Wednesday, March 19, 2008
Many people are pointing to ‘white guilt’, as the explanation for the phenomenal rise of Barack Obama in the presidential race. It goes that supporting Obama somehow makes some whites feel better about themselves, relative to their stations and the history of this country’s mistreatment of blacks. Author Shelby Steele has been, perhaps, the most vocal of those who would say Barack is sneaking in the white-guilt door, and of course Steele conveniently has a whole book on the subject.
It would seem that guilt, as a motivator deserves a little better treatment than the simple ‘either or’ variety. It may also be that whites either feel guilty or, better yet, they may feel bad about being made to feel guilty. Which is it? I argue that their behavior is more the earnest attempt to eliminate the traditional guilt model for looking at blacks, rather than the mere reduction of guilt feelings. The first is laudable, the second is not.
The underlying guilt-model originates from church, where doctrine tells us to confess our sins and all will be forgiven. The emphasis is on contrition and forgiveness, with a dose of ‘do not do that again’ for the future. Mr. Shelby would say this model applies to present sins, rather than those past, and therefore white acceptance reflects a slight-of-hand manipulation. He would be right, if only the conversation was about Reverend's Jackson, or Sharpton, running for office.
However, there is also the behavior that looks for solutions among tired ruble, in this case a leader, who moves us away from doing some bastard-version of good for assumed reasons of guilt. Yes, the past influences all plights, but should the behavior of kin require the re-enlistment of each generation's pound-of-flesh, as payment for those sins? Some voters are saying no. But in doing so they are not saying no to the plight of others, just to guilt as the motivator for getting their attention and support.
Obama seems to represent an option, in some minds, for moving towards better solutions, minus the scarlet letter if your skin happens to be white today. Good for him, and us.
James C. Collier
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