What would you say to someone experiencing “white guilt”?

I was on a panel this week at an event entitled Uprooting Racism from the Church, sponsored by the Michigan State University student group MSU Project 1:17. In addition to the live panel, they took anonymous questions from the audience for the speakers to answer online.  I’ve realized recently that I haven’t posted about racism / racial reconciliation in a while.  Somewhat because I’ve been busy with posts about sexual purity, lust, porn, marriage, etc. that go along with my recent book release.  But to my discredit, it’s also because some white Christians who would be interested in buying my book about sexual purity would also be upset about what I write about race.  So in my fear of man, I have backed down from speaking the truth (the same temptation I face as a pastor with the topic of race, Lord help me).  How quickly and easy it is to fall into this trap!  I had also become fatigued with debates and fatigued with people being upset with me, so had taken the easy road.  I apologize for that to anyone reading this, especially my friends of color.

I thought posting a blog with my answers to these Q&A questions would be helpful because I’ve already written them, and because I’ve previously articles on these subjects, which you can find at the bottom of each post.  There will be 3 of these, with the questions having been anonymously submitted from the crowd at the event earlier this week.  The original format for these was on a Facebook event page, which I’ve just copied and pasted here.  I’ll post one each day over the next three days, this is day #2 of 3:

The Question: What would you say to someone experiencing “white guilt”?

My Answer:

This is a great question. Honestly, I wish I had kept this in mind last night more when I was giving my answers. I forget that I’ve been in these conversations for 10 years and I’m often not sensitive to white folks who want to learn but are just being exposed to these truths. I want to present answers in a way that helps white people change, learn, and grow. When I get too fired up, I sometimes forget to do that and I apologize for when I did that last night.

White guilt often paralyzes us white folks. We need to pray against that. It can also turn to anger and defensiveness, which we also need to pray against. The best thing you can do with your white guilt is use it as motivation and fuel to be an agent of change. I think it’s the first step in waking up to reality. Use it to become even more educated and aware. And with all this, know that it’s okay to be white. That’s how God made you. You can’t control where you’re born or the blindness that your upbringing bestowed upon you. I think we need to be honest and real about how white society created the oppression that people of color are still affected by, and just own that. And own that it still exists. So now what are you going to do about it? My advice is to not become apathetic. Don’t go into your white cultural cocoon where you’re only under white leadership, only around white people, etc. because that is only going to perpetuate the problem. I’m always going to be a privileged, white male. My friends of color know I can’t change that, and they’re not asking me to. But I have to be able to admit that and admit that it isn’t right. Not that it’s wrong to have privileges, but it’s wrong that everyone else doesn’t have equal access to that privilege. Everyone should have the same privileges I have. (If you’re not familiar with white privilege, a list made in 1988 by Dr. Peggy McIntosh gives a good description: http://www.mdcbowen.org/p2/rm/mcintosh.html )

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2 responses to What would you say to someone experiencing “white guilt”?

  1. Thanks, Noah! I appreciate your insights and response. I’ve been on this journey for about five years but have ramped up my intentionality about understanding racism and reconciliation through my participation in the CORR workshop on Understanding Racism. I’ve attended twice now and have benefitted greatly by hearing and learning more about systemic racism and how we need to listen better to our friends of color. I recently read the book White Awake by Daniel Hill. I highly recommend it to anyone who is experiencing white guilt and wants to be awakened.

    • Thank you Dennis! That sounds like a great resource. I have not read it, but will add it to my list. I’ve been hoping there is a good resource out there to help with this.

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