Friday, February 12, 2010

dismiss those who point out racism as "white guilt" mongers

I get mail -- oh boy, do I get mail. About half of the swpd-related emails I get are from readers who like what goes on here, and the other half are from people who very clearly don't. Among the latter, a few accuse me of pretending to be white. A LOT of them accuse the blog of being nothing but "typical white liberal guilt," and me of being such things as (and I quote) a "a purveyor of white guilt," a "white guilt monger," a "hopelessly guilty white liberal," "another guilty 'whitey,'" and "an ironically fascist white-guilt pusher." Another such reader sent me the above cartoon, assuming that I simply must be a "white liberal" who blindly adores Obama because he's black.

"White guilt." Please help me with this -- what is up with that term, anyway? And why does the phrase so often come from opponents of anti-racist efforts? What feelings are they expressing when they say that? And why is it a phrase I almost never hear from people who oppose racism? 

If you get accused of being a white-guilt pusher, how do you respond?

I have some tentative answers about those who use it a lot. Accusing others of "pushing white guilt" is a way of simply dismissing everything they're saying, instead of carefully listening and responding to the points they're making. There's also an assumption behind the use of the phrase that since "racism is in the past" ("we're post-racial now," etc.), whites have nothing to feel wrong or "guilty" about anymore.

Here's one more example to consider -- since it's Friday, some music, Kid Rock's "Amen." This song is apparently Kid Rock's attempt to provide his target demographic with an anthem. His audience is, clearly, very white, a segment, or maybe some segments, of the white population -- a mainstreamed, crossover appeal of "rock" mixed with overtones of "country."

The only time that whiteness is overtly marked in the lyrics and images occurs when, at 45 seconds,  Kid Rock asks, "how can we seek salvation when our nation's race relations got me feeling guilty of being white?"

And the totally implausible image that accompanies this moment? A group of scowling men carrying signs, one of which, carried by a black man at the center of the scene, says, "Race relations." (How's that for an anti-racist rallying cry? "Race Relations! Lemme hear ya now, RACE RELATIONS!") Presumably, these men are supposed to be hanging out on a corner somewhere, holding up vague, guilt-inducing signs, the same kind of people mentioned later in the song who "live off of handouts and favors." Aren't those code words for black people on welfare? (Never mind that the majority of welfare recipients are white.)

If you're not white, are you feeling guilty yet? For being, that is, one of those people who's always trying to make white people feel guilty, just because they're white?

I suppose I shouldn't be sarcastic. Especially on a Friday.

(If this video doesn't work for you, here's another version; transcribed lyrics below.)

by Kid Rock

It's another night in hell
Another child won't live to tell
Can you imagine what it's like to starve to death?

And as we sit free and well
Another soldier has to yell
"Tell my wife and children I love them" in his last breath

C'mon now amen, amen, amen

Habitual offenders, scumbag lawyers with agendas
I'll tell you sometimes people I don't know what's worse
Natural disasters, or these wolves in sheep clothes, pastors
Now Goddamn it I'm scared to send my children to church
And how can we seek salvation when our nation's race relations
Got me feeling guilty of being white?
But faith in human nature, our creator and our savior,
I'm no saint
But I believe in what is right

C'mon now amen, amen
I said amen, amen

Stop pointing fingers and take some blame,
Pull your future away from the flame
Open up your mind and start to live
Stop shortchanging your neighbors
Living off handouts and favors, and maybe
Give a little bit more than you got to give

Simplify, testify, identify, rectify
And if I get high stop being so uptight
It's only human nature
and I am not a stranger
So baby won't you stay with me tonight

When a calls away (?)
to break the sound (?)
I'm fadin down, I need someone
Oh to be someone
They just sinkin down, and holdin back
I hold the dawn and run
They don't save a child
Oh, to save a child

It's a matter of salvation from them
patience up above,
So don't give up so damn easy
on the one you love, one you love
Somewhere you got a brother, sister,
friend, grandmother, niece or nephew
Just dying to be with you
You know there's someone out there
who unconditionally, religiously, loves you
So just hold on 'cause you know it's true
And if you can take the pain
And you can withstand anything,
and one day
Stand hand in hand with the truth

I said amen, I said amen
I said amen, I said amen,



  1. Whew. I'm glad I'm not the only one who's confused by the term, "white guilt."

    I've heard it nastily thrown at white people who would bring up race and simply want to discuss it. It's sort of equivalent with guys telling women (feminists) to "shut up and quit whining."

    There's nothing wrong with asking questions about race. I think people need to be more open about race.

