On White Guilt

Ever hear about a fellow named John Fairfield? Here’s a story about a teacher, a student, a parent, and another way of thinking.

(While the story is told in the first person, I will neither confirm nor deny it was me)

I was substitute teaching a few years back and met a boy named Bobby. Now Bobby was a little 10 year old white boy with a keen and agile mind, a impish charm, an inquisitive intellect and an outgoing nature. He’s the kind of student I like.

Bobby also had a father who held in his mind the wisdom and knowledge of the ages and had passed much of said wisdom down to Little Bobby.

Now it just so happened that part of the six weeks I spent teaching Little Bobby fell in the month of February, and Bobby was filled with all kinds of opinions on Black History, Black History Month and Black people in general. Robert Sr. had been a very busy fellow.

It was the fifth grade’s turn to provide the entertainment for Parent’s Night and I and the other 5th grade teacher were to put on a pageant celebrating black history month. The kids got all excited (rehearsing in the auditorium is always more fun than worksheets) for the most part although a few were apprehensive and the most worried was Little Bobby.

“Am I gonna have to put shoe polish on my face?”

Needless to say to question immediately got my attention. So much so I nearly dropped the file folder I was holding.

“Excuse me?”

“Am I gonna have to put shoe polish on my face? Dad said that if we were going to do a pageant about black history all the white kids would have to put shoe polish on their faces so they could be in the pageant.”

This is when I took Little Bobby outside and we had a sit down on the porch steps.

I told him the story of John Fairfield, swashbuckling hero and conductor of the Underground Railroad. I regaled him with tales of daring do and chivalrous chicanery. By the end of my story, I do believe that in Bobby’s eye Fairfield was ranking up there somewhere between Robin Hood and the Transformers.

Needless to say, Bobby got to play John Fairfield in the Pageant and did so with robust enthusiasm. After the show, Robert Senior introduced himself to me and asked me “How do you know about this John Fairfield. I never heard of him before.”

I smiled and replied, “The question isn’t ‘How come I know’ but rather ‘How come you don’t?’”

You see the problem isn’t just why do you feel guilty, but why you feel you have to? You have a choice. The struggles against injustice are long, strong and deep in this country and I am constantly saddened by how much people of goodwill and all races don’t know about it or how they feel trapped in only one narrative, a narrative of whites as evil oppressor when there are so many heroes of European descent who stood in solidarity with all people and principles of noble intent.

And these people didn’t stand with people of other races, faiths or creeds out of guilt but righteous indignation and a need for justice fulfilled. They made a choice and chose to act not out of fear but out of love.

You get to make that choice too.

Wanna feel guilty, or righteous?

It’s up to you.

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