Why It’s Not Okay to Be White


George Seibold

Taken by George Seibold for the Vermont Cynic

Last spring, flyers with the words “IT’S OKAY TO BE WHITE” began popping up on college campuses across Burlington. Just a little over a month ago, at least one more flyer was found on Champlain College’s campus. The school’s president, Donald Laackman, sent an email to students and faculty, stating that we as a community rejected the message of hatred that these flyers expressed. If someone told me a few years ago that these words had been meant to incite white nationalism, I would’ve been surprised. Because how do you argue against the point that it’s okay to be a skin color?

As a queer person of color, I live in constant fear that I’ll lose my rights. I’m afraid of encountering someone who will walk up to me and say that it’s not okay to be me. I watch the news with bated breath because I wonder what politicians are saying about people like me now. So it’s laughable to see someone say “it’s okay to be white” because nobody ever said it wasn’t. However, there are plenty of people who thought it wasn’t okay to be darker. The current social climate doesn’t exactly help either. When Trump was elected, there were people who thought it was okay to tell people who’ve lived here their whole lives to “go back home.” White neo-Nazis began crawling out of the woodwork to express that they wanted to take America back. In their minds, what makes America “great” is the lack of people of color.

Here’s the other thing about the phrase “It’s okay to be _____”—people like me needed to hear it. Not those specific words, but we needed to hear “It’s okay to be black/gay/trans/etc.” because so many of us were ashamed. It became a pride phrase. Something that instilled pride in our identity. The difference between white and black? I can’t and won’t speak for black people, but they need that phrase because a thing called slavery happened and they don’t know what else to be proud of. They don’t know what parts of Africa their ancestors came from so they have the word black instead. But white people can be proud of their French or Irish heritage and forget about the whiteness that comes with it. Because what’s attached to that whiteness is colonization, slavery, segregation, and racism.

It’s always been okay to be white. But don’t take pride in that. The reason why the rest of us can is because we’ve been told it’s not okay. So we’re taking back the time that we lost. The time we spent being ashamed or trying to hide, we want it back. And we don’t want to be afraid when we step onto campus thinking someone doesn’t want us there. Because we don’t have the time to worry anymore.