Stop Conflating Humility With White Guilt

This post is two days too late, but this blog itself is about two years too late, and I haven’t been able to sleep the past few days, probably because of my white guilt, more commonly known by anyone who’s not a white nationalist as my ability to be a decent human being. 

(Quick shoutout to the Trump supporters who somehow manage to sleep better than I do – that’s truly a sociopathic talent you’ve got there.)

One of the most volatile arguments in favor of white pride is that we shouldn’t feel a sense of “guilt” about our race. “Guilt” of course meaning any sense of humility, compassion or being a mediocrely decent human being.

Pride cannot be defined as hatred toward people who are different than you. That doesn’t make you proud, that makes you a white nationalist.

Tim Gionet, a conservative activist and Nazi better known by other Nazis as “Baked Alaska,” recently tweeted that “…if you’re white and don’t bathe in the tears of white guilt [you’re] a white supremacist, neo-Nazi, domestic terrorist.” 

If I were to check his tweet for accuracy, and then rewrite it accordingly, it might instead say “if you’re white and a Nazi, you’re a Nazi.”

The Unite the Right protest, which left one civilian dead and 19 others injured, was accompanied by torches, guns, metal pipes, Confederate flags and swastikas. Marchers chanted “blood and soil,” a Nazi slogan, while giving the Hitler salute. 

If you were there, or if you don’t care, then the shoe fits – you’re a Nazi.

In the aftermath of this tragedy, white people are still more afraid of being called racist than they are of racism itself, likely due to the way that they benefit from one and not from the other. When Donald Trump did make an inexplicably distasteful comment that served only to further embolden Nazis and white nationalists, he made sure to let everyone know that racism was not his fault. Trump, the man who ran a campaign based around nationalism and hate toward nearly every minority group, was more concerned with protecting his own reputation than he was with protecting the people of the country he is supposed to serve. 

Even after finally issuing a 2-day-late statement to explicitly condemn racism, Trump was more concerned with negative media attention than the fact that literal Nazis were beating people of color with steel pipes and plowing their cars into crowds of counter-protesters.

Although Trump is arguably the most influential politician to undermine the horrendous impact of racism and nationalism on the people of the United States, he isn’t the only one doing so. Half-assed attempts to condemn racism while proactively supporting politicians and policies that enforce it is commonplace among politicians and conservatives. 

Saying your heart aches for those affected from the comfort and safety of your white privilege while still using every ounce of your being to protect yourself doesn’t make you a good person, it makes you a hypocrite.

It is possible to condemn racism and take steps toward combatting it without bathing in tears of white guilt. All it takes is a willingness to listen and to take action. If you feel guilty about your position in society, it’s likely because you’re not doing enough to help those who aren’t afforded the same privilege and opportunity as you are. As Audre Lorde said in The Uses of Anger“guilt is not a response to anger; it is a response to one’s own actions or lack of action.”

People are mad, and rightfully so – especially people of color. There are fair reasons for people of color to be beyond upset about the gross amount of institutionalized racism facing this country. White people, like myself, need to stop interpreting this anger as a reason to retaliate or a reason to stop listening.

“Guilt and defensiveness are bricks in a wall against which we all flounder; they serve none of our futures.” – Audre Lorde

Of course political engagement and civil discourse aren’t going to eradicate white privilege and racism overnight, but admitting there’s a legitimate issue without downplaying its effects or wasting time on appeasing the other side is the first step toward alleviating some of its worst side effects.

Published: August 2017.