On white guilt

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article do not reflect the opinions of The Houstonian.

Race relations in the United States is a tough subject involving many factors like history, economic status and culture. Ever since immigrants arrived at Jamestown, Va., relationships between Caucasians and other minorities have been generally hostile. Although we legally achieved equal rights among race and ethnicity in the 1960s by outlawing public segregation, tensions among different ethnicities remains high. In fact, race relations dominate political discussions this decade, many adopting the narrative that minorities are still treated unequally under the law. Shelby Steele, a conservative, African American author, discussed the concept of “white guilt”. Her belief was that many white people feel guilty about the collective current and past actions of whites on minorities. Steele is correct that white guilt is an issue when dealing with race relations, although whites feeling guilty about themselves does not address the reality of race relations today.

Some people argue that because of the way white people treated minorities in the past, they should feel guilty about minorities’ current misfortunes. That means that a white person could treat minorities as equal and dedicate his life to improve the plight of minorities, but still be condemned for existing. It is unfair and hypocritical to argue that whites, or anyone for that matter, should feel retroactively blameworthy of actions committed by other people in their group, because being part of a race does not make anyone better or worse. As an example, Native Americans in Aztec culture, prior to the Spaniard’s conquest in the 16 century, made human sacrifices to the night god Tezcatlipoca and conquered lands of their enemies through military conquest. But that does not mean Native Americans should feel guilty for their ancestors’ actions because doing so would dehumanize them with a past that does not define who they are now. No one should feel that they must carry their father’s sin, let alone that of their ancestors.

In addition, white guilt advocates often question whether mixed-race individuals with Caucasian background should be categorized under the guilty party. By white guilt’s logic, are we supposed to assume that mixed-race individuals with Caucasian and minority (or even multiple minorities) backgrounds should condemn themselves, or claim perpetual feelings of oppressions because of being a minority? With the additional complications that mixed-race people face in race relations, throwing in the question of white guilt only makes their dilemma worse.

It has been over 150 years since the United States abolished slavery and over fifty years since legal equality was put into practice among race and ethnicity. Public segregation is illegal, and nearly everyone accepts that no one is unequal based on the color of one’s skin. Since then, we have seen the rise of minorities in the middle-class, as the fall of segregation offers them opportunities previously denied before. The bearing on improving racial relationships falls equally on whites and minorities. We must not accept racism from minorities if we do not accept it from white people, nor should we feel sorry for the actions of other people when we have no involvement in them. Our country’s past with race relations are dark, but we should not hold grudges or feel guilt over what our ancestors or even our parents did. To improve our relationships with people of other races, we must start by treating others as equals, a crucial part of healing the wound of race relations.

There are 2 comments

  1. Desmond Leger

    Shelby Steele is a man. And you should read his book, "white guilt" to better understand his premise. It's not as simple as whites feeling guilty. It's more about moral authority and the desire for white liberals to maintain power over blacks.

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