Monday, April 23, 2012

Featured Reader Comment: "To Take Ownership of My Whiteness is to Accept That Any Violence Done Unto Me is in Some Sense Deserved by My Complicity..."

The question of extremism seems an important one in evaluating the white racial frame. It is easy for me to feel swaths of heroism emanating from this white abolitionist, but I imagine being alive at the time, I would do little but hold a candle in my heart for such causes.

I think the thing that I do more often (as pretty much a cop-out for genuine political engagement) to take ownership of my whiteness is to accept that any violence done unto me is in some sense deserved by my complicity and engagement which enhance and encourage inequality in many ways. How do both white and black alike come to terms with these things? Changing the system from inside the system while benefiting from the system seems to be an insane perspective to take....

Do you have any perspective on all this kind of white guilt?

I take all readers' comments here on WARN seriously. If folks take the time to post a comment or email me, I always proceed with good faith. If someone is a "troll" I entertain their questions because although they may be in autopilot conversation derailing talking points mode, these people are still speaking for some part of our collective consciousness. Yes, I may dismiss their views as ideologically driven foolishness; however, trolls and the talking point commentariat are in fact channeling the deeply held beliefs of no small part of the American public. As such, they demand analysis--if not necessarily--full engagement.

By comparison, there are comments like those offered by Adam GH in response to my first post on the late Joel Olson. Adam's honesty about white guilt was very moving. It was also quite provocative and unsettling. Adam's sharing also deserves more conversation and processing. Thus, my bumping it up for discussion.

The expression of white guilt, especially from those who are legitimately invested in anti-racism and a struggle for shared humanity across the color line, is a common sentiment. I am troubled by white guilt for a variety of reasons. Empathy, even in its must honest and extreme forms, can lead to a moment of self-reflection and praxis. But, can it become crippling? Moreover, how does the language of "guilt"--which implies shame, responsibility, ownership, or culpability--problematically center the White subject in a critical conversation about race and racial ideologies? Ultimately, does "white guilt" do the the work of white privilege and sustain (an ironic type of) white supremacy?

Understanding one's relationship to the historical and contemporary structures, as well as individual level processes which create, sustain, and reproduce social inequalities along lines of gender, class, race, and sexuality, is key if we are to radically transform American society in the interests of the Common Good. For example, taking ownership over those moments when we choose to (or not) confront white supremacy is different from feeling guilty over how we may be situated as individuals relative to the lived realities of privilege and inequality.

Turning the gaze inward for a moment: I do not feel guilty for being a heterosexual man. I do however acknowledge how I benefit from sexist and homophobic social norms and arrangements of power. Should I feel guilt? Of course not. I have a choice regarding how I choose to intervene against heteronormativity and sexism. I am culpable to the degree that I act with cowardice and/or behave unethically in such moments where I actively (or through tacit consent) benefit from such disparate arrangements of social and political power.

To my eyes, white guilt is combustible and frightening. At its core is anger and rage, often internalized, waiting for a moment to spew forth. There is an odd parallelism here: white supremacists and their more polite conservative kin use appeals to white guilt in order to mobilize their race hatred and racial resentment for political ends; strident anti-racists, some of whom also happen to be liberal (white) racists, use white guilt as a type of self-flagellation. Through their self-abuse, white guilt becomes a way of recentering Whiteness (with its insecurities and guilt) as the default beginning of conversations about white racism.

In all, I would suggest that in our dialogue(s) about white guilt that we foreground the following premises:

1. White guilt is real for those who possess it. These are legitimate and real emotions that cannot be dismissed or disregarded if people of color want to have substantial and critical conversations about race and the reproduction of racial ideologies with our white brothers and sisters;
2.  White guilt is often a deflection deployed by whiteness, and those who possess/are invested in white privilege as a means to evade substantive conversations about white supremacy;
3. White guilt is a type of actualized white privilege;
4. White guilt should be processed and discussed; white guilt and managing the emotional hurt of white people should not be a central part of anti-racist discourse and practice;
5. White racism hurts white people; white guilt also hurts white people.

Du Bois talked about a "twoness" or sense of double consciousness in black folks that comes from living in a society which does not value your humanity. Although oriented differently, white guilt is a schism of the internal white self that comes from realizing that society over-values you, gives privileges, opportunities, and resources for no other reason than the arbitrary distinction that a given person happens to be categorized as "white" in this historical moment.

