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.”


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About Garlin Gilchrist II

I am the City of Detroit's first ever Deputy Technology Director for Civic Community Engagement. My job is to open up the city's public data and information for the consumption and benefit of all Detroiters. I currently live in Detroit, my hometown, with my beautiful wife Ellen and our twins Garlin III and Emily Grace. I'm from Detroit. I created Detroit Diaspora, and was formerly the National Campaign Director at MoveOn.org. I also co-hosted The #WinReport on "The Good Fight," a an award winning, nationally syndicated radio show that was one of Apple's Best of 2013. After graduating with degrees in Computer Engineering and Computer Science from the University of Michigan, I became a Software Engineer at Microsoft. By day, I helped build SharePoint into the fastest growth product in the company's history. On my personal time, I sought out opportunities to connect my technical skills with community building efforts across the country. This led to my co-founding The SuperSpade: Black Thought at the Highest Level, a leading Black political blog. I served as Social Media Manager for the 2008 Obama campaign in Washington, and then became Director of New Media at the Center for Community Change. I spent two years creating and implementing a strategy for the Center to take it's 40 years of community organizing experience into the digital age. I speak before diverse audiences on effective & responsive government, empowerment in revolutionary new organizing spaces, increasing civic engagement & participation through emerging technologies and protecting civil rights in the age of the Internet. Full bio here.

One response to “White Guilt, Black Victimization”

  1. Garlin II says :

    Here is an article on Black Commentator about Shelby Steele.

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