Quote of the Day: White Guilt

 


“A fact that has escaped notice in the decades since the civil rights victories is that, after those victories, racism became a bifurcated phenomenon in America, so that we have been left with two kinds of racism. The first is the garden-variety racial bigotry that America has, sadly, always known—the source of racial oppression and discrimination. But the new and second kind of racism is what might be called globalized racism. This is racism inflated into a deterministic, structural, and systemic power. Global racism seeks to make every racist event the tip of an iceberg so that redress will be to the measure of the iceberg rather than to the measure of its tip. It is a reconceptualization of racism designed to capture the fruit of the new and vast need in white America for moral authority in racial matters. True or not, global racism can have no political viability without white guilt. What makes it viable is not its truth but the profound moral need that emerged in mid-sixties white America.”

– Shelby Steele, White Guilt: How Blacks and Whites Together Destroyed the Promise of the Civil Rights Era, 2006

In 2020, the ubiquitous accusations of systemic American racism struck me as unfair because I had been taught the first definition of racism: bigotry in the service of racial oppression and discrimination. I thought that racism could be identified objectively in speech, behavior, or barriers that limited opportunity based on race. Since I was born after the major victories of the civil rights era, I was neither a witness nor a participant in the systemic oppression of anyone. What would I have to feel guilty about?

In the past year, I have learned just how popular the second, often subjective, definition of racism has become. Now it seems clear that the speech or behavior of individual white people does not matter. This view leads to the conclusion that the guilt for past sins attaches to groups based on the immutable characteristic of skin color. How are individuals supposed to alleviate this burden or find any path to redemption? It’s the same way that anyone manages to demonstrate her moral superiority: the virtue signal.

But the virtue signal is limited, by definition, since it is a sign without substance. Worse, the people who proclaim their own virtue end up revealing their sense of superiority. Isn’t it so condescending to presume that black Americans always require apologies and assistance from complete strangers just because they are white Americans? And yet so many Americans keep playing this game. Fifteen years ago, Shelby Steele explained how the structural view of racism was used to justify more outrage and ever greater demands:

 “The disproportion between an isolated racist incident and days of chaotic violence that took lives and destroyed vast stretches of property was meant to suggest the disproportion between mere racist events and the much broader structural determinism that kept blacks down. The scale of violence was the true scale of racism, and these sixties riots taught white America—by illustrating this proportion—the scale of its obligation to blacks. Systemic racism would have to be answered with systemic redress.”

Apparently, no number of riots will ever solve the problem of systemic racism. Since I can’t quote the whole book, I’ll simply recommend it to any of you who have not yet read White Guilt.

Published in Group Writing
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  1. Randy Webster Member
    Randy Webster
    @RandyWebster

    Lilly B: Global racism seeks to make every racist event the tip of an iceberg

    Global racism seeks to make every event racist.  FTFY.

    • #1
  2. RushBabe49 Thatcher
    RushBabe49
    @RushBabe49

    I am just waiting for someone to call me a racist.  No one has.  A former friend called my blog racist, but I just ignored the email, considering it not worth my time to reply.  It’s so easy a term to throw around, but hard to reply to, and impossible to refute.

    I have met Shelby Steele, and he is wonderful, and very astute.

    • #2
  3. Stina Member
    Stina
    @CM

    Lilly B: Apparently, no amount of riots will ever solve the problem of systemic racism.

    Ultimately satisfied by white people being slaves to black people.

    • #3
  4. She Member
    She
    @She

    The grandson of a slave, Shelby Steele is a continuing rebuke to the race-baiters of the identity politics world.  Thanks for highlighting an important book, and an important and independent thinker.  (His son, Eli Steele seems to be a chip off the old block who also refuses to be boxed in by his “identity,” which some would have you believe must also limit his own horizons.)

    ***

    This is the Quote of the Day. Our sign-up sheet for May is here.  There are still a very few days left.  Get ’em while they’re hot! If you’re new at this game, it’s a easy way to get your feet wet and start a conversation; if you’re an old-timer, you already know the ropes.  Either way, please sign up to speak up.