Here is a provocative thought: white guilt actually resembles a type of mass, borderline personality disorder which needs to be therapeutized.

There is much to mull over here. I want to thank Adam GH for having the honest courage to start this conversation with his open and vulnerable question.

Where do we go from here?

45 comments:

Anonymous said...

Yawn..Not interested in any long winded esoteric analysis of 'white guilt" especially in a Black theme internet forum..

It did not take Adam GH any courage or integrity to post an applause seeking white guilt post in a progressive Black forum like WARN he knew he would get attention and he did..

White folks and their ethos not revelant anymore in America from the perspective of my Big Ben Clock 'white folks have for 23 hours and 45 minutes have been the center of it all in America and fucked it up..For the next 15 minutes until a new day I am loving me and focusing on Black folks...


Yawn is the operative mood for Adam GH bullshit..

chaunceydevega said...

@Anon. I am no fan of a lack of intellectual (or emotive) curiosity in any person, whatever their color.

So please tell me: what are you afraid of?

I ask because behind all of the anger and I bile from you as of late I detect fear. Maybe I am too much a student of Master Yoda, but you need to purge yourself of such emotions. Not healthy.

Critically engaging these types of questions makes you no less black, or authentic...or human. Likewise, your posturing and bluster, by your own logic, takes no courage and requires no honor. Thus, it should not be acknowledged?

Please share.

sledge said...

Anonymous said...

"from the perspective of my Big Ben Clock 'white folks have for 23 hours and 45 minutes have been the center of it all in America and fucked it up..For the next 15 minutes until a new day I am loving me and focusing on Black folks..."

I can't believe I'm saying this. I actually agree with Anon on something. Only I think the new day will be an "Uh Oh" moment for blacks, whites and everyone else.

Loving yourself and those you care about around you is a pretty good way to spend that 15 minutes.

I'm not going to comment on the white guilt thing I think that would just tick people off.

Anonymous said...

CD,

Passion not anger plus I define my own agenda not you or any other..In fact I was going to pose a similar question to you of late I have observed this deep level of insecurity on you part coupled with an equivalent sense of defensiveness... Your verbaige about me(posturing and bluster) reveals your insights not mine..You own your words not me..

What you are probably observing in my posts is my lack of patience with your circular tread mill commentaries..You simply have not elevated nor evolve your craft over the past year and that is disappointing to be candid with you..

As to this tired topic like you I am no fan of a lack of intellectual (or emotive) curiosity in any person, whatever their color nor do I fear anything or man..I just tire of empty narratives and regressive topics which take me nowhere..

You think the saga of yet another 'yawn' protrayal of white guilt warrants some critical engagement I don't..

Stop being so self absored and possesed ..I think it will help you in your maturation ascension..Just a thought

Peace

chaunceydevega said...

@Anon. Don't disengage. You know I operate from the love principle. How have I not 'elevated' myself? Where do I need to go? How have I not "grown?" Please show me where you would like me to go and how I have failed you?

It could simply be that we have a different agenda and are going to different places, perhaps complementary of each other, perhaps not. WARN is growing, I am turning down opportunities, I have some other things coming up that may surprise you. Do stay along for the ride.

Do share? Me. Insecure? Defensive? No. You have no idea of the deep depths of my ego and confidence. Just be self-deprecating ;)

@Sledge. Do share. Please tick folks off if you so choose to.

Anonymous said...

CD,

I did share...My agenda is quite full as well of late I had some moments to check in on WARN which is the reason for a lot of my posts of late..
To be continued..

With regard to Sledge I really doubt if an underdeveloped white male can tick off many people on WARN..I could be wrong but I doubt it when it comes to this topic and Sledge

Liberal Tormentor - tormenting liberals with logic and facts since 1982 said...

Shelby Steele wrote this book in 2006.

"White Guilt: How Blacks and Whites Together Destroyed the Promise of the Civil Rights Era"


One of Steele’s observations, is that the rituals by which whites avoid the taint of ‘racism’ - protestations of love for blacks, denunciations of ‘bigotry’ - have little to do with wanting to help blacks and everything to do with demonstrating innocence.

