Several weeks ago, a friend sent me an email with a column from the New York Times.
Two columnists, Cheryl Strayed and Steve Almond, who, for some reason I have never figured out, call themselves “The Sugars,” write a “Dear Abby”- type advice column, and host a “Dear Sugars” podcast.
After reading the question posed to the, um, “Sugars,” I fired back this email:
“Seriously? This question is so over-the-top ridiculous, it looks to me like a hoax.”
To which my friend responded, “You say that because you still can’t believe there are liberals out there who are that stupid.” Besides, she added, the columnists took the question very seriously.
To which I replied, “Just shows how dumb the columnists are.”
After a back and forth, I conceded that perhaps it was, in fact, a legitimate question.
Well, the NYT column caught the eye of the Weekly Standard this week in their “Scrapbook” column, and they, too, speculate that the writer of the question was a prankster.
Here is the letter, in full, via NYT:
I’m riddled with shame. White shame. This isn’t helpful to me or to anyone, especially people of color. I feel like there is no “me” outside of my white/upper middle class/cisgender identity. I feel like my literal existence hurts people, like I’m always taking up space that should belong to someone else.
I consider myself an ally. I research proper etiquette, read writers of color, vote in a way that will not harm P.O.C. (and other vulnerable people). I engage in conversations about privilege with other white people. I take courses that will further educate me. I donated to Black Lives Matter. Yet I fear that nothing is enough. Part of my fear comes from the fact that privilege is invisible to itself. What if I’m doing or saying insensitive things without realizing it?
Another part of it is that I’m currently immersed in the whitest environment I’ve ever been in. My family has lived in the same apartment in East Harlem for four generations. Every school I attended, elementary through high school, was minority white, but I’m now attending an elite private college that is 75 percent white. I know who I am, but I realize how people perceive me and this perception feels unfair.
I don’t talk about my feelings because it’s hard to justify doing so while people of color are dying due to systemic racism and making this conversation about me would be again centering whiteness. Yet bottling it up makes me feel an existential anger that I have a hard time channeling since I don’t know my place. Instead of harnessing my privilege for greater good, I’m curled up in a ball of shame. How can I be more than my heritage? — “Whitey”
The Scrapbook picks on the New York Times quite a lot. Maybe too much. But it’s hard not to. We so often find fatuous and preposterous material that we simply cannot help passing it along to our readers. One such item appeared in the August 16 edition of the paper—or so we thought. Headlined “Shedding the Cloak of White Guilt,” it’s an advice column by Cheryl Strayed and Steve Almond, hosts of a Times podcast called “Dear Sugars.”
The person asking for advice—the letter is signed “Whitey”—appears to be a college student who has taken the absurdities of social-justice progressivism so seriously that he or she has almost gone insane….
It’s all too much. “My literal existence hurts people”? “Curled up in a ball of shame”? We conclude, optimistically, that Whitey is a parodist and a prankster.
Strayed and Almond, the Times’s advice-givers, don’t take it that way. They reply with utmost gravity and at some length. “Shame and anger are powerful emotions, Whitey,” Almond begins. “And yet your central struggle is around identity. You write that you don’t know your place. In fact, your letter describes your place as a kind of prison cell of privilege. What you really feel is trapped within an identity that marks you, inescapably, as an oppressor.” Strayed was rather hard on Whitey, too: “You don’t have to relinquish your heritage to be an ally to people of color, Whitey. You have to relinquish your privilege.”
Almond is an accomplished journalist but also a touch of a poser—he “resigned” from his post as adjunct professor of creative writing at Boston College after the school invited Condoleezza Rice as its commencement speaker. Strayed is the author of Wild, a 2012 bestseller about the author’s self-discovery, and an outspoken feminist. Both are victims of a brilliant prank. Or at least we hope so.
One of the “Sugars” noted to “Whitey:” We do live in a culture steeped in white supremacy and class bigotry, as well as patriarchal values. But the solution to this injustice isn’t to wallow in self-hatred.
Here’s hoping the letter-writer as well as the two columnists were all trying to punk us.