A very good and decent friend of mine the other day was depressed and writing about racism and said things like. “White people don’t deserve to be praised for having a conscience. That’s just wrong on so many levels… just wrong as wrong, and not at all what I need. Solidarity. A nod of the head. A hand on the shoulder. But no headpats, no praise, no cookies.” My heart broke for her. The idea that …”people don’t deserve to be praised for having a conscience” is soooo not true. We all need love and respect and admiration and even — if we’re not allergic to them — cookies.
In the old days, people would have accused her of “doing White guilt” and they would have been right, sort of. Liberals do a lot of “guilt” — male guilt, heterosexual guilt, colonial guilt and so on. But people outside of the liberal world don’t understand white guilt. They confuse it with something else: White Shame. Frankly,though, us White liberals are prone to running that line between guilt and shame and sometimes we fall off. I’m against that.
These are just new thoughts to me and they’re in process, so bear with me.I’m using psychological terms to deal with political ideas here, but here’s my thing. Shame paralyzes. Guilt prods. Embarrassment could go either way. Love and fun and hope (and, yes, cookies) make things possible. There’s work to be done, and we need energy on our journey. I’m a big believer in the carrot, not so much the stick. Also, I believe we are called to joy, unbridled joy and love and peace and contentment with our limits at times. (My Black friends, please don’t think that means complacency. It doesn’t. It means there are twenty-four hours in a day.)
There’s a continuum for Whites (some of my best friends are White) about racism. On the liberal/radical end, there’s White Guilt and White Shame. On the conservative/radical conservative end, there’s No Guilt and No Shame. Before my conservative friends go nuts, I’m not talking about you. Christianity is not the same as Conservatism. My conservative friends (Marilyn, I’m talking to you here… and Sean and Bob… and you know who you are) are nice people and they have a lot of guilt when it’s appropriate, and shame when it’s appropriate. There tolerances may be different than mine, but wrong is wrong and they know it when they see it. They get the William Scott shooting as downright “evil” and wrong. Frankly, though, if you can’t see an unarmed man being shot in the back as wrong, you’re not my friend anyway. Also, if you don’t think racism is wrong, you’re not my friend. I don’t have friends like that.
OK. so back to the random thoughts and the continuum. In the therapy world, guilt is about what you do or did. Shame is about who you are. Feeling bad about being White is as racist as hating people for being Black or Asian or … well, human of any kind. Feeling bad for things you have done — ways in which you actively promote intolerance or ways you have taken advantage of being White — that’s what real White Guilt is for. You did something wrong, now you have to fix it or make up for it in some way. Black folk (it seems to me, but I could be wrong) wish for Black guilt, what they get is Black Shame. They would tell you that if a Black man shoots any unarmed person, they should be punished, because they aren’t anything but a criminal. Black-on-Black or Black-on-White, it makes no difference. If the word “Black” comes up in the sentence and hints or implies “all Black folk”, that’s Black Shame — whether said by a Black person or a White one or any other human being. That stuff destroys.
There’s a third category — White Embarrassment — that you never hear about. When a White person does or says something stupid about race on TV, good liberals are embarrassed by them. We roll our eyes, we say to each other, “what an idiot” and we try to separate ourselves from them because we wouldn’t join the Ku Klux Klan. We wouldn’t say “when you’re talking to the Colored Folk…”. We wouldn’t not hire someone because of their skin color. We can’t even imagine doing those things. In our embarrassment
But we are not them because we are not totally like anybody. No human is. Where we are like “them”, we need to stop being so. If I hurt a person of any race, I need to stop it. If I hurt a person because of their race, I certainly need to stop. If I know about it, I need to do something. The more I know about it, the more I care, to the extent that I’m conscious of how it affects others negatively, I need to do something to fix it. That’s it.
So here’s the continuum, as I see it.
1) No shame. I think everyone else’s race is inferior to mine.There’s is nothing wrong with that. That’s the way it’s supposed to be. I’m prejudiced and I don’t care and I act on it.
2) No guilt: Regardless of what I feel or think, I act like other people’s race is inferior and I don’t take responsibility for it when I hurt them. I know it’s wrong and I don’t care enough to worry about it.
3) No embarrassment: I know all races are equal, but I’m not embarrassed when others in my group act up. I don’t do anything about it because I’m not them.
4) Race embarrassment: I know all races are equal, and I’m embarrassed when others in my group act up. I don’t do anything about it, though, because it’s not that important — or I say, defensively, “I’m not like my group”.
5) Race guilt. I’m conscious of how my behavior and thoughts effect other races. I’m also see the pain caused by people from my group hurting others. I put those two together and I want to do something about it. I am sometimes more active about it than others, but if I can, I want to do something about it.
6) Race shame: I see myself as part of a race and I’m embarrassed to be a part of it. Everything we’ve ever done is wrong. It’s hopeless. I might as well just shoot myself now.
Long and short of it: People shouldn’t hurt others because of their race. People shouldn’t think it’s cool or okay when others hurt people because of their race. Some people don’t listen. Some people don’t listen enough. Some people don’t want to. Not listening doesn’t make it go away though. The more listening you do, the more you should want to do something about it. The more hope you have that you can do something, the more you’re likely to try.
This is a work in progress, and it’s me processing “aloud”. I welcome comment, but my friends who see hurt, who name it when they see it, and who want to do something about it, and who do actually do something about it need to cut themselves some slack.