I am not sorry for being white. And you shouldn’t be sorry for your ethnicity, either.
Royce Mann’s poem, “White Boy Privilege,” is the latest video to go viral, with mainstream outlets like CNN and USA Today picking up the story. Performing his slam poem in front of his peers at a school in Atlanta, Mann apologizes repeatedly for something he had no control over.
“Dear women, I’m sorry. Dear black people, I’m sorry. ... Dear everyone who isn’t a middle- or upper-class white boy, I’m sorry. I have started life on the top of the ladder while you were born on the first rung.”
To be sorry has two definitions: to acknowledge wrong or to be in an unfortunate state. To be sorry you are a “white boy” is to acknowledge it was wrong to be born the way you are, which you had nothing to do with. We shouldn’t be sorry about who we are, but we can acknowledge the situation we find ourselves in.
I am not sorry to be white, but I am grieved about where we are as a country.
According to the National Bureau of Economic Research, people with a “black-sounding name” have to send out 50 percent more job applications than people with “white-sounding names” just to get a call back. The Bureau of Justice reports that a black man is three times more likely to be searched at a traffic stop and six times more likely to go to jail than a white man. And the NAACP found that black people serve up to 20 percent more time in prison than white people for the same crimes.
Now, this is sorry – an unfortunate state – for a country founded upon the promise that all men are created equal.
Sadly, we live in a society in which privilege exists. It should not be this way. We did nothing to earn this privilege, nor did we do anything to deserve it. Rather, it was bestowed upon us simply because of the color of our skin. But to apologize for it simply assuages our guilt while allowing it to be perpetuated.
Instead of apologizing for it, we should leverage it. Steward the privilege in such a way that creates a more equal society.
Throughout history, people have used their individual privileges for the greater good. William Wilberforce used his privilege as a member of the British Parliament to end the slave trade. Virginia Foster Durr, a housewife from Birmingham, Ala., used her privilege to fight against the poll tax and white-male domination during the civil rights era. They recognized a sorry state of affairs and did something about it.
Unlike Mann, I am not sorry I am white. We should acknowledge our differences, not apologize for them. The goal is not color blindness nor guilty feelings because of our color. Rather, the goal is an equitable and unified society that is cherishing life and liberty, and pursuing happiness with abandon.
What makes America so great is that we are so different but unified toward those ends. We are far from perfect, but we are far different from where we started – and this is a good thing.
J. Nick Pitts is the director for cultural engagement at the Denison Forum on Truth and Culture in suburban Dallas. He wrote this for The Philadelphia Inquirer. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.