White Guilt, White Privilege, White. Three terms thrown around in the past year or so. All with negative connotations. With this year’s Presidential election decided pretty much by a handful of white voters, does any of this change?
White Guilt is the individual or collective guilt felt by some white people for harm resulting from racist treatment of ethnic minorities by other white people both historically and currently. (Shelby Steele. A World of Difference: White Guilt) White guilt has been described as one of the psychosocial costs of racism for white individuals along with empathy (sadness and anger) for victims of racism and fear of non-whites. (Lisa Spanierman. Psychosocial Costs of Racism to Whites Scale. Journal of Counseling Psychology. 51(2):249–262 Apr 2004.)
According to a website called the urbandictionary.com, white guilt is “a belief, often subconscious, among white liberals that being white is, in and of itself, a great transgression against the rest of the world for which one must spend their life making atonement.”
I’ve seen this in some of my more liberal friends, but not necessarily among my more conservative ones.
White guilt seems to stem from the notion that just because someone is of the Caucasian race or white as it is sometimes referred to, that means one must bear the burden of years of oppression that some minority groups have endured at the hands of others, presumable also of the Caucasian race. It mainly centers in the United States, where various groups were treated very poorly, such as the African Slaves and Native Americans, whose people were systematically killed or herded out of their native lands to reservations.
It does not presuppose that atrocities against various minority groups did not take place. Because they, in fact, did take place.
And yet, white guilt is supposed to make whites more sensitive to race issues. It seems to me, unless one is themselves guilty of acts of racism, why would one feel guilty for something they were not a part of? For example, my family arrived here beginning in the late 1800s and early 1900s, having had nothing to do with slavery. Should they and, in turn I, feel guilt for that dark period in American history? I think not. Should we be a part of the collective guilt of the nation who allowed it? I am not so sure of that either.
Hot on the heels of white guilt is White Privilege. White Privilege (or white skin privilege) is a term for societal privileges that benefit people identified as white in Western countries, beyond what is commonly experienced by non-white people under the same social, political, or economic circumstances. Academic perspectives such as critical race theory and whiteness studies use the concept of “white privilege” to analyze how racism and racialized societies affect the lives of white or white-skinned people. (Wikipedia)
This is a term that, for me, is a bit easier to understand. Throughout much of the history of the United States, it has been largely Caucasian or white, Anglo-Saxon men who have been in charge. So much so that at the founding of the nation, black slaves were thought to be less than a whole person and women had little to no voice. Not until the 14th Amendment to the US Constitution, were Blacks considered a whole person. Not until the 19th Amendment did Women in this country secure the right to vote. The Voting Rights act of 1965 was passed to insure no racial discrimination in voting. Some might argue that fight is still not over.
Some critics say that the term uses the concept of “whiteness” as a proxy for class or other social privilege or as a distraction from deeper underlying problems of inequality. (Arnesen, Eric (October 2001). “Whiteness and the Historians’ Imagination”. International Labor and Working-Class History. 60: 3–32.) In other words, any privilege can be attributed to economics as much to skin color or ethnic origin.
I can partial agree with this assessment. Would one argue for white privilege in the National Football League, the National Basketball League or even the Major League Baseball, where minority groups have excelled over the past 20 years or so. At one time, yes, but not now.
There was a period of time at my work where there was a huge push to hire and promote women and minorities to the company. This was to correct low numbers of women and minorities in the workplace. A noble pursuit. However, at that point, white privilege seemed to go out the window since being white was now a disadvantage in getting hired or promoted. I’m not saying it was necessarily wrong, but a fact at that point. In some cases, lesser qualified people were hired in order to fill quota numbers, rather than hire the most qualified.
Even the word, “white,” has taken a beating this past year. Of course, the example I am referring to is the removal of a new Primary Song because of its use of the word, “white.” In fact, the title of the Song is “White.” According to the Salt Lake Tribune, “the song was written by a 17 year old Asian LDS young women who based it on the biblical verse, Isaiah 1:18, which says “though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow.””
“Because ‘white’ and ‘whiteness’ are so entangled with the concept and experience of race, this song is very inappropriate,” Janan Graham-Russell, a black Mormon writer in Evanston, Ill., said on Facebook. “I get the [doctrinal] idea but more care should be taken with anything involving the word ‘white’ and the LDS Church because of its history and the present experiences of black members.”
What is interesting to me is that the term, “Black” or some of its foreign language versions were viewed as a pejorative when used to describe African-Americans. But as African-Americans rejected the terms “colored” and “negro,” Black became an acceptable term.
I don’t know if I buy the argument. Of course, I understand the Church history associated with Blacks and the Priesthood and I don’t wish for people to be uncomfortable. But imagine how the young women who wrote the lyrics must have felt, thinking she was doing a good thing, most likely unaware that some might take offense. Chose not to be offended?
Also, in some circles, not necessarily LDS, some would like to remove the word “sin” because it has its own negative connotations. (Christian Post)