  2. In my experience, those who accuse anti-racist activists of purveying white guilt are exhibiting something akin to projection. They in fact feel guilty (or at least have had a twinge of guilt), and they think that someone is making them feel guilty. But none I have asked has ever been able to give an example of anything anyone has said that promoted or advocated making white people feel guilty. It is completely in their heads, in other words.

    I also think that feeling guilty is one preliminary step that many white people go through when they begin to realize the enormity and depravity of white supremacy and how we have all bought into it to some extent. No one likes to admit that they've been fooled, and many experience a little self-blame when the reality of racism begins to dawn on them.

    But guilt is only an emotion. It passes, and in some white people it is replaced by a desire to examine their role in racism and to work toward racial justice. In others, it is replaced by anger at being "made" to feel guilty, and a fervent denial of the facts of racism.

  3. Great points. Much like "socialist," "white guilt" is invective from the right that makes self-evident, ad hominem attacks on people, rather than grappling with the issues. Another similar argument I hear all the time is that people of color "manipulate us" by "playing at being victims."

  4. Thank you so much for this post! I don't have even a vague clue why the term 'white guilt' is in existence. I have noticed all too often when racism or social equality is discussed in reference to POCs, the term 'white guilt' is toss around. Similar to Deaf Indian Muslim Anaschist, it is equivalent to 'get over it,' or 'stop whining.' Somehow racism ended with the Civil Rights Movement and since Obama's election, we are a in a Post Racial society. Nevermind, every single day I find a news story pertaining to racism, I listen to the code language used primarily by conservatives with racial undertones, I watch the rallies of the Tea Parties and individuals screaming for an America similar to the country founded by their fore fathers (pre-Civil War) or wanting 'their country' back. I didn't realize it was taken and still wondering who took it and when. I wish someone white could explain to me why do some white people become so agitated and slightly irate if a discussion of racism, white priviledge, and/or inequality is taking place. There are many discussions focusing on certain races with whites sometimes at the helm of these discussions. They can even be offensive - Limbaugh, Beck, Savage, O'Reilly, and etc. inaccurate perspectives of POCs. As a black person, I am puzzled by this. The documents of the Bill of Rights, Constitution, and Declaration of Independence is held in high esteem and yet when a POC or white person question the obvious injustice that goes against these documents, some white person will nonchalantly dismissed their perspective as irrelevant and 'typical' white guilt. Why would a white person feel guilty? I went on a Youtube message board for Kid Rock's video Amen, and there are so many inane posts by whites stating they are proud of their whiteness and are not ashame of being white at all. It was bizarre to read because I don't recall all discussions on racism leading into bashing the white race. I'm just wondering why some whites become incredibly defensive on the topic of racism and equality.

  5. Audre Lorde on guilt:

    "I have no creative use for guilt, yours or my own. Guilt is only another way of avoiding informed action, of buying time out of the pressing need to make clear choices, out of the approaching storm that can feed the earth as well as bend the trees."

  6. I agree with bloglogger and with Willow (and Audre Lorde) - "white guilt," that is, guilty feelings for being white?, seems to me to be the first step a white person might go through in realizing and/or glimpsing the evils and pervasiveness of white supremacy. And no one likes to feel guilty, right? Especially about something so large and seemingly out of their control.

    It takes a next critical step to get beyond white guilt and into Lorde's "informed action." It takes self- and environs-examination, learning, listening, discussing, taking responsibility - things that are hard to do while wallowing in white-guilt/pity. Which is exactly what people trying to make informed action get accused of, and the irony is not lost on me.

    I've heard a fair amount about what people presume to be my white-guilt/pity. It's a sure-fire way to stop a conversation, it's a silencer, like Deaf Indian Muslim Anarchist! says. I stop and say, "What are you even talking about?" and that can usually, after a few tries, suss out a more pertinent, or at least more productive discussion than whether or not I feel guilty because of my whiteness. Besides, my feelings aren't up for debate - white supremacy and white people's collusion in white supremacy can be.

  7. I watched the video- regrettably. It's like a parody of itself, it's so bad. I love how "respect all religion" is only preceded by a cross and a Star of David. It's very clear what religion he means.

    Like you said, when did menacing black people chanting "race relations" become an accurate symbol of antiracism, or even a
    "reasonable" caricature.

    Boy do I regret watching that.

  8. Bloglogger really brought it home for me. I think that the anger at "being made to feel guilty" is where the throwing around of the term "white guilt" comes from.

    The people who throw around the term are just pissed off that they actually do feel guilt and can't face what it takes to do something about it. It's a big impotent rage party going on inside of them. Talking about race is too much for them BECAUSE they feel guilty. Acknowledging someone else's oppression at the hands of "your people" (and yourself) makes them feel too terrible. They don't want talking about race to actually be the way to start fixing things. They want something easier - something that makes them feel good, like holding a picket sign in a rally, or being friends with a PoC, or visiting another country... things that don't disturb them so much. They think that some random unknown white people who came before them are responsible and they're pissed off at being left with the mess.

