White people in America have trouble noticing when it’s us who are the jerks in the room

Here is something I learned in acting school: No bad guy ever wakes up thinking he’s the bad guy. Every villain in any script always thinks he’s got a valid point. In fact, if he were telling the story, he’d be the hero – the good guy. It’s natural to think of yourself as good and other people not so much. It’s a theory I often try to remember in real life, when it comes to finding mercy for assholes. I don’t always succeed, though. And of course, I’m fully aware that at any given minute I could be the asshole.

White people in America have trouble noticing when it’s us who are the jerks in the room, and usually it’s because we’ve been blinded by our own whiteness. When it comes to being white, it’s important to understand that there is a difference between being a person with light skin and the monolith of whiteness. Whiteness is a complicated social identity that comes with a whole lot of cultural and political baggage – and all of it is privileged.

Still, just because I identify these as two different things – having light skin and an identity of whiteness – does not mean they operate separately in the world. They don’t. If you are a white person, you carry this huge thing called whiteness not just on your back but in your very cells, in your neural pathways, in every conversation you have. Whiteness is your worldview, the lens through which you see everything, the empire in which you have citizenship. It’s important to talk about the concept of empire and how whiteness operates within it, because empire and whiteness are BFFs, and they are also the mean kids in school.

And just like every bad teenage movie you’ve ever seen, even the bullies like to think they’re good.

From “Good White Racist? Confronting Your Role in Racial Injustice” by Kerry Connelly – Westminster John Knox Press