Is White Guilt the Answer to Racism?

June 21, 2012  |  

Generally, I’m down for anything that makes a white person have some sort of introspection on race, but I’m genuinely a bit torn on this new University of Minnesota effort known as the “Un-Fair Campaign.” Running with the tagline, “it’s hard to see racism when you’re white,” the goal of the effort is to get Caucasians to do just that: see racism. And so phrases and questions like “is white skin fair skin” and “we’re lucky we don’t get followed by security when we go to the store” are splattered on the faces of white men and women to force white people to realize that they often overlook true instances of racism because they don’t understand their own privilege.

It’s a novel idea and highly progressive considering it originated in one of the whitest cities in America: Duluth, MN, where 90% of its population identifies as white. But can this movement truly spark change or just controversy? When I first saw the campaign posters my mind immediately drifted to the idea of light-skinned guilt and how this effort is quite similar in theory.  From my perspective, there is no sense in trying to make someone feel guilty for being born a certain complexion, race, ethnicity, or nationality when that’s completely out of their control. Granted if you’re a lighter skinned minority, you’re still a minority and certainly not equal to a white person in terms of society’s view, but there are instances when that melanin deficit plays into one’s favor—just listen to any rap song today—however the person in the privileged seat isn’t responsible for that inherent privilege. This why questions like, “is white skin fair skin” are not fair themselves. The issue here isn’t the skin, it’s how you allow that skin to serve and position you throughout life.

What’s interesting is how this campaign wants to force white people to see racism but then makes the practice an external being, by telling observers, if you see racism speak up. I don’t know that white people (speaking generally here) have so much of an issue recognizing racism when it’s exercised by other people, I think a far more effective method would be to challenge people to recognize their own racist behaviors—assuming they have them. That’s really the only way change can come about because racism is built on ideals and truly it’s not enough to just think, am I suspicious of black people or do I think they should be followed around in stores, it’s why do I think that way and how do I implement practices that reinforce my own privilege, like not hiring black people or voting for legislation that disadvantages them. One of the posters does touch on this idea by pointing out on a white man, “what you do is worse. You give me better jobs, better pay, better treatment and a better chance all because of the color of my skin and you don’t even realize it.” This is the type of confrontational message that can spark change, otherwise you’re just reminding white people of all the reasons why it’s good to in fact be white and then trying to make them feel bad about it. That’s probably not going to work.

There is an assumptive nature about the campaign still that is hard to overlook. It assumes one, that white people don’t recognize their privilege, and two, that they’re all responsible for the system of institutional racism because of their inherent whiteness, which isn’t totally fair. In addition to being oblivious to one’s privilege, there are also people who are fully aware of it and who see no problem with having the luck of the draw so to speak in terms of their race and I think those are the people who are far more dangerous because they’re more inclined to use that power as their God given right to keep the privilege going, but that’s a mindset no poster or billboard can fix.

The University of Minnesota-Duluth is certainly ruffling some feathers with this campaign, which could be due to the sheer fact that it makes people uncomfortable because it forces them to look at all the ways they’ve been given the upper hand, but its accusatory nature also runs the risk of alienating the very audience it was intended for and accomplishing nothing in the end.

Check out a couple promo videos from the campaign below. What do you think about this whole effort?


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Brande Victorian is the news and operations editor for madamenoire.com. Follow her on twitter @Be_Vic.

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  • Jeff Herman

    Dear AAPF,

    You chose to produce the WHITE GUILT video depicting an old WHITE dad passing off the ever larger dollar fountain to his young WHITE son.

    In the Jewish faith this is called a Bar Mitzvah, and they do it quite well!

    You are blaming the white race for there being no black dads to pass down their money, faith, and wisdom, really?

    With 72% of black children born into a one parent family, I can understand your outrage. But you should look in the mirror.

    It is not another dad’s responsibility to pass their knowledge to your children, that must be done by black leader’s or black dad’s.

    Sadly, the best and most empowered black leaders over the years have systematically been marginalized and labeled as Uncle Tom’s.

    In Booker T. Washington’s amazing book, Up from Slavery, he said, Any man regardless of colour, will be recognized and rewarded in the proportion as he learns something well – learns to do it better than some one else. I believe my race will succeed in proportion as it learns to do common things in uncommon manner; learns to do a thing so thoroughly that no one can improve upon what has been done; learns to make its service of indispensable value.

    Did you know, or do you teach your school children, that the first self made woman millionaire in these United States was Madam Walker, a slave women who after freedom developed a line of hair products.

    Instead of telling your kids amazing success and empowerment stories, you tell them why SOMEONE ELSE is holding them down.

