Musing About '08: White Guilt and the Presidency of the United States of America


I was watching the talking heads last night as they pondered the possible Democratic and Republican tickets for 2008–one theme rang loud and strong:  which black candidate goes where on which ticket.  Sigh.  No talk about foreign or domestic policy, politics, visions for the future of the country, even the war in Iraq.  Nope.  The sole criteria for consideration appears to be the color of their skin (and of course some degree of national recognition).  Some of the configurations boggle the mind:  a Obama/Clinton ticket, with Barack Obama running as President and Clinton as VP; the reverse, with Obama as VP and Hillary Clinton in the top spot; Condoleeza Rice in the VP slot with  . . . . well, does it matter who runs for President?  I mean really?  So long as we have a black candidate on the ballot, who’s really going to notice or care who runs the country?

The picture above is of Shelby Steele, a prominent scholar of race relations and author of the book White Guilt:  How Blacks and Whites Together Destroyed the Promise of the Civil Rights Era (2006).  His concept of white guilt makes sense to me and goes a good way toward explaining some otherwise inexplicable things (like why the presidential candidate doesn’t really matter so long as a black person is in the VP slot).  In short, white guilt functions by virtue of white people’s angst over slavery, the guilt and remorse we feel for the enslavement and repression of black people in America.  This guilt is fed and fueled by black and white leaders who use it to manipulate public policy that effectively makes black people perpetual victims and white people perpetual penance payers–sorry for the alliteration, couldn’t resist it here as its Seussical quality actually echoes the Seussical quality of what Steele argues and what I agree to be largely true. 

In this post-Civil Rights Era atmosphere of perpetual entitlement for blacks and the enormity of a debt that whites can never adequately repay but must forever try, black people, according to Abigail Thernstrom’s article, “acquired an invaluable new race card: the status of aggrieved victims. And they used it ‘to shame, silence, and muscle concessions from the larger society.’ In the new age of white guilt, a repentant America had to prove its virtue to blacks.”  This sounds pretty harsh, I agree, but there does seem to be a kernel of truth to all this; white people are embarrassed to say anything negative about a black person for fear of being seen as or even being (perhaps without their own knowledge or consent) racist; I’ve seen this time and again right here on my blog.  The idea that someone cannot critique a black person or suggest that there is something wrong with a black person’s character, decision making, or whatever else because that means the criticism is race-based and therefore both null and void AND potentially even “hate speech” is absolutely repugnant to me.  Hiding behind white guilt is just as bad as perpetuating it; the division in this country, can indeed be attributed, at least to my mind and in part, to this moral silencing that we endure all the time.  There are plenty of white people I disagree with and some that I even dislike.  I guess that’s normal.  What’s not normal is suggesting that I must or pressuring me to agree with and like (or just not vocalize my disagreement with and/or dislike for) every person of every race, color, or persuasion that is NOT white.  It makes no sense.  It’s not racist to dislike a person; it IS racist to dislike a person BECAUSE they are of a different race than you. So why the guilt?  The self-censorship?  The reassurances that we aren’t “white supremacists”?  Why, indeed. 

What does Steele’s concept of white guilt have to do with politics?  With the 2008 election?  Well, to my mind, what’s just happened in Massachusetts is going to happen nationwide unless we can come to some sort of understanding that it’s okay to disagree with or even dislike a black person and that doing so does not make one racist.  In Massachusetts, we just elected a governor with no plan and no experience to govern, and we did so (I believe) because he is black.  If he had a clue or if he hadn’t been such a rotten lawyer or if he was anything more than handsome and well-spoken, I’d have no problem with him (actually, anyone after Romney looks pretty good to me).  The problem I have is with WHY he’s in that office (or will be next month) . . . no one knows a thing about him or his policies because he’s never said.  His speeches were lovely and passionately delivered, but empty of content and devoid of vision (except for “change”).  The local media lauded and supported him, but the night before the election and the whole day of the election, even they had to admit that they didn’t have any idea what he was about or what his plans are for the Commonwealth.  White guilt?  I think so.  It explains the high black voter turn out and the virtual black and white voter landside by which he won the governorship.  Nothing else really explains it to my mind.

