The conundrums of white guilt: What are its motives and what drives it?

Wednesday, July 18, 2018 - 1:41pm

Portrayal of white guilt

Portrayal of white guilt Buy this photo
Courtesy of Lambda Legal

“The world does not need white people to civilize others. The real White People's Burden is to civilize ourselves.”

Robert Jensen from “The Heart of Whiteness: Confronting Race, Racism, and White Privilege

 

I have always wondered what it would be like if I were white. While wondering about the complexities of such an enigma, there are questions that I would ask myself. What would I do with such privilege that is automatically inherited when you are born a certain race? I know if I were a white person, regardless of my socioeconomic status, I would not face the same social, political, and economic barriers as people of color. I know I would not feel inherently compelled to speak about race and discrimination (unless I’m a liberal who loves to hear myself speak) plainly because there wouldn’t be any incidents that would resonate with me in comparison to the racism and discrimination people of color face. This is true unless and only unless I have faced bigoted actions done by my fellow white peers. So, because I know I would not feel inherently compelled to advocate, I wonder would I still do so as a result of the pressures of white guilt – white guilt being the act of feeling “guilty for racist acts they (white people) have committed … (or feeling) guilty because they have not acted!”

 

Therefore, I wonder if I would spell out my concerns on the difficulties that Black and Brown men and women experience at large? Or would I instead transpose the discussion of said difficulties to a conversation with me at the center of attention?

 

Would I hoot and holler in attempts to render the wage gap among white men, who in 2017 made on average $971 in weekly earnings, in comparison to Black women who made $657 in weekly earnings? Or would I be aware of the lower earned wages, yet not advocate on the behalf of Black men and women, instead of justifying my silence for Black men and women by stating we all have the same 24 hours in a day.

 

Would I, a middle-aged white mother with three children, argue in favor of reducing the prison sentences of Black men and women incarcerated for drug-related activity, aware that the war on drugs was pushed by a government entirely composed of white men? Would I argue in favor of reducing the prison sentences of Black men and women incarcerated for drug-related activity, aware of how currently Black men and women are still being incarcerated at discriminating rates? But would I argue more importantly white people are now being incarcerated for using marijuana recreationally, even though my neighbor Carol believes marijuana makes for better parenting?

If I, a white woman or even a white man, were rejected admission to a college or university, yet a person of color (a student with outstanding credentials compared to mine) were granted admission, would I in return protest, claiming this is a violation of my fourteenth amendment or even affirmative action?” Actually, yes, I would indeed, but on the contrary, I would claim I am the one being discriminated against on the basis of my race.

 

Would I move into a historically Black neighborhood that is the result of redlining, racial housing practices, and outright segregation, but then calls the police on my Black neighbors for doing “Black things” such as playing loud music, hosting large gatherings in their driveways and community barbeques? Again, yes I would indeed. Except at the end of the ordeal, I would preferably play the victim that the Black neighbor is invading my space.

 

Would I try to correct the enslavement of hundreds of thousands of Black people, or would I assert to you it occurred a long time ago, you should forget about it and I am not my ancestors?

 

Would I involve myself with politics or racial issues that do not necessarily benefit me – even though I know I could possibly make a difference in regard to the matter? Would I utilize my race and power for “good” to help those less fortunate by attending to my sense of entitlement because of my need to feel as though I am a white savior? Would I decide to become an ally to #BlackLivesMatter or #AbolishIce protests and activists, simply because I care or because the bigger picture is that the oppressor looks like me?

 

While working at “Starbucks”, would I feel the urge to call the police on two Black men awaiting their friend? If while working at the same “Starbucks” and ICE rushes in to detain my possibly undocumented coworker, and myself unaware of the rules and regulations of ICE, would I tell them that they are not allowed in our kitchen to prevent the possible deportation of my peer?

 

Would my actions be of genuine concern for the well-being of others, or perceived as such? Would others think my actions are a result of white guilt, and feeling ashamed that every race on this planet has suffered at the hands of a white oppressor – including white people themselves? Would it make me a racist if I decided to not compromise my future socioeconomic status instead of attending a #FuckDonny or #He’sNotMyPresident march? Would I urge my family and friends to step of out their comfort zones and use their voices to potentially stop the exploitation of undocumented immigrants in the U.S. or the death of Black men, women, and children at the hands of white police officers? Or would I rather enjoy the latest form of cultural appropriation by attending a Hip Hop Yoga class, in which the instructor is blatantly ignorant of the origins of hip-hop as well as yoga? Would I say things such as, “I’d never go to Detroit … like you know, people totally get shot there,” while simultaneously enjoying the newly gentrified establishments that were once Black-owned businesses ran out by ridiculously high property taxes? Would I even care about anyone that doesn’t look like me? Would it be a constant impulse to want to call the police on a 12-year-old Black boy mowing the lawn because somehow his entrepreneurship is endangering to myself?

 

The question of what I would do if I were white have always wandered my mind. I have always wanted to know whether or not a white person’s motives are truly on the basis of empathy, sympathy, and fervency. One who is not white could only speculate a white person's actions when concerning the civility of their fellow white counterparts. However, since so many questions are in need of answering, it is safe to assume that white guilt is not needed nor would it be missed in the fight for equality. In the end, who is to say white guilt isn't just another attempt to further sustain white supremacy than to decimate it?