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White Guilt vs. White Responsibility

Derek Chauvin was found guilty over a month ago, but police brutality continues. It is a constant reminder that social justice is a marathon and not a sprint. Especially for white folks, it is important to not become complacent and remain tuned into responsibility. Taking responsibility means continuously challenging and working through feelings of white guilt.


Feelings of guilt and shame are internalized feelings from the ideas of white supremacy in which individuals collude with ideas of perfectionism, doing things right the first time, and not wanting to do things they are “unsure how to do”. This leads to white silence. Fears of not being seen as a “perfect” or “good” white person then leads to inaction.


How does one shift from white guilt, which is a passive state to white responsibility which is an active state? One has to grapple with the uncomfortable feelings of not being seen as good, listening instead of telling, and looking to those with lived experience of racism to learn how it fits for them for action to be taken.


Healing from white supremacy is an ongoing process of unlearning what has been learned in a culture embedded with white supremacist ideals. These feelings of guilt and shame must be actively and persistently worked through – it is a lifetime process. There are many communities out there that are providing space for folks to process these exact feelings. So instead of leaning on folks of color to provide free learning here are some ways to continue your journey of facing feelings of white guilt head on in an ethical way.


1. Do your own work -- Buy and read a book like Do Better: Spiritual Activism for Fighting and Healing from White Supremacy (Buy it here: https://bookshop.org/books/do-better-spiritual-activism-for-fighting-and-healing-from-white-supremacy/9781982151270). Take an active stance in the work by completing the activities alone for your own reflection or begin a book club to reflect with other white folks on what is coming up.


2. Join a community like the Co-Conspirators lounge (Browse their courses here: https://courses.checkyourprivilege.co/) where you can take classes like Breaking the Addiction of Privilege and Unpacking White Saviorism.


3. Find a therapist to assist you in working through your feelings of guilt and help move you towards action, help you find self-knowledge about your identities and the impacts of those identities on how you operate in the world and how this impacts others.


The difference between guilt and responsibility is that guilt is about feeling that as a white person you have not somehow internalized the impacts of a racist society. By splitting off this part of us we are not owning that it is there. We are not owning the impacts of a racist society on our perceptions, actions, and the impact of our identities on others. This often appears in the context of folks claiming that we are living in a post racial society or that they are “color blind”. Responsibility is owning the impacts of living in a racist society, that it is a part of our culture and our self, and that this is an on-going active process.

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