Our Search For the Unproblematic White Person Is In Vain (And We Can Do Better)

A pattern that I'm seeing both on TikTok and in Canadian/U.S. politics (wow didn't expect to read that did you) is white people trying to find the most perfect and wholesome white person to idolize, elect, and promote - as an alternative to the simpler option of giving nonwhite people that support. Beyond simply identifying this pattern as a racist by-product of bias, I want to give it a bit of analysis and solution-finding.

This pattern is a subtle form of racism where we white people are seemingly unwilling to promote black, brown, Asian, and Indigenous people to positions of power, so we go instead with what we know from having done already for centuries: find the best (in our opinion) white person to do the job. I am seeing this both in politics (Pete Buttigieg, Beto O'Rourke) and on TikTok (any of the dozens of young, conventionally attractive, thin white men and teenagers who top the subscriber charts). When nonwhite people are promoted, they are people that "fit the mold", which is to say they don't challenge our foundational beliefs with their power (such as Obama, who remained complicit in bombing several African and Middle-Eastern countries, or Pete Buttigieg, who thinks prisoners shouldn't get to vote).

Something interesting about this form of racism is that, particularly on TikTok, there is a formula that this pattern follows: a new "good" white person is found and idolized, white people finally think that they've found someone unproblematic to stan, the white person fucks something up and falls from grace. When the new white idol is found, particularly on TikTok, you can almost sense the relief of everyone with internalized racism: "it's okay, we don't have to change our beliefs, white people are okay again by virtue of this one idol". When the idol fucks up and falls from grace, you can practically sense the disappointment and despair: "we thought you were the one. You were supposed to be the one. Now what will we do?".

To me, this pattern is distressing - it shows that even though Gen Z, the primary content creators and consumers of TikTok, are by and large socially progressive on many topics (taking strong stances against toxic masculinity, homophobia, transphobia, Islamophobia, fatphobia, anti-choice rhetoric, etc.), they are uncritically perpetuating a pattern of racism found in older populations (boomers) that I argue is harmful.

I think that as another white person, I cannot accurately pinpoint the reasoning behind this subtle kind of racism. I would require a true outsider perspective for that, and it's impossible for me to separate my perspective from the body that I live in. However I will make some guesses: At best, the reasoning for this pattern would be that we white people haven't collectively recognized and reflected on this pattern, to which the solution would simply be becoming aware of this pattern and consciously working against it. At worst, however, it would reflect a deep insecurity of white people to lose social power by electing and promoting nonwhite people above ourselves. Perhaps that insecurity would be based on fears that nonwhite people would treat us white people as poorly as we have treated them, but regardless, it would take more work. I am inclined to believe that the latter hypothesis is more accurate.

Regardless of the reason that this pattern exists, the fact that we white people continue this to me reflects an unwillingness to de-centre ourselves - we want racism, homophobia, and other social issues to go away, but on our own terms, while maintaining our own social and structural power. If this pattern continues, we may never achieve the kind of change that we want - white people simply lack the lived experience that nonwhite people have which can be used to inform meaningful structural change, such as political stances, policy changes, and discursive focuses. If this pattern continues, we won't get what the world needs in order to make change - Indigenous matriarchs leading societies, black people drafting police reform policies, Asian people getting funding to produce movies and T.V. shows that represent them, or brown people revamping immigration practices. If we want social progression to continue without perpetuating harm, we need to let people experiencing marginalization have the power to lead, instead of simply relegating them to ultimately powerless advisory positions.

With all of that said, I invite my fellow white people to do the following to help dismantle this:

1. Learn about your white privilege and how it affects your life. One super accessible way to start is by reading "White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack" by Peggy McIntosh. After that, google around and read some resources on racism that aren't written by white people.

2. Reflect deeply on the discomfort that you likely feel about putting nonwhite people in positions of power above yourselves. Are you predisposed to thinking of white people as leaders more than nonwhite people? You can take this excellent test to find out. After you learn where you fall on that test, sit with that truth and think about/discuss with friends how you can improve your surroundings to change that. For example, do you have friends that feel comfortable around you who aren't white? Do you have teachers, mentors, extended family who you deeply care for and value? How can you improve that without demanding nonwhite people make space for you? Et cetera.

3. Use your power to end this pattern of racism in your life. Promote and share the media, art, opinions, lives, wisdom, fear, and joy of Indigenous, black, brown, and Asian people within your social circles and social media. Speak loudly about issues and don't settle for less. Listen to those people when they correct you and your practices, and be grateful for them doing so (it means they value you enough to want you to change, as opposed to just cutting you out of their lives). Identify and promote/protect policies that protect their lives and well-being. Also, take a break once in a while so you don't get burnt out, lol.

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