Can this happen nationally?  Can we elect someone because he (or she) is black?  Can we elect that black someone who has no experience, has no plan for or vision for the future of this country?  Yes.  We can.  And it looks very like we will.  In the 2008 Presidential election, I’m voting for Condie for VP . . . or maybe Obama for VP?  Oooh, let me get that coin and give it a quick flip, that’s surely the way to determine the future of our nation.



For an article by Shelby Steele that discusses the way that white guilt has shaped foreign policy and the way we approach war, see “White Guilt and the Western Past:  Why is America so Delicate with the Enemy?”:

NOTE:  I had to stop myself from adding a whole paragraph about how qualified I think Colin Powell was to run for President in 1996, and I did stop myself because I realized that I wanted to write it only to demonstrate that I am not a racist and that I do believe that a black person can be both qualified and a good president (and I do believe that).  But that impulse to explain, to defend, to qualify what I am saying so that no one thinks that I’m a racist or a white supremacist or whatever goes a long way to underscoring the main point of this post; that’s why I’m sharing it here.  Maybe this white guilt is so well-ingrained in us that we are subconsciously “programmed” to feel guilty and defensive about anything we say that might be even remotely construed as racist.



17 thoughts on “Musing About '08: White Guilt and the Presidency of the United States of America

  1. Very valid points and commendable for blogging this in public. One of my beefs…renaming roads to make sure we have martin luther king roads. I am sorry, go get him a new road, don’t rename them just to say you did this and you are now politically correct. It just galls me that this happens and is generally in most places not a “voted” issues but just happens. I don’t see why anyone has to have guilt over it, what is wrong with naming a new road after him if you have to have one? Off-topic, I know and I am going to stop before I bring up the other things within this same frame that bother me. Don’t worry Fuzzy, if the politically correct people of the world come and try to make you feel racist, I will defend you with my dying breath. 🙂

    As far as Colin Powell, I am a “Oprah” supporter myself. Black and female, there you go, how could anyone be any more politically correct than Oprah for President.

  2. Yeah, there go my dreams of being a featured 360 interesting person, huh? Drat these opinions of mine! lol And thanks for the support, too, I know that I am not a racist, but I also know that according to some people’s definition a racist is anyone who says anything negative about any black person or who questions (as I am here) black victimhood/entitlement. And I’m with you on the renaming roads thing! One of the renames that aggravated me was a road that went from something lovely (like Oceanview) to John F. Kennedy Drive. Ugh. Oceanview was so much better!

  3. hehe, oddly enough, Oprah is in many ways more qualified for the Presidency than Obama; she has built and runs a multi-billion dollar multi-media empire which necessarily entails intelligence, diplomacy, management, politics, legal wranglings, high stakes and pressure, and a host of other qualities and experience that Obama has yet to earn.

  4. I dont have white guilt. I dont. i have never had a slave, not even my kids could be considered that, since i couldnt even get them to pick up there dirty underwear at home. Im pretty sure my mom never had a slave, and her parents didnt have one either. I dont understand why we have to keep feeling guilty for something we are not responsible for and had no say in the matter, none of us were there. I bet i could pretty much say that 99.999 percent of the people taht may have owned a slave, are no longer alive. I refuse the white guilt thing, andi am in no way racists. I told a black friend of mine one time i dont feel responsible for something that happened so long ago, adn I think she was a little upset at me. oh well, that is my feelings. I really hate this jumping comment box. I wont vote for someone just because he/she is black. that person better have an adjenda and a plan. i dotn care waht freakin color you happen to be. I dont know anything about obabma, but i do like condi, but that doesnt mean i would vote for her. I would have to wait and see who is in the running.

  5. Woohoo, it’s FAB to see you blogging, Lise!! And I do know what you mean about Obama, he’s a mystery, or as Rii put it on my Obama Factor blog, an enigma. No one knows anything about him, and when you do learn about him, he’s got nothing. Sigh. I like Rice, too, but I’ve not heard too much about her potential bid, I’ve not even seen her side-step the question (as I have Obama, though he’s all seriously stumping right now).