    Your video should have shown the black kids being slowed down in life by:

    * Local drug dealers

    * One parent family choice

    * Gang intimidation

    * Staying dumb peer pressure

    * Encouragement to dress like inmates

    * Encouragement to talk like inmates

    * The constant fear of being randomly shot by another black youth

    * The absence of any empowerment influence by dad’s or leaders

    Martin Luther King once said, let us not be judged by the color of our skin, but by the CONTENT of our character!

    Black leaders, please have the courage to change the dialog from entitlement and blame, to empowerment and success, and fulfill MLK’s dream of creating amazing black character?

  • Reasonable Voice

    Even if you convince every white person in the country to feel guilty for being white, it really accomplishes nothing more than dragging an entire race down. I definitely have issue with the idea of pulling anyone down. That is some sadistic bullshit there. Since some people are born without thumbs, should we all sit around and feel bad about the thumbs we have to create equality? No, of course not. That won’t help people without thumbs. We need to find ways of making things better for those without thumbs, not ways of making things worse for those with thumbs. You don’t solve racism with racism. Two wrongs do not make a right.

    How do you fight racism? Minorities need to rise. Minorities need to stop being subject to slavery of their own minds. Don’t look for ways you are a victim, because you will find some and your mind will create many more that do not actually exist. This drags you down. Don’t focus on what drags you down. Focus on what makes you better. If you meet an obstacle, seek a way to overcome. Don’t feel sorry for yourself and proclaim how the Man has kept you down. The Man has kept us all down. Unless you are in the top 10% of earners, you toil to make other people rich and never get what you have earned. Education is a huge way to level the playing field. If you are poor, use the grants and scholarships available to get an education and a better job. Too many people that were born the wrong color without the right privileges have made something of themselves for that excuse to fly. If you want to make it badly enough, you can make it. Period.

    The other way to fight racism is love. If you love someone, you become invested in them. You learn about who they are and what they are all about. If you really get to know someone, you will be able to see their struggles. You will feel their pains. And you will also enjoy their victories. Some idiotic campaign doesn’t create love. People have to change to be able to have love for others. And sometimes people will love you because you love them. You can’t control their feelings by telling them how to act, but you can control your feelings, which can affect theirs. Love is catchy. It’s wonderful stuff that spreads. Instead of meeting people that you feel are more privileged than you in some way with contempt and hate, show them love. It’s hard to love people that hate you. It’s really hard to love people that hate you for no better reason than you were born white, or male, or straight, or attractive, or into a wealthy family. Love and hate are both two way streets.

  • Brownhare

    Most of the Irish went to the USA due to the land enclosures and the ensuing famine. I doubt you’d find many of them who felt privileged by the hands of the same pasty faced upper class elite who got rich by stealing all the land in the UK and trading African people as property.
    Labouring Class people of every hue know that ‘life isn’t fair’ we need to get beyond the racial ‘divide and conquer’ being thrust upon us by our cringing political elite.

    Ask who doesn’t want a unified bottom end labour force? Ask who would HATE to have a room full of unified labour of all colours asking why the fuck do we ALL work three jobs and why are we still poor..

    Here’s why I think they don’t want us unified.

    Whilst a politician can tell you that your life is unfair A) Because YOU ARE black’ or B) ‘Because OF THOSE angry blacks’ they can keep that hot potato flying back and forth and line their pockets.

    The elite love division in the Labouring Class it has them laughing all the way to the bank.

    It’s a crock of politically divisive hate causing shit, we are all victims of any system that keeps 1% controlling the resources of the 99%

    What Labouring Class people need to be doing is getting past the skin tone debate and into a Union together, then lets see who is racist, when a massive Labouring Class Union has political solidarity that embraces all races and religions and asks the elite politely to leave THEIR nation.

    Who will be hurting then? Viva revolution!

  • Nathan

    “White privilege” will be seen as a failed educational experiment by future generations.

  • Thank you! Could you please say this on national television! As a white person myself, I find that movement offensive! I worked darn hard for what I got and my family came from poor backgrounds. They were hardly privileged and neither was I. If we truly want to get along as a nation, we have to see past nationalities, the color of our skin, our bank accounts, and our differences. This movement is not going to solve the problem. It will make it worse. If we make ourselves what we are today whether we are white, black, Spanish, Asian, etc. we did it because we wanted a better quality of life not only for ourselves, but for the people we care about and I don’t think anyone should feel guilty about that.

  • this_is_a_lie

    Total, complete, 100% cop-out. I’ve been passed over many times for jobs that I was well qualified for simply because I was NOT a “minority”. Nevermind the 7+ years and $100,000.00+ in DEBT that I incurred to become qualified for the position! The only racism in America is AGAINST whites. Minorities have EVERY advantage. If YOU choose not to work for it then YOU won’t achieve a level of “privilege”. I haven’t either — barely living from paycheck to paycheck with a family of five despite 60 hour work weeks and an Engineering degree.
    We fought like to give YOU unfair advantages in the workforce and you STILL can’t make it?! SHUT UP AND GET A JOB!!!!

