White Guilt and the Meaning of Racism

What do we mean when we talk about racism? Is it the wholesale enslavement of Africans and the subsequent segregation and imprisonment of their progeny? Is it the false reality in which white Americans insulate themselves that allows state-sanctioned murders to play out on police cameras while we cover our ears and say to ourselves “We have a black president. Everything is better now”? Maybe it’s the casual everyday fears that flit through the minds of white Americans as we pass a person of colour in a narrow hallway or in a parking lot at twilight. As a group of people, white Americans have much to atone for and much to change. When we think of racism, what do we think about? Do we even know? Can the white American ever, seriously know what racism is since we have never experienced it and it is by our actions exercised? No.

Race, we feel, is something outside ourselves. Other people, other skin tones are the races. The white American has centuries of inherited self-importance and undeserved pride to help alleviate the guilt and expunge the soul of introspective notions and questioning ideas. Racism, to the white American, is something individual, something demonstrated by fringe characters who continue to fly the Confederate flag and have stockpiled weapons in preparation to the coming migrant insurrection. What we do not realize is that there is within us, perhaps only in the moments of anxiety triggered by a black man walking towards the car at a traffic signal, fragments of the Klan and whispers of the plantation. We have been taught to fear, belittle, demonize and avoid the black man as he is certainly up to no good. The violence we imagine is only the resurgent shadows of our ancestors’ atrocities, perpetrated in the name of racial  superiority and religious mission. The talk is of how the nation was built upon the backs of slaves and persecuted immigrants. What we tend to overlook is now our public institutions, our governments, industries, policies and laws are built upon the legacy of the pre-civil rights America. The laws of this nation, the soul of this nation have only recently been modified to include persons of colour within the brotherhood of Americans. There are many people still alive (many of them can be found in positions of authority and influence) who came of age in the Jim Crow era, the America of seperate but equal, of lynchings, crosses burning and church bombings. Don’t for a moment think that generation has forgotten its history.

White America has become adept at feigning guilt and pretending to care, but such a long history of privilage and power is not easily surrendered. It is no surprise that white America works so hard to slow the march of progress, why it so strongly opposes all attempts at serious change, why it still cannot see that we are living in the twilight of the white world order and no amount of shirking from reality will alter the tide.

 

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