The Problem with 'Good' White Folks

06/26/2015 07:26 pm ET | Updated Jun 25, 2016

I have seen it time and time again. White folks wanting to do good, be seen as good, and feel good. But, never wanting to accept the bad that lies within them.

The workings of our society allow white people to walk through life and be accompanied by an image of good. They do not have to confront the idea that they are racist. They do not have to work towards being seen as good. A smile from across the room is enough. When you are always surrounded by a cloud of good, it is easy to hold onto it. That is a privilege.

What keeps white people within the realm of good also keeps people of color confined to the outer corners. Damaging stereotypes accompany each person of color as they walk through neighborhoods, enter stores, apply for jobs, and become portrayals in the media. As Black bodies become targets and White bodies are tokenized as good, our society is re-sending the same message -- one of you matter and the other doesn't. These polar differences in how our society treats and values white people versus people of color creates a difference in who is allowed to be perceived as "good."

Thus being seen as good is not just about listening to the angels on our shoulders. It has a lot more to do with race and the definitions of good our society has created. For white people, you are good from the moment you enter the room. For people of color, you are good when you prove it. Besides the awful and painful consequences this difference creates for people of color, it also embeds good into white people's self-definition.

We as a whole have moved so far into our necessity to be good and so far away from acknowledging racism, that we do not see what lies within us. The reality is that racism is not something that only happens over there. It is not only supported by institutions and racist cops. It is maintained by our everyday actions. Racism does not knock on our doors and ask to be let in. It forces its way into each of us. As long as we strongly hold onto the belief that we are good and not racist, we cannot dismantle racism.

Even in the most progressive circles, definitions of good are strongly held onto. Within my own social justice circles, I have been supported by constant reminders that I am not a bad person. I was told that I did not create white supremacy and that I am not to blame for its existence. At the time, I needed to hear this. I certainly felt that my self-definition was crumbling and I wanted to remain firm in my "goodness." Now I understand how wrong that was and how my reaction was a direct expression of white privilege.

The need to be perceived as good is stifling. So often the focus of social justice spheres turns towards comforting white folks and reassuring them that they are not bad people. This takes away from the necessary confrontation of racism. It takes away from truly listening to people of color. White people's need to be seen as good acts as a silencing agent. It prohibits people of color from honestly sharing their experiences. Ultimately, it protects white people from confronting the reality of their actions and tendencies.

If white people remain deeply embedded in their need to be perceived as good, this white supremacist system will prevail. If white people run away from confronting their own racist tendencies, racism will live on. The system is strong when white people believe they are good and do not want to hear otherwise. Change will come when we recognize the bad within each of us.