… and then I’ll shut up on the topic for a while.

The other day I was reading James Collier’s blog, and this article caught my eye. The article talked about ‘white guilt’, but the second to the last sentence is what grabbed me:

Obama seems to represent an option, in some minds, for moving towards better solutions, minus the scarlet letter if your skin happens to be white today.

This engendered a visceral reaction: this guy gets it. As I went about my business, this article stayed with me. I came to the conclusion that we don’t need less ‘white guilt’; we need more.

Now someone’s going to say ‘Good God, not more!’ White guilt has gotten the rap for all sorts of bad behavior. Just stay with me for a few minutes.

I’m a part of two 12-step groups. I won’t go into my addictions (I’m not alcoholic; feel free to buy me a drink 😉 ) but one thing we learn about in these groups is guilt.

Guilt is a good thing. Guilt says that you did something wrong. It makes you feel bad about what you’ve done. It motivates you to change, to make amends.

Shame, on the other hand, is toxic. Shame says that there’s something wrong with you. It leads to obsession, addiction, rage, depression. It makes you blame shift, lash out, deny you did anything wrong. Shame destroys your life and everyone around you.

When people talk about ‘white guilt’, what they really mean is ‘white shame’.

Look at that quote above. The scarlet letter (a quintessentially American icon) was not to guilt Hester out. It was to shame her.

White America’s shame has been rolling in with the betrayal and slaughter of the owners of the land we stand on, before the first man was taken as a slave, over 400 years ago, mirrored in the slaughter and pillage of Third Reich Germany. We are drowning in shame, and we drug, distract with television or the internet, buy, and join causes we think might make us feel better. None of it does.

We don’t need any more white shame. What we need is more white guilt. Guilt says “I did something wrong. I need to learn why what I did was wrong and change so I don’t do it again.” Guilt puts the motivation on the guilty party. A guilty man can’t in good conscience sit back and order the people he hurt to teach him what he did, or point fingers, or make excuses as to why what he did wasn’t all that bad, because he feels the guilt of what he did.

So how to move from shame to guilt? A good question. I’ve heard jokes about forming ‘Racists Anonymous’, and maybe that’s what we need. But until we as whites move from shame to guilt, very little will truly change in this country. Actions and words may become more correct, as people are shamed into it, but at a terrible cost.

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