    Once someone pulls out that term I feel as though I'm about to teach a ten year-old how to do my taxes. He has his own intelligence which is relevant to his life, but I have mine as well. I don't remember what it was like to be him. He can't grasp how to do taxes.

  9. white liberals don't feel guilt, they feel smug

  10. @Victoria re: "They think that some random unknown white people who came before them are responsible and they're pissed off at being left with the mess."

    Well put. Frankly, I think that this kind of anger--actually directed at unknown white people who came before--would be a positive step. But as you suggest, dismissive anger at contemporaries who bring up racism is really an attempt to find an easy out and to avoid personal responsibility, to co-opt one of the conservatives' favorite memes.

  11. White guilt = acknowledging the corrupt systems created by skin color and feeling remorseful. Those who don't feel it, revel in their privilege and see nothing wrong with it.

  12. @honeybrown1976 re: "Those who don't feel it, revel in their privilege and see nothing wrong with it."

    Yes. Besides alleged guilt for the sins of our forebears, another part of the white guilt meme seems to be this idea of guilt for the position of white people relative to PoC in US society, or for white people's material advantages over PoC in general. In this version, angry white people say they are being made to feel guilty for what they have, for their success or their position. They conflate this notion with the idea of white privilege and proudly claim that they refuse to be ashamed of having a comfortable life. This is willful ignorance, and a straw man argument. No one is suggesting that individual white people should sit around feeling guilty for having material success. Instead, white people should feel moved by a sense of fairness to learn about and work against (their own) racism. Constructive guilt prompts a response; it is not the response itself.

  13. "Constructive guilt prompts a response; it is not the response itself."

    Just wanted to cosign on this. Feeling guilty for the sake of feeling guilty is useless. What we do when we see systematic inequalities is what matters.

  14. I think the above comic is interesting, because it's my experience that "white guilt pushers" are more likely to be seen as POC, rather than white people.

    As a white woman talking about activist topics to my white coworkers and family, I've found that they respond as if my opinion is justified if I'm talking about racism, but my feminist opinions are unreasonable and my LGBT opinions are inappropriate or even obscene. They're willing to listen when I'm talking about racism (because we're both white people), but if I talk about feminism or LGBT issues of the same caliber, they act like I'm a feminazi on the loose (because they're male, straight, or both, and I'm not).

    I think that white guilt is used as an excuse by white people who only want to listen to the opinions of other white people. If a white person (especially educated or in a position of authority) says that something is racist, other white people take it seriously. If a POC (no matter how educated or authoritative) says that something is racist, then they're just overreacting and trying to make white people feel guilty.

    I've also seen the guilt thing be associated with jealousy. White people think POC want white people to feel guilty because POC are jealous they're not white, just like feminists want men to feel guilty because of their penis envy.

  15. As a white person, I have been known to use the phrase "white guilt"- to refer to the self-congratulatory, self-flagellatory, pearl-clutching kind of nonsense that is all about white people and our feelings about being part of/influenced by a white culture. The kind of behavior that is all about said white person and leaves POC out of the equation.

  16. Macon, I sent you an email that partially addressed this topic.
    Whites who refer to other whites as "guilty white liberals" do so to elude their responsibility.

    Furthermore, 'guilty white liberal' is simply a modern way of saying "ni99er lover."

  17. @ bloglogger re: In this version, angry white people say they are being made to feel guilty for what they have, for their success or their position. They conflate this notion with the idea of white privilege and proudly claim that they refuse to be ashamed of having a comfortable life. This is willful ignorance, and a straw man argument.

    Truth. And while it may not be the aim of a discussion about the inequalities of race to make white people feel guilty about being successful, comfortable, etc, perhaps the defensive white person feels that if they are forced to consider that their position in society is largely in thanks to their being white, then many assumptions that let them live their life the way they do will be challenged:

    -Their own sense of self reliance and "rugged individualism"
    -Their part in problems that they may choose not to be affected by
    -That perhaps the system which makes their comfort possible has an equal and opposite effect on somebody else
    -What success really is, and their true value in an interdependent world

    This is a lot of talk just to say that if "white guilt" accusers really listened, they would have to question their life philosophy, the idea that "I worked hard to get to the point where I don't need to think about anybody else."

