends of diverse ethnic backgrounds what I can do to support them. It’s not their job to make me feel better and at ease. That is completely understandable. They have enough to worry about.

I feel lost in between two worlds where supporting different groups in a time of unrest seems almost like cognitive dissonance. It’s confusing. I can’t imagine I’m alone in this.

I am the daughter of an ex-NYPD cop who worked in Bedford Stuyvesant in the 70’s. My ex-husband is an ex-Phoenix Police Department cop. The first weekend he spent on the force I went to two funerals for two co-workers killed in the line of duty.

I know what it’s like to be afraid a loved one won’t come home. I remember my ex-husband’s uniform being nearly stiff as a board in the hamper after a 12 hour shift in 110-degree weather.

I have also seen friends who are persons of color treated so horribly that it enrages me. It’s ridiculous to think that we have made such little progress in a country that boasts its own greatness. I want change and I want it now.

As a white person, people feel free to spout racist negativity around me. I’m white, I must feel the same way they do. Sorry. It doesn't work that way. I’m not talking friends. I’m talking the horrible lady in line at the butcher counter with a bone to pick with the guy working the counter because his skin color is darker than hers.

The best I could muster was looking her right in the eye and telling her that I was not going to be complicit with her racist anger. It made no difference to her. I’ll make that stand any chance I get, regardless.

I see what I have no fear of doing that others do. I know that if I had broken our state-mandated curfew and walked my dog that nothing would happen to me. It’s why I didn’t break curfew. I didn’t want to be that person.

What I want is to leverage privileges I have to help others have the same privileges. That, to me, is moving the needle of equality. Of course, I could be completely wrong. There is no handbook that exists called The White Person’s Guide to Being Empathetic Without Being an Asshole.

Chelsea Handler made a whole documentary checking her privilege and, as well-intended as it was, it was also interpreted as being selfish and, well, steeped in privilege. I’m afraid of getting my hand slapped. Again, if that is the greatest of my fears, who the hell am I to even open my mouth or put my fingers on a keyboard?

I have felt powerless to do a damn thing about anything. I have feared my support would seem shallow. I have been told that feeling guilt about my privilege is also improper and helps no one. So I just sit with it.

What I want is to have the conversation. I have long championed that the only way for us to work on a path to diminish sexism, female objectification, and sexual assault is to include men in the conversation and to enlist their help as champions.

I’m not asking for someone to solve this for me and tell me what to do. What I am asking for is patience as I figure it out. I’ll get there. If I stumble along the way, know that I’m trying. Trying seems like the best I can do right now.

Written by

Flaming pinball, nerd, music lover, wine snob, horrible violin player. No, I won’t stop taking pictures of my drinks. vanessaltorre@gmail.com IG: vanessaltorre

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