Zaron Burnett III
Seventy-nine white people were asked if they would give up their whiteness. Here are the results.
Sometimes I’ll ask a white person a question I often wonder about. It’s a question only they can answer, and typically one they’ve rarely, if ever, considered:
Generally, when I ask a white person this question they look at me like I’ve just asked: Would you ever walk across the ocean? Or maybe it’s more like: Would you ever light a winning lottery ticket on fire, just to see how it feels?
How could a white person give up their whiteness? It’s not like a gym membership. But ah, in fact, it’s a lot like a gym membership — only it’s one where other people pay your annual fees.
What exactly is it? Defining whiteness is both easy as all hell, and somewhat difficult. Essentially, whiteness is social power masquerading as an ethnicity. As a personal identity.
Now, if I asked a black person whether they’d give up their blackness, they might not know what I mean, either. What’s there to give up? Blackness is a point of pride, a cultural history, a family of millions.
But one thing it’s not is monolithic. It’s not one thing. There are just as many ways to be black as there are black people on the planet. But if one gave up their blackness, what would they be? Well, they’d be an American, or a Canadian, or a Cuban. You get the idea. Same is true for white folks.
That said, whiteness and blackness are not equivalent. They are not two sides of the same coin. Whiteness doesn’t function like that. It’s not intended to be one big fam, one people, one all-encompassing culture. There would be no blackness without the creation of whiteness.
Let’s be all the way real about this: Whiteness is, primarily, a relationship to power. That’s all it’s ever been. Whiteness is social supremacy translated into a skin tone. It’s not the same thing as a culture, or even a people.
“Let’s be all the way real about this: Whiteness is, primarily, a relationship to power.”
If we were to treat whiteness like any other ethnicity, how would we describe traditionally white music, white foods, white manners of dress? The answers to all those questions are just punchlines. Because whiteness isn’t about culture, it’s about power.
Whiteness is and always has been intended to be the mainstream, at best, and a culture of supremacy at worst. You could also say whiteness is a centuries-old scam, a long con masquerading as a shared identity.
And as I learned by talking to scores of white people for this survey, whiteness is most certainly not an identity, not one that white folks feel they share with other white people. It’s just what they are. Personally. This is also its power.
The costs black people and other POC must pay to maintain whiteness as a social structure vary. The more dire examples for black people are: death; incarceration; generational financial hardship; general denial of humanity; heavily biased medical treatment and care; environmental pollution.
We endure these hardships all so that white folks can hold fast to their social power and privilege. More than reparations, I want to know: Why do white Americans think it’s fair and good and right that they stay white people?
It’s important to note that white people alive today didn’t create whiteness. This was mentioned often by the respondents to this survey. That’s true. It’s also true that white people alive today haven’t been super eager to give up its privileges.
But if pale-faced folks can come here and become Americans, they can also become something other than white. Dream bigger, white people! I guess you might say I Have A Dream… for white people, that one day they’ll put down their whiteness and join the rest of us.
So I asked what it would take. Nearly 80 white people responded to these questions, sharing with me their honest, unvarnished explanations of why they would or wouldn’t give up their whiteness. Many wondered what it even means to do that. What would it look like?
The responses to this survey offer thoughtful considerations, honest appraisals, and unexpected candor. The vast majority of respondents have never talked about their whiteness with another white person. Not once.
Regardless of their cultural preferences, political persuasions, generational differences, regional attitudes, or the shock of their unexamined biases, the majority of respondents thanked me for the opportunity to discuss something they rarely, if ever, consider.
You can’t maintain whiteness and act like America is what it claims to be. They’re incompatible ideals.
“Whiteness largely remains an invisible default of the mainstream.”
Many respondents would honestly prefer all races be treated equal. That’s a laudable goal — it’s technically enshrined in the founding document of America — but thus far, it’s been an unrealized dream. We can’t live according to the American ideals we teach schoolchildren and still have whiteness.
The white folks who responded to this survey know that by and large, being white is easier, safer, a source of all sorts of advantages and social privileges. And they admitted that they rarely if ever consider what that means — how, by definition, that’s not equality. You can’t maintain whiteness and act like America is what it claims to be. They’re incompatible ideals.