  6. Can we elect someone because he (or she) is from a rich oil family in Texas? Can we elect that Texan who has no experience, has no plan for or vision for the future of this country? And who I might add has a grandios vision of himself being King of the World? And who in only a few short months in office took us from being in the black to being in debt as a nation? Yes. We can. And we did. I don’t mean to be a cynic here but the results of the last two elections have soured me on our election process. I don’t have any faith in our citizens black or white to make a rational and wise choice in who we put in office to run our country. Or maybe we have just trusted so much in the system that it was easy for the rich bastards to buy the election and muscle their way in to a sweet deal so they could steal from us…put our sons in a war that was not necessary in the first place and sully the name of America throughout the world. Sorry to use your blog as a platform Fuzzy, but this is a sore spot for me and I don’t care who thinks me un-patriotic for saying it.

  7. Wow, Mavis, that’s some response there, and I completely respect your viewpoint and know how much you dislike and disapprove of our current President. But it’s only fair to point out that he had miles more experience governing than Obama (whether he did a good job or not is another debate), he’d been around politics and politicians most of his adult life, and if you are really against him because of his great wealth . . . well, I hate to say it, but there will never again be a log cabin president in this country. Elections are expensive, the job pays a pittance, and there is no one who is not a millionairre who could possibly consider a bid, let alone make a successful one. That’s just the way it’s become (again, whether this is right or wrong is another question, and one well worth talking about).

    Yeppers, the war’s a disaster, no doubt about that. What do we do now, though? I’m all for Bush bashing if there’s something to come out of it; like some kind of solution or some direction to look to that is not backwards to the past, albeit a recent past. And all Obama’s got is essentially a “stay the course” policy (did you read his speech in my earlier blog on him? Not even my post, just his own words?).

    It’s a tough thing, this, but one thing is very very clear, and that is that Bush will no longer be president in two years, and he may well end up being a lame duck president for that whole time (this remains to be seen and depends a great deal on what he does with the Iraq Study Group recommendations).

    All that being said, I’m not sure if you are suggesting that voting black because the candidate is black is okay or even good. I kind of think not, given your belief that we did something similar with Bush 43 regarding his socio-economic status, and that you oppose that tactic in that case; guess you’d oppose in all cases. And the very last thing I think of you is that you are unpatriotic! 🙂

    And Mavis, you can platform on my blog any time you want! You are always welcome here. Huggs.

  8. I want American’s out of Iraq, myself. I do not go into race issues,since i feel thart is a bad policy to discuss, Barbara H

  9. Hey Barbara, nice to hear from you! I’m with you on us getting out of Iraq, it’s just hard to know how best to do that. And I hear you on not wanting to discuss race; a lot of people feel that way. You know what they say, don’t talk about sex, religion, or politics, and I guess a lot of people add race in there, too. But unless we talk about things, they don’t change, I feel. But I would never force you or anyone to read what I say or to comment on it. Take care.

  10. Yes. I know only the rich can ever hope to win an election these day. My point being…I guess that the rich cannot ever hope to know what the poor would want as far as issues that relate to them.. sad but true..unfortunate to say the least..but my issue with Bush is not so much with his wealth as with his stupidity.

  11. okay, that one made me laugh out loud (literally, which I’m thinking of calling llol to distinguish it from regular lol, anyway), I get what you are saying and why. Huggs to you my feisty friend!

  12. Amber stops by to have a read of BBB’s blog…hmmm…debate going nicely…I think I will just slip away. My point of view may have me hung drawn and quartered! Yeah right!!!!

    Lisa…I have no white guilt! Good! I feel the same way, I didn’t have a slave or take a job, or have any priviledges others don’t, I think it is the other way around…Okay, I digress..that could be a whole other blog topic.

    I do not want a black president. I don’t think the timing is right yet politically, economically or internationally. Just get Gore in there and have done with it! Nice white, religious, family man. Just my views, nobody has to like em! I think a black president or a woman president would make the rest of the world see the United States as weakening. Now before you slice and dice me…like it or not, the world has a perception of the United States and of what power means.

    Now…having said that…Oprah Winfrey….for president…LMAO…the woman is filfthly rich actor (one of my favorite actors and my favorite movie of all time is Beloved) who knows how to play on people’s emotions. I don’t rate her at all for being anything other then a brillant actress. She doesn’t even have enough decision making ability to kick Steadman to the curb…

    Mavis….your last entry…LMAO here! OMG…Laughing so hard…can’t breath!