  18. I've been thinking intensely about this since the "UnAmerican" post, and I have a half-formed theory:

    It's because you're not allowed to enjoy punishing people. That is, there's a strong cultural precept that the punisher/plaintiff is not supposed to be gratified in any way. (Weeeell, OK, if the offense was REALLY egregious, you're maybe allowed some small, restrained, non-demonstrative "grim satisfaction.") I don't know if it's a New Testament thing or what, but for the most part, punishment is simply not legitimate if it satisfies vengeful, angry or sadistic urges any more than is unavoidable. If it does, the moral high ground is lost. And on the flip side, the perp is not necessarily supposed to feel "bad"— remorse is definitely req'd, but not necessarily shame. To require shame is perverse.

    I've never heard anyone say this outright. It's always invoked implicitly— regarding WP you see it as "you just want me to feel [white] guilty!" and "you're just pulling the race card!" and "soandso is just being pilloried!" Still, it works VERY well. Nobody likes this accusation, so it's an effective derailer.

    So. I'm thinking that this is where the "touché" attitude is coming from with WP who throw out "guilter!" and "race card puller!" as if it's some sort of logical Game Over. You say "racism/white privilege" and they feel a guilt response [or whatever: shamed, penalized, attacked]. Defensiveness then kicks in, and they figure/decide that their guilt is your entire goal [notice how it's always "you just want..." and "you're just pulling..."]. And if that's your primary goal, then you, and your complaint, and the entire school of thought it springs from (politeness, "PC," anti-racism), are invalid. Possibly immoral, even. TOUCHÉ!

    Of course, the next question is, why do they see mentioning the existence of racism as punishment (and nothing else)? Heh!! I'm sure we've all got theories on that!

  19. @Genevieve:
    I think the cartoon is asserting that liberal white people support Obama primarily (only?) to assuage their "white guilt." (And perhaps also that Obama induces it.)

    And: I've noticed that as of Obama (ie: about 2008), a lot of those hoary white-denial phrases ("pulling the race card" and "white guilt monger") are being deployed against white people. Specifically, WP who speak out against racism and/or in support of Obama (or Sotomayor, Or Hank Gates, or etc., etc.). Seriously, it's everywhere. I did a Google search on "race card 2010" for my last post, and no joke, about half of the results were WP accusing WP! Freakin' weird.

  20. karinova, that last insight of yours reminds of something else I see a lot now -- I guess it's another way to put it -- the ones who are accused of being the Real Racists are the ones who say racism is still a problem. Yes, very weird.

  21. First of all, remember back in the day when Kid Rock was "black"? Remember when he palled around with black rappers, dated black chicks, and tried to put black vixens in his videos? What's this new-yet-tired "Btw, I'm white" kick he's on? Last I checked, his music has sucked no matter what genre he's sunk his fangs into and drained the life the from. And he still looks like a creepy, greasy, icky serial molester who needs bitchslapped with a bottle of Clorox.

    Secondly, now that I've got that out the way, kisses to bloglogger--big, wet, passionate ones. Seriously. The ones screaming "You just want to make us guilty. This all about playing the race card and getting our sympathy."

    Uh...calling all narcissists. News flash: It's not about you. POC not interested in white sympathy or guilt, or white feelings of any kind. We're interested in equal pay. We're interested in not getting dragged off the road just because we're driving a nice car with dark skin. We're a lot more interested in being more frequently and more properly represented in media. We want the glass ceilings gone. We want to apply for loans, houses, jobs, etc. and we want whoever is on the other side of the desks to let our accounts and qualifications do the talking, not our skintones and accents.

    We don't give a fuck about white guilt. But as a side note, as I said before, that shit needs felt, and not strictly for POC benefit. White America needs to pull its head out of its ass and stop getting mad all the people who've died, been displaced, tortured, discriminated against, harassed, and robbed here and abroad for the preservation of white ego and privilege. White America, especially rich White America, is not being "inconvenienced" by anti-racist, anti-sexist, and anti-classist movements. Rich White America is the fucking inconvenience, has been the king of all kings of inconvenience, and its whining has consistently been the loudest for quite some time now. It whined about wanting someone else's land, someone else's free labor, the warmth of someone else's body--whether that person was willing or not--and in this past century we've heard it whine about its entitlement to plunder someone else's resources, religion, and culture.

    *sniff* Talk about projection.

    I'll let Chris Rock drive my point home right hyah (he gets to my point around 1:45):

  22. @ macon & karinova

    Yes...such interestingly contradictory language. A person unequivocally describes racism as a PROBLEM which they can SEE is doing HARM to America right NOW...therefore said person must be a racist who hates America, wishes its downfall and thus is (him)herself the problem.

    Wow. Makes you really stop and marvel how people who think like that make it through day-to-day life. Seriously, y'all. You gotta wonder how they get through dressing or teeth-brushing or shoe-tying! 'Cause shoe-tyin' is a biggie, you know. My 5-year-old clients bemoan its woeful complexities to me all the time: "You gotta understand, Miss K...that shit is no bullshit...."

