I came across a meme by The Newly Press on Facebook the other day that read: “Why is it okay for every race to be proud of their heritage except for white people?” My answer to that question is: most other races don’t have a history of conquering other races and subjecting them to colonialism, slavery, segregation and exploration on a massive scale. True some other races have done those same things but on a much smaller scale or they did it so long ago that their effects are no longer felt. The wounds from colonialism, segregation and exploitation, however, are still open.
I am not saying that everything about white heritage is bad but that, as white people, we must accept that the people who were oppressed (and in some cases are still feeling the effects of that oppression) will see us through our history. In other words when people of colour say they are proud of their race, they mean they are proud of the struggles their race has endured and survived. With white people, however, it is often taken by people of colour to mean that white people are proud of the struggles they caused others to endure.
Of course there is nothing wrong with taking pride in the achievements of one’s race (although in reality the only race is human) but when it comes to white people it is best to be specific to avoid misunderstanding. It is perfectly acceptable to be proud of the contribution white people have made to the sciences, the arts, the humanities, sports et cetera. Colonialism, slavery, segregation and exploration, however, are definitely not something to be proud. Sadly they are at present what many people of colour define white heritage as.
If you are white and don’t like the perception of white people as racist oppressors then do something to change that perception. Acknowledge the evils of colonialism, segregation, slavery and exploitation. Speak out against them. Be respectful in your interactions with people of colour. Treat them as equals. Speak out against racism. Condemn injustice against people of colour. Join them in their fights for justice. Simply put, do whatever you feel comfortable doing to disprove the idea that all white people are racist oppressors.
Only once we as white people prove themselves to be better than the destructive aspects of their history, will people of colour begin to see us differently. Only then will the stain on our heritage be washed away. Make no mistake the ugly side of our history will always remain but by acknowledging it and learning from it we can create a new legacy; a legacy that we can look at with nothing but pride.