How Does it Feel to Be a [White] Problem?


Dear white people with white children (because not all white people who have children have ‘white’ children),

What’s it like to not have to have ‘that conversation’ with them and to only teach them that the criminal justice system will treat them fairly and humanely?

What’s it like to tell your token Black friend who “doesn’t sound Black” and has college degrees, “That could never happen to you though, right?”

Because YOU aren’t like the rest of THEM? 

When it does or if it does happen to ME, what will your excuse be?

She must have been asking for it or deserved it? 

Will you continue to be a[n] [unacknowledged White] problem?





Black mom with 3 little Black kids who will have ‘that conversation’ with them, this evening as their [Black] rite of passage.

Learn more about how applicable DuBois Souls of White Folks is for 2016, here.

#AltonSterling #PhilandoCastile #Blacklivesmatter #stopwhitefragility

(Credit: Pax Ahimsa Gethen 2016)
(Credit: Pax Ahimsa Gethen 2016)

About Dr. A. Breeze Harper
Dr. Harper has been invited to deliver many keynote addresses and lectures at universities and conferences throughout North America. In 2015, her lecture circuit focused on the analysis of food and whiteness in her book Scars and on “Gs Up Hoes Down:” Black Masculinity, Veganism, and Ethical Consumption (The Remix) which explored how key Black vegan men us hip-hop methods to create “race-conscious” and decolonizing approaches to vegan philosophies.Dr. Harper’s most recently published book, Scars: A Black Lesbian Experience in Rural White New England (Sense Publishers 2014)interrogates how systems of oppression and power impact the life of the only Black teenager living in an all white and working class rural New England town. Her current lecture circuit focus on excerpts from her latest book in progress, Recipes for Racial Tension Headaches: A Critical Race Feminist’s Journey Through ‘Post-Racial’ Ethical FoodscapeIn tandem with this book project, she is well-known for her talks and workshops about “Uprooting White Fragility in the Ethical Foodscape” and “Intersectional Anti-Racism Activism.”



6 thoughts on “How Does it Feel to Be a [White] Problem?

  1. I know the reference, but only finished a few chapters of The Souls of Black Folk before getting depressed and exercising my privilege to stop reading. That’s a pretty good metaphor.

    I know that, as a white American, I benefit from significant and pervasive race privilege. I’ve heard, and know it’s probably true, that various things I do which I find innocuous are actually culpable contributions to this system. I’m well aware that ” a perception of [my] own alleged superiority and infallibility as [a] white American” is a trait which robs my life and interactions of respectability and sincerity and meaning. I know I’m somehow partly responsible for the state-sanctioned violence which is unconscionable in general, and only more so because it is perpetuated by targeting racialized citizens.

    But it’s exhausting and depressing to think about, and I can’t find a solution within these spaces of dialogue which offers relief from this despair. So I do what society allows me, as a white person, to do: I disengage from the situation which makes me feel unable to contribute to the world, and create value in my life in other ways. As an activist vegan, I work to remove another form of societally-sanctioned violence and denigration. I take advantage of the many privileges offered me, and work to transform them into opportunities for joy and growth for myself and others. When I’m forced to engage with my racial privilege, as with these killings, I say apologetic things like this, and then move on.

    So, without knowing the culturally-appropriate form of well-wishing for this rite of passage, I salute and am humbled by your dedication as a Black parent to fulfilling this crushing duty. I wish I could respond better, but the only paradigm I have for expressing my sympathy and regret is some form of “try to help out somehow”, and I can’t find instructions on how to do that other than to step back and let the Black community lead this. So I’ll keep being a White problem while trying to be less of a Human problem (for nonhuman animals and the environment) because I have a better guess for how to go about that endeavor.

  2. Why would I teach white children that the legal system is fair or has their interests at heart? I teach them to interact with police and courts as adversarial. “Am I under arrest or free to go?” “Why do you believe that there is something in my vehicle?” “Direct all questions to my lawyer.” “Am I required to answer that question?” “I would prefer not to.” “No comment.”