  23. The posts here are informative. I wondered if the contemptuous "white guilt" label was based on the fact that POC are regularly critiqued/found wanting whereas whites are upheld as the embodiment of all that is right and "fair" (literally + figuratively). Previously, I attributed it to being unaccustomed to sitting in the hot seat and hubris. I now see it's more than that. I'll keep reading.

    Nice lyrics from Kid Rock. Wonder if he cares that the handout-seeking, racism-pot stirrer is how some of his audience might perceive his biracial son? I pray, when his son encounters racism, that he will provide his son with loving support and compassionate action rather than the dismissive criticisms his lyrics convey.

    Last year, Newsweek ran an article about a study that showed that white children's attitudes towards POCs, esp. blacks, improved dramatically, within a week, when racial equality was *explicitly* discussed - as opposed to the too vague, "we're all equal," "we don't notice skin color," etc. Conversely, the families that refused to point out skin color or specifically discuss racism had children with negative views of POCs: "Talking about race was clearly key." Perhaps some of those shunning the topic are the ones suffering from white guilt?

    On another note, I actually laughed when I saw the cartoon above. A number of acquaintances have used voting for Obama as proof that they're not racist. It's a palliative for not-so-latent racist convictions.

  24. Yeah, I felt white guilt when I started learning about racism. I felt guilty about all the times I'd told racist jokes, or whined about "reverse racism", and all the other jerk things I'd done to uphold white supremacy. And then I got over it and started trying to figure out how to be part of the solution rather than part of the problem.

    IME, the people who are freaking out about "omg you're trying to make me feel guilty" are the ones who aren't yet ready to take that step from feeling guilty to becoming active, and they know that action should follow the guilt... so rather than allowing themselves to feel the guilt, they get defensive and shut it down. Then they get to feel all righteous about how unfair it was that somebody tried to make them feel guilty when [insert excuse here: I've never owned slaves, all of this happened hundreds of years ago, I've earned everything I've gotten, I have PoC friends, etc]. And feeling righteous always feels better than having to examine the shitty things you've done in the past, and how you have to make changes in the future.

    @karinova, who said did a Google search on "race card 2010" for my last post, and no joke, about half of the results were WP accusing WP! Freakin' weird.: To me it goes back to what's being discussed on the racist-jokes post: people like being part of the group (whatever group it happens to be). IMO, accusing someone of being a perpetrator of "white guilt" symbolically takes them from being a WP (who should of course uphold white supremacy*) to being something like a wannabe PoC (because who else would champion anti-racism?*), and therefore outside of the White Club. Levelling the "white guilt!" accusation at a WP is a way of trying to shame them back into toeing the party line. ("How dare you show solidarity with someone other than your fellow whites!*")

    @Moi, who said And he still looks like a creepy, greasy, icky serial molester who needs bitchslapped with a bottle of Clorox.: I cannot begin to describe how much that made me laugh. :D

    * This is not MY thinking process; that's me saying what I think the "omg you're spreading white guilt" types would think.

  25. To be fair, POCs are featured pretty extensively throughout Kid Rock’s video. I don’t really get the sense that he is essentially labeling black people as race-baiters or welfare cases. *shrugs* Just my reading.

    But the tone and message of the video strike me as fairly common. It reminds me of a recent GQ interview with Clint Eastwood where he describes America as having devolved into a nation of “twits” in which folks will call each other racist at the drop of a hat. A call for renewed unity under the banner of American nationalism or religion (hence the crucifixes popping up every ten seconds in the video) seems to be the common proposal for regaining our national equanimity.

    And while this solution completely sidesteps the need to address social inequality, I can’t help but feel bad about not embracing it, for these calls for unity do usually seem genuine and heartfelt.

    So to answer your question, Macon, yeah, as a POC who admittedly attempts to stir up white liberal guilt (in hopes that this guilt produces action) through satirical web comics, I do grapple with my own guilt based on the idea that I, too, have become one of these race-baiting “twits.”

    And to compound the guilt, I fully recognize that in combating racism in this way, I’m basically adopting the praxis of that which I oppose: the exploitation of privilege based on skin color, namely my being able to unabashedly satirize sensitive race issues relatively free from condemnation simply because I’m black.

    Public critiques of race relations do hinder national unity, but until there is significant progress on the former front, little to no middle ground appears to exist. Either one accepts the status quo or one becomes actively involved in anti-racism work. Even contenting oneself with passively donating to social justice organizations is predicated on being socially privileged enough to do so (and the implied intention to protect this privilege).

  26. I don't see what's so confusing about the concept of white guilt. Here's how the narrative generally goes:

    - Guilt is a feeling that comes from responsibility for wrongdoing, and motivates atonement.