    Another ongoing project to encourage new voices is our Group Writing Project. May’s theme is “May Day, Mayday, May Days.” If you’re looking to share your own thoughts rather than those of others, please sign up for Group Writing too!

    • #4
  5. Lilly B Coolidge
    Lilly B
    @LillyB

    RushBabe49 (View Comment):

    I am just waiting for someone to call me a racist. No one has. A former friend called my blog racist, but I just ignored the email, considering it not worth my time to reply. It’s so easy a term to throw around, but hard to reply to, and impossible to refute.

    I have met Shelby Steele, and he is wonderful, and very astute.

    You don’t have any experiences of someone calling you racist or at least insinuating it? I was accused of thinking all black people look the same about 13 years ago because I had the audacity to ask a fellow attorney for help at a legal education seminar. I felt like she slapped me across the face. I would be much better prepared to reply at this point in life…maybe.

    • #5
  6. Lilly B Coolidge
    Lilly B
    @LillyB

    It reminds me a lot of the attitude that many of us have witnessed regarding mask-wearing. There’s a sense of authority that people think justifies them in berating strangers.

    • #6
  7. RushBabe49 Thatcher
    RushBabe49
    @RushBabe49

    Lilly B (View Comment):

    RushBabe49 (View Comment):

    I am just waiting for someone to call me a racist. No one has. A former friend called my blog racist, but I just ignored the email, considering it not worth my time to reply. It’s so easy a term to throw around, but hard to reply to, and impossible to refute.

    I have met Shelby Steele, and he is wonderful, and very astute.

    You don’t have any experiences of someone calling you racist or at least insinuating it? I was accused of thinking all black people look the same about 13 years ago because I had the audacity to ask a fellow attorney for help at a legal education seminar. I felt like she slapped me across the face. I would be much better prepared to reply at this point in life…maybe.

    Nope.  My sister disowned me, based on posts on my personal blog, but did not call me racist (I deplore homosexuality and Islam on my blog, and that hit sister because my niece is homosexual, and my nephew’s wife’s family are Iranian).  My college roommate called my blog posts racist, because of my frowning on race-baiting, but never called me racist.  And all those things were in writing, not verbally to my face.

    • #7
  8. navyjag Coolidge
    navyjag
    @navyjag

    Not enough Shelby Steeles, Thomas Sowells and Walter Williams (RIP) around to help get us through this b.s.

    • #8
  9. Lilly B Coolidge
    Lilly B
    @LillyB

    navyjag (View Comment):

    Not enough Shelby Steeles, Thomas Sowells and Walter Williams (RIP) around to help get us through this b.s.

    Much of the reason that I am not buying the white guilt that the left is selling is that I have had a zillion positive interactions, as well as many good friendships, with people of all races/ethnicities. I think all of us can get through it because my experience is not unusual. Having guidance from Sowell, Steele, and Williams helps, but of course it’s not enough. 

    • #9
  10. Henry Castaigne Member
    Henry Castaigne
    @HenryCastaigne

    The thing about white guilt, is that it isn’t about promoting what’s best for black-Americans or Americans in general. It isn’t even about justice or morality. It’s about looking moral and just. Those are completely different things. 

    • #10
  11. Ansonia Member
    Ansonia
    @Ansonia

    I love the way Steele writes. You’ll never forget the description of the incident of a college President backing down to the young Shelby Steele (who was dropping cigarette ashes on the carpet of the college President’s office while making demands) as seen in recall through the clearer lens of an older, wiser man.

    The book is SO worth reading.

    • #11
  12. Ansonia Member
    Ansonia
    @Ansonia

    Lilly B (View Comment):

    navyjag (View Comment):

    Not enough Shelby Steeles, Thomas Sowells and Walter Williams (RIP) around to help get us through this b.s.

    Much of the reason that I am not buying the white guilt that the left is selling is that I have had a zillion positive interactions, as well as many good friendships, with people of all races/ethnicities. I think all of us can get through it because my experience is not unusual. Having guidance from Sowell, Steele, and Williams helps, but of course it’s not enough.

    I want to remember this year to read different books by all three of them, to better be able to call attention to their work.
    Haven’t read anything by Walter Williams. What would anyone on this thread suggest ?

