May 3, 2006

Good stuff on "white guilt"

There's lots of buzz about Shelby Steele's piece, White Guilt and the Western Past. I think it's a great article, well worth reading...

....I call this white guilt not because it is a guilt of conscience but because people stigmatized with moral crimes--here racism and imperialism--lack moral authority and so act guiltily whether they feel guilt or not.

They struggle, above all else, to dissociate themselves from the past sins they are stigmatized with. When they behave in ways that invoke the memory of those sins, they must labor to prove that they have not relapsed into their group's former sinfulness. So when America--the greatest embodiment of Western power--goes to war in Third World Iraq, it must also labor to dissociate that action from the great Western sin of imperialism. Thus, in Iraq we are in two wars, one against an insurgency and another against the past--two fronts, two victories to win, one military, the other a victory of dissociation.

The collapse of white supremacy--and the resulting white guilt--introduced a new mechanism of power into the world: stigmatization with the evil of the Western past. And this stigmatization is power because it affects the terms of legitimacy for Western nations and for their actions in the world. In Iraq, America is fighting as much for the legitimacy of its war effort as for victory in war....

He's dead on about our paralysis in immigration policy. Our attitude should be that our way of government and freedom is superior, that we have a mission to be a "light unto the nations," and to spread our wisdom to new immigrants and to their homelands. And being an immigrant is a big privilege that carries big responsibilities.

The thing that I would add to his article is that our policies in the Third World and the War on Terror would probably be much the same even without any "white guilt." The logic of our situation is inescapable. The only way "out" of the problems in "The Gap" is for those countries to grow up, and join the grown-up world. (And in fact many already have--there are a lot of countries that we formerly thought of as impoverished and hopeless that now are democratic and increasingly prosperous. Think about the way that India is now starting to give foreign aid to other lands, and how many of the "Asian Tigers" are outsourcing jobs to places with lower labor costs.)

Like it or not, we are in loco parentis. The fact that we could squash any Third World country like a bug--or 1st World country for that matter--is irrelevant. We need for them to grow up, and therefore our fighting with "managerial minimalism" is necessary. Your kids won't grow up if you step in and solve every problem for them (and probably also won't if you just ignore them). They may have to struggle for years on paths that lead nowhere, until they find out themselves what works for them. You need to nudge and nag them in what you hope is the right direction, but you have to let them make mistakes...

The other thing that stands out when I read this is how utterly stuck in the past leftists and "white guilt-trippers" are. For them The White Man is forever putting on his solar topee, whacking his boot with a riding crop, and striding to the club for sundowners, leaving (as the old colonial urban legend has it) his glass eye on the porch to keep the black boys hard at their labors. And Bull Connor is forever using dogs and fire hoses to flatten hip and youthful Civil Rights marchers, while they forever sing We Shall Overcome...

That fact that they gained great power and success from stigmatizing the "white" world has turned into a terrible trap. They are like the school football stars or prom queens who can never move past their moment of glory, and keep their yearbooks on the coffee table while never achieving anything new...

Posted by John Weidner at May 3, 2006 8:46 AM
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