    - Black people say that white people are responsible for black problems like poverty and violence, and that white people should give them handouts and advantages (welfare, affirmative action, minority scholarships, license to express anti-white sentiment without objection, etc.) in order to atone.

    - Racism doesn't exist anymore/other minorities do fine/etc., so white people aren't really responsible for black problems.

    - Therefore, black people are lazy, greedy louts who take advantage of the tender feelings of white people to get what they want.

    This can be applied to other minorities, as necessary.

    Whether one believes this narrative or not depends on whether one believes that a) white racism against blacks is still widespread and b) that this racism and the long history thereof is the cause of black problems.

    Or perhaps it depends on how willing one is to believe that black people are lazy, greedy louts who are always trying to take advantage of whites.

  27. Ok, what do you (everyone) think of this as a response to someone who hits you (or someone you're in the presence of) with the "white guilt monger" label?

    THE LABELER: You're just trying to make white people feel guilty!

    THE LABELED: No one can *make* you feel anything you don't want to feel. Believe me, if I could make you feel something I'd make you feel empathy and compassion. Your guilt isn't helping anyone.

    Something like that? Like I know it won't make a difference but I want an intelligent way of shutting someone down. I have yet to be "white guilt" labeled to my face yet, but when I am I want to be prepared with something smart to reply with instead of being trumped by it.

  28. To whom it may concern, I want you to feel guilty, because you are guilty of what can be charitable describes as man's inhumanity to his fellow man. Any unbiased viewing of history or current events will render a guilty verdict. To me guilt feeling are an acknowledgment of some past, present or ongoing wrong doings, and is the seed necessary to set in motion some kind of reconciliation.

    IMO, For a white person not to have any guilt about past /present mistreatments of PoC, is to be devoid of basic humanity and therefore without a heart, and resides on the fringes of the human family. You personally may not have done the dirty deed, but someone did the dirt to benefit and protect their whiteness and the whiteness of others. You got that trickle down benefit by default and you take your trickle down benefit everywhere you go, and use it 24/7. For your sake I want you to be guilty, it indicates to me a pulse, a heartbeat, a common thread, and hope for the future.

    It gives me no pleasure to hold guilt over your head all the time, I would much rather applaud you for some selfless movement towards equanimity, than have to remind you what a shithead you are. I know you want to tell me about what a hard worker you are, and brag about your ingenuity, and proclaim to the world that you’re self-made, and you have nothing to be guilty about. OK, fine, move along, let me interact with someone who recognize that they get preferential treatment based on skin color, and feel guilty about that unearned privilege and wish to do something about it, though it means giving up some relied upon privileges. All others keep stepping, you have been useless to this point, so I don’t have the time.

    The no we're not guilty meme is nothing new, white folks have always come up with justification not to feel the pain they have inflicted upon others. From reconstruction to the civil rights movement white folks enacted an apartheid system to their benefit, and offered no apologies, no guilt or shame. I say a little guilt is a flickering sing of some humanity.

  29. @ Victoria

    Just be honest. Tell them you don't see the point of white guilt. Tell them it's narcissistic, self-indulgent, and ultimately counterproductive.

    Because when you point out racism, white privilege, and their harmful effects on a society, you're trying to correct a problem. You're trying to bring equality to schools, banks, workplaces, and such. So flat out tell them that anyone who thinks POC of color should be denied "certain" housing, schools, jobs, etc. which they can obviously afford/are qualified for, then that person is being selfish and egregious.

    Because last I checked, the point of business is to make money, maintain a record of success, and keep the economy diversified for stable longevity. So if I'm selling houses, I don't give fuck about skintone--show me your roll. If you can easily afford the house, it's yours--end of story. How you end up dealing with your neighbors is up to you.

    If I'm running a business, advanced education and multilingual ability buys you points with me. Coming in, kicking back, and dropping some wealthy relative's name buys you nothing with me. I'll flat out tell you to go ask that rich motherfucker for a job instead of wasting my time.

    If I run a university, I want the smartest, most disciplined, and most ambitious students in my school--fuck their skintones or place of origin. Show me your grades. Fill out a FAFSA and if you owe, then again, show me your fucking roll.

    If I run a bank and you're applying for a loan, show me your proof of income, list your assets, tell me about the debt you already have. I don't care about shit else. I've got a business to run, remember?

    Notice how "feeling" really doesn't factor into these things, so why should POC care? There's a black woman being harassed by a some Kid Rock look-alike on an open street somewhere right now, and I can honestly tell you she's not thinking about white guilt--it's not even on the list of scary shit running through her mind. And so it is with the Latino man being racially profiled, the female Asian student being fetishized, and the Native American child having to learn his mind-numbingly painful history...and then see it confirmed on a daily basis.

