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White Guilt: How Blacks and Whites Together Destroyed the Promise of the Civil Rights Era is a book by American author Shelby Steele in 2006.

In the book, Steele argues that white guilt is much more than just a race problem:

As the civil rights victories of the 1960s dealt a blow to racial discrimination, American institutions started acknowledging their injustices, and white Americans -- who held the power in those institutions -- began to lose their moral authority. Since then, our governments and universities, eager to reclaim legitimacy and avoid charges of racism, have made a show of taking responsibility for the problems of black Americans. In doing so, Steele asserts, they have only further exploited blacks, viewing them always as victims, never as equals. This phenomenon, which he calls white guilt, is a way for whites to keep up appearances, to feel righteous, and to acquire an easy moral authority -- all without addressing the real underlying problems of African Americans. Steele argues that calls for diversity and programs of affirmative action serve only to stigmatize minorities, portraying them not as capable individuals but as people defined by their membership in a group for which exceptions must be made. ...Steele calls for a new culture of personal responsibility, a commitment to principles that can fill the moral void created by white guilt. White leaders must stop using minorities as a means to establish their moral authority -- and black leaders must stop indulging them. As White Guilt eloquently concludes, the alternative is a dangerous ethical relativism that extends beyond race relations into all parts of American life. [1]

Part One: The Story of White Guilt

Steele describes his experience growing up as a young black man in an era of Racism and white dominance. From a young age he dreamed of becoming a "batboy" for an all-white baseball team. With segregation at large, Steele feared his dream would never become a reality, however, Steele spent many weeks watching and admiring the baseball players. After catching the coach’s attention as someone with immense passion for baseball, he was granted the position of batboy, his dream now becoming a reality. The high of achieving his goal soon became shattered when the baseball team was to play at a whites-only stadium. When reflecting back on this event, Steele states, "I am certain that racist rejections like this do not cause low self-esteem in their victims. They cause disenchantment with the world. My self-esteem was not diminished in the least by what happened to me on that Saturday morning."

Throughout the years, Steele watched the era of white power transform into an era of white guilt, the underlying theme throughout Steele's novel. Steele believes that the lack of time between transitioning from white supremacy to white guilt, ultimately led to the destruction of the civil rights era. According to Steele, since the transformation from white power to white guilt was presented to society with no cool-off period, the American people were not able to feel a sense of neutrality towards racism, and this is when bargainers came about: blacks in the political spotlight appealing to whites to take hold of white guilt and use it to their advantage. Steele talks about how being black can be an advantage due to how heavy white guilt is. Steele says that in today’s society this happens a lot, blacks appealing to white guilt to use it to their advantage and this is why Blacks and White together destroyed the promise of the Civil Rights Era.

Part Two: An Expanding Guilt

By the mid-1960s, white guilt has emerged. Towards the end of racism, a movement of black and white youth shared an "integrationist" consciousness. The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) played a major part in the 1960s to this movement. This new youth consciousness came about and became known as the "counterculture," which was the cultural and political consciousness when Bill Clinton came of age. This was a large response to white guilt. Some ideas and ideologies of this "counterculture" consciousness came from people like Marx, Freud, Martin Luther King, Herbert Marcuse, R.D. Laing, Chairman Mao, and Lao-tzu. Steele describes guilt as a vacuum in moral authority created by all of white America's moral failings and infidelities of democracy, like sexism, racism, imperialism, materialism, conformity, environmental indifference, educational inequality superficiality, greed, etc. The sixties were a time when the ordinary acts of rebellion were aggrandized by a politics that let you go against "the system" then just your parents. Some big rebels from back then were James Dean and Elvis. This rebellion became like a social movement taking on the injustice of America's soullessness. As every new generation comes around, they alter the adult authority. If the youth win their rebellion against the old, then their maturity will get cut short and they won't be as humble. In the sixties, people won first rebellion because it was around white guilt which lead to increase in uncertain adult authority. White guilt starts from race relations and expands by the moral authority that America lost to other conflicts, like Vietnam and women's rights.

White guilt has the power to invent America all over again and transform every important institution. It launched the Great Society overnight which integrated public schools. It also transformed Americans for better and worse by showing whites that racism is evil. As Steele would say, "White guilt is essentially a historical force that follows naturally from a moral evolution in a specific society." White guilt then replaces white supremacy. White supremacy gave whites the authority to exclude other races from American democracy and treat them as inferior. People thought that if whites have more power, then they must be more superior. With white supremacy, whites could ignore blacks complaints without any penalty. Even if they were really polite, they were just looked at as "troublemakers." Whiteness became more of an icon of racial evil than of racial supremacy. There were two different parts to white guilt: one part is the horrible hypocrisy of racism and denying freedom to nonwhites, and the other part was the white superiority as a justification for the hypocrisy which allowed you to commit evil against nonwhites. Whites can not escape from white guilt just like blacks can't reject themselves of being black. At the end of the white supremacy, whites couldn't practice racism, which lead them to lose their sense of power.

