Wednesday, September 06, 2006

White Guilt

There it was again on the second day of pre-school teacher workshops. The principal passed out results of NCLB (No Child Left Behind) testing were segregated according to how “African Americans” and “Pacific Islanders” performed. My school didn’t request that data be broken down this way. It’s our federal government which is obsessed with race.

Some may object to my use of the word “segregate” in this case, but it fits. Once again, our federal government is discriminating on the basis of race - something it’s supposed to outlaw. Usually there are many more racial categories like Hispanic, Asian, Eskimo, Native American, and so on. If as a country we really believe there are no other differences between people with different skin tones, why do we keep this up? What if test results showed some races doing better or worse than others? Would government then require special programs for students of one race and not another? Is this what we should be doing? Is it racist?

Some would be appalled that I would even ask the question. “Of course it isn’t racist,” they think. “We’re only trying to help.” They support affirmative action programs and the like, to give minorities a “leg up” over members of the majority race - whites, in the case of the United States. They’re blind to the condescension inherent in such programs. They think they’re atoning for the sins of history for which they feel guilty, though they were born after slavery and discrimination were outlawed and virtually eliminated.

White guilt is a major force - not just here in the United States, but worldwide. In the 1860s and the 1960s it was a force for good. Slavery was abolished in the 1860s after the Civil War, and the civil rights movement of the 1960s finished the job a hundred years later. White guilt is still with us, but now it’s making us all sick - not just white people, but nonwhite people whom white saviors purport to help. Guilt-ridden whites cannot perceive the racial insult inherent in their firm belief that minorities could never make it on a level playing field without the boost of racial quotas.

Last week we were bombarded with reports like “Katrina - One Year After.” The should-have-been-former New Orleans mayor Ray Nagin appeared on top-rated radio and television shows like “60 Minutes” and “Meet The Press” and continued to suggest that our federal government discriminated against the “chocolate” people of New Orleans (as Nagin calls them), by delaying emergency aid. If New Orleans had been majority white, Nagin keeps claiming, the federal response would have been quicker and fewer black people would have died. His claims are ridiculous of course, but the media continued to give them the most extensive coverage. White guilt. And Nagin continues to dodge questions about why he failed to evacuate his city after getting plenty of advance warning, even when shown pictures of the rows of drowned school busses he was supposed to use. If the voters of New Orleans reelected him after all that, they deserve him. That he’s still mayor is a strong argument that a lot of people in New Orleans are beyond help.

What else but white guilt is responsible for the decades-long obsession with bussing white and black students past their neighborhood schools and across town long after everyone concerned realized there is nothing to be gained by doing so? Though it has certainly increased racial tension, has achieving “racial balance” had any benefit at all? Evidence simply isn’t there.

“White Guilt” happens to be the title of a recent book by Shelby Steele. After many essays and articles on the subject, Steele makes a strong case that his fellow blacks become dysfunctional when they continually blame severe social and economic problems on white racism and not on their own behaviors. Trying to blame your problems on someone else is a common human tendency, but white guilt has enabled it to grow to the point where it’s the biggest obstacle to progress in the black community.

Steele’s book was not a surprise, coming sixteen years after “Content of Our Character,” in which he first questioned racial set-aside programs allegedly benefiting blacks. More surprising is the most recent book by Juan Williams entitled: “Enough: The Phony Leaders, Dead-End Movements, and Culture of Failure That Are Undermining Black America--and What We Can Do About It.” Williams echoes many of Steele’s themes. Remember, Williams co-authored “Eyes on the Prize” with Julian Bond and works for NPR.

Though he wasn’t the first prominent black man to question things, I guess it was Bill Cosby who really blew the lid off. Two years ago, he made a speech to Operation PUSH in Jesse Jackson’s back yard, saying: “It is almost analgesic to talk about what the white man is doing against us, and it keeps a person frozen in their seat. It keeps you frozen in your hole that you are sitting in to point up and say, ‘That’s the reason why I am here.’ We need to stop this.”