    And when some dumbass coworker cracks a joke about going to a tanning salon the day before and now she's darker than I am, I'm nothing thinking white guilt. I'm thinking white douche--just FYI.

    And only Americans seem to bitch about white guilt. Italians and Germans learn about Mussolini and Hitler from a young age. Italian kids watch raw footage in elementary schools. Young German students actually go to concentration camps where their teachers list every spine-chilling detail and make the students confront their horrific past (and in a sickly funny way, it's amusing how many jokes Americans make about Germans, but not only is Germany home to the oldest gay rights' movement, socially and legally tolerant towards homosexuals [its politicians are openly gay], and run by a woman, but Germany's also not currently invading the Middle East and blowing up hundreds of thousands of civilians right now).

    My point? When a whole country acknowledges and faces its past, embraces its conscience, and makes amends--surprise, surprise--it actually improves.

  30. My *favorite* rendering of white guilt comes out of "multicultural appreciation" and diversity training, where I (a woman of color) was informed by a white woman that "White guilt is simply unproductive, because it makes white people feel bad and then immobilizes them..."

    :-/ ummmmm.....

    So, to make sure I understand this right--white people are incapable of action in the presence of negative feelings, and therefore white guilt is NOT a good thing? Hmmm...I actually think white folks feeling bad is a good sign--it's a critical first step in "coming to consciousness" about those outside of "whiteness" who suffer as a result of "whiteness" itself.

    I think that white guilt is more or less just another barrier/construction that is thrown up to prevent white people from having to deal directly with race--as racialized beings. I find it ironic, it's really another reinscription of white privilege in the rendering I gave above. It's more or less a way of saying "white people shouldn't have to deal with race, or with the effects of race." Of course, as a person of color, no one ever asked me if I wanted to deal with the fallout of racism--and I feel shitty quite often as a result of racism. But apparently another benefit of white privilege is not having to experience bad feelings as a result of culpability in the white supremacist culture.

    In my own opinion, white guilt is irrelevant to the work of anti-racism. Whether or not you feel guilty about your particular part in my experiences of racial oppression, I as a person of color am still going to press forward in working for liberation on my own behalf. How you feel about it? Not my concern in the least. I think white guilt as a discursive construction functions to try to re-center white people in the racial conversation, almost as if to say "Hey, we want to get along with POCs, but until you can figure out a way to have us all get along without white people feeling bad, then we won't consider it." I say that's not possible.

    Not that I don't think there are white folks who can be active anti-racists. But among my own anti-racist white acquaintances, they spend little time trying to come to terms with their white guilt, and a lot more time working on ways to disrupt their own and others' whiteness.

    The gravity of how embedded white supremacy is in our culture should knock white folks back a few hundred feet. The gravity of racism should cause grief, if it's being taken seriously. It's like finding out that your money is going to support the genocide of innocent children , and then trying to say "I shouldn't have to feel bad for that, I'M not the one actually killing anyone." Shit, if it was me I'd be really upset. In fact, I'd feel so guilty, so bad, I'd stop sending my money to these places. In other words, my guilt would lead to action.

    As a response, I think finding ways of de-centering whiteness has been most effective for me. If white guilt is a way to re-center white people in the conversation about race, then one response is to basically say, "whether or not you feel guilty is not the issue. What you're doing about certain facts as they've been laid out is the issue. Here are some strategies."

    I think anything less than redirection to practices and action that are useful for disrupting racism can lead to a white Kumbaya moment--where white folks get together and hold hands and ask for redemption from their white guilt through hoping and praying--but not through action.It also gives white folks the opportunity to pass the blame by redefining the offense. The offense isn't racism perpetrated by whites. The offense, under white guilt, is now pointing out to white people their racism--in essence making them feel bad.

  31. Moi said "I am, I'm not thinking white guilt. I'm thinking white douche--just FYI."

    Love that. And thank you for your reply, Moi. I definitely see your point.

  32. They look like subtle (by batshit rightwing cartoonist standards*) stereotypical Jewish people.

    *They're not wearing yarmukles, in other words.

  33. For the reasons you explain, I despise the term "white guilt" because it has become a catch phrase weapon.

    That said, the intent of the phrase feels valid to me. I admit wholeheartedly to struggling with issues of race -- and, ha, "race relations" -- and working very carefully to further myself in my awareness and understanding.

    But at times, yes, I can get frustrated and feel angry that somehow it feels like I'm being accused of kicking someone's puppy when all I was doing was existing. And feeling guilty for simply being born white, being afraid to say something because it might possibly be offensive and instead saying nothing and just being confused because you feel damned if you do and damned if you don't... well, that can't be healthy, either.