Part Three: The Ways of Blindness

The acknowledgment that racism was a moral wrongdoing had diminished the moral authority of whites, however it didn't affect their power or their responsibility for society. After owning up to racism whites continued to run America. This meant that America began to run at an apparent shortage of legitimacy, meaning any white white success couldn't say that simply being white had not helped. This acknowledgment didn't cause a power shift from one race to another, instead it made the power that whites held in society a contingent power. After the mid sixties any powers whites used, needed to be dissociated from the racist past that caused whites to lose moral authority. This was how President Johnson's Great Society plan came about, white's needed to re-legitimize American democracy, and an apology for racism in the nation's past through the Great Society plan allowed whites to dissociate and therefore restore legitimacy to America. The idea that poverty is "blameless" is due to white blindness, many of the architects of the Great Society believed that only the government can get to entrenched deep poverty, however their policies that once seemed able to deliver America from its racist past have over time failed. Whites continue to support these silly racial policies without seeing that their real reason for supporting these policies, which is to prove that they are innocent of racism. Whites choose to be blind and believe that if they continue to give money and other aid to minorities they are helping, but this is just reaffirming white supremacy. Giving racial preference to a black child with a privileged background implies that blacks are inferior and even in the absence of racism and a privileged upbringing blacks aren't able to compete with whites and Asians, even though these whites and Asians may come from underprivileged backgrounds. So even the most talented blacks whom are able to compete on their own must reinvent themselves as inferior to be accepted in a society run by white guilt.

People who are held in the grip of white blindness always miss the human being inside the black skin, they see people for their color and not who they are. Instantly they notice your skin color and build a picture of who you are, they are blindfolded purely by skin color even though they may not necessarily associate negative connotations with race. In this age of white guilt, white blindness has not been driven by racism or bigotry, whites are blind to blacks as humans out of an obsession with achieving dissociation from their racist past. There is little to no incentive to understand blacks as human beings because achieving this dissociation from racism brings whites moral authority again and essentially makes them seem human. Whites are not necessarily blind by choice, rather they are driven by the feeling that their humanity is being made invisible due to their racist history. It isn't that they are blind to human circumstances, but in fighting to regain their humanity they become blind to everything but their own needs. So whites act in the name of blacks not to improve black well being, but to right the wrongs of America's history of racism and to dissociate themselves from racism. This causes problems because they are not seeing blacks for who they are or what their qualities may be, instead they see them as blacks who should be grateful for all that the white man has done for them.

Steele references Maureen Dowd's article "Could Thomas be Right?," in which the columnist expressed frustration with Supreme Court Justice Clarance Thomas's dissent in a Supreme Court ruling allowing affirmative action. Steele says that Dowd is so mired in white blindness that she counts mere dissociation from racism a virtue and that she "plays the oldest race cards of all-I'm white and you're black, so shut up and be grateful for my magnanimity". This post-sixties American liberalism says you are morally superior to other whites and intellectually superior to blacks, making the white liberal feel as though he is heir to the knowledge of the West while being morally enlightened beyond the former bigotry of the West making him a "new man". This "new man" was superior to previous Americans he was free of racism, sexism, militarism and materialism and developed an elitist outlook on life and all whites who didn't dissociate carried no moral authority. The "new man" believed that diversity and inclusion were more important than merit and excellence and is the reason our once great public school system is now all but destroyed.

Part Four: Dissociation and Culture

Multicultural societies, where prejudice has been allowed to create inequalities among races require moral balancing. They can't recover their authority and claim legitimacy without a social morality, we could have focused on fairness and human development, but we took the easy route and this was why we got the virtue of dissociation. Our post-sixties society has invented the practice of using social morality to disregard individual morality saying, "What counts is human equality and feeding the poor, not whom I sleep with". To be one of high moral standard all you have to do is associate yourself with dissociation. As a young black man torn between both sides Steele argues that being himself has made him happier than pretending to be who society wanted him to be and no longer does he have to protect any groups by pretending things that aren't true are. Steele says, "It is the rare black who gets to live without the world expecting him to pretend So I don't mind so much that little bit of hot tar the world has poured on my head."


External links

  • San Francisco Chronicle [2]
  • Shelby Steele:The Big Picture [3]
  • White Guilt, War, and Obama [4]
  • Preview of Book [5]
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