Addiction is a complicated thing to define most of the time. Sure, we can identify the obvious signs, many times, yet we have trouble explaining the root causes of the problem to begin with. You might have a family member with an alcohol addiction, but if you were asked by someone to explain WHY your family member had issues with alcoholism, could you explain it? Addiction, by definition, is rooted in an internal fear that our brain processes to be real, no matter how irrational the circumstances may seem to the outside person, and its effects are a continual cycle of searching for an escape from that fear until it eventually resurfaces. Therefore, by definition, it seems more clear than ever that white people may, in fact, be addicted to being white, and we may be too scared to admit it.
How does one define “whiteness”? I’ve been a white man for 25 years now, and it took me almost my entire life to even begin to describe what that actually means for me. Yes, my skin color was important in understanding what being white meant, but it was more of that skin color has given me in life. Whiteness is the set of ideals I have the freedom to possess, the words I’m allowed to say, the issues that I can deem relevant, the fear and anger that I don’t have to deal with if I choose not to. It is the ability to pick and choose when I can support or denounce someone different from me, as well as it is the ability for me to separate myself from the consequences that may follow. I can protest police brutality whenever I choose, and most of the time all I have to worry about is losing a few friends on social media. If I were black, however, I could be killed.
The reason it has become so difficult for most of us white people has to do mainly with the fact that we haven’t ever addressed our own whiteness before in context to the rest of society. Believe me, it is fairly easy as a white male to take for granted the fact that I can wake up every morning and essentially do or say whatever I want. That is in no way a boast either, but rather a glitch in the system that many of us fail to recognize.
If the addiction for many white people out there is whiteness, then we must ask ourselves where did it begin. The problem is, is that I don’t even think I can answer that the question. For many of us, it’s hard to answer questions about ourselves when we haven’t even bothered to acknowledge the questions exist. As they say, addiction is most reflected in denial.
Like all addictions, though, you can always trace as much of it as you can back to the emotion of fear. The fear that, one day, that privilege will no longer mean what it currently does. It’s the warm blanket that protects you from most of the cold in the world that others have to live through, and losing that protection would be a change so great, many of us can’t bear the thought of it. Furthermore, when you are driven by fear, you will do almost anything to protect yourself, no matter how irrational, to prevent that fear from becoming reality.
What becomes most frustrating about such a defense mechanism as one rooted in fear, is uncovering where it’s placed. However, if you pay attention long enough you will see just how far many of us white people will go to maintain status quo.
Slavery. Jim Crow. Separate but Equal. Radical Islamic Terrorism. Thugs. Un-American. All Lives Matter. “Most of my friends are black.” Black on Black Crime. Sharia Law. Building a Wall. Voter ID Laws. Gentrification.
Look at those words for a minute. What do you see in common with almost all of them? A distraction from the problem. An insecurity so deep and painful, that we would destroy every other race around us, no matter how clouded the phrasing may be, just to maintain our whiteness. Why address police brutality when you can just place responsibility within the black communities? Why address immigration when you can pretend everyone living in Mexico are criminals? Why embrace rap music’s influence on American culture when you can denounce its artists as “thugs”? Why address the fact that one of the NFL’s most respected quarterbacks has been charged with rape twice, when you can focus all your energy on being mad at the guy kneeling silently on the sidelines during the national anthem?
Addiction leaves you bare inside. It destroys everything within you, and slowly seeps its way out into the rest of the world and crushes everything around you. Yet, the most disgusting part of it all, is there are rarely consequences for the destruction. Why is it when we need to disguise our privilege, we feel the need to put a human shield in front of us to show how “equal” we are?
If there is a shooting of an unarmed black man by the police, chances are one of your distant white classmates from high school is going to post a video showing a black police officer coming to the defense of his fellow officers. Or maybe they will show a video of a police officer in a black community playing around with a bunch of black kids to show how peaceful they really are with minorities. Yet, we never once reflect the purpose of those videos, posts, or viewpoints in the first place. It isn’t to prove how equal we actually are; it’s to hide the fact that we aren’t. Somewhere down the line, white people began to believe that minorities not being killed on camera was all we really needed to prove that racism is a giant myth.
We stoop so low, that we use those of us without our privileges to further disguise our own. Donald Trump needs black votes to win the election? Just fly him out to Detroit to hang out with a couple of pastors. “How could the female officer who shot Terrence Crutcher have done anything wrong? Last week she was working at an all-black school and didn’t have any problems. (Oh really, an ALL BLACK SCHOOL? How could she possibly manage? Good for her…).” You, as a white person, couldn’t possibly have racial bias. You have like eight black friends, which is definitely more than those other racist white people who only have TWO black friends…
The insecurity of losing our whiteness even leads to determining how close a person of another race is allowed to get to our same level of equality. 44% of Americans, according to a Yahoo survey, said they would quit watching football if the NFL players do not stop protesting the national anthem, yet I would assume these players were in much better favor with the fans when they were winning them fantasy football games. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated by a white person who thought he was making too much racial progress, only to have his quotes, forty years later, used to denounce black lives matter protests in the name of “peace and love.” You hear the phrases ,”how can there be racism? Look at all of our black athletes. Our president is black. We have better job equality,” as if we can only allow so much progress for other races before we decide that enough is enough. Not only do we become addicted to our whiteness, but we protect our stash at all costs on the fear that someone else might just get a taste of the privilege.
Whiteness becomes so blinding that we don’t even realize we are blinding everyone else, and still the consequences remain so minimal. The members of Oklahoma University’s Phi Delta Theta fraternity won’t face the same consequences for yelling racial slurs at Native American protesters of Donald Trump, but those same protesters could lose their lives if the roles were reversed. Hell, Donald Trump’s entire campaign is built on the greatness of white privilege, and the unflinching celebration of its lack of accountability. Make America Great Again? Great for who? Who else but white people could run a Fox News special town hall meeting regarding racial issues in America hosted by Sean fucking Hannity and Donald Trump, with an all white crowd? But wait, they can just throw Ben Carson and Don King out there to reassure everyone watching that we are all in this together.
I brought up earlier the fact that I don’t have a solution to this problem, and don’t think that fact doesn’t haunt me. I won’t pretend either like I’m ashamed of my whiteness and the privileges that it’s brought me throughout my life, because doing so does not help those who are oppressed. It is also not the responsibility of white people for us to denounce our whiteness either, but yet we still have to admit that it’s there and we like it. We like having the freedoms that others do not, and if we can admit that much then maybe, just maybe, we can give someone else those same opportunities. Yet, we choose to live in fear, that one day our whiteness may run out of supply and we will have to live in the America that everyone else around us has lived in their entire lives. We are afraid to face ourselves in the mirror and accept the fact that we possess a gift that we refuse to share with anyone else out of fear that we will lose it completely. We hide that gift, we pretend to share it, or we may even let others hold it just for a second, but not too long. That gift, however, has become a drug, a substance many of us feel that we could not live without, no matter who or what may suffer in return.
However, before one can overcome addiction, one must first come to accept its presence, its power, and, most of all, its detriments. Have white people reached that point yet? It remains to be seen. Maybe we deserve Donald Trump, and maybe he will be the rock bottom to our addiction. In the time we have before that rock bottom, though, maybe it’s time we finally start planning out the recovery.