Thinking about guilt-
Six or seven years ago I was at a party where most of the people there were university people–professors, graduate students, their partners. Everyone there was white except for one professor’s husband. When he was introduced to me and I heard his last name was Hampton, I said my last name is Hampton, too. He said to me with friendliness in his eyes and smile, So it’s your people I have to thank!
That woke me up. It might have been the first time I really thought of white people as where I came from, their past as something I should still have to wear. (Until I was five I lived where my neighbors were not white, and the daycare kids I played with on a fenced-in square of asphalt in the shade between buildings I only in retrospect see as black, chinese, vietnamese, white. We didn’t talk about privilege unless it meant one kid was hogging the slide. I think this playground let me be a kind of blind. I didn’t ask why my best friend down the row, Wilhelmina, didn’t go to daycare; someone must have stayed home with her? I wonder what she did during the day while I was eating Nilla wafers and fighting for the slide.)
At that party, I finally could see what a huge privilege it is not to have to have a past that catches and snags on my surroundings. What dubious kind of freedom is that. I said, I’m sorry, and he, still with friendliness, laughed. He did me a big favor by doing that–I wish I’d thanked him.