ADVICE: Should I Feel Guilty for Being White?

Every week, New York City's own party messiah takes your life questions and sets you safely down the right path to a solution in his new weekly advice column in The Village Voice. Read the latest edition of Ask Andrew W.K. below or by clicking HERE.

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September 24th, 2014

Dear Andrew,

I saw an essay you shared called "White People Problems" that was a pretty angry response to one of your advice columns. I think it's cool that you consider views from people who disagree with you, but from what I can tell, the person who wrote the "White People Problems" essay was basically saying that by being a white person, you're automatically luckier than other people -- that you're "privileged," and that you don't really understand how hard life is. Well, I'm white, and guess what? I don't feel privileged at all. Like many people, I was raised by a single mother after my father (a drug addict) bolted. I currently work three part-time jobs, none of which pays much more than minimum wage. I started working as soon as I was legally able and never had a real opportunity to go to college. And yet I keep hearing how privileged I am to be white. So I ask you, should I feel...

Guilty For Being White?

Dear Guilty For Being White,

You don't need to feel bad about being who you are in order to have an appreciation and awareness of people different than you and the challenges they face. Some people have continued to mistreat others based on how they look and where they're from. We don't need to compete over who has more or worse problems to have empathy for the unjust treatment of others, especially when it's an injustice that you may personally never face.

You're a person. And being a person is not something to feel guilty about. We can feel guilty about other things -- things we've done, things we've said, things we've thought or believed. But we must still be open enough to realize the incredible cruelty faced by countless members of our human race, and how the reverberations of the past are still resonating in very real ways. Some things that don't seem present for some are up-close-and-personal for others. There are people who have more from the start, and there are people who have the odds stacked against them. We must have compassion for the plight of others, and realize how we may, knowingly or unknowingly, play a part in it, and even benefit from it. We must constantly imagine what it's like to be someone else -- not just to "walk in someone's shoes," but to actually try and inhabit their very soul -- to try and feel how they feel and think how they think. Yet we must also respect and realize that no one can ever truly comprehend what it's like to be someone else -- we can never fully know what they've gone through or how it feels to exist as them.

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Photo by Andrew Strasser

This news item was posted on: September 24, 2014