You’re not being asked to feel guilty over things that you haven’t done. No need to get your back up. You're hollering that your ancestors came from Europe after the Civil War. They never enslaved anybody. I get it. They were immigrants who worked hard to pull themselves up. You’re grateful for their sacrifice. You’re a good guy and you’ve always tried to play fair with everybody. It’s not your fault! I get it.
“To whom much is given, much shall be required.” You’re not being asked to feel guilty. You’re being asked to make a difference. Well, okay, the demand from the street is stronger than that. You are required to make a difference. It’s an old biblical maxim, repeated again and again throughout history. Nobody makes it on their own. Everybody has an obligation to lend a hand up. Why so defensive?
The street isn’t saying that everything bad is the fault of every individual white person. But you can’t shirk your responsibility by claiming it’s not your fault. That’s not the point. If you are white, you benefit from a society that has been designed, in some cases very explicitly, to maintain white supremacy in economic, political, and social matters (check out the 1901 constitution of the state of Alabama, among others – the documentary trail is exhaustingly long). Maybe you don’t feel that you benefit very much, but ask yourself this (and try to be honest), would you readily change your white skin for a black skin if it came with a 50% increase in your income? Would the extra burdens of being Black be worth the tradeoff? You seem to be squirming. Is this making you uncomfortable? That’s good. It should make you uncomfortable.
Those feelings of guilt that you have (if you didn’t have them you wouldn’t be protesting so strongly) aren’t arising from something you didn’t do a century and a half ago. They’re the faint stirrings of your conscience telling you that you’re not doing enough right now. That’s your better nature tugging at your own complacency. Better listen.
It’s Huck Finn lying to the men in the skiff when he has a chance to give Jim up (chapter 16). He feels terrible about it. He lies in order to help a runaway slave! He’s “feeling bad and low, because I knowed very well I had done wrong.” But he just can’t help himself. He knows he should turn Jim in, he knows he shouldn’t’ve lied. Have all of Miss Watson’s efforts to teach him right from wrong been a miserable failure? But he realizes that doing what he’s been taught was right wouldn’t make him feel any better. He’s too young to make sense of it, so he decides he’ll just follow his innocent American heart. He doesn't know he's a hero.
Nobody is telling you to feel guilty over the things that were done by others in the past. What matters is how you live up to being an American right now, here on the raft that's carrying us all down the river somewhere there might be freedom. You don't have to atone for what people did that was wrong; you have to live up to how much they did that was right. We hold these truths…