Whiteness largely remains an invisible default of the mainstream. It tends to remain unexamined, like junk mail. I thought rather than point fingers and shout about its consequences, I’d offer to listen and explicitly engage with strangers to provide some insights, for me and for them, and for you. And to do it in a way that moves beyond what we typically hear.
To get at what goes unsaid, what’s honestly felt, what’s meaningful. There have been endless discussions about why white people chose to vote for Trump, or whatever.
This is not that conversation. This is a seed for a much larger conversation, one that all white people ought to be having. Especially with each other. To get you started…
Here are 79 answers to the question: Would you ever give up your whiteness?
“I never think about my race. Never. So I had to put a lot of new thought into some of these answers.” — Alan Modracek, 39, engineer, New Jersey
“Strange to say I think of myself as a Texan, first and foremost. But yes, I am white.” — John Miller, 44, business owner, Texas
“The many white Southern Baptists I know here, about 25% of them are 60 or older — I think of them as white. Well-heeled, genteel white folks — retirees, business people, bureaucrats politicians, venture capitalists. They are white, in that ‘standard model of whiteness’ way. Me, I’m just some fucking guy. You look at me, I’m white. But I’m not white like them, at least not in my mind.”
— Dylan, (age not given), publishing/media, North Carolina
“I once had a colleague ask me about my race; when I said ‘white’ she asked ‘How do you know?’ And I said, ‘I’m white because people treat me like I’m white.’ And that’s all it is. I would never say being white is part of my ethnic identity, because whiteness isn’t an ethnicity. It’s a set of privileges that has been granted at various times, with varying degrees of consistency, to people of various ethnicities. But it has no other content of its own. Well, check that. I do think whiteness itself comes with one piece of culture: familiarity with certain kinds of power. I can’t say I love it, but I also can’t imagine any other way.” — Chris, 38, teacher, New York
“It’s biological. The science says we have a face preference. All races. This is pretty natural. But it does not define our behavior. Most people don’t want to talk about this preference. Because they think that there is a buried value judgment. For me there is not.” — Sandy Green, 42, doctor, Pennsylvania
“I don’t feel any cultural obligation/compulsion to feel a kinship with anybody other than family. I don’t look at a group of white people and think ‘those are my people.’ — Tom, 43, Oil/Natural Gas Drilling and Completions Consultant, Texas
“I identify with other white people historically, and with rural white people economically, but that’s about it.” — Domina Vontana, 40, university lecturer and professional dominatrix, Washington D.C.
“This is probably the hardest question, because my natural response would be ‘no not really,’ but then I look at my friendship groups and maybe 70% of them are white, this is despite living in a very diverse area, in a very diverse city, and having gone to very diverse schools.” — Jake, 27, health policy, London, U.K.
“It’s hard to feel that way after looking at history and knowing how different groups that people today would comfortably place under the umbrella of ‘white’ treated each other until not so recently. Other white people I’ve met outside my family generally haven’t given me much reason to trust them any more or less than anyone else.” — Franics, 22, “trying to get into the Navy,” South Florida
“I’ve never given the ‘head nod’ to another white person. I’ve definitely given it to another gay person. I wouldn’t bond with a white person more easily than a person of color based only on our race. I mostly bond over shared mutual interests such as suit tailoring, Coca Cola, eating pussy, or the L.A. Rams.” — Laura Jayne Martin, 36, writer, New York
What do you know about how white people came to be?
(Author’s note: I asked this question with intentionally vague phrasing so that respondents would project their interpretations onto the question, which they did. Most people referred to the migration of humans out of Africa and how that led to a loss of melanin as “white people” moved into Europe. Others opted for religious explanations. Very few mentioned the legal “birth of whiteness,” which occurred in 1680 in Colonial America, specifically in Virginia law.)
