White Guilt, Black Victimization
Shelby Steele talked with Ed Gordon on NPR about his book, “White Guilt” a couple days ago. The subject is interesting because it talks about Black folks playing on this “White Guilt” concept to gain concessions from white people. This is in many parts true. But it falls short in some explaining some things.
I had a mentor describe the Civil Rights Movement of the mid-1900s as being built on a “moral argument.” It said, “I am a man the same as you. Therefore, we are equal and should be treated as such.” Those with Steele’s viewpoint would argue that this argument worked pretty well, and caused our white brethren to feel “guilty” about the wrongs they’d done. That feeling, where “guilt” is actually felt, is legitimate.
The problem is that we as Black people at times abuse this idea of white guilt. It is flawed because embraces a definition of Black people as victims in all areas of life. What we need to do is understand who we are and understand that we can overcome victimizations of the past and use the strength built from those experiences to be triumphant in the present and the future. Embracing this triumphant nature may cause us to be a bit less quick to “play the race card” in many situations, as Steele suggests in the interview.
Where Steele’s theory falls short, in my opinion, is in the fact even if a person, a white person, feels “guilty,” that feeling is often not trusted or respected by Black folks. Unfortunately, perception is reality for most people, so the person might as well have no guilt/remorse for their actions or the actions of their ancestors since we won’t acknowledge it anyway.
So what do we do? Do we now blindly trust anyone who is apologetic or guilty about the events that led to the condition of Black people in America? No, that would be naive. What we need to do is not embrace the fact that others may/may not “feel bad” about what happened or what’s happening. We should instead focus on our own self esteem as a people and question why we feel the need to act on or take advantage of the “guilt” of others. Could that need be the offspring of our own guilt that has built up over the last 1.5 generations who perhaps may not have done as much as they could to raise our collective knowledge of self, instead focusing on selfish personal gain?
Family, let’s get back to the basics here. Understanding our selves on a personal level and as a community is key to our success. Upon that foundation, we can overcome our situation without the need to exploit things such as “white guilt.”