'White Guilt' by Shelby Steele: Book Review
Race has replaced sex as the primary moral focus of America.
The question is; how did this happen? When did Americans decide to make social morality more important than individual morality? Where did it all begin?
Traditionally, American values were built around the idea that if 90 percent of individual citizens are moral you will have an excellent society—that the collective individual morals make a moral society. Then, the New Left invented the practice of using social morality as a license to disregard individual morality. They claimed that social morality is more important than individual morality and used this concept to justify the Sexual Revolution.
The New Left pushed the idea that a moral society makes for moral individuals, and therefore traditional Americans had it backwards in their emphasis on individual morality, which had originated in Christian Salvation, obviously an individual thing. The ‘new ideas’ are based on Marxism and Atheism, that it is the 'system' that makes the individuals—change the system, change the individuals.
Since the Sixties, America has experienced a measured decrease in church attendance, family stability, and public school performance. Whereas divorce, broken homes, illegitimacy, drug abuse, and crime have increased greatly.
For one measure of how America has changed, we need to carefully examine the expectations we have of our country’s leaders. Consider for a moment what would have happened if President Eisenhower had been caught getting a blowjob in the Oval Office by a young intern, and then lied about it under oath? The answer to that question is simple; he would have been removed from office. America would not have tolerated a president who committed adultery and perjury, not to mention taking advantage of his office or position to gain sexual pleasure from a subordinate.
President Clinton’s defenders argued from a position of moral relativism. They believe that what adults do consensually is nobody else’s business, and that there is no objective moral code or standard. In this view, the worst possible sin is to be judgmental. But I wonder if those same voices would have called for moral relativism and nonjudgmentalism if President Clinton had been caught on tape saying to an intern, “Ni***rs don't know how to behave.”
In a free country, liberty ranks higher than social good. Freedom is an absence of any imposed vision that infringes on the liberty of individuals—not a vision of social good imposed by the state.
Negroes in the civil rights movement used nonviolent protest to persuade white Americans that race was not a moral reason to mitigate the rights of individuals in a free society. The next generation of young black leaders preferred militancy, confrontation, and lists of demands. They were angry and felt that being black meant they were under no obligation to common decency or regard for their own country.
Conventional wisdom says this rage was the natural explosion of the psychically wounded to acts of injustice and oppression. But if this is true, why did we not see black rage before the Civil Rights Bill of 1964?
Oppression does not necessarily produce anger or rebellion. The outrage of slaves did not end slavery; it was the moral umbrage of whites that ended it. The cost of that umbrage—the Civil War with its 700,000 dead white boys, tens of thousands of orphaned children, hundreds of thousands of widows, and over a million mothers and fathers grieving over their dead sons.
Anger is never acted out by the oppressed except in one setting: when they perceive weakness in their oppressors. This rage is not inevitable; it is chosen only when the oppressed perceive an opportunity to win spoils of some kind.
It is opportunism to nurture anger as the central feature of racial identity. The opportunity was only there because America had moved beyond white racism, not to racial neutrality, but to white guilt that could be manipulated by black anger. White Guilt and Black Power are two sides of the same coin.
Black America long longed for freedom, but once they got it they felt a sense of loss.
Almost fifty years later, African Americans voluntarily practice separatism in black student associations, black professional organizations, black churches, black congressional caucuses, and black gatherings of every kind.
White guilt produced a vacuum of moral authority that made American institutions legitimate only if they first prove a negative—they are not racist. The fear of being called racist motivates American corporations, universities, and other organizations to declare devotion to diversity through racial quotas.
The Black Power movement adopted the Marxist phrase “raise your consciousness.” This means that blacks needed to be “hip” to the lies the world constantly offers the oppressed. The cool hipster is never surprised. He knows from the social determinism of Karl Marx that racism is institutional, structural, substructural, and systematic.
This gave militants an infinitely larger racism to rage about than the simpler racism fought by Martin Luther King. Everything could be blamed on racism—even Whites moving to the suburbs to escape skyrocketing crime rates.
Only after the strongest antidiscrimination laws in history were passed did civil rights agitators suddenly respond not to actual oppression but to white guilt. The selfless men of King’s generation appealed to the moral character of America to remove racial barriers to freedom. The new black leaders were smaller men; haranguers who specialized in moral indignation to make racism ‘valuable’ to the people who had suffered it by creating new white obligations to blacks.
White guilt made the racism of previous generations a valuable currency for colored people. Instead of whites being obligated to principles, they became obligated to people of color as a group. Instead of the principles Dr. King fought for—a colorblind society with meritorious advancement for all through equal protection of the law—the goalposts had suddenly been moved, and the new plan was a direct violation of those same principles: Affirmative Action.