'Surely genuine goodwill may also be a part in such efforts. But the larger reality is that white guilt leaves no room for moral choice; it does not depend on the goodwill or genuine decency of people. It depends on their fear of stigmatization, their fear of being called racist.’

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/White_Guilt:_How_Blacks_and_Whites_Together_Destroyed_the_Promise_of_the_Civil_Rights_Era


The worst feelings you could have is feeling guilt or empathy over skin tone.

sledge said...

chaunceydevega said...
"Sledge. Do share. Please tick folks off if you so choose to."

Ok you asked. Bet you won't next time. :)

I'm not intentionally trying to aggravate anyone. Let me apologize in advance if anyone does get angry. It's not my intent. Last time something similar to this came up I was blasted from all sides.

chaunceydevega mentioned above that a sampling of posts on WARN represents a larger group in society. Because there are many others in society who would agree with the post.

I do not feel the same as Adam about white guilt. And I'd be willing to bet that those who would view violence being done unto them as deserved due to white guilt is a pretty small group.

I've stated before that I do not feel guilty for the actions of any who came before me. They will answer to God for their sins the same as I will answer for mine.

That does not mean that I do not feel empathy for those who are poor. Black or white. I've been poor growing up. Probably poorer than most of you. Lick the lid of the empty jelly jar and pour water into it to favor it so you could have something to eat kind of poor.

So feeling guilty because there are poor blacks doesn't resonate with me. I know what a hungry belly feels like. I also know that today if that hungry kid wants it bad enough he can claw his butt out of there.

Or if he's lucky, he has family that will encourage him if possible, or put a boot up his backside if encouragement doesn't work in order to make him buckle down and educate his brain. ( I acknowledge that options were a lot more limited for black folks in past generations.)



I don't feel guilty for going to college. There were blacks in my unit that could and did go to college on the GI bill the same as I did.

I don't feel guilty for busting my backside to earn a check to feed my family. I've had to struggle to get everything I have.

So when I hear someone say that I should feel guilty because I had white supremacy benefits to make it easy for me. My first reaction is B.S.! Where the hell were they when I needed someone to point out where the white supremacy benefits line was. Cause I darn sure didn't see it.

Maybe not feeling white guilt makes me a bad person, IDK. I already know that Trayvon's parents and many other parents, black and white, are better people than I am.

If I thought that someone or group, black or white or what ever color, intentionally hurt or killed one of my kids. I would not be able to react the way they and other parents have. They are much better people than I. I try to be a good person. But I don't know how to be that good.

Ok, blast away.

Anonymous said...

Steele has zero credibility on racial topics nothing he pens has any merit..He is a Black apologist who pines for white validation at the expense of Black folks ..

He actually contends Black folks destroyed the promise of the civil rights movement....His self hate is worst than CNu's

Steele is just another CNu only more accomplished..Having guilt over one's skin tone is no big deal it is way down the list of shit people trip over but for a Black apologist such utterances are right in his wheelhouse...WTF

fred c said...

Oh, Professor, this is a tough one. It took some courage to bring it up, good for you.

I have said here, and I believe, that I cannot escape responsibility for the terrible things that my group has done. Maybe, though, we shouldn't specifically be talking about "White Guilt (Responsibility)," but rather "Group Responsibility" in general. There's a lot of it to go around.

I feel "guilty" because I have been a recipient of the benefits of Whiteness. I might even apply this feeling to a situation where I was a victim of rage from an oppressed group, as Alan suggests. There's more to it, though.

"Group Responsibility" is real. We cannot escape it, nor can we pick and choose among the various groups: what's good for one group of us is good for all; what applies to the shared actions of one group applies to all groups. Not only "White Americans," but also "Americans (including all Americans)."

Benefits don't mean much either, it's still about the group. Germans, as a group, feel properly guilty about the actions of the Nazis, although most of them didn't accrue any benefit, even at the time, just the opposite in fact. No one's conscience should be undeservedly clear regarding the actions of their group. We'd certainly laugh at any German who tried it.

I'm not deflecting here, and my efforts are not in the way of exculpation. I accept my share of the responsibility for what has been done in my name, by Whites against other groups and also by America in the (most of them) unjust wars that have been waged in my lifetime.

I'm not beating myself up here, and I'm not looking for approval or absolution. I'm neither brilliant nor enlightened, I'm just trying to be awake in some small way.

