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Reviews |  I’m with Condoleezza Rice on white guilt

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Reviews | I’m with Condoleezza Rice on white guilt

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In his classic “An American Dilemma: The Negro Problem and Modern Democracy,” Gunnar Myrdal observed that “even the white man who defends discrimination frequently describes his motive as ‘prejudice’ and says it is ‘irrational’. Everyman recognized racism but felt no need to disavow it. For example, Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson had no particular guilt over the challenges facing black America, but ultimately considered it politically prudent to court the black electorate. .

Thus, in the 1960s, civil rights leaders were able to take advantage of fortuitous configurations. We could take a page from them. The gradual legalization of marijuana could be the start of a general reanalysis of the war on drugs ravaging black communities. Beyond the current fight over President Biden’s legislative agenda, a new, more focused demand on infrastructure could and should focus on training or retraining underserved working-class black Americans for solid professional jobs. and well paid. White guilt would be of little consequence amid such developments on the pitch.

With this in mind, it should be mentioned that in the decades since the 1960s, when the idea that white Americans must be guilty took hold among a contingent of black thinkers, it seems that somehow or other another, no matter what we say or do, white people are never guilty enough and white guilt is meant to continue in perpetuity. Could it be that the effort to make Whites more guilty than they are is an effort of Sisyphus? The dream that whites will, in droves, shed their “fragility” and embrace the feeling really, really guilty is about as likely that Schoenberg is brunch music for more than a few rare.

We seek to get enlightened whites to recognize that they are complicit – to use a term particularly popular in recent years – in a system built for the benefit of whites. Note that even this word is a strategy to shake white people by the collar, telling them they are accomplices is a cooler way of saying they should be guilty. Because many white Americans have a way of resisting feelings of guilt for racial things they know to be bad but haven’t done themselves, using a euphemism such as “complicity” is one way of doing it. ‘trying to make the case without raising these typical objections. : “I have never discriminated against anyone ”; “I did not own any slaves.

But even framed as complicity, the accusation demands not only the occasional sidekick, but the white population as a whole, to feel guilty about things that people have not done individually, which have often been done. in the distant past rather than by their parents and that were made in a large societal system, on the operation of which even experts do not agree. It’s a lot. Remember also that most human beings are not, and never will be, passionately concerned with history – we live in the present.

Also, I don’t fully trust white guilt. It lends itself too easily to signaling virtue, which only partially covers, and sometimes not at all, helping people. I remember a bright, accomplished and kind white academic of a certain age who said to me enthusiastically – after I published my first breed book, “Losing the Race: Self-Sabotage in Black America”, he two decades ago – “John, I get what you mean, but I reserve the right to be guilty. I understood what he meant too, and I didn’t take it the wrong way. anyway, notice that word “right.” Feeling guilty lent him something fulfilling and reported that he was one of the good guys without obliging him more. The problem is, you can nurture that feeling while doing nothing to make changes on the pitch.

So I’m with Secretary Rice. Mainly because people can actively promote change without fostering (or accomplishing?) A sense of personal guilt for American history. Black America is unlikely to overcome without white help. But I’m not convinced the way it is is with white people ‘s cheeks burning with shame because of their complicity. Maybe they can just help.

Do you have any comments? Send a note to McWhorter-newsletter@nytimes.com.

John McWhorter (@JohnHMcWhorter) is Associate Professor of Linguistics at Columbia University. He is the most recent author of “Woke Racism: How a New Religion Has Betrayed Black America”.


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