Blacks perceived white guilt as a weakness. This explains why the horrific riots in Watts, Detroit, Newark, and a hundred other cities only happened after civil rights leaders achieved their goals—and not before.
Riots by black mobs destroyed vast stretches of property and injured and killed persons of both races just a couple years after the Civil Rights Acts had been enacted. Isn't it odd that this chaos and violence occurred at the precise moment when blacks sensed that expressions of bestial mayhem would not be met with withering suppression by White America?
University campuses today are notorious as totalitarian regimes of political correctness. One college banned white cue balls on pool tables because they were used to knock all the colored balls off the table.
But black students claim they are surrounded by racism, that universities are racist institutions. Ask these students for specific examples and they can’t come up with any.
Shockingly, today’s black students feel even more aggrieved than did black students fifty years ago. And this feeling of aggrievement is calibrated not to real racism, but to the level of white guilt on campus. White guilt produces exhibitions of racial woundedness and animus in blacks reflexively.
White guilt makes way for shakedowns by racialist hucksters—blackmail. Texaco paid $750 million to the corrupt diversity industry over an innocuous comment repeated by an executive that he learned from a diversity-training program.
In the O. J. Simpson murder trial, Johnnie Cochran made it a contest between empirical evidence and racism. He gambled that the court would be obsessed with proving itself utterly free of racial bias. He guessed correctly that the court would forego the evidence against Simpson simply to prove it was not racist.
The new black consciousness taught the Marxist maxim that, since man is so pushed around by forces much larger than himself, free will is merely a delusion with which Americans like to flatter themselves.
Black consciousness taught that Americans of African descent should proudly make their race more important than their individuality to trigger white obligation.
Black leaders began to preach that responsibility was a tool of oppression. The honest, hardworking, black family man was derided as complicit in his own oppression because responsibility was an illegitimate value for blacks—a white cultural value.
The Great Society was a redistribution plan for responsibility that demanded white America accept responsibility for black success. President Johnson relieved blacks of the moral responsibility to make something of themselves. In addition, the expectation that they would carry the same responsibilities or meet the same standards as whites was abolished.
Racial privilege and power, derived solely from the color of a man’s skin, was used to excuse blacks from moral constraints and even from obeying the law—because of what their ancestors had been through.
From this time forward it became social injustice to hold blacks accountable for their own problems. No matter what social pathologies permeate the black community—poor academic performance, staggering rates of illegitimacy, or shocking epidemics of criminal behavior—individual responsibility does not apply to black men. In fact, to behave responsibly was considered submission to white authority.
If blacks had left America in the 1960s and moved back to Africa, this militancy and rage would have been pointless. Blacks would have been forced to do the hard work all groups must do to survive and build a society around universal, time-honored concepts such as family unity, individual initiative, self-sacrifice, and delayed gratification.
Black Power therefore became a militant belief in white power and a denial of black power, since the overarching theme was that whites must take responsibility for black success. Black leaders portrayed their own people as perpetually weak, helpless, and inferior. Even now, a surefire way to anger black leaders is to state that Black Americans should stand on their own two feet without government crutches.
Preferential treatment from employers and colleges tells everybody that minorities cannot compete with whites unless far lower standards—if any—are expected of them. This sadly overlooks the reality of human nature: it is hard work, imagination, discipline, sacrifice, and relentless effort that makes success sweet; not simply being given a better life you have not earned because you agitated for social justice.
When blacks display their weakness in academics, you do not hear calls for them to work harder on reading, writing, and arithmetic—or for parental responsibility. You hear calls for school busing, Ebonics, Black History Month, more black teachers, multiculturalism, inclusiveness, diverse reading lists, lowered standards for testing of black children, and the preposterous idea that black kids can’t learn unless they go to school with whites.
If a black boy can’t read or write, there must be injustice in the woodpile somewhere. He won’t be asked to speak properly—that would be culturally insensitive. Instead, he will be made the object of abstract compassion by those who associate scholastic excellence with Eurocentric Elitism and rote skill development with repression.
Freedom came to Black America, and it scared the hell out of it; because freedom walks hand in hand with responsibility. Without the excuse of oppression, the group proved unable to compete as equals, which appeared to confirm the stereotype of inferiority.
The generation of Martin Luther King carried itself with quiet dignity and accepted the moral authority of America—that America was good and great apart from racial barriers. They sought to conform to every code of common American decency—in dress, speech, and manners—to show themselves civilized. They were grateful to live in the nation where black people had a standard of living ten times higher than blacks had anywhere else in the world.
The next generation made militant action the proof of genuine blackness—and even those who were not militant acted as if they were. Identity as power meant black leaders no longer had to rely on actual ideas—of which they didn’t have any. Being black meant accepting racial victimization, not as an event that might happen, but as a permanent sense of identity. This way, anger can be used as a political force even when there is no actual victimization. Thus, the only purpose served by the political identity of blacks is the manipulation of white guilt.
