What is…White Guilt?

Some terms are criticized as social justice jargon. However, many of these terms are important to know about and understand. One such term is white guilt.

Dictionary.com offers a concise definition of white guilt: it is “the feelings of shame and remorse some white people experience when they recognize the legacy of racism and racial injustice and perceive the ways they have benefited from it.”[1] While it sounds well-intended in certain ways—after all, it recognizes racism and injustice and ways white people like me have benefited from it—white guilt can also be extremely problematic in certain ways.

But why can white guilt be problematic?

The problem is that in many cases, feelings of shame and remorse can be so great that they prevent one from doing anything about the racism and racial injustice that’s so upsetting to begin with. While it is important to recognize racism and racial injustice around you, especially if you recognize some of the ways it benefits you, it’s counterproductive to be so upset about those systems of injustice that you feel unworthy of playing your part as an ally in the larger effort to ensure that Black lives matter. After all, the goal is not to wallow in guilt, but to turn the recognition of injustice into anti-racist action.

It’s also worth noting that one of the criticisms I often hear of white guilt is that white guilt doesn’t turn into white action.[2] That’s something to be conscious of, if you, like me, are white. It’s important to be conscious of the fact that it’s not enough to simply recognize how racial injustice benefits you, nor is it enough to feel guilty about how racial injustice benefits you. Instead of simply recognizing how racial injustice benefits you (or even feeling guilty about that), donate to and/or volunteer for racial justice organizations, attend Black Lives Matter marches (while practicing mask-wearing and social distancing, of course), vote for candidates who have an extensive platform on racial justice, and educate your own friends about the systems of racial injustice you’ve noticed yourself, among other things. In doing these activities, however, please note that it’s not about you or about erasing your guilt, but about racial inequality (because for too many people attending a protest march, for example, is about making them look like the “good people”).

In addition to the volunteering, marching, voting, etc., however, I also recommend that people struggling with white guilt should process those feelings with other people who have struggled with white guilt themselves and managed to turn that guilt into racial justice action. While it may be tempting to talk about your white guilt with anyone and everyone to show how “woke” you are, the most productive and healthy way of processing and overcoming white guilt is probably by talking with people who have that shared experience with you.

So, for those who are still struggling with white guilt, I know how you feel. I was there, and I can sometimes still be there. I just hope that you will be able to turn guilt into action, for guilt without action does nothing.


[1] https://www.dictionary.com/browse/white-guilt

[2] Some, such as Ciarra Jones, the author of a widely-read Medium piece on white guilt, argue that white guilt can even impede upon white action: https://medium.com/@ciarrajones/the-violence-of-white-and-non-black-poc-apologies-d1321c0ccb8e

Shared Post: I Do Not Have to Perform Your Emotional Labor

One thing I’ve increasingly heard from many friends in marginalized communities is the great demand for performing something called emotional labor, which is “the process by which people manage and often suppress their feelings, their facial and verbal expressions, and their body language in order to fulfill the emotional demands of some task.”[1] One common refrain I’ve heard from these friends is that they are exhausted from having to perform this extensive emotional labor, especially when the labor asked of my friends involves something that people can find out themselves through minimal research.

Arielle Rebekah Gordon at Trans and Caffeinated wrote about her own experiences with having to perform extensive emotional labor. As an activist for transgender rights, she, like many of my friends in marginalized communities, has expressed just how exhausting it is to consistently perform emotional labor for other people.

While the emotional labor asked of Arielle may be in some ways different from the emotional labor asked of people in other marginalized communities,[2] many of the same issues expressed in her post about emotional labor have been expressed by friends also having to perform extensive emotional labor. They are issues that others of us should be aware of.

So, I hope that my readers also read her post on emotional labor, and also give her blog a look!

You can find Arielle’s post on emotional labor here.

You can find Arielle’s blog here.


[1] This definition of emotional labor comes from the post I shared. The only difference between the definition I have and the definition from the author of the shared post (Arielle) is that my definition is in the third person while her definition is in the first person.

[2] For example, the common question of, “Have you had ‘the surgery’?” is a question that is specific to people who identify as transgender.

On So-Called Slacktivism

Many of my readers have probably heard the term “slacktivism” by now—a term used to characterize “the practice of supporting a political or social cause by means such as social media or online petitions, characterized as involving very little effort or commitment.”[1] We will probably hear that term even more leading up to elections in November as some of us shame others of us for being “slacktivists.”

That being said, I am going to do something here that may ignite some controversy. I am coming to the defense of so-called slacktivists—some of them.

But why?

The short answer is that there are many people who don’t have the time or ability to do anything more than sign an online petition or do other online activism, and that should be respected instead of degraded.

A longer answer must explore life circumstances that result in someone not being able to do more than what many activists call slacktivism:

  1. Professional responsibilities. I have heard about my fair share of midday rallies and protests (and have even been at a few of them). The only problem is that such rallies can’t be attended even by someone who works a normal 9-5 job, unless that person lives in the area of the rally and is able to take a lunch break during the rally. Evenings and weekends give better access to rallies for regular 9-5 workers, but there are still many people who work weekends and/or evenings instead of, or in addition to, 9-5 work. For people who are at work while rallies and protests happen, the most they can do is what’s labeled as slacktivism, and that should be respected.
  2. Family responsibilities. Parents have to take care of their children and other family. Grownups have to make sure that all the utility bills are paid for their houses, or that rent is paid for their apartments. These responsibilities exist in addition to, not instead of, professional responsibilities. Some rallies have tried to take away the burden of parents taking care of children by including childcare at rallies (though I’m sure some parents would feel uneasy about the thought of leaving their child or children in the hands of complete strangers, and I might feel the same way when/if I become a parent). Once one combines professional responsibilities with family responsibilities, then there may be little time to do more than so-called slacktivism, and that fact shouldn’t be demonized.
  3. Physical limitations. Some people are flat-out physically unable to get to, or participate in, a rally or protest. Back when I had my bad ankle earlier this year, I was one of those people. I know many others who, like me during my bad ankle, would’ve been completely unable to participate in rallies and protests even if we wanted to. Sometimes, slacktivism is the most that some of our bodies can handle.
  4. Emotional limitations. There are some rallies that may be emotionally just too much for people. For example, a rally protesting gun violence may be too much for some family or friends of people who’ve been victimized by gun violence. The emotional limitations that bring people towards slacktivism, and away from what many activists view as activism, should be respected.

I acknowledge that there are, no doubt, many people who are capable of more than the signing of online petitions and involvement of online movements that is often associated with slacktivism. Such people who are capable of higher levels of involvement should be more involved. However, I hope that my list brings to mind the fact that there are probably millions of people in the United States who are unable to do anything more than what is labeled as slacktivism. Those people should not be demonized for what they’re unable to do, but thanked for what they are able to do.


[1] https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/slacktivism