Opinion: White Shame is Not Productive
A study called “Race in America '' was conducted in 2019 by Pew Research Center, which concluded that 76% of Black and Asian people and 58% of Hispanic people have experienced discrimination because of race. 67% of white people say that they've never experienced this. white people are often aware of racism, and in recent years while facing racial unrest, many white people have proven themselves to be dedicated allies. The path to becoming a strong advocate for racial injustice is an arduous one, and often begins with uncomfortable feelings. Part of these feelings is a sense of guilt. White guilt is “the recognition of unearned and unfair racial privileges, the acknowledgement of personal racist attitudes or behavior, and/or the sense of responsibility for others’ racist attitudes or behavior.”
White guilt by itself isn’t inherently harmful, and this guilt can often be a motivator for people to commit to real change. Guilt is uncomfortable, and this feeling can be a powerful tool to reconcile a feeling of obligation to rectify racist behavior in the past. That being said, white guilt can often go a step further and become a sense of white shame.
White shame is similar to white guilt, but instead of focusing on the bigger picture, it becomes a lot more personal. White shame is not a motivator for any kind of productive behavior at all but rather leads people to become overly defensive and to dismiss any conversations about race as a whole. White shame takes messages like “what you did was racist” and distorts them to mean something more like, “you are racist”. This mindset is not only ignorant; it's dangerous. By fostering a sense of shame around race, you shut down any opportunity for conversation or personal growth.
It is this sense of shame that causes white lawmakers to forbid topics of race in schools, putting the feelings of white students above an understanding for those that are not. Since 2021, 44 states in the U.S. have passed legislation that severely restricts Critical Race Theory and limits how racism can be discussed in schools. Removing race education is a real example of how dangerous this ignorance is. Children don’t need to fully understand every aspect of the history of racial prejudice, but removing this knowledge entirely is removing an important tool for empathy and understanding.
It's not fair for white people to be able to ignore the uncomfortable feelings that come along with issues of race, especially when race is an issue that not a single person of color has the privilege to ignore. As someone of mixed race, I’ve had the experience of being in spaces with primarily white people as well as those that are predominantly people of color. This has made me hyper-aware of how race affects me and my community and how it will hold me back. This is a reality white people have no way to imagine. To advocate for the people of color in your life, you don’t need to understand their experiences on a personal level, you just need to listen and adjust your behavior accordingly. Personally, I don’t care how uncomfortable white people feel in discussions of race. It is not a person of color's job, nor is it their responsibility to protect the feelings of the white people around them.
What I am asking my white peers to do is stop taking criticism so personally. I understand that it's difficult to be told that you're doing something wrong and to live with the guilt that comes with having a history of racial violence in your ancestry. This isn’t an excuse. I always assume good intentions because I know that so many white people try their best to be good allies. Good intentions don’t mean that you know everything, or that you won’t make mistakes.
White allies have a difficult job, especially when race is so entrenched in our society, but to be a good ally you have to be comfortable being uncomfortable and you have to be able to accept criticism without interpreting it as a personal attack on your character. In the political climate we live in currently, things tend to be seen as right or wrong. Being called out for saying or doing something racist does not make you a racist. Being unwilling to accept that you may still have learning to do, turning inward, dismissing genuine discussions, and choosing to remain ignorant makes you a racist.
By Liese Devine, Reporter