Dissent from this party line became heresy. Failure to be militant; failure to play the victim; would result in charges of being an Uncle Tom—a traitor to the race.
Blacks must have a militant disregard for the white “system” and show contempt for the “white world.” Traditional American values, rules, and expectations were to be dismissed as white oppression. Thus, we see a rash of young black men refusing to work for "the man”; giving up the Christian Faith for Islam; and dropping their “slave names” for jerry-built African names.
The Sixties Counterculture
White men played critical roles in the civil rights movement. But after the age of racism was abolished, black men expelled white men from their movement. White women, on the other hand, were allowed to stay if they were willing to provide sexual favors to prove they weren’t racist.
The youth of the 1960s spawned a counterculture that was decidedly anti-American. America was not only inherently racist; it was also sexist, greedy, repressed, and evil. Not much good was seen in the country that had made these young people the most privileged group of human beings who ever lived.
Besides the bigotry and oppression, a little bastardized Freud was mixed in with the Marxism to produce the idea that America was uptight, plastic, and unworthy of love, all because it was sexually repressed. Making sexual openness a social virtue was one of the devil’s greatest tricks ever. One of the cherished fables of the counterculture was that people free of all sexual inhibitions were super cool.
These concepts were spread by Herbert Marcuse and R. D. Laing and remade the mindset of America’s youth that sin was good and not to sin was bad—conforming bad, rebelling good.
The generation of the Sixties was the first to win its adolescent rebellion against its elders, who were worn out from surviving the Great Depression and winning World War Two. The last thing they wanted was a huge fight with their own children.
Young rebels are as old as humanity, but usually they are humbled as they eventually learn the truth that they have underestimated the wisdom of their elders and ancestors, and overestimated their own juvenile ‘wisdom.’
Winning the rebellion cheated them of an important rite of passage, and unfortunately, so falsely inflated their egos that they never grew up. Instead of finding direction in history and experience, they recklessly devalued the past. Therefore, traditional values came to be associated with Neanderthals who wanted blacks in their place and women barefoot, pregnant, and in the kitchen.
White Guilt By Shelby Steele
Thus was created the concept that white heterosexual men were the only nonoppressed people in America—heck, in the world. They had somehow oppressed their equals in every way—Blacks, Women, and Third World Peoples—throughout human history. They were the warmongers, exploiters, plunderers, and ruiners of the environment with their capitalism. The only way a white boy could be on the moral side of important issues was to reject the nation built by his forefathers, to reject what that nation stood for; its values, traditions, customs, institutions, and authorities.
White Guilt endowed Marxist Atheists (The New Left) with the power to transform everything about America—religion, education, housing, government, the law, the corporate world, and the military. It also served to almost abolish Freedom of Association and to drastically diminish Individual Liberty.
The world’s greatest public school system found itself ravaged with decades of mindless, pernicious ‘reforms.’ Handouts became entitlements. Everyone except heterosexual white males would form permanent grievance groups that to insult or offend might be a violation of laws passed to protect their tender feelings and surely a ticket to a reeducation camp or permanent unemployment.
Since the obvious achievements of white men in creating the modern world of liberty, prosperity, and technology made them look vastly superior to everybody else on the planet, they must be made to seem ‘morally’ inferior. And that meant that Christianity—the religion spread by white missionaries—also had to be deprecated.
The power and supremacy of the West that the world accepted as a moral truth of white superiority must be replaced with an ideology that propagates the idea that the wealth and power of white men came from an innate capacity for evil—that white men dominated their equals by lying to them and stealing from them, committing violence against them, exploiting, excluding, enslaving, and annihilating other groups (the victims, the disadvantaged).
White Americans lost the right to be proud of the awesome accomplishments of their forefathers. In turn, they became the only group in America denied the right to a positive racial self-consciousness. To be accepted by mainstream American institutions, whites must pledge allegiance to diversity. The very idea of being proud to be white is impermissible.
White guilt made it impossible for whites to express pride in an indisputably great civilization. It robbed them of the moral authority to stand for the ideas and values that had made America the greatest country in the history of the world.
Thus, personal responsibility, hard work, individual initiative, delayed gratification, academic accomplishment, commitment to excellence, competition by merit, and the honor of achievement—all of which could be called acting white—were denied moral legitimacy.
First Black Candidate for President
The Bigotry of Low Expectations
White guilt has produced all sorts of silly racial policies supported by white liberals, who desire to prove themselves innocent of racism. They pile social science crap to the sky, written in opaque language, to convince themselves and everyone else that there exists a “compelling” State interest in “diversity” that justifies making the preferring of one race over another legal.
