White Guilt?

I have to admit, I’ve been putting off publishing this article for a while. Last weekend, I was invited to participate in a live debate on BlogTalkRadio. The topic of debate, “White Guilt”. On the twenty year anniversary of the Rodney King riots, I was asked to express my opinions on a host of questions relating to racial discrimination, affirmative action, hate crimes, and racism.

I’m not an expert on racism, however I have written about the subject, quoting people that are experts on the topic. After reading a brief article posted at Expats Post and watching the short film, hosted by Mr. Midnight Movie and the Jewish Producer (JP), I decided to post a comment on the article disputing the whole notion of “White Guilt”.

As a result of my comment, I was invited to come on the No White Guilt show with Mr. Midnight Movie to further debate the related issues. Jewish Producer was kind enough to send me some of the questions up for debate in advance. Once the show got rolling, I was a little surprised the questions didn’t follow the order provided, but I just went with the flow. However, I was a little disappointed the very first question sent to me, which was suppose to be the main subject of debate, was never covered in the radio program.

During the show, I promised I would post my notes up on my website to quote and support the facts and statistics I was using for the show. I’ve procrastinated following through on that promise in part because I have been ill and in part because the collective notes is far too much information for a standard article. I have therefore cut some of the questions that were either not asked or we found ourselves in agreement. I also consolidated two questions because of the overlapping material. Even with all the cutting of information, this article runs long so I apologize for that. However, I decided to participate in the debate because I believe the subject is important and not something you would find on the mainstream media.

JP: What is YOUR definition of ‘White guilt’?

DW: I don’t have a definitions of ‘White guilt” The whole notion of ‘White guilt’ was fabricated by conservative ideologues in order to discredit liberal motives for policies that racially level the playing field in America ‘White guilt’ is a conservative fantasy used to perversely stereotype White liberals. It is believed the definition of ‘White guilt’ was developed by conservative columnist George Will, who stated, “White guilt is a form of self-congratulation, where Whites initiate “compassionate policies” toward people of color, to showcase their innocence to racism”.

In 2006, conservative social commentator Shelby Steele literally wrote the book on the theory of White Guilt. Dr. Gregory Jay, of the University of Wisconsin, an expert on the subject of racism and “Whiteness” provides one of the most concise descriptions of Steele theory on the subject, “His book on the subject, White Guilt: How Blacks and Whites together Destroy the Promise of the Civil Rights Era, argues that “White Guilt is quite literally the same thing as black power,” the reduction of moral authority to a zero-sum game between Blacks and Whites wherein what was once the stigma of race becomes the neo-stigma of racism. The more guilty Whites feel about race/racism, the more empowered blacks are to use accusations of racism (and invocations of America’s racist history) as a disciplining rod. Steele cautions against the lure of White Guilt; for blacks, as a form of political capital; for whites, as a performance of social penance.”

Right-wing columnists, TV personalities, and radio hosts are constantly trying to distort to their audiences what liberals believe and what our underlying motives are. Instead of actually asking liberals why they support such and such a policy, most conservatives actively work to conceive nefarious or preposterous theories, mainly design to discredit liberals.

Jay further states, “But I’m not sure that "white guilt" is as big a problem as these cultural critics make it out to be. Moreover, the election of President Obama might be ushering in an era of "White rage" that is more than giving "White guilt" a run for its money”.

In a separate piece, Jay goes on to explain, "Antiracism is not about guilt or blame. You don’t have to be guilty or blameful to receive privileged treatment at the bank, at the store, in the courts, in legislative policy, etc. just because you are "White."”

In a lecture at Sonoma State University, noted author and expert on the subject of racism and White privilege, Tim Wise stated linguistically and philosophically, “There is a profound difference between guilt and responsibility…Guilt is something you feel because of something you’ve done. Responsibility is an action you take because of the person you are.” Wise goes on to point out that White’s have not supported affirmative action or other similar laws out of a sense of personal guilt. Rather, we do not choose the world we are born into. However, we can choose to take personal responsibility for helping make the world a more just and equal place.