    • #12
  13. David Foster Member
    David Foster
    @DavidFoster

    Most of the people who project “White Guilt”, or “Liberal Guilt”, or whatever…I think most of these people really feel no personal guilt whatsoever.  They feel *superiority* to the rest of us, who think *should* feel guilty.

     

     

    • #13
  14. Henry Castaigne Member
    Henry Castaigne
    @HenryCastaigne

    Ansonia (View Comment):

    I love the way Steele writes. You’ll never forget the the description of the incident of a college President backing down to the young Shelby Steele (who was dropping cigarette ashes on the carpet of the college President’s office while making demands) as seen in recall through the clearer lens of an older, wiser man.

    The book is SO worth reading.

    That incident alone is worth the price of the book. He decides that he is exempt from conventional morality because he is a victim. The previous generations of black-Americans advocating for Civil Rights wouldn’t even curse in front of a vicious segregationist. But Shelby Steele (who was in some ways privileged), went out of his way to be rude to a liberal* guy who probably donated to the NAACP. 

    *Liberals back at that time were classically liberal. 

    • #14
  15. Henry Castaigne Member
    Henry Castaigne
    @HenryCastaigne

    Ansonia (View Comment):

    Lilly B (View Comment):

    navyjag (View Comment):

    Not enough Shelby Steeles, Thomas Sowells and Walter Williams (RIP) around to help get us through this b.s.

    Much of the reason that I am not buying the white guilt that the left is selling is that I have had a zillion positive interactions, as well as many good friendships, with people of all races/ethnicities. I think all of us can get through it because my experience is not unusual. Having guidance from Sowell, Steele, and Williams helps, but of course it’s not enough.

    I want to remember this year to read different books by all three of them, to better be able to call attention to their work.
    Haven’t read anything by Walter Williams. What would anyone on this thread suggest ?

    His autobiography was pretty good. 

     

    • #15
  16. Henry Castaigne Member
    Henry Castaigne
    @HenryCastaigne

    David Foster (View Comment):

    Most of the people who project “White Guilt”, or “Liberal Guilt”, or whatever…I think most of these people really feel no personal guilt whatsoever. They feel *superiority* to the rest of us, who think *should* feel guilty.

    Guilt and moral superiority can go together. As I wrote before,

    I suspect that the modern antiracist idea is a kind of narcissism on mass, and it based both on self-love and self-hatred simultaneously. The main point isn’t to feel good or bad but to feel self-important…

    Recently, James Lileks in his interview with Ayaan Hirsi Ali mentioned that non-white Empires were guilty of abuse of the weak and violence against the other and misogyny, and pretty much everything that European Empires are accused of. Such accusations directed at European Empires are often well-deserved, but that is not Lilek’s point. He rightly notes that Western societies are judged by very high standards and that non-Western societies are exempted from such standards.

    To the person who has white guilt. Their white guilt makes them superior to other whites. Non whites can be judged as they are because they are not capable of upholding the same moral standard. This in their guilt they are superior to others. That is their laceration as Ivan Karamazov should say.

                And it all comes from your pride. Oh, there’s a great deal of humiliation and self-abasement about it, but it all comes from             pride….

    • #16
  17. Ansonia Member
    Ansonia
    @Ansonia

    Henry Castaigne (View Comment):

    Ansonia (View Comment):

    I love the way Steele writes. You’ll never forget the the description of the incident of a college President backing down to the young Shelby Steele (who was dropping cigarette ashes on the carpet of the college President’s office while making demands) as seen in recall through the clearer lens of an older, wiser man.

    The book is SO worth reading.

    That incident alone is worth the price of the book. He decides that he is exempt from conventional morality because he is a victim. The previous generations of black-Americans advocating for Civil Rights wouldn’t even curse in front of a vicious segregationist. But Shelby Steele (who was in some ways privileged), went out of his way to be rude to a liberal* guy who probably donated to the NAACP.

    *Liberals back at that time were classically liberal.

     

    ”That incident alone is worth the price of the book.”

    That’s how I felt about it.

     

     

    • #17
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