white guilt and “colorblindness”

But what is it to acknowledge one’s whiteness? Is it to acknowledge that one is inherently tied to structures of domination and oppression, that one is irrevocably on the wrong side? In other words, can the acknowledgment of whiteness produce only self-criticism, even shame and self-loathing? Is it possible to feel okay about being white?

What Should White People Do? by Linda Martin Alcoff

What is white guilt? “White guilt refers to the concept of individual or collective guilt often said to be felt by some white people for the racist treatment of people of color by whites both historically and presently.” Guilt is not a productive emotion. Guilt is self-blaming, self-pity. When you feel guilty, you focus on obtaining acceptance and forgiveness. Guilt is all about self.

White guilt is often the immediate reaction of a white person when they first realize their whiteness—when they first see their own privilege. It is a childish, reflexive reaction. But many do not learn and grow beyond this first feeling. They are so uncomfortable with their guilt that they are unable to face and discuss racism—and so they keep themselves from learning how to move past their white guilt to a more productive response.

Claiming “colorblindness” is a way of concealing white guilt. “[In] Adrienne Rich’s “Disloyal to Civilization: Feminism, Racism, Gynephobia” (1979) … [s]he argues that “colorblindness,” or the ideal of ignoring racial identities, falls into white solipsism because a racist society has no truly accessible colorblind perspective. The claim to a colorblind perspective by whites works just to conceal the partiality of their perceptions. […] For… Rich, [becoming disloyal to whiteness] clearly cannot mean upholding some form of colorblindness or individualism, which would only conceal white privilege and implicit white perspectives.” (Alcoff) Colorblindness keeps white people safe from their white guilt by denying that racism exists. Colorblind whites close their eyes and stick their fingers in their ears. If they don’t see color, it doesn’t exist! Problem solved.

Claiming to be colorblind doesn’t help anyone. It might temporarily distance you from your feelings of white guilt—it might make you feel a little better. But it certainly doesn’t help people of color for you to deny they exist, or that they are living in a racist society. Move beyond your white guilt and colorblindness. Educate yourself, take a stand against racism—be an ally.

When POC experience true racism/bigotry/discrimination and wish to share their experiences, one has to avoid taking it personally. Don’t make it about you. Don’t be offended if somebody talks about an experience you’re unable to relate to. Simply listen and be objective about it. Try to understand the other person’s position. […] There are many white people who wish to see everyone being treated fairly. It should not stem from white guilt, but from a real desire to see positive changes in the way humanity works. Commenter Melinda Bishop on The Do’s and Dont’s of Being a Good Ally


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