  • Feeling guilty isn’t the same as feeling empathy. There are those who lack that basic human emotion and I don’t see how this campaign will change that.

  • Plain Truth

    Of course white guilt is appropriate. Every social justice movement (which are, by definition, authoritarian and collectivist) must have a scapegoat. The doctrines pushed by the Frankfurt School are now orthodox. We are required by historical inevitability to progress towards an anti-family culture with mandatory “polymorphous perversity” (see Marcuse) for all. The recently leaked US Army manual shows the government is ready to assist white skin-criminals who are US citizens with re-education camps located on US soil. This is progress!

    • Not every white person is responsible for what happened in this country 400 years ago. As I said above, my family did not come from privilege and neither have I. We worked damn hard to get where we are. I am not going to feel guilty about it. If anything because my family was Jewish or Italian which were just as hated as black people, they knew discrimination also and no one would give them a job when they came to this country. They had to open their own businesses or join organized crime to make it. I don’t like racism either, but pandering and patronizing is just as offensive!

      • “but pandering and patronizing is just as offensive!”

        Exactly. It’s like in a couple when the man never lets his wife do anything, always saying “ooh no darling, I will do it”. The result is the wife feeling suffocated and a divorce.

  • Adrina

    I see the effort but the approach is wrong. They shouldn’t feel guilty but instead put themselves in our shoes and/or look at their personal contributions to racism through their words and actions. They should only feel guilty about their personal actions not for being white.

  • IllyPhilly

    Can we get one like this, but with the “privilege” men have over women?

    • Vic

      I’m a black male and I don’t have privileges over white females. I can not assert patriarchy over them , and can only attempt to do so over black females IF I’m allowed to by somebody white.

  • Vic

    Stop defending white people

    • Reasonable Voice

      Racist much?

  • Tiffany Cleveland

    First of all the issues is white privilege in it self, there should have never been such a thing, But at the same time there are plenty of white people who don’t have that privilege, they live in trailers or in shacks and are really poor and live off the welfare system. but white people trick black people in to thinking that it is only black people who live below the poverty line, when in fact there are far more poor white people!

  • G

    This campaign is great – more awareness!!!!

  • LaLa

    This campaign though valient in it’s effort to cause open dialogue will probably fail. The people who will feel guilty will be those that already recognize their privilege and racism. It will not be the KKK or Mitt Romney’s of the world. It will the one’s that are already trying to align themselves with the plight of African Americans. I don’t need you to feel guilty because. Because you cannot undo the wrongs of slavery or white privilege. That would require genocide to morally cleanse the world of all racists-black, white or indifferent. I’m just sayin’

  • Guest360

    I understand the effort but I don’t totally agree. No one has a choice in the skin they were born in nor how the world treats them as a result of their color. What we do have a choice in is how we TREAT people who are of different races and cultures. Hell, black people need to treat other black people well too. But realizing what racism is and speaking up against it does NOT mean you should feel bad about your race, who you are, and how you’ve benefited from the color of your skin. So long as you aren’t propagating this ideal that “White is right” and neither encourage it or sit back as you see it, you’re good with me. You don’t have to down yourself to prove a point. That’s not what anyone is looking for.

  • lalatarea

    i really don’t feel like this campaign is trying to guilt white people into anything, i don’t get that impression. but making ppl feel uncomfortable and forcing them to see things from the other side, i think, will help to enlighten and educate them in a way that say a lecture couldn’t.

    • L-Boogie

      That is true. Sometimes being offensive is the only way to capture someone’s attention.

  • Mrsadkiah

    White people should not be made to feel guilty, they should realize their privilege and what that means for them and minorities. This is for any privileged group :men have privilege over women, heterosexuals have privilege over homosexuals. People need to realize it, realize that it’s here and how to deal with it, learn from it and hopefully make things more equal.

  • FromUR2UB

    No one should feel guilt for having been born into privilege, wealth, favor, beauty, intellect, physical prowess, or whatever their particular advantage is. But it doesn’t hurt to recognize that their advantage makes life somewhat easier for them, and learn to have some compassion for those who have it tougher. People are not at fault for ANY circumstance into which they’re born. But, just as we expect people who lack something, to work to attain it, those with advantages should work to attain an understanding of how having or not having an advantage impacts lives. The sense of entitlement that some whites feel, is why they cry “reverse racism” whenever things don’t work out in their favor. One of the symptoms of privilege is that it sometimes makes people cavalier, believing it’s deserved even when it wasn’t earned.

    • TRUTH IS

      I am absolutely tired & fed up of the race baiting. Nothing gets better!! One race = the human race!!

      • TRUTH IS

        The WHITE man designed this system; its advantageous to them and a disadvantage to blacks, even to this day!! Simple!!

  • Anonymous

    No. The answer to racism is accepting one another and the differences. Judging based on individuality.