Today’s White Guilt

By Kacey Gill

Race. It’s the untouchable topic that every white American dreads bringing up. With that one word comes years upon years of abuse, cruelty, and suffering. Pictures of a man on his knees, thick scars spanning the length of his back, rise to the surface of our minds. Scenes of children ripped from their mothers’ arms, tears streaming down their round cheeks, appear behind our eyes. And with these unrelenting images comes the inexplicable white guilt that we know all too well. It’s the twinge in the pit of your stomach when you watch 12 Years a Slave. It’s the automatic defensive mindset you slip into when the discussion of the past actions of “whites” arise. It’s the turning of your head when the teacher points to the picture of a broken family, a broken person– broken and beaten lives. It exists inside of you, and is waiting to eat you up.

But I believe that this white guilt is more than a punishment. I believe it is more than a negative shadow of the past imprinted on your soul. I choose to see it as strength. It provides an acute awareness that would not otherwise be there. It causes you to see more. It allows you to feel more, to understand and empathize with the pain. You are no longer just an outsider looking in, but able to take your heart and submerge it in the turmoil of those times. These abilities are rare and profound. White guilt is not something to be angry about. There’s no need to be frustrated. There’s no need to resent it. The fact that you can feel guilt in your soul for an action that you did not commit is a very powerful strength. With this said, I think that the guilt being felt in our country needs to be redirected and reevaluated. We are drowning in 150 year old guilt; 150 year old guilt over the actions of the white slave owner and the mistreatment of the black slave. Slavery of African Americans has long since seen its demise. As a country we’ve dug the graves of the Fugitive Slave Act and the Three-Fifths Compromise and buried them under years of retribution. I’m not saying that we can forget those times. We can never forget what went down on the southern plantation. We can never forget the faces, the people, the pain. But it’s time we take that guilt and reshape it.

It is time that we apply our guilt to today. To the present day issue of race that we see living and breathing in our streets, in our homes, and in our schools. Race today–it’s like a grim-reaper, claiming bodies left and right. Claiming Mike Brown, claiming Trayvon Martin, claiming Michael Dunn. It’s covered in a cloak of misconceptions that we have moved past the issue. It’s hidden by our ignorance and our blinded eyes. It keeps growing, and it keeps killing. The murder of these kids, these black kids, to me is an atrocity unforgivable and unforgettable. Observing these deaths, these slaughters, these cold-blooded executions of children in the middle of the street, I can only think that it is here where we need to apply our white guilt. We need to use it. Use it to empathize with the trials of the mother, of Michael Brown’s mother crying on a podium in Ferguson begging for justice, but also begging for peace. Use it to envision what it would be like if you had to worry about your brother, your father, your boyfriend, even your own self, getting shot down in the middle of the road. Care about today’s issue of race. Care about the continual murder. Care about the injustice. Care. Care and make a change. Educate yourself, speak out against what is wrong. Make a difference in our lifetimes.

Now, when reflecting on my own life, it is my hope (a hope I deem unrealistic, but still a hope), that one day the idea of white guilt won’t exist. That it will fade to a shade of gray so indistinguishable that it is nothing but human guilt. When it comes down to it, we are all the same–human. Just humans, trying to survive and trying to be happy.