One study that actually testing theory of ‘White guilt’ was conducted by Dr. Patrick Ryan Granzka, who actually wrote his dissertation paper on the subject. What he found was that the conservative’s notion of ‘White guilt’ as expressed in Shelby Steele’s book, were widely considered by scholars to be “almost completely reductive, essentialist, and regressive.” However, Granzka does go on to say Steele’s work is “reflective of broader discourse about White guilt”. A discourse, I might add, that has been wholly created by conservative writers.

JP: What’s your view on Affirmative Action? What are your views on Public education’s role in white guilt?

DW: Affirmative action has been effective in righting some of the wrongs resulting in a deeply rooted history of racism and discrimination in America. While it is not perfect (what government program is?), affirmative action programs have helped level the playing field, by a small degree.

During our live radio debate, Mr. Midnight Movie made the case that essentially the usefulness of affirmative action in American is over and the role of leveling the playing field has been achieved. Mr. Midnight Movie goes on to suggest that now affirmative action is simply used to lower the bar for a whole group of people that don’t “measure up” in his opinion. He argues that “you can’t lower standards so underrepresented students to come in”. He calls affirmative action policies a ‘free pass” which he believes “undermines our pursuit of excellence.”

That position would be fine if we lived in a country that had actually eliminated or even come close to eliminating institutionalized, systematic discrimination in our country. Here is what the U.N. says about the use of affirmative action programs:

“The International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination stipulates (in Article 2.2) that affirmative action programs may be required of countries that ratified the convention, in order to rectify systematic discrimination. It states, however, that such programs "shall in no case entail as a consequence the maintenance of unequal or separate rights for different racial groups after the objectives for which they were taken have been achieved."

I don’t believe the objectives set by affirmative action programs in the U.S. have been achieved. Here are some of the reasons why I have taken this position.

According to Tim Wise, Black folks with college degrees are twice as likely to be unemployed. MIT and University of Chicago Economics departments, in 2004 study reported, job applicants with White names are 50% more likely to be called back for an interview than applicants with Black or ethnic names. 85% of all jobs are created by networking. Whites have built on generations of racial advantage and when they hire, they look to people they know and live near.

Homestead Act of 1862 gave over 240 million acres of land to White folks. No less than 20 million White Americans are the living benefactor of the Homestead Act. In addition, the FHA and VA loans during the 30’s and into the mid-60’s gave 120 billion dollars of housing underwriting loans to almost entirely White folks. In fact, 98% of all the FHA and VA loans given during this period were given to White families. Blacks were denied the same loans; simply by allowing banks to redline Black communities. This helped create the White middle class, which has received systemic preferential treatment in the form of multi-government handouts going back prior to the birth of this nation.

Even in the last decade, Blacks with the same credit scores as Whites, were 2 to 3 times more likely to be targeted for predatory, subprime housing loans. A loan officer from Wells Fargo, even admitted publicly the bank’s policies were to steer Black’s into these high risk loans. On top of the institutionalized discrimination of Black in home loans, on average, 2 to 3 million cases of housing discrimination are filed each year in the U.S.

Thus, as a result of Whites historically receiving massive government handouts, to the exclusion of people of color, White’s today still hold 90% of America’s GDP.

However, the institutionalized discrimination can also be found in the criminal justice system. Again, according to Tim Wise, the Justice Department’s own studies in 2009 determined Blacks and Latino males were 2 to 3 times more likely to have their cars stopped and searched, in spite of the fact that White males were 4 times more likely to have drugs on them. More on this topic in the following question.

JP: Black on White crime statistics why are they not discussed publically and in the main stream media?