    Unfortunately, that dreaded term is mostly just used with the exact motives you said: to excuse us from having to deal with all of it or to accuse others in order to coddle our own insecurities.

  34. @Moi re: "When a whole country acknowledges and faces its past, embraces its conscience, and makes amends--surprise, surprise--it actually improves."

    Yes! This is where I hope we can get as a society. This would truly be getting (as in working) past it as opposed to skipping past it.

  35. This is what white guilt means to me as a POC:

    Say I'm a white filmmaker in Hollywood and I have a book I'm going to adapt for the screen. There are no characters of color in the source material so I feel like I should add one so I don't appear racist to POC or my white friends, mostly my white friends.

    I don't pick the main character, of course, because that would be ridiculous (even though there's nothing about the main character that would have to change based on the race of the actor playing the character). No instead I pick a random "sidekick", someone who has no real identity in the source material and will have even less identity in the adaptation.

    I pick this character and turn them into a POC because I figure it will make the POC in society happy because then the film has someone for persons of color to identify with and I won't be accused of racism and it also makes me feel good since I can show this to my fellow white friends and then they can see what I non-racist I am. And we can all pat each other on the back and feel good about ourselves.

    BUT, in the end, this has all been done out of fear to avoid an imagined conflict and to patronize, not because I really thought the story would be stronger with a POC or because I really thought the character would have more depth if changed to a POC, it's condescension, something none of us want or need.

    That's what I think of when I think of white guilt. It's basically the mindset that you need to try to pander to me because I'm a POC and you don't want to appear racist to your fellow whites (which is completely racist in and of itself because all you notice or care about when you look at me is my race, you don't see me as an actual human being) and is something I see almost exclusively in white people who whole-heartedly claim to be non-racist "activists" (of a certain political persuasion and socio-economic status).

    The racist "Mexicans are so stupid" people described in the story I only see as racist, period. And I get that the point was that "they" don't see themselves as racist, that doesn't change the fact that they are racist. A lot of white supremacists claim they aren't racist when asked, they say they're just "proud of being white" but that doesn't suddenly negate their racism.

    That's my experience with, and definition of, white guilt.

  36. This is how my 2nd to last paragraph should have read:

    The racist "Mexicans are so stupid" people described in the story (from the post: subtly pass racism on to the next generation) I only see as racist, period. And I get that the point was that "they" don't see themselves as racist, that doesn't change the fact that they are racist. A lot of white supremacists claim they aren't racist when asked, they say they're just "proud of being white" but that doesn't suddenly negate their racism.

    Sorry for any confusion!

  37. @Ndlesdream: I absolutely agree that they are racist. The reason for pointing out that they don't see themselves as racist *isn't* to say that they're not racist - it's to point out that it can be extremely difficult to combat that kind of subtle racism, because they're so deeply invested in seeing themselves as not-racist, and people don't work on fixing something they won't admit/realize is a problem. :/ It's like... you can try to eradicate a cancer you're aware of, but nobody's going to go get treated for a cancer they don't realize they have. They've still got the cancer, either way.

  38. honeybrown1976 said...

    White guilt = acknowledging the corrupt systems created by skin color and feeling remorseful. Those who don't feel it, revel in their privilege and see nothing wrong with it.

    As a white person with guilt, I agree with this definition. I'm not ashamed of my white guilt, I think it's a necessary first step to being conscious of privilege.

    Re the Kid Rock video--while I agree it's a crappy video, I've never taken his line about white guilt to mean that it sucks to be made to feel guilty. I took it more as: It sucks that white people do so much crappy stuff, that I feel (justifiably) guilty about being white.

    In other words... it would be nice if race relations were such that white-guilt were no longer necessary.

    But that was just my interpretation.

  39. I like that cartoon. As much as it was made with a racist goal -- both dismissing of those white liberals who feel guilty about the way PoC are treated in the US and implying they've been unfairly burdened (nevermind the freed-black-slave parallel in the dialogue) -- it does make a rather sharp statement about people who feel their Obama vote gave them, and the country, a "get out racism free" card. We don't have to try anymore, you guys! We're in the clear! Putting one black guy out of 43 white dudes in charge of the country solves everything!

    The white guilt issue is a tough one to address succinctly, especially when white people use it as an excuse to avoid the discussion all together. I run into this problem with members of my family. They feel terrible and guilty when they hear about racist acts preformed or perpetuated by other white people -- but they've reached this mindset of "well, I can't do anything to change the way those people act and I'm not responsible for them, neither. All I can do when I hear about that stuff is feel bad about it. So why should I have to hear about it all the time?" So the entire discussion gets shut down on account of how deeply it hurts them.

    It's massively counterproductive.


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