The Cringe

The following is a response to Womanist Musings‘ post entitled “Please Don’t Let It Be One of Us”.

2008 Was one of the most depressing years of my life, especially due to certain news reports. During that year there were high profiled murders that was reported in the national news media, and a violent crime occurred within my general area. When I heard about them, the same feeling happens. I get a feeling of “pressure” on my heart as it feels like it’s dropping. I get slightly anxious. I begin to worry. The mental ticker illuminates the following words, “Please don’t let him or them be black! Please God! Please don’t let that person or persons be black!”

Like I said when I started this post, 2008 was a terrible year in this regard. In all of those violent cases the suspects and criminals were indeed black. Then, I am blanketed by a heavy coat of shame. The problem was that I didn’t feel bad for the victims. I felt bad that the criminals were black. They were black males and most of the victims were white females. Only a handful were white males.

In later years until the present there were more incidences of crime or outlandish behavior where marginalized groups were involved. Some moments were small while others were more heinous. The latter would spread more rapidly than a virus. The first thought that goes through many of our heads will be a plea for the culprits not to be members of those groups. When it is revealed that individual members were responsible, we shake our heads in shame despite us having nothing to do with the incident.

Why do we feel guilty for the repugnant actions of a few ignorant and lost individuals? Notice that I’m using the word ‘individuals’ a bit. Reason being is that society sees certain groups as cracked, twisted monoliths. One screw up or crime reflects on the entire group, and in some cases it is call for immediate action against group. This cringe we feel is shared with fear, fear of some kind of retribution that the community must pay for. The most subtle response would be getting strange looks from privileged groups as if you’ve done the deed.

There is something deeper and uglier about this cringe. It is – in fact – a trap. It is part of Massa’s tools to bring ourselves down mentally and emotionally. It makes us not only angry with the people responsible but angry with ourselves for sharing the same characteristics (Sometimes you wish you weren’t one of them). It makes us feel that the individuals have set back the progress for equality. It makes you question why you should hope for change when there are those who prove “them” right show up. It makes us adapt to be more cautious not to fall into stereotypes by changing the way we talk, dress, walk or whatever. And it affirms that we indeed all think and feel alike, a contradiction to what individuality is.

White, straight, Christian males, and females to a smaller extent, do not have to suffer from the cringe. It is part of white privilege. Most of the time, they assume that whatever incident occurred was caused by members of a group they associate with who are prone to those particular actions. If there’s a bombing somewhere, they assume it was the work of Muslims automatically. If there was a murder involving guns, they think it was caused by blacks and browns. Stereotypes then live on, and racism continues.

They hardly consider that a white person could be the perp or that crime and terrorism is not limited to everyone else except white communities. When a (violent) crime or act of terrorism does occur by whites, and it happens more often than they care to believe, there is shock all around. The individuals responsible are usually painted as those who just snapped. Those who knew them will paint them as “good” people who needed help while they see people of color, women and non-Christians as just being prone to violence who can not be helped.

This is a double standard of how whiteness operates in our minds and hearts. Those of us who claim to be progressive still have some reprogramming to do if we are to fight this cringe. We must realize that we are human beings and not saints. We also must keep in mind that as white people see themselves as individuals and demand to be treated as such, so should we.


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