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?