    Those are the things I tell children to say to police. Especially if they are innocent of any wrongdoing.

  3. Sistah Harper,
    Being a vegan is based on the evolutionary/survival needs of our ape ancestors. Veganism is good for us and all life on the planet. Sadly few, even vegans want to believe that because their egos want them to go to some paradise when they die and not just feed worms, as I plan on doing.
    Sadly, our evolved nature makes all racists. White people happen to be in control in America, but if Blacks dominated they would treat whites the same way they are being treated. The only way to solve all the problems on this amazing planet is for all to realize and totally accept we are just animals, but no one will do that, as no one would ever believe in a god if it did not promise something good after this experience. So, the brutality of the police and Black retaliation will never end until we accept our animal instincts and particularly our animal ego that causes most evil on earth.

  4. Your post is troubling and painful and sad making.

    I read it and then read the three comments that were present. One of the commenters wrote this: “Sadly, our evolved nature makes all racists. White people happen to be in control in America, but if Blacks dominated they would treat whites the same way they are being treated.”

    I found those words maybe more disturbing and troubling than your post.

    That commenter seems to be saying…hey…we’re all horrible. Bill took a stick and beat the crap out of John…but….if John had a stick and Bill didn’t have one…then John would have beat the crap out of Bill. We all just need to straighten up…or something.

    That, to me anyway, suggets that no one is ever to be held accountable for their actions because we can fantasize a situation wherein a victim behaved as badly as a perpetrator. That’s the same as saying well…the Nazis did awful things to various victims (Jewish peoples, Romani peoples…) but the victims would have behaved just as badly if they had had power so….everyone is equally awful and culpable???

    I don’t get it, I have no way to wrap my mind around that kind of “reasoning”.

    Fantasy does not equal fact and it is fact that white supremacist horrors are inflicted on black people and all people of color in the U.S. daily by white people and imagining that black people would inflict horror if they had the power to do so appears to be an effort to turn away from fact and engage in some sort of attempt at consolation or solace or avoidance of responsibility via fantasy. That seems futile and sad and scary.

    You asked a heartfelt and troubling question: “How does it feel to be a [white] problem?” I’m unable to answer your question beyond saying I feel awful and I can only work at not being a [white] problem and at not confusing fantasy with fact.

    1. Yes, I had the same thoughts when I read the other response.

      My question isn’t about guilt or shame or feeling awful as much as it is to inspire people to deeply think about the question in a way that creates agency in them to dismantle systemic racism and white supremacy that they may not know they uphold (whether intentionally conscious or not). It’s a call for action. Hope that makes sense.


      1. I didn’t believe you were seeking to invoke bad feelings and I appreciate your reply.

        Yet…I have found it isn’t possible for me to struggle with understanding systemic racism and white supremacy without also feeling awful at times. I don’t think that’s a bad thing…it’s just an uncomfortable and taxing thing. In truth…those (racism, white supremacy) are bad things and I think anyone associated with the perpetrating group has earned some bad feelings. The best I can do is endure them and use them as motivation to persist in the struggle. We as members of the dominant white group have, I think, avoided bad feelings about our behavior for way way too long and it’s time to step up and feel the bad in order to fully appreciate the horrors we’ve been inflicting on others and to motivate ourselves to cease and desist engaging in actions that create pain and suffering both in others and in ourselves. Consider…if it is possible for a group to harm or benefit from harm to another group without feeling badly…that’s pretty much the description of sociopathy isn’t it? I think confronting and struggling against this awfulness requires our feeling badly and I don’t mean in some self-indulgent guilt trippy way but in a deep and genuine acknowledging and accepting of the physical and emotional reality that we’ve created. I hope that makes sense too. I appreciate…more than I can express your writing and your efforts on behalf of justice.

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