White people only know a few of the names. By now we all know Trayvon Martin. A few will remember Darius Simmons, and fewer still will remember Renisha McBride. There are no data on this, but I would be willing to bet that most of those of us who do know these, or other, names feel very badly about it. Why they will thump their chests and tell you how terrible it is that we live in such a racist society and how, of course, they are not like that and did they mention how badly they feel about it. They will change their Facebook profile pics, get into a few arguments with a few right-wing family members and, again, let every one know how very bad they feel. They will make sure those less enlightened feel bad about it too, really.
The problem with all this white guilt is it does nothing to address the real problems. If anything it deflects any discussion of privilege from those who wrap themselves up in it. Why address the fact that you will not be arrested for urinating in public on a crowded street on St. Paddy’s day while PoC are arrested regularly for not moving quick enough for a policeman’s taste. I mean the truly decent thing to do would be to eschew these displays of destructive celebration in the name of solidarity with PoC who would not get a pass for the behavior, but then your fun would be ruined. So let’s not do that, instead let’s remind our black neighbors how very bad we feel that this happens, that will make it all better. If they happen to tell you that is not enough, well, that’s the great thing about guilt, you can turn it around and try to make them feel bad for not realizing what an awesome ally you are for feeling, again, so very bad about it. I cover no new ground here, I know.
It occurs to me though, that there is new ground to cover. Maybe someone has written about this already, and if so, I would love to know from you all, but it seems to me there is a far more toxic outcome than the continuation of privilege through white savior syndrome, though that is bad enough. I think perhaps the reason men like Jordan Davis’s killer feel so threatened by young black men is because deep down so many white people feel we have it coming. All this chest beating, hand wringing, and finger-pointing among white people about race, all this guilt, communicates to these psychopaths that some sort of retribution is due. They are just waiting for someone to collect and for this reason they are ready to “defend” themselves from young, black men, who must be a threat, because they must be wanting to hurt white people back.
This is not to say these killers are not responsible for their actions, far from it. I am also not implying that there are not half a dozen other factors of our culture contributing to the criminalization of PoC in general and black men in particular, because there most certainly are. White guilt, however, is a factor in this, I believe. It is an exacerbating influence on an already toxic culture of white supremacy. Some people react to guilt with a desire to make amends, this is true. There are others, though, who react by doubling down and readying for reciprocity to run its course and who do everything they can to avoid the consequences, real and imagined.
None of this is said, by the way, to stoke more white guilt. I hope this is abundantly clear. I am not pointing fingers here, I am suggesting a change in our way of managing our issues with race, because what he have is hurting people. It adds not just to the problem above, but it frames the dialogue around real solutions like affirmative action in terms of paying white people back for oppression rather than leveling a very unbalanced playing field. It allows the willful bigots to control the conversation and it costs us in real cultural change and real policy change. It costs us in young lives, and your guilt does nothing to bring them back, but an honest desire to change the systems can prevent more from being taken.