We look in the mirror and see an individual, but this is an illusion. We should learn to see not only ourselves, but also the many groups that we are part of, from family and community, up through Racial groups and nationalities, and even to our naked humanity.

Tom said...

I think white people, when first exposed to organized antiracism, tend to assume that it's a program that leads toward some kind of improvement in society. They're told to think about the horrible history of racism; they do; and they wouldn't be human if they didn't feel pretty awful about that.

Then we tell the folks who have made it that far, that white guilt is bad too. And that's where the program pretty much ends. It's a twelve-step program that begins and ends with Admit You Have a Problem. And then we tell the participants we're not interested in their problem.

Well, ok. Fair enough. But what's the program for, then?

Adam GH said...

I think my sense of white guilt is much like fred c's sense of group ownership. I stayed up late arguing with my father (who was in fact born in the middle east) about whether or not my generation should share the guilt of past cimes. He finally asked me, "Do you benefit from what has come before you?", saying yes I knew what he would say next: "Then you also are responsible for sharing the burden now".

That being said, a lot of my adult life (albeit short) has been a movement towards a sense of nihilism. That is, I don't do anymore than put my weight behind representatives who share my view. But I know that's not enough. I know more needs to be given to make up for the sins of our past.

Therefore my guilt comes in not being as radically inclined towards action in this regard as I could be, while making entry/establishing myself in the upper middle class is my first priority. I think the contradiction I feel is best distilled in the image of the University of Chicago campus (and most other Ivys so I've heard).

Here you have world class institutions; something which should be a gem of any society, surrounded by such desperate poverty. It just seems so impotent. What the fuck is the point?

@Anon, and CD: I do know that I think anything done on the intranet can be seen as courageous, but I do have a bigger penis than anyone who reads this.

Adam GH said...

* I do not know

@CD: Thank you for bringing this up for discussion.

I welcome any nuance/criticisms made towards this end.

chaunceydevega said...

@Adam. Penis size? Yucky. Don't intimidate me. You could be all balls and no shaft for all I know. Is the Adam I know in the real world by way of a place in Michigan?

Small world. Email me off board.

@Tom. Deep. I like that Al-anon analogy. Good stuff. Again, what do we do next? You are leading us to an obvious place with the 12 step example. I may have to step up.

@Fred. You live/have lived abroad. What do the folks you know overseas think about these conversations about white American privilege? Laughs and dismissal because national identity trumps these "petty" differences?

@Liberal. If you are going to torment us, please do choose a better and sharper and more ominous heavy hitter than that walking talking tragic mulatto who is a running joke. Watch his CSPAN interview of a few years back when a white caller from the South calls him a tragic negro and a fool. That was from a redneck who explained that white people like him use Toms in public but have no respect for them. I damn near fell out of my chair.

fred c said...

I'm in Thailand, seven years now. Asian cultures are sooooo different than Europe or America. This kind of discussion never happens to me here because: 1) I live a quiet life and avoid all contentious subjects; and 2) Asia is a "shame" culture, as opposed to a guilt culture like Europe and America.

If I spoke of these things over here it would bring shame upon my country or my people (in their eyes) and Thai people would hold it against me.

whitelady said...

I wonder how much class has to do with the guilt thing. Growing up poor you wouldn't have any sense of entitlement, so it makes sense that you might not have the white guilt.

And if white guilt is bad, even, then what? I feel like there's no way whites can "win" in any of these situations - we're damned if we do, and if we don't feel any remorse then that's bad too, right? So...????

Not sure how to move ahead. I think that's a feeling shared by many lately - feel doomed by all the asshats that outnumber us and that we're not getting anywhere. frustrating.

CNu said...

CDV - have you ever encountered a real life version of Thrasher?

That shyte hella funny when it's just a Brother X-Squared spoof, however, the real world damage that one such ignorant negroe can do is beyond belief.

It's incapable of comprehension or maturation, and if permitted to run rampant, will just endlessly act out in public.

We have several here, but one in particular comes to mind who has caused untold amounts of damage.

Pretty much the only way it comes to an end is when somebody finds its rotting body in a dumpster out behind a liquor store...,

Daniel Goldberg said...

Could you say more about your reasoning for #3?

("White guilt is a type of actualized white privilege")

I'm not sure I follow.

chaunceydevega said...

