XoJane, the site "where women go when they are being selfish, and where their selfishness is applauded," outdid itself on Tuesday with a thoughtful examination of how traumatic white guilt can be for white people. As Jen Caron, a (repeatedly) self described "skinny white girl," wrote in her "It Happened to Me" column, it's really hard to watch black people fall behind in yoga due to "enormous systemic failure[s]." There are few things more upsetting than when a baby lamb of a (black) woman totters into a yoga class, confused, alone, frightened, scared, vulnerable, etc. and fails due to America's failure to help minorities. The woman's bad experience made Caron uncomfortable. The irony of the post — the fact that it didn't actually happen to her — seems to go right past her. That navel gazing obliviousness is a defining characteristic of the "It Happened to Me" series.
Oddly enough, another xoJane writer summed up Caron's mistake perfectly. In a response, Pia Glenn pointed out that, despite good intentions, Caron's problem was the self-centeredness of her concern:
Hey, Oppressed Person, I feel bad for you but what’s most important right now is that we make it all about Me, even though it is your time of need. How do I know it is your time of need? Why, because you’re not me, of course! You’re you and that is Less Than Me. But I’m thinking of you! So let’s get back to Me and My Thoughts now…
The question "It Happened to Me" stories and other xoJane articles like Caron's ask us is this: Can a certain type of well-off young woman thoughtfully examine her privilege while also being celebrated for her selfishness? The answer is no. Here are a few other pieces that either actually happened to other people more deserving of our sympathy and attention or are just humble brags disguised as concern:
It Happened to Me: I Pretty Much Embodied the Worst American Stereotype Ever When I Went on Vacation to Turkey in the Middle of a Revolution and Mass Rioting
Istanbul was enveloped in mass protests over construction on one of the last parks in the city. One woman and her sister thought that would be a great backdrop for their vacation (they were wrong). "Of course, I went out and got bombed.com right as all hell was about to break loose," Nicole Rose Stillings wrote. Her sister was hungover, so "I offered to swing by Istiklal Avenue (which leads to Taksim Square in Beyoglu) and grab her some French Fries. Little did I know, they came with a side of tear gas." But no worries, Stillings survived. "Mass chaos has become Istanbul as I return to the United States to sip champagne on a Sunday afternoon, suddenly realizing how trivial my existence is compared to friends far braver than me."
It Happened to Me: My High School Bully Was Murdered
A "loving mother, daughter, sister and friend who went out of her way for everyone" was stabbed 75 times by her boyfriend. This made a girl bullied by her 16 years ago feel sad:
The news hit me like a ton of bricks. I cried and cried for days. That poor girl. I thought back on how terrible she use to treat me. But instead of anger (which I still felt prior to that whenever she would randomly pop up in my head), I just felt sympathy. I realized that to actually bully someone, you must be a pretty sad and insecure person inside.
From One Pretty Woman to Another: Bitch Please! Life Is Easy When You Look Good
Technically not an "It Happened to Me," but an attempt to relate to how hard ugly people and/or women of color have it:
There are so many benefits to being an attractive person –- especially if you happen to be an attractive white woman. I mean, seriously, how hard can your life really be? White women are less likely to be raped, less likely to be homeless, less likely to suffer domestic abuse, and less likely to go to jail than women of color.
For all their good intentions — and being worried about heavyset yoga newbies, Turkish protesters, dead bullies, and ugly people hints at decent intentions — the execution is way off. And that's because selfishness and empathy don't mix. The end result is just condescending pity from someone who has no idea how oblivious they sound.