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

Addressing Silence on Black Lives

I am not the sort of person who likes to write blog posts, or anything, at the last minute. However, the recent death and burial of Richard Collins III, an African American student at Bowie State University in Maryland, moved me to write this blog post. I decided that it would be wrong for me or others to ignore this tragedy and be silent on it, even if it means writing a blog post which may be slightly disorganized this week.

It is especially wrong for me to ignore this tragedy because it exposes an injustice that needs to be addressed—the fact that, in even the best-case scenario, many of us are silent or say “thoughts and prayers” about these tragedies against African Americans.

This statement may come across to some as an overly emotional response to a recent tragedy that in some ways hits close to home for me; since I have friends who are in Army ROTC or have been commissioned in the last couple of years, they may’ve served with Collins III if he lived. However, if people look at the pattern of reactions after the killings of African Americans, maybe all of you will understand my thoughts.

With many shootings against African Americans, such as Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Philando Castile, and many others, the reaction from numerous people (especially when law enforcement or neighborhood watchmen are involved, like in these three cases) tends to be one of pointing out the wrongdoings of the victims and celebrating “justice” when the people who took away these lives are declared “innocent.” I put innocent and justice in quotes because there is nothing innocent about killing someone, and because there is no justice in declaring the “innocence” of someone who took away a life that should still exist.

That being said, what is especially troubling is that, even when the lives of outstanding African Americans are taken away, there are a few prayers and condolences at best, and silence at worst. There were prayers and condolences after the tragic shooting at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, but other than a short period of prayers and condolences, most attention was turned to other issues. The police officer killing of high school student Jordan Edwards in Texas last month got relatively little attention, even though Edwards was an excellent student and athlete. And the case of Richard Collins III, an outstanding student and recently commissioned Second Lieutenant in the United States Army who was killed by an alt-right nationalist, was also met with relative silence.

Admittedly, I was one of the silent ones, as I didn’t make a post on social media about Edwards or Collins III. But silence on the killings of people like these does not end violence against innocent African Americans, or even violence against African Americans who did not commit offenses that were deserving of death. However, the killings of African Americans, and the relative lack of outrage over these killings, gives life to Black Lives Matter’s rallying cry of “white silence is violence,” whether we realize it or not.