DW: Well, I just did a little Google search and was able to find Fox News, CNN, and NPR discussing the issue. I’m sure other mainstream media outlets have also covered it. However, the issue of hate crimes and racism, in general, is often overlooked in the national news. I guess the crime statistics and racism is not really a sexy story. Mark Potok, from the Southern Poverty Law Center gives the best interview on the subject I was able to find in the mainstream media. Most of the segments I saw focused in particular on the FBI reports. NPR asks Potok about the FBI statistics:

NPR: The FBI reports that about 20 percent of hate crimes are committed by African-Americans. And does that mean anything, or does that information have some bearing on this in some way?”

“MARK POTOK: Well, the FBI statistics are notoriously shaky, through no fault of their own. It’s a voluntary reporting system. The numbers are known to be extremely weak. That said, I think they are indicative of something. What the numbers show is, as you suggested, is almost 21 percent of hate crimes, according to FBI numbers, are committed by Black Americans, who comprise about 13 percent of the population. About 58 percent are committed by whites, who make up about 80 percent of the population. So the FBI statistics do suggest that Blacks commit hate crimes at a somewhat higher level than Whites. And that is very possibly true. We really can’t know that because the FBI stats are so incomplete.”

Potok goes on to say, that sometimes certain narratives are played out in the media, including the focusing of White on Black hate crimes and the downplaying the Black on White hate crimes. Nonetheless, Potok highlights the fact that the FBI reports are “notoriously shaky” due to the “voluntary reporting system”. Potok concludes that while it is possible Black on White hate crimes are “somewhat higher” we “really can’t know.”

However what we do know, in drug crimes, Blacks are eight times more likely to be sentenced to jail for the same crimes as Whites. The Sentencing Project looked at 40 recent studies on the conviction and sentencing rates in America. The organization presented a shocking overview of level of racism found in the criminal justice system nationwide. Here is excerpt from one of the criminology studies quoted by The Sentencing Project:

“The Pennsylvania study found that, controlling for other factors, including severity of the

offense and prior criminal history, white men aged 18-29 were 38 percent less likely to be

sentenced to prison than black men of the same age group. In addition, white men of this

age group were sentenced to an average prison term that was almost three months

shorter than that given to black men of this age group. Furthermore, black men aged 18-

29 were more than four times as likely to be sentenced to prison as white men over the

age of fifty.

The key findings from The Sentencing Project study showed “evidence of direct racial discrimination”. So there you have another piece of the puzzle. First, we know from Potok the FBI numbers are shaky due to voluntary reporting. Second, we also know the FBI statistics only reflect only those convicted of a crime. Add in the fact that if you’re Black, you’re more likely to be convicted and sentences severely than if you’re White, and you can see why the FBI’s reports only tell part of the picture.

There are plenty of other studies we can look at to support the fact that White on Black racism is still instatutionally pervasive in the United States. The fact is, if you are Black, you are more likely to be pulled over by the cops, more likely to be searched, more likely to be arrested, more likely to be convicted, and more likely to receive the harshest sentences, including the death penalty. The FBI’s statistics do not take any of these facts into account.

JP: Selective outrage?

DW: I think Potok makes a good point when he explains the narrative told on the mainstream media can be fickle. Potok points out that millions of people on the right expressed outrage over the Black on White assaults (some of which amounted to hate crimes, some did not). All the while, once there is a White on Black crime, many on the left express their outrage and complain the mainstream media is not covering them. It’s like the two sides are talking right past each other. I once heard a scientist on the radio say that, “race is a political issue, not a biological issue”. How one views the mainstream media and what is being selected for public consumption is mostly dependant on your own political point of view. One thing is for certain, according to a recent Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting study, the mainstream media’s Sunday morning news programs are still overwhelmingly White (92%), male (84%), and Republican (70%). So guess who’s narrative’s are mostly being heard on these shows?

In conclusion, I would like to thank Mr. Midnight Movie and Jewish Producer for having me on their show. I think the topic is important and I appreciate having the opportunity to express an alternative perspective on this subject.