White guilt: Today, tomorrow, and forever
By Bernard Chapin
Just recently, after declining a funding request from one of Chicago's numerous beggars, I heard a most peculiar thing. The man yelled at me as I walked away: "I'm sorry I'm not white." At first I assumed he was talking to someone else; then I saw that he wasn't. His tactic must have been an attempt to shame pedestrians into giving him more change. Presumably, as the man did not look like a novice to this ancient profession, it must be a strategy that, with the exception of this occasion, works which tells us quite a bit about the psyche of Caucasian Americans.
Shelby Steele, in his new book, White Guilt: How Blacks and Whites Together Destroyed the Promise of the Civil Rights Era, expounds upon the mindset of both groups while exploring our nation's obsession with race. He outlines the interplay between white guilt and black power along with the pernicious effects this dynamic has upon both populations. The author grew up in a time when discrimination was not a shadowy thing. He witnessed it firsthand at baseball practice, and in his father's having to deal with the customs of the southern towns they'd visit.
As Steele came of age, he was directly affected by the monsoon of changes altering America. Right before his senior year in college, Steele heard comedian Dick Gregory give a speech equating those blacks known as "good men"—or those who worked hard and were responsible—as being Uncle Toms. Their devotion and diligence was the yoke which bonded the black man to his oppressors. Therefore, to defy societal expectations was the road to individual freedom. Steele was powerfully impressed with this analysis and acquired a sense of freeform rebellion. He quit his high paying summer position, even though it was the best job he ever had, and vowed to no longer be a good man like his father. His self-sabotage amounted to a rejection of white authority. Luckily, his rebellion did not last long. Time, along with his stint as an employee of the welfare state, changed his views and allowed him to become the scholar who penned this excellent book.
Throughout the text, Steele combines remembrance with observation as a means to elucidate interracial relations. He defines white guilt as being a complete vacuum of moral authority wherein a stigma is cast upon an entire group of people regardless of what they do or say. In the 1960s, it flourished in whites due to the very real historical wrongs of segregation and slavery. By the end of that decade, due to the growing passivity of whites, the black leadership no longer echoed Dr. King. They became radicalized, and there was no shortage of white politicians, intellectuals, and glitterati (recall Leonard Bernstein) ready to sprawl before their collective feet and regain their moral goodness. For many Caucasians, irrational hate for your own race and your ancestors has now become a mechanism for self-esteem and purity.
When aggression meets submission the result is slaughter, and that's exactly what has happened to the pride of white America over the course of the last four decades. Rage has become the preferred weapon for obtaining concessions from white politicians, and shame prevents rational minds from protesting these tactics. Steele compares the state of many whites to that of Kafka's main character in The Trial, who is guilty of a crime solely because he has been accused. Black activists insisted that acquiring skills and education alone are not acceptable solutions; our government must actively raise them up. This demand is a reason why so many ashen-faced elites embrace "diversity" and affirmative action. It allows them to acquire power while amassing feelings of personal superiority. Even corporations have gotten into the game:
The government internalized the stigma and dishonor of the majority population, and flooded black neighborhoods with lakes of redemptive spending. That the programs and grants issued were ineffective, or even made things worse, was largely irrelevant as the actions were designed to restore feelings of righteousness in politicians and their appointees. They became part of the solution and those of us who questioned their counter-productive, and steroidal, inflation of government were dismissed as being racist (and still are today).
To procure power, and as a way to impress upon others their own moral superiority, many whites pretend that history never happened and claim that without their noblesse oblige blacks would descend into the abyss. Steele accurately observes that their attitude is merely just a new form of white supremacy as it renders whites wholly responsible for the failures and successes of those they see as being below them. It suggests that blacks cannot possible fend for themselves.
Due to our country's remarkable ascent from the nadirs of slavery and segregation, the devotees of white guilt have had to fabricate concepts like institutional racism and white privilege. Without them, they could not continue to proclaim that the most fair and prosperous nation on the planet is actually a Death Star of hate and injustice. Apparently, racism is so entrenched in our culture…that one cannot even see it.
In the opinion of this reviewer, what keeps racial tensions high in America are intra-race conflicts as opposed to the interracial ones. Most likely, if one group of Caucasians discontinued the practice of systematically defaming all other Caucasians then the strains among us would diminish. The alchemizing of racism from discussions concerning taxation and personal choice does little more than poison our air. When blacks are free from the conspiracy theories and psychologizing of a power obsessed white elite, we will all get along much better.
White guilt is a phenomenon that contaminates all who come into contact with it. As Steele notes, it has delegitimized the national virtues of industry, initiative, individual responsibility, the delay of gratification, and the need for meritocracy. When one embraces these quintessential values, one does not "act white" or "work for the man," one betters oneself and the people around you.
Ultimately, the best practice for individuals is to treat others as your equals. Modifying your speech and pretending strangers are sensitive to your every syllable is just absurd. The solution to racial problems is not to kow-tow to certain groups and apologize for crimes you never personally committed; instead, we should simply treat other people with respect no matter where they lie on the diversity flowchart. Skin color has nothing to do with personality or worth. Just as one can be certain that segregation and slavery occurred, one can also be certain that the Lester Maddoxes, Orval Faubuses, and Theodore Bilbos are long dead and will never rise again. It is now an excellent time to bury white guilt along with them.
Bernard Chapin is a writer living in Chicago. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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