We can all do our part to “stop this.” The next time you’re asked to put a checkmark in a box next to a racial category, draw your own box, print “HUMAN” next to it and put your checkmark there. If enough of us do that, maybe government will finally get the message.


Anonymous said...

This countries obsession with race is not new. Sixty years ago when my mother filled out my school forms she answered the race question with HUMAN. (Back then race questions were used to segregate schools not integrate them.) I have always answered the same way my mother did. I also refuse to answer questions on religion and national origin. Far more often in history, such information is use to persecute minorities, than to help them. If you are in the majority your answers allow governments to identify those who are not. The Nazi's could not have identified the jews if religion had not been put on official papers in European countries.

Tom McLaughlin said...

Hmm. I thought it was my idea. Great minds . . .
I wonder if the questions about race or religion were more common then or now. The only time I run into religion questions is on hospital forms and they're understandable, so officials will know which chaplain to send for in case . . .

Sixty years ago? Wow.

BP said...

So there are some sorts of empirical evidence which ought not to be gathered? How do we know which sorts of evidence should be gathered, and which do not?

The Enlightenment has veered off onto a weird tangent when those who are presumably its children argue that reason and unconstrained argument are incapable of enabling truth to win out.

Last time I checked, it was customary, in science, to test theories against evidence.

Anonymous said...


I would strongly recommend you check out Dr Steele's interview on C-Span couple of months or so back. He was excellent. Amongst the many things he spoke about, one of the things he had mentioned was the whole DuBois vs Booker T. approaches to solving issues confronted by Blacks.

Check this out:

I'm unable to find the transcript of that interview.


Tom McLaughlin said...

Thanks for the tip. I'll check it out. Hope it was Brian Lamb.

Anonymous said...

A previous anonymous commenter implied that the racial classification done by the government could be justified as mere evidence gathering for purposes of scientific study, or at least that it shouldn't be rejected until science tells us that it's not useful.

Except that we don't rely on science to tell us that racial classifications are wrong. We rely on wisdom, which isn't limited to scientific knowledge.

We need only recall the widespread acceptance during the early 20th century of eugenics as "science" to understand why fundamental equality under law and racial classification for any purpose is incompatible*. Science isn't a unified force for good, but rather a process of discovery, which often errs. Experience, ours as well as our ancestors', has taught us that calling one's position "scientfic" doesn't make it correct or, more importantly, wise. What if science were to tell us that whites, on average, are likely to be more intelligent than blacks? Would it benefit our society to accept such a finding as truth? Or to act on such a finding? I would suggest that whatever science might purport to tell us about any relationship between race and non-superficial characteristics**, wisdom demands that we nevertheless refrain from making racial classifications.

*Remedial affirmative action -- that is, use of race-based classification to provide redress for specific harm caused by previous race-based discrimination is, in principle, an exception. The only group in the US for which such a program could be justified is blacks, because of the pernicious effect of slavery and years of legislated persecution based on race. It is the one exception that demonstrates the wisdom of the rule against racial classification. Other groups have suffered, undoubtedly, but none have been excluded from participation in mainstream society to a degree and with such persistence, and none have had to overcome the legacy and economic hardship of slavery. Even so, the circumstances which would justify such programs are diminishing. And just to be clear, those circumstances NEVER include racial diversity for its own sake.

**Exceptions might include genetic predisposition to illnesses such as sickle cell anemia, which, if I understand correctly, is thought to have been a survival enhancing trait where malaria is common, and therefore evolved among inhabitants of certain parts of Africa. Again, an exception which, by its nature, tends to prove the wisdom of the rule (i.e., it's not an example of the many permitted purposes of racial classification; rather, if your reason for doing so isn't as compelling as detecting a life-threatening illness, then don't classify by race).

Tom McLaughlin said...

I was going to get around to responding to BP, but now I don't have to. Anonymous said it better than I could.