@Daniel. That was poorly written. I meant that white guilt is actually a type of white privilege in action. White guilt presume that we should make central the feelings of white people on these mattes. Oftentimes, those who voice and act out white guilt want to be the center of the conversation. Thus derailing it.

freebones said...

@CDV

"Oftentimes, those who voice and act out white guilt want to be the center of the conversation."

that's true, but i dare say it isn't often a conscious act. plenty of white people, and i can speak from experience here, want to contribute good rhetoric to discussions of race but aren't sure how to.

that's why i'm here. to learn.

Tom said...

Also, I know this is wrong, but no matter how much I agree with what he says, Tim Wise gives me the creeps.

Daniel Goldberg said...

@CDV,

Gotcha, and I agree entirely. S'partly why I think whiteys like me need to focus on shutting up and listening.

As you might imagine, this does not come easily, because

IHAVESOMANYVERYIMPORTANTTHINGSTOSAY.

Anonymous said...

@CNu
You are one crazed fuck to wish that on Mr. Thrasher...He must be all in your head..

@ Tom
I agree 100% with you about Wise he has a patronixing telfon know it all salesman's side of him that makes me want to tel l him to fuck off..
He reminds me of people who think they have some magic information about something and he wants to be some super sage..
As a Black activist I have no time for his elementry racial analysis at all..I would never endorse or read his pedestrian shit nor encourage others..

Tom said...

Anon. 2:19, Sounds like you know "Mr. Thrasher" very well.

Anonymous said...

Tom,

Yes he has been our group leader for years.Mr. Thrasher is a living legend and activist he no longer engages in street activism but he does still write a lot of commentaries on Vox Union, Voice of Detroit and other sites as well...

Check him out!!!!

chaunceydevega said...

@Anon. ".Mr. Thrasher is a living legend"

I do like him. But I was unaware of his legendary status. Please share more. What great feats did he accomplish? Were there trials and challenges like Hercules?

CNu said...

Uh CDV..., you got that statcounter widget inserted into the WARN frontpage serving up tangible proof of Thrasher touching himself yet?

Anonymous said...

CD,

Clearly you don't live in Detroit years ago Mr. Thrasher was an activist who knock on the doors of drug dealers and told them to leave it was very dangerous but he became quite the legend

I discovered this from my older cousins..He was also the first Black patient in a suburban catholic hospital, first Black web blogger for the Detroit News, Founder of Alternative Think Tank..

He was the first Black host of a TV Cable Show in the suburbs as well as other awards ..

I am sure Mr. Thrasher can fill in all the gaps but I do know he has retired from street activism because of a lot of death threats.

He is truly in our circle a living Legend.. Just sayin

olderwoman said...

I'm White. To the Black people who say they find White guilt boring or a distraction I say: makes sense to me. I figured out a long time ago that White guilt is White people's problem and Black people (and other people of color) have too many of their own problems to worry about mine. I'm only discussing the issue here because Chauncey asked the question.

So my remarks are only addressed to Adam & Chauncey & whomever else is actually interested in the conversation. A marriage counselor long ago said what I think is the most important thing on the subject: guilt is a substitute for doing something about a situation. I feel guilty when I can think of things you could do and don't do them. I am very aware of my race & class privilege and very aware of not giving them up. What I think is healthy is to recognize that we cannot change the past, neither the things that happened before we were born nor the things we ourselves did that we are not proud of. But we can look forward and ask ourselves whether there are things we can do to improve structural conditions or attack racial prejudice or racial hierarchies. Guilt is temporarily useful if it makes us feel bad enough to stop and examine how we are living our lives and whether we want to change. It is useful if it leads to change. But wallowing in guilt is just a self-indulgent substitute for taking responsibility for the position we've inherited in society and the consequences of our own past actions.

Anonymous said...

I forgot to add Mr. Thrasher also lets us use his car, pc and backyard for B-Ball Games..Just sayin..

@Older Woman: Great Post!Thanks for co-signing my comments!

sabrinabee said...

Ri think one misperception is that we are sitting around conjuring images of whitey "getting his" and that we would love to see nothing more than him being assaulted and destitute. In chains with whips and Rottweilers barking them down. This, to me, serves again to make blacks appear hateful, hearless and unforgiving. Scary. Most blacks, thinking blacks are thoughtful and considerate, sometimes to a fault, and do not feel that anyone deserve to have violence perpetrated against them as payment for past deeds. So that part of the post is insulting to me.

