The customary way for white people to think about the topic of race — and it is only a topic to white people — is to ask, How would it be if I were black? But you can’t separate the “I” from being white. The “I” is so informed by the experience of being white that it is its very creation — it is this “I” in this context that is, in fact, the white man’s burden. People who think of themselves as well intentioned — which is, let’s face it, how people think of themselves — believe that the best, most compassionate, most American way to understand another person is to walk a mile in their shoes. And I think that’s conventionally the way this thing is approached. And that’s why the conversation never gets anywhere and that’s why the answers always come back wrong and the situation stays static — and worse than static.
The way to approach it, I think, is not to ask, “What would it I be like to be black?” but to seriously consider what it is like to be white. That’s something white people almost never think about. And what it is like to be white is not to say, “We have to level the playing field,” but to acknowledge that not only do white people own the playing field but they have so designated this plot of land as a playing field to begin with. White people are the playing field. The advantage of being white is so extreme, so overwhelming, so immense, that to use the word “advantage” at all is misleading since it implies a kind of parity that simply does not exist.
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