“Humans who went north to Europe developed lighter skin due to sun exposure. People who live in places that are hotter with stronger sun exposure developed darker skin as a natural defense against the sun’s rays. White people came to America and continued to do what they were already doing to each other in Europe.” — Rachel, 23, financial services, Jacksonville, Florida/Birmingham, Alabama
“Today’s white people are descended, anciently, from the Tribe of Ephraim of the Kingdom of Israel. After they were dispersed with the other nine tribes they migrated to central and northern Europe. Among them were the Germanic tribes who defeated the Roman Empire.” — Mike, 41, military human relations, Illinois
“We were created in a lab by the African scientist, Yakub. Kidding.” — Dylan, (age not given), publishing/media, North Carolina
“If you are talking about how white people became known as a race, I am a little familiar with the political activities in Virginia in the United States in the late 1600s as white politicians began putting language in laws to distinguish white people from black people/slaves. Which is really when we started to think of ourselves as ‘white people.’” — CDM, 53, construction management, Raleigh, North Carolina
“Prior to the World Wars there was a lot more ethnic diversity. Sure people were white, but you had WASPS and Irish and Polish and German and Swedish, etc. There was an ethnic hierarchy with WASPS at the top and everyone else below. They were united by whiteness against blacks. But otherwise, they didn’t like each other. World War One changed that. It mixed everyone together and demanded the suppression of German-American identity. Teddy Roosevelt made a famous speech about hyphenated Americans not being American at all, that the hyphen was like a dagger held behind the back. Ethnicity was reduced to an aesthetic, as a result. Following World War II, a culture of mass consumption and mass media was the basis for a common white identity, which specifically excluded black people. And now, it’s beginning to fall apart because there’s no actual common culture, or history, or folk tales, or values, just the veneer of one to paper over differences.” — Archie, 24, accounts manager, Chicago, Illinois
Who would you point to as a good white person — a role model, if you will?
“I can’t think of one after 10 minutes of looking at this question. I’m going to have to pass.” — Riley, 22, machinist apprentice, British Columbia, Canada
“I’m really struggling to answer this one. To be honest, thinking about it, Anthony Bourdain might be a good choice. The dude always seemed very gracious, and sincerely interested in other cultures.” — Matthew, 29, quality engineer, Scotland
“I read this question several times, and for the first time ever I realized that the white people I think are good people I just think of as good people. The first person to come to mind is JJ Watt of the Houston Texans.” — Alan Modracek, 39, engineer, New Jersey
“Tom Hanks. But I typically do not think of white people as having an ambassador to other people like we have an equivalent to Sydney Poitier.”
— Mike, 41, military human relations, Illinois
“Jesus. No, I’m just kidding. If I had to pick a favorite white person in history I guess it’d be George H. W. Bush.” — A, 33, human relations/formerly political campaigning, New Jersey
“I guess… Chris Evans?” — Nick M, 25, software technical support, Florida
“Fred Rogers.” — Allan, 43, writer, Edmonton, Canada
“Abraham Lincoln, and currently, Dr. Jordan Peterson.” — Jared, 23, home health aide, Florida panhandle
“Elon Musk, which shows how weird placing the importance on skin color would be. He’s a South African who has become an American, but he’s technically white.” — Robert F, 43, development director, San Diego, California
“Natalie Portman seems to fully grasp intersectionality, I think.” — Emily, 29, hair stylist, Western Pennsylvania
“Perhaps Charles Bukowski, which is a very complicated answer.” — Carter, 41, New Orleans
What are your feelings about the current racial conversation?
