Archive for October 19th, 2009

We’re introducing a new concept on the blog today: Derailment Mondays!

derailment (n): a defensive argument, statement, or question that dismisses or seeks to undermine anti-racist arguments in an effort to preserve privilege or the status quo

Each week, in addition to our regular posting, we will feature a common derailment tactic and discuss (with the help of our readers, of course) how to address it.  So in honor of our first Derailment Monday, I would like us to look at this article from Human Events by Caroline Rushing entitled White Guilt Awareness Day. (Side effects warning: you may have to hold your nose while you read this, or have a bucket nearby because it may cause severe nausea.)

While Rushing’s essay is steeped in conspiracy theory, her main point about any degree of anti-racist education (especially in the form of diversity training) is : You’re just trying to make white people feel guilty.

My primary response to this as a person who has heard this comment many, many times is, “No, I’m not.” Guilt implies wrongdoing.  I think that most white people are not consciously doing wrong on this issue.  Most of us are unaware of racism because of the blindness that privilege imposes on us.  The wrongdoing occurs when, presented with the truth about racism in our society, we choose to ignore it or walk away and do nothing to change it.  In that sense, there are some of us who are guilty, and we should acknowledge that.  But guilt is not the end goal of conversations about race.

I can say for myself that any attempt I make to help white folks see their own privilege and the inherent racism that props it up is not an attempt to make them feel guilty, it’s an attempt to free them from a system that makes them unwitting pawns of oppression.  I don’t want people to “feel” guilty, I want them to “feel” engaged, empathetic, righteously indignant even, over the injustices in our society.

Guilt itself helps no one.  Most of us who have gone through experiences with white guilt know it to be a paralyzing force.  Guilt makes you feel horrible and helpless.  No one person can bear the weight of mistakes made by generations of prejudice and oppression and no one person can make up for all of that. Rushing feels pity on a man she claims was conned into feeling guilty at this diversity seminar:

A ‘privileged’ man in my group fed right into the liberal agenda of the activity and explained he has been ashamed of being a white man when he sees the terrible things that white men have done, the injustices in the world, and how he has so much while others have so little. This poor guy took the diversity day bait hook, line, and sinker.

Clearly this man was at a point of conviction.  He understood the ramifications of our system and he felt compassion and grief over what his privilege costs others.  There is nothing wrong with feeling bad about injustice.  In fact, we should feel that way.  Rushing laments this man’s despair yet at this moment, he is experiencing a revelation that she cannot understand because she entered this learning opportunity mocking it; protective of her own position and defensive toward any new information offered her.

I’m not sure what this man did with his newfound knowledge of privilege.  I hope he is doing something productive.  Rushing implies that he recognized the needs of others, so I hope he takes an interest in helping them meet their needs or advocating for their cause.  If not, it could be possible that he forgets what he has learned and reverts back to being a guardian of the status quo.  As for the author, she has confused guilt with conviction, and thus remained unchanged.

I feel less pity for this man who is experiencing a crisis of conscience than I do for Rushing who appears to have no conscience or consciousness at all.

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