Opinion I’m with Condoleezza Rice about white guilt

In his classic “The American Dilemma: The Problem of Blacks and Modern Democracy,” Gunnar Myrdal noticed that “even a white person who advocates discrimination often describes his motive as‘ prejudice ’and says it is‘ irrational ’.” In other words, Everyman acknowledged racism, but did not have to give it up. Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson, for example, did not cultivate any particular guilt over the challenges facing Black America, but in the end they saw that it was politically prudent to court black voters.

Thus, in the 1960s, civil rights leaders were able to take advantage of random configurations. We may take away from them. The gradual legalization of marijuana could mark the beginning of a general re-analysis of the war on drugs ravaging black communities. In addition to the ongoing struggle over President Biden’s legislative agenda, a new and more targeted infrastructure demand could and should support a focus on training or retraining working-class black Americans who are understaffed for solid, well-paid jobs. White guilt would not matter much during such events on the ground.

In this light, it should be noted that in the decades since the 1960s, when the idea that white Americans should be blamed settled among a contingent of black thinkers, whites seem to be somehow, no matter what we say or let’s do, never guilty enough and white guilt is supposed to last forever. Is it possible that the effort to make whites do something more guilty than they are is Sisyphus ’effort? The dream that white people will give up theirs en masse “fragility”And really embrace the feeling res guilty is about as likely as Schoenberg’s music for brunch for more than rare.

We strive for enlightened whites to acknowledge that they are complicit – if I use a term that has been particularly popular in recent years – in a system built in favor of whites. Note that this word is also a strategy for shaking whites by the collar, as saying they are complicit is a fresher way of saying they should be guilty. Because many white Americans resist guilt about things that are racial that they know are bad but haven’t done on their own, using a euphemism like “accomplice” is a way to try to hit without would provoke those typical contracts. : “sem never discriminated against anyone ”; “me he had no slaves. “

But even if the accusation is expressed as complicity, the accusation requires not only the occasional helper but also the white people as a whole to feel guilty for things people did not do individually, which they often did in the deep past and not their parents and they have done within a large-scale social system, the operation of which even experts do not agree with. That is a lot. Let us also remember that most people are not and will never be dedicated to history – we live in the present.

What’s more, I don’t trust completely white guilt. It is too easy to signal virtues, which are only partially, and sometimes not at all, overlapped with the help of people. I remember a brilliant, experienced, kind white academic of a certain age, who – after I published my first book about the race two decades ago, “Losing the Race: Self-Sabotage in Black America,” geniusly said to me – “John , I understand what you mean, but I reserve the right to be guilty. “I also understood what he meant, and I didn’t take it badly. But keep that word” right “anyway. The feeling of guilt lent him something personally fulfilling and signaled that he was one of the good guys without further binding him. The problem is that one can hold back that feeling while actually doing nothing to bring about change on the ground.

So, I’m with Secretary Rice. Especially because people can actively promote change without having (or implementing?) A sense of personal guilt for American history. Black America is unlikely to win without the help of whites. I’m not sure, however, that this is happening by making white people’s faces burn with shame for their complicity. Maybe they can just help.

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

John McWhorter (COM)@JohnHMcWhorter) is an Associate Professor of Linguistics at Columbia University. He is the last author of the book “Awaken racism: How the New Religion Betrayed Black America.

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