Of all the justifications of racial preferences, none includes an analysis of why minorities do not qualify on their own; why they cannot compete using the same standards. If the problem cannot be identified, how can they identify the solution?
Those whites who call for racial preferences are not interested in the reasons why preferences are necessary or the reasons why diversity is good. They are only interested in dissociating themselves from their racist forefathers. A convincing display of non-racism would be impossible without racial preferences, because not enough minorities would qualify for admittance to our top universities.
Most of the best universities want their freshman class to be at least 8 percent black but only 1 percent qualify. So they lower the qualifications to meet this quota without regard to the integrity of their institution, standards of excellence, or the unfair discrimination against Whites and Asians.
When a university that has not discriminated against blacks for at least several generations gives racial preference to the child of two black professionals with advanced degrees and six-figure incomes it is clearly implying racial inferiority. And that, even with a total absence of racism and a privileged life, black children will not ever be able to compete with whites—even white kids from broken homes mired in poverty.
White liberals believe they are culturally, socially, and morally superior to the common run of whites. Their basic belief is that whites must facilitate the success of blacks because the liberals themselves are white supremacists who think blacks are intellectually inferior to them.
The whites of the New Left absolutely think themselves vastly superior to previous generations of Americans who—unlike them—were shamefully racist, sexist, imperialist, materialist, and judgmental to boot. These elites see themselves on some pedestal because their ideology dissociates them from these greatest of sins.
Our universities today are full of nihilists who teach, and take, courses in postmodernism, the new historicism, deconstructionism, race and gender studies, and “ethnic literature,” the latter by which they mean writings by people who are not white—why not call it that? If it truly meant “ethnic” wouldn’t French and German writers qualify for ‘inclusion?’ The leading lights of these subjects are not real thinkers, they are dissemblers.
The underlying assumption is that the great Western literary canon is bigoted and racist. The appeal of ethnic literature is not excellence, but the supposed social virtue of multiculturalism—inclusion made a literary value, the writings of people whose colored ancestors were oppressed automatically assigned literary merit. So to honor excellence is racism? But excellence sees no color and excellence is by nature exclusionary. This is the embrace of mediocrity in the name of social fairness.
Unbelievably, people who propagate these ridiculous ideas are praised for their ‘foresight’ in ‘meeting this need’ of ‘alienated’ minority students. But how about the idea that writers of color should be included in student studies by merit? This would respect not their skin color but their talent. The ethnic literature classes create literary ghettos of mediocre writers.
This is a ‘deal’ that is low and cowardly for both races. For whites it dissociates them from the white guilt they have been taught. If any black opposes lower standards for the sake of ‘inclusiveness’ and ‘diversity’ he is seen as the worst kind of evil race traitor—a Conservative.
White progressives at colleges build whole careers by implementing and managing programs of social virtue at the expense of academic excellence. Merit and excellence are words associated with white privilege and oppression by the politically correct progressives. Apparently this is supposed to make everybody feel good—except those people who value excellence and merit. If merit preserves white hegemony then there is clearly the disincentive for excellence and an incentive for mediocrity.
Black writers such as Toni Morrison and James Baldwin are praised for their anger and racialism, not for their writing talent. Their writing has become required reading in schools out of some mythical idea that blackness alone makes trite writing valuable to black students—out of some misplaced loyalty—and it shows that whites feel the pain of black anger.
The work of dissociation always erodes the quality of its host institution. It is at war with intellectual difficulty and any kind of accountability—both stigmatized as oppressive in the age of white guilt. Those who took power by dumbing down curriculum—and therefore dumbing down generations of our young people—have destroyed the greatest public education system the world has ever known.
Very few black elites will criticize their brothers and sisters for not taking responsibility for themselves and their children. All blacks are aware that 70 percent of black babies are born out-of-wedlock—90 percent in some cities. And they all know that this represents a serious problem of irresponsibility. To pretend it is not true is to lie to oneself.
Martin Luther King’s generation demanded freedom for blacks based on democratic principles; and opportunity for blacks to advance based on individual responsibility. They insisted that blacks were individual human beings who should be judged as individuals and rise or fall as individuals and therefore it was wrong for the government to make them be a race. They even fought against having to identify one’s race on school or employment applications.
Americans have stood by as our public schools have declined from the best on earth to the worst. Black English in the inner city is far worse than in the Fifties. The New Left made a deal with the devil because of its ‘bigotry of low expectations.’
The progressives failed the country while they flattered themselves out of a self-congratulating moral elitism as the culture declined precipitously all around them. All of their solutions failed to solve the problems they were designed for. To this, all they can say is: "It would have been worse without our progressive programs (social engineering) and the tens of trillions of dollars of our nation’s wealth flushed down the drain forever."
This article is based on the book by Shelby Steele, 'White Guilt.'