“I think white people are becoming aware of how much space we take up, or how many things we take for granted.” — Jay, 30, copywriter, New York City, New York
“A pearl in an oyster — small pieces of value surrounded by a whole lot of slime and gore. We are not a perfect nation, nor a perfect people. Our nation is the best in the world, but that doesn’t mean we’ve got everything fixed. I also think today’s activists ignore the strides that have been made and the lessons we’ve learned from history. In the words of Chuck D — ‘People talkin’ loud ain’t sayin’ nothin’.’” — T Michaels, 45, university admin, Wisconsin
“I tend to think of it as a marital relationship. What’s best for the relationship isn’t constantly pointing out the other’s faults. It’s acknowledging that they are there, but working together to get past them. If there isn’t forgiveness and forgetting the past, we can’t move past it. That ties in with my viewing it as a marital relationship. And I realize doing that puts more on black people than white people.” — David, 39, farmer, Missouri
“While I think it was a bit of a farce when people talked about being color blind, I think there was some benefit to not making everything about race. I think when people are afraid to talk about these issues then that is a problem because you can’t learn and grow unless you bounce ideas and thoughts off people. When you are white you have to be able to talk about this stuff to minorities because you can’t understand their perspective without asking questions and talking through things with them, and if you can’t have that conversation for fear of being called a racist then that is a problem.” — Paul Jones, 31, teacher/litigator, Indiana
“My church has been holding regular events with a partner church which is primarily black to facilitate dialogue and see how, together, we can advance the conversation. It’s a very safe place to ask questions, seek understanding, find common ground, explore our preconceived notions, etc. It has been a joy to hear about the upbringing and past experiences of both black and white people from a wide variety of backgrounds to see how they came to develop their perceptions of their own race as well as other races. I also feel that the conversation is far too binary, in that somebody can be labeled a racist based on a single statement or a single action, when ‘racism’ is a long spectrum, with KKK level racism at one end to much more subtle racism that some folks might not even know they have at the other and we are all on that bar somewhere, hopefully trying to move in the right direction.” — CDM, 53, construction management, Raleigh, North Carolina
“A book like Hanif Abdurraqib’s They Can’t Kill Us Until They Kill Us, or a movie like If Beale Street Could Talk, make me consider things in ways I didn’t used to, because I wasn’t seeing those stories. I still don’t have enough honest, open conversations about race in the real world, it’s mostly scrolling through tweets, reading stories, etc.” — Phil, 37, advertising/copywriter, San Francisco, California
“For the longest time I had been defensive of police. And at times, on a case by case situation, I still am depending on the details and context. But it’s clear a lot of police are ill trained, overly aggressive, hostile to minorities. That said, and I’m uncomfortable saying this — there needs to be more outreach and understanding from black communities too with regard to violence and working with the legal system to stem the tide of shootings. I live in St. Louis, and with regularity there are reports of shootings in the black community. Some go unsolved, others end up with some justice. But every few months an innocent kid gets shot for no reason and it breaks the heart. If we’re being blunt, from the perspective of the white community we don’t understand it.” — John S., 38, compliance, St. Louis, Missouri
“One thing I feel positive about is that the younger generations have a fresh perspective. My parents and Boomers maybe thought ‘racism was solved’ with the Civil Rights Movement. I do think there are some flaws in the convo in pinning it all on Trump or ‘this isn’t the country I know,’ and there’s a need for the understanding that ‘anti-racism’ is more than ‘not racist.’ I think the movement of people fighting against racism is growing and outnumbers the opposition even though the MAGA hats scream louder and are in power. Even if that means there is a long road ahead, I’m optimistic!” — Kathleen, 32, designer, Truckee, California
“Yes, and it’s not a good feeling.” — Alan Carver, 56, customer service, Washington
“No, as a white male I receive significant privileges, people take me more seriously than minorities or female colleagues even if they are more senior. The only ‘discrimination’ I even face is not having to be on interview panels sometimes. So I get less thankless work, and my female and minority colleagues have to do additional work without additional compensation to help meet EEOC [Equal Employment Opportunity Commission] guidelines and policies.” — Sam, 40, works for a large corporation, Southern California
