An Exchange on White Guilt

After first posting this sentence, I received the email below, and sent the reply that now follows it. For more mail responding to this web site, go to the letters section.

Dear Sir:

After looking over your web page,  [formerly called "Beyond the Pale"] I noticed  the word "appalling" came immediately after.  May I ask why?  Do you  believe society today, after what has occurred over the past thirty years,  finds anything to do with "whites" i.e. European/Americans appalling? Many European/Americans ( recent identity preferred over "white") are hard-working children of European immigrants, as am I.  We should no longer  be blamed for America's ills i.e. slavery, oppression, racism.  We are taking a part in todays's current dialogues regarding issues of race and  diversity. We are, after all, a legitimate ethnic groups with diversity  within our own culture, Germanic, Celtic, Swedish, etc.


C.Anastasia, Boston Representative,  European/American Issues Forum


Dear Anastasia:

It seems that I had better explain my pun, since it originates in literary associations (see below) not familiar to all readers. Etymologically, "appalling" means
"to turn white," or to make pale, as when someone (depending on their skin color) turns "white" with fear or apprehension. It thus alludes to the
political process by which European Americans were turned (wrongly) into "white" people, often to strike fear into the hearts of others. This was, of
course, the Klan's technique in adopting the white sheets, which were a metaphor for this process.

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." This is not about individuals; this is about STRUCTURES of privilege. For two
centuries laws and customs in the United States gave "white" people (a word that appeared in countless legal decisions and legislative acts) an unfair
advantage over others. "Hard working immigrants" of European descent faced a hard lot, but their relative lot was made easier by the fact that they did
not have to compete on a level playing field with nonwhites. The job market and access to education were thus skewed in their favor, just as men did not
have to face much competition since women were denied the right to compete for most jobs or for admission to the best schools and colleges. Again,
these are structures of privilege, and they benefit people no matter whether those individuals want this to be the case or not. It doesn't matter how
fair and antiracist you may be, you are not the one they follow in the department store, but you are the one that gets her loan approved at the
bank. It's this structure and legacy of white privilege that's appalling. I welcome any conscious effort by European Americans to celebrate their
heritage as long as this includes loudly denouncing white supremacy and the myth of the existence of "white" people.

Best regards,

Greg Jay


Robert Frost, "Design"

I found a dimpled spider, fat and white,
On a white heal-all, holding up a moth
Like a white piece of rigid satin cloth--
Assorted characters of death and blight
Mixed ready to begin the morning right,
Like the ingredients of a witches' broth--
A snow-drop spider, a flower like a froth,
And dead wings carried like a paper kite.

What had that flower to do with being white,
The wayside blue and innocent heal-all?
What brought the kindred spider to that height,
Then steered the white moth hither in the night?
What but design of darkness to appall?--
If design govern in a thing so small?

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