The most recent US Census reports a significant decline in the white population, while non-white and mixed-race categories notably increased. Researchers anticipate a reduction of white wealth and power. They expect this to trigger gerrymandering efforts while giving white extremists, oblivious to massive disparities non-whites experience daily, new opportunities to exploit. White fragility? Say hello to white anxiety.
There are layers of this for white people, especially those insulated in homogeneous communities, and whose worship of God, instead of being focused on unselfishly loving and elevating one’s neighbor, including strangers, has instead conserved their own power and dominance. Every undeserved, misinformed sense of superiority is at risk of exposure. But there’s a more visceral dread.
There’s a deep sense of apprehension that something’s wrong, it’s coming, and we deserve it. For, if there is a God anywhere, if Justice exists in this universe, evil is stalking us. Sooner or later, it’ll find us. It must. And we brought it on ourselves.
An artist painted a bull and matador, with roles reversed. Swords pierced the prostrate matador while a great bull stood on hind legs, holding a sword poised for the coup de grâce. If you were on the matador’s side, it would be disturbing. If on the bull’s side, wouldn’t it at least feel deserved?
Those with advantage by way of theft and oppression fear this: if things change if there is ever a turnaround for these poor people, these Black and native people, these exploited prisoners, these others, if power is ever on their side and we can’t stop them, what if they do to us, as we have done to them?
And why NOT? Seriously. Why shouldn’t they? Listen, if that was you, your family, and your people always at risk, never really safe, always made to suffer loss from the short-weighted fix of a double standard, at what measure of accumulated wrongs and unjust dealings must these scales be made right? Just how much would you tolerate? How much?
Our culture celebrates patriotism and revenge. We were entertained as Mel Gibson portrayed Scottish patriot William Wallace on horseback, who rallied outmatched troops, shouting, “They may take our lives, but they will never take our freedom!” Patrick Henry’s “Give me liberty or give me death!” still inspires. Our own history and entertainment celebrate the overthrow of oppressors and evil, but only when someone else caused the suffering, someone else was evil or benefitted from injustice. Someone else. Why? Because white grievance lacks self-awareness and is fundamentally dishonest.
On August 19, 1791, Black astronomer, mathematician, and almanac author Benjamin Banneker wrote Thomas Jefferson: “Here Sir, was a time in which your tender feelings for your selves had engaged you thus to declare, you were then impressed with proper ideas of the great valuation of liberty, and the free possession of those blessings to which you were entitled by nature; but Sir how pitiable is it to reflect, that altho you were so fully convinced of the benevolence of the Father of mankind, and of his equal and impartial distribution of those rights and privileges which he had conferred upon them, that you should at the same time counteract his mercies, in detaining by fraud and violence so numerous a part of my brethren under groaning captivity and cruel oppression, that you should at the same time be found guilty of that most criminal act, which you professedly detested in others, with respect to yourselves.”
At the root, white anxiety agrees with God that justice is just, that goodness is good and God is right, even when we are wrong, even when we conceal and protect our unjust stewardship of power with violence, even if we will not admit it or change. Without a ruthlessly honest self-examination, followed by full confession and abandonment of unjust systems, and without good faith efforts to remedy, we have reason to panic and fear.
By Frank Robinson