“The people who I have felt use my whiteness against me are other white people: all the times I’ve felt ‘hey, don’t rock the boat’ energy in an all-white group when I do anything to acknowledge our whiteness, or to try to be thoughtful about the people who aren’t in the room. The silencing, the cajoling, the exclusion. The ways in which an all-white room can silently communicate that we won’t even be bringing shit like that up today. ‘We don’t discuss politics at the dinner table,’ that kind of unspoken rule. That’s using my whiteness against me: It’s forcing me to pretend I don’t care about certain things, certain people, when I really do.” — Chris, 38, teacher, New York
“I feel like I’ve gotten away with so much because I’m white. I can’t begin to wrap my head around simply walking out the door in this society and starting my day with an unspoken mark against me just because of the color of my skin.” — Emily, 29, hair stylist, Western Pennsylvania
“Probably not. I recognize the advantages I have and I’ll use anything I can to help my family above anything else. That’s probably selfish, but that’s the mindset of most white people I know.” — Nick M, 25, software technical support, Florida
“Tough to answer. What is ‘whiteness,’ really? Gun to head… I’d probably stick with being white but I’d be open to a discussion.” — Rob Harvey, 38, engineer, London, England
“I am well aware of my privilege. Giving up my ‘whiteness’ would be like giving up my American passport. It would be foolish and naive.” — Athena, early 30s, business admin, Virginia
“I don’t know what it means to ‘give up my whiteness.’ Do you mean be treated like a black or Hispanic man? Absolutely not. If you mean having a black or Hispanic men treated like me, then, sure.” — Alan Modracek, 39, engineer, New Jersey
“Tough question to answer. I guess to be totally honest, no. Simply because my whiteness allows me a blanket sense of security and safeness. I am less likely to be stopped by police, less likely to have a situation escalate if I am stopped, etc. That’s wrong. And it’s important that we change societal structures to fix that. But I would be lying if I said I’d give it up.” — Michael, 31, teacher, Oakland, California
“You don’t mess about do you? That’s a very difficult hypothetical to wrestle with. At times, recently, I’ve felt somewhat ashamed of my whiteness. I guess I wonder if people would look at me and think I might be like the people who look like me who are spouting bullshit unchallenged. But why would anyone want to give up white privilege? I honestly don’t know, I’m conflicted. And I’m not sure I could adequately express that confliction.” — Steve, 45, supervisor/caregiver, Southampton, England
“Whiteness has little value to me. I don’t wear it like a badge. ‘White’ is just about the least interesting thing about me, so if you want to label me something else, go ahead.” — T Michaels, 45, university admin, Wisconsin
“I wouldn’t, because I am white. It’s all I’ve ever known.” — Ed, 33, customer relations manager, Massachusetts
“I suppose it’s not something I feel particularly attached to. I suppose, I probably would? It would be much less impactful than if you asked me to give up my Britishness, which I would be firmly against.” — Jake, 27, health policy, London, England
“Jesus made it so very clear that we are all one in the body of Christ. I want to reform whiteness, not do away with it. I wouldn’t want to be something else. It’s not because I think any less of non-white people. I don’t think I get any substantial privilege that makes being white worth being white. I truly hated myself and was embarrassed to be white for so long. I felt uncool, culture-less, and ugly. I felt like I was boring. It took me some time to accept myself, and I don’t want to be anything else. Why am I going to agonize on things I can’t change. I can’t decide to be something other than white and the whiteness that comes with it. I can only treat POC the same way I treat other white people and extend whatever privilege I receive to them.” — Rachel, 23, financial services, Jacksonville, Florida/Birmingham, Alabama
“I do believe that allegiance to *whiteness*, as a concept, harms everyone — including white people. Whiteness can’t be rebranded because its entire reason for existing was and is to draw a firm line demarking who should be treated as a full human being. But I’m also not wracked with guilt for the crimes of people who came before me. We were all born into a profoundly unequal and unfair society, and nobody alive created that. But we have choices about how we contribute to and/or work to transform the world we live in.” — Jeff Giaquinto, 44, Data Analyst, Educator, Musician, San Francisco, CA
“I would give up my whiteness for an ethnic German or Irish identity in a heartbeat. Whiteness is an abstract idea defined by what it’s not — not ‘them’ and what ‘they’ do. It’s always been the opposite of blackness. So I’m not sure what a positive definition would look like. It would probably have to mix elements of urban and rural white identity. It’s hard for me to convey the sadness I feel when it comes to culture. There’s a void where cultural practices should be. I wish I had a cultural heritage because it would tie me to a community, to a tradition, to my family, it would give me a sense of place and community. Culture provides a framework for behavior, and I haven’t had that, so I’ve basically been building a framework from the ground up. I feel isolated, adrift in a sea of uncertainty, and do not know what I should do or what my purpose will be.” — Archie, 24, accounts manager, Chicago, Illinois
