Tuesday, April 10, 2012

The Problem with White Guilt

I recently read an article by Mark Judge in The Daily Caller entitled, The end of my white guilt. Mr. Judge recounts how the theft of his bike on Good Friday made him let go of white guilt. Judge concludes that black people use "...the moral authority of past generations for their own personal gain and self-aggrandizement." But his grand conclusion is that black pain is no different than white pain, which is the fall back position of the "but I'm not a racist" crowd. We're all alike and it's black people who insist on holding on to the past. 

It's a convenient position. It allows white people to take no responsibility for current discriminatory laws and policies and to blissfully attribute racism to the willingness of black people to play the race card. Of course, they never consider that black people play the cards but white people deal the deck. When we insist that racism is still a factor in the social, political, ad economic structure of this country, they shake their heads in dismay, quickly declare, "I'm not a racist," and feel that should be the end of the conversation. 

We are not all alike; we share a history but the role in that shared history is very different based on many factors including race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, and nationality. This fixation on our being one homogeneous group generally results in those who are non-white being pressured to assimilate as fully as possible, giving up our own cultural identities and accepting fully the culture of the white majority. That is the foundation of the "English only" movement. Ask Native Americans about the efforts in the United States to forcibly transform Native American cultures to European culture from 1790 to 1920. The assimilation policy included removing Native American children from their families and ending them to boarding schools to receive a "civilized" education. Canada developed a similar system of assimilation that involved removing Indian children from their families and placing them in residential schools with a goal of forced assimilation.

I'm tired of the generalization on the part of far too many white people that they have somehow borne and continue to bear the great burden of white guilt and that they've been treated so unfairly. Bullshit.  If I generalized to that extent, I would mistrust all white people and shoot them on sight. 

How often do you hear of a group of bored black teenagers deciding to kill a white man and run him over with a truck for sport? (Anderson story) How often have  black men dragged a white man behind a truck simply because he's white? (James Byrd) How often have black people covered their faces and burned crosses in people's yards to intimidate them? (Ohio cross burning 2012) How many times has a black person been acquitted after killing a 14-year-old white boy, beating him so viciously that he was unrecognizable as a human being? (Emmett Till, disturbing photo) How many 14-year-old white boys have been tried by an all black jury, convicted of murder and executed with no physical evidence tying him to the murders? (George Stinney Jr.) 

How many white bodies swinging from trees with the signs of torture applied before death have been immortalized in photographs and postcards that show hundreds and in some instances thousands of people--men, women, children, grandma and grandpa--all standing around on a family outing to watch the lynching of men and women, thrilled when the victim was a woman eight months pregnant (Remembering Mary Turner) whose belly was ripped open to insure the death of her unborn child? (American Lynching, Without Sanctuary, from Life magazine, Bill Moyers Journal)  All of these documented events took place in the 19th and 20th century, not some distant days of slavery.

There have been no instances of black adults spitting on white school children as they attempted to integrate public schools. And now, in the 21st century, black boys are being shot down for walking on a neighborhood street or for the way they are dressed; five black people in Oklahoma are shot by two white men who selected the victims based on skin color. 

I'm tired of white people insisting, "Black people commit crimes and black people kill white people too," as if that somehow mitigates the killing of black people by white people simply based on race. Of course we kill people too. People have been killing according to the tale of Cain and Abel since the beginning of time and there is nothing acceptable about the murder of anyone for any reason.  However, perpetrating this nonsense that white people are justified in fearing black people and that black people are somehow inherently dangerous and dishonest is blatant racism. 

No one ever asked white people to feel guilt. What we asked for was to be treated with equality. What we received was decades of Jim Crow laws that lasted well into the 20th century. The civil rights movement isn't ancient history and racism and racial prejudice is alive and thriving in the 21st century.

Most of the time I am in a conciliatory mode when it comes to race relations. When I was 14 I learned to play the guitar, stuck peace signs all over my guitar case, and earnestly sang Kumbayah and all the verses of We Shall Overcome. I believed with all the earnestness of the very young that our newly integrated school system was the start of a better society where we all lived together in brotherhood and sisterhood. I held on to that belief for as long as I could, with the desperation of a novice trying to climb a rock wall. 

Somewhere, deep in a brightly lit recess of my soul that belief still survives. But after 57 years on this earth, I find myself having more and more moments when the light is so dim that I can't see it any more and I truly wonder if has been extinguished. So far, like Pandora, I always eventually find that light again. But I'm older and I'm tired. Every day that I come across blatant racism, splattered across the Internet, shouting from social networking sites, reported on in the daily news, it swallows a bit of that light and I fear that one day I will remain in the darkness, angry and bitter and thoroughly disillusioned.

If you are white, and you feel uncomfortable or even attacked by my consistent reference to white people as including every white person in this country, you have experienced to some extent what it is like to be black in this country when every infraction committed by any black person is attributed to the character of all black people.


Tom Degan said...

Good one, Sheria. And on another related topic:


All the best,

Tom Degan

Lisa :-] said...

Great post, Sheria. Can't argue with a word of it.

Sal said...

You said a mouthful, and every word of it ran incredibly true. I am a 62-year-old white woman recently retired as of this past February. I worked for the VA Medical Center for almost 20 years. We were for the most part successfully integrated, working with blacks, whites, hispanics, asian, straight, gay... you name it. I learned a lot about people in those years. Now that I'm retired, I have more time to pay attention to all the bullshit that goes on in America on a daily basis. I'm reminded about many things I forgot while working at the VA. Don't even get me started on the current political enviroment. It's all very disturbing. The people who keep hope alive in me are some of the brilliant people whose blogs I follow (Tom Degnan in particular who led me to read your piece). I have to remember that there are those of us out there who want a better, more just world. Otherwise, now that I'm 62 and tired, I would lose all hope.

I was very relieved to see that nosey idiot George Zimmerman who murdered Trayvon Martin was indicted for that murder today. I think decent people will be watching this case closely, to make sure his charges don't get watered down. I hope they are fair enough to charge him with 1st degree murder.
God Bless,
Sally Sinden

Mark said...

The problem with Mike Judge and his ilk is that they imagine black on white crime (which is far less frequent than Eyewitness News would leave us to believe) is somehow racially motivated. Therefore they tally up all such instances and line them up against instances of white on black racism and say "See, we're even." Getting mugged sucks, certainly, but any mugger will tell you his motivations had nothing to do with race. A crime perpetrated by a black person against a white person for a real or perceived gain is equivalent to a white person committing a crime against a white person for a real or perceived gain. It is not equivalent to a white person perpetrating a hate crime against a black person merely because they are black, and solely to inflict harm. These false equivalencies have got to go.
The other problem is that white privilege is invisible to white people, to us it's just normal. Of course we don't get followed around in a store, for example, or have to warn our kids about being extra respectful to police officers who pull them over for no reason at all. (because white kids don't get pulled over for no reason at all.) Just because you can't see your privilege, fellow white people, doesn't mean it's not there. Does that make you a racist? No. But you can at least acknowledge that you benefit from being part of the predominant power-wielding class.
The white whiners who complain about how easy the system makes it for poor black people make me laugh. Not a one of them would take a pill to wake up black tomorrow, not for a million dollars, much less a low-income housing voucher and Medicaid. And yet when I posed this question to the black men I was in prison with, a lot of them said they'd be very curious to know what it was like to be white, even poor. Mmhh. If being black is so much easier, why is that?

Bucko (a.k.a., Ken) said...

Not sure I deserve an opinion, but here it is, great post!