  13. Howdy, Amb, nice to see you!! I was feeling all empty and icky thinking you’d not be around with the recent shift to a bit of myspace time. But YAY!! Here you are and as fabulous as always!!

    First, let me say with absolute thundering certainty, there is no way in hell I would ever ever ever support Oprah for president! That was a joke, and I just wanted to illustrate how ill-suited to the role Obama is right now (or in two years). Second, there are female and black world leaders, Amber, so that’s not really a consideration to my mind, but I do hear you on thinking the country (if not the world) isn’t ready; there was an awful lot of red on that map last election. As for Al Gore, you’ve been out of the country for a long time, BBB, maybe too long. He’s turned into a bearded (ick!!) lumberjack looking (complete with flannel shirts) earthy crunchy tree hugger. He scares the bejeezus out of me these days (and there was a day when I happily supported his bid for the White House, back when he won the popular vote, remember?).

    Hehe, you are too funny, the “digression” you made was right on topic; the blog was about white guilt and how that shapes public policy and perception. The fact that both you have said that you feel this way but don’t want anyone to think you’re a white supremacist or whatever you’d said indicates that even if you don’t FEEL the white guilt, you are aware of its power, as I am when I write about these things. And that’s important to note; we are afraid to speak out against black people BECAUSE they are black, and when we do, we feel we need to explain and apologize (no formerly, just to ensure that no one thinks we are haters).

    Wooohoo!! You got my pea brain moving this morning, let me tell you!! Wonderful to see you, BBB, huggs and love for days and days.

  14. btw, there is nothing wrong with lumberjacks, and I am NOT lumberjack bashing. Any complete change in identity would be just as scary to me, if Gore had taken to wearing tutu’s and ballet shoes or joined the fire department (heroic job), I’d be just as turned off the idea of him running for President. I do not, nor have I ever hated lumberjacks, and I do not condone the mistreatment of lumberjacks in any way.

    hehe. okay just a bit of fun. (to quote Amber, I hope this is as funny to you as it is in my head)

  15. Oh No..Gore is dolalleee!!!! Okay so maybe not Gore…LOL!

    White Guilt, yup, actually I do have it! Hmm..that suprised me, but I agree.

    Have lots to say but gotta run! Celebrating brandons birthday tonight and I have to go get the cake! Good thing costco is open late!

  16. Hei Fuzz.

    Checked the links and bookmarked one of ’em – the 1st one that is. Hoover Institution – followed the link at Shelby Steele, you see – made me think of the vacuum people at first but then realized tis the 31st namesake president of yours over there. =)

    Interesting Musings,Fuzz. I just wonder if yeez over there would just go for a candidate that would ‘kill 2 birds in one go’: WOMAN who is BLACK for the main role!! Tis the women and the blacks that do feel/are underdogs so that’d be the solution. Women are not given neither the blacks the chance what they are made of many a time just because they are ‘handicapped’ by gender or colour.

    Finland has a female president who was elected for the second term. Ireland has the second female president who is from the Northern Ireland to boot. That is really something over there, you know!

    I get what you mean about the race card and BEING MADE to feel guilty at all turns n takes. Tis not the right way to go about making changes that truly affect people’s minds n actions. It would be laying it out to all n sundry to get the iNFO n so on what the candidates are made of, what their head is thinking, what genuine actions have they made over years and so on. Then and only then can one make an informed choice n vote the right person in.
    Take care n do keep well. Rii xx HuGGiz

  17. Oh no!! I don’t know how I missed these two comments; I’m so sorry Amber and Rii! I would never ignore your comments on purpose.

    BBB, yay for Brandon’s birthday, how old is he now? And I hope you guys had a blast eating yummy cake and singing Happy Birthday songs.

    Hiya Rii, fab comments as always. And the “kill two birds with one stone” approach to absolving all manner of ism guilt is often used in academia; I’ve actually heard my fellow doctoral candidates bemoan the fact that they are “only” women and not black or lesbian or . . . triple threat, all three. It’s ridiculous. Not one thought to how intelligent they are, what they contribute to the field, or even WHETHER they contribute to the field, just will they “diversify” a faculty enough to get a tenure track job. Yikes! Now I’ve gone off on another of my tangents. Sigh.

    Love your insights and knowledge as always, Rii. Many huggs to you!!

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