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“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?