“I don’t think I would fight to keep my whiteness, but I wouldn’t willingly give it up. Although my whiteness isn’t a central part of my identity it does come with a certain amount of privilege. I know shopkeepers, employers, police and others view white people with a different lens, which affords me opportunities and a benefit of the doubt that not everyone gets.” — Eric Harper, 31, pastor/missionary, Texas
“Perhaps you mean ‘Would you give up the privilege conferred by whiteness?’ and my question back would be ‘If I could do that, what kind of society would I enter?’ In some ways this is like asking me ‘Would you give up your kevlar vest?’ and my immediate question would be ‘Is everyone gonna stop with the constant shooting?’ One of the most perverse functions of a cruel society is that it convinces the privileged that their complicity is the only thing that keeps the cruelty off of their heads. I would very much like to live in a less cruel, more just society, and I would sacrifice much if that sacrifice could achieve it.” — Chris Pullen, 35, products manager, Seattle, Washington
“When I was a senior in high school, I was hanging out with some friends after school. My friend group was smarter, more left-leaning, and like most small towns in Connecticut, all white. I asked a hypothetical to the group, trying to spark a conversation. ‘If you could be any race, other than the one you are now, which would it be?’ In my immature young mind, this question was equivalent to ‘which Hogwarts house are you?’ What followed was about five solid minutes of stuttering silence, as people genuinely could not think of a good answer. While thinking about my own answer, and listening to the awkward hush, I got my first inkling of realizing, oh, THIS is white privilege. White people may say everybody’s got it equally bad, but when push comes to shove, they would not trade in their whiteness for anything else. I’d be lying if I said I would. I asked the same question a few years later in college, in a group that was less white, and the difference was stark. Two black friends of mine said ‘I’d be white’ within roughly 10 seconds. The white people were, again, unable to answer.” — Zach, 27, warehouse driver, Connecticut
“Only to say that I don’t really ever worry about getting shot by the cops. I’ve actually knocked cops out. And my lawyer told me I was lucky to be white. That was pretty eye-opening. Happened in Coconut Creek, Florida. Just after I was arrested one of the cops who arrested me killed a black guy with a taser for refusing medical attention.” — Christopher Manderville, 36, chef, Alameda, California
“Literally never once in my life.” — Peter, 31, insurance agent, Texas
“It has happened to me twice total, and I remember them both because I wanted to run away. First time, I was begging for money to make a plane home from Amsterdam, and a guy gave me 200 euro. I thanked the guy, thanked him some more, said I’d send him a check when I got home to cover it… and he looked at me and said ‘Us average white guys have to stick together.’ I hadn’t thought of myself as average or white til then!” — Phil, 37, advertising/copywriter, San Francisco, CA
“I’ve never done it and I’ve never heard of anyone else doing it either. I’ve almost never seen white people talk about race in general as a concept, unless they’re talking about social justice stuff in general, or are about to say something racist. We don’t have to think about it to get through life safely so we generally don’t.” — Preston, 23, food service, Northern Virginia
“I enjoy mocking sanctimonious white liberals, but there is no point in talking about ‘whiteness.’ I share more in common with people that carry the same gun that I do, or that drive the same car.” — Atticus Franklin, early 40s, government administrator, North Carolina
“I talk often about the toxicity of identity politics and the cultural issues it creates. But I’ve never felt the need to sit around with other whites talking about our honky-ness or anything like that.” — Tom, 43, oil/natural gas drilling and completions consultant, Texas
“If you accept that North American culture is dominated by whiteness, pretty much every conversation I have with another white person touches on this. We never ever directly refer to it as such, though.” — Allan, 43, writer, Edmonton, Canada
“One of those implicit ‘benefits’ of being white is not having to think about race. That’s why I think it’s so challenging for so many white people who wrap their heads around these types of issues.” — Michael, 31, teacher, Oakland, California
“Eh? Are people still not over that?” — Ed, 33, customer relations manager, Taunton, Massachusetts