As to where we go from here, I think that there is a parallel that has to be overcome. Those that recognize the ills of the past yet benefit from the organizational structures that were put in place as a result, have been indoctrinated to believe that this is the greatest society that could ever exist with little to no need for improvement. That produces a reluctance to examine and/or challenge the status quo. Of course, the status has been such since the birth of this country and those of us minorities who seek to be seen as equal have to work within this flawed structure that is dominated by the white upper class.

Minorities don't realize that thought some may sneak through, it will never be enough to make a difference and only those who can be bought one way or another, whether it bbe by stepping on those coming up behind you or learning how to put the q-tips in when you hear the cries of your people, are allowed in. The lower classes don't realize that this is as much about them as it is about minorities and that baseball and NASCAR are not an equalizer. Our structure of greed, the foundation of this country, will always be a divider. As Fred says above, until we put the group collective over individual greed there is nothing we can do but observe and report.

nomad said...

@ sabrinabee
"only those who can be bought one way or another, whether it bbe by stepping on those coming up behind you or learning how to put the q-tips in when you hear the cries of your people, are allowed in."

That's the way the some of these antiblack black elite roll.

CNu said...

Since as demonstrated on these discussion threads over the past couple of weeks - "elite" means studious, dignified, competent, and capable- guilty as charged.

Those are baseline prerequisites for being "my people" - and frankly - anyone failing to meet those basic standards has no value I feel obliged to acknowledge or respect.

phukkem....,

Anonymous said...

Nonsense poor people can exhibit the same values...You are an inflated bougee your standards don't matter

My people have nothing to do with class metrics ..Just saying

nomad said...

'"elite" means studious, dignified, competent, and capable- guilty as charged. '

That's what it normally means. In your case it means "nuts".

Tom said...

CNu welcome to the "self-hating" team. I.e., those of us who feel no particular loyalty to vast groups of folks we've never met, but who claim to be "our people."

You'll never see me excusing the raw neanderthal clownage on Kos and Atrios, that's for sure.

CNu said...

A few years of direct access and exposure to the profound dysfunctions of a public school district was all it took to permanently cure me of any misplaced loyalty to lives devoid of value...,

Coupled with the monkey-house shrieks and feces-flinging of dismay and disdain from those abandoned - there won't be any going back.

Tom said...

Well, your crowd may do things that annoy you; I don't pay that much attention. But I know they don't go around making it "national policy" to napalm little kids. (Or they didn't until early 2009.)

CNu said...

Nah magne, I realized a looooong time ago, even before my terminal abandonment of "triflings" that there is no enduring glory in messianic fame and glory.

IOW - I would love, love, love to see Malcolm and Martin still alive and grey, still shiningly upright and holding forth an aspirational standard - because their ultimate personal sacrifices simply weren't worth it.

Those for whom they sacrificed everything did not and do not deserve the sacrifices that these princely men made.

As for the triflings, my unmasked terminology is no accident. Their day of reckoning is not that far away and you ain't seen nothing yet wrt what Double-O has been given license to do if the triflings act out en masse. Libya is just a foretaste of the things to come.

What're they gonna do, call the first black preznit racist too?

nomad said...

I rest my case.

sledge said...

CNu even an underdeveloped white guy can see you are a black prophet for your people in the wilderness.

I think you should change your tag to Noah. They called him nuts too. But they were sure knocking on the door of the Ark in mass numbers when the rains came.

Anon keep it to yourself. I don't give a, what's that word CNu uses, phuk what you think.

Anonymous said...

@Sledge,

Everytime you post now your confirm my indictment of you as an underdeveloped white male..Your affirmation of CNu and his insanity does not surprise ..

sledge said...

@ Anon

Keep it up and people are going to start thinking you have hidden feelings of affection for me.

I'm starting to be a little concerned that this might be the case myself.

nomad said...

"you ain't seen nothing yet wrt what Double-O has been given license to do"

Even a broke clock is right twice a day.

Anonymous said...

@Sledge,

I am just pounding you into submisssion in a chat forum stop making it sexual..lol,lol,lol