“I just don’t see how taking from people who did no wrong, to give to those who experienced no direct harm makes any sense. Now if there was a corporation that prospered to this day directly because of the slave trade, and is currently viable, then I am all for putting them on trial and awarding compensation to all those who can prove their family members suffered at their hands. This would be similar to the German corporations and Swiss banks that were sued after the Holocaust.” — Paul Jones, 31, teacher/litigator, Indiana
“I’m a libertarian who cares deeply about our 22 trillion dollar debt, any talk of increased spending gives me acid reflux. There are also real issues with the specifics regarding reparations: Who pays? Who gets paid? My family first came to America after slavery was abolished and even at the height of the slave trade, less than 2% of white men owned slaves, so I’d need to see more specifics on what the program would look like. It seems to me that, at least at this point, reparations are a campaign talking point, not a thought-out policy proposal but I’m open to reading more about the issue.” — Brady Leonard, 30, musician/political commentator, Toledo, Ohio
“Money won’t solve the problems of our society. It is part of the problem. It’s like we live in a pond that has been poisoned, and one group of people have been systematically fed the antidote while another has not. Reparations is like asking to be given the antidote rather than asking for the poison to be removed altogether. There is definitely a valid need for the antidote in the short-term, it will make an important difference… but how much of our resources should we be allocating to that rather than purifying the pond at the source? I’m not sure. I would have to be better educated on the economic structures and how everything can be reasonably achieved, especially considering that if you are given the antidote, then you will be better able to participate in the purification of the pond.” — Gabriela Lopes, 24, law student, Montreal, Canada
“I chart my own destiny and I don’t believe that my whiteness has determined the outcome of my story.” — Peter, 31, insurance agent, Texas
“Studies show that socioeconomic background, not race, impact far more on a person’s social power. If I were to keep my socioeconomic background and magically change to being Black/Asian etc, I believe I’d be treated exactly the same as I am now — 95% of the time very well, and 5% of the time discriminated against by racial purists — which is exactly what happens in my experience as a white person.” — Lewis, 26, video production, Wales
“If I were to just go by what I read on the internet & hear about on college campuses? Sure. I think there’s a small minority of non-white people in the U.S. who don’t want equality, they want revenge. But they’re just that, a minority. The vast majority of people just want to get through life healthy, comfortable, and leave a better life for their kids. That’s it. I’ve never met a black or Hispanic person who I feared would abuse me if they could.” — A, 33, human relations/formerly political campaigning, New Jersey
“Redefining whiteness would be a positive. I wouldn’t want to experience the racism people of color experience, but redefining whiteness wouldn’t do that.” — Brian M, 40, legal document analyst, Denver, Colorado
“I love this question because so many white people do fear this but won’t express it clearly. This is my favorite white fear: that people will do unto us what we have done to others. I don’t believe there is any evidence to support any claims that European-Americans will suffer exponentially during a transition away from white domination.” — Greg Brandt, 36, Food service and agriculture/tree work, Lincoln, California
“I don’t think fear is the right term for what I think will happen. I prefer to believe that redefining (or getting rid altogether) of whiteness would make all people treat each other better. More like, bring the treatment of people of color up to the same level as the treatment of white people now. But as to the second part, yes I would fear being treated like a person of color is now. I’m a ball of anxiety and weakness in general. Whiteness is one of the things that has kept me afloat despite this truth. I know for a fact I’m not as tough as a poor white person, much less a person of color of any socioeconomic status. While I can imagine and do my best to empathize with the experiences of POC, I know for sure I’m not tough enough to withstand it myself.” — Anne, 47, homemaker, Louisiana
“I hope my social power will be negatively affected: I have too much of it, and I’m spoiled and weak as a result. Conversely, other folks have too little, and it’s killing them. Do I fear the balance somehow going ‘too far the other way?’ No. I’m much more afraid that we’ll keep fighting this war to preserve white power instead of concentrating on health care, or wealth inequality, or the climate; you know, the things that are actually going to kill us.” — Chris, 38, teacher, New York
Look, maybe it needs to be said as clearly as possible: no one has to be white. It’s not a natural condition like gravity or the speed of light. It’s human-made. Whiteness is the same as New York City. It’s an idea that’s became a physical reality. Yet, New York was once known as New Amsterdam. Things change, and people evolve.