If I haven’t learned anything else as an Americorps member, it’s that we all have a story and a struggle.
So you’ve heard of white guilt, right? Basically, it’s a sentiment that white people have that they should feel bad for things that their people have done to other cultures, especially black people in terms of racism and discrimination. It’s a fascinating phenomenon, and something that everyone should read up on. Here’s how Wikipedia defines it:
White guilt refers to the concept of individual or collective guilt often said to be felt by some White people for the racist treatment of people of color by Whites both historically and presently. The term is generally used in pejorative way (and in a partisan fashion within American political circles).
White guilt has been described as one of several psychosocial costs of racism for White individuals along with the ability to have empathic reactions towards racism, and fear of non-Whites.
I’m interested in how white people allow white guilt to control their interactions with other races. At my job, there are a few white people who are or have dealt with this in very different ways. Some seem to throw themselves into charity, thinking that saving the poor kids in Africa = making up for inequality. Some emerge themselves in a poor community and work to understand the different people who live around them. Some read books and hope that it all just makes sense one day.
As I watch them go through this, I wonder about the concept of black guilt. While Wikipedia gave me nothing, I do believe that the idea of black guilt does exist. In fact, I believe that I’m at the end of the “working-through-it” process now.
So what is black guilt? Let me define it in the same context that Wikipedia defines white guilt:
Black guilt refers to the concept of individual or collective guilt felt by some Black people for the ease at which we are allowed to coast through certain aspects of life due to unfair lowered expectations from society.
Black guilt can be described as one of several psychosocial costs of racism for Black individuals along with the ability to show frustration at Black stereotypes, and fear of Whites.
Let me go back.
So I was raised in an lower middle class situation in a single family home in an OK neighborhood. My dad wasn’t around. We didn’t have a lot of money, but we had more than some. But we lived in a city where basically everyone was Black, so I never had to deal with other cultures really. I mean, there were Asian people who owned the corner store, and there were some White kids at my school, and sure, there I saw Hispanic people when I was out with my mom, but I never had to be culturally sensitive to them. People were people, that was it. We were all the same, except the White people, who were definitely “better”.
Then I went to college. My school was about 70% White, 20% Black and 10% everyone else. And when I say White, I mean upper class, trust fund baby White. I was so confused. And I definitely felt my first stings of racism. And I started to really hate them.
Fast-forward to after college, when I’m living in a city that’s pretty much 60+% lower class Hispanic. And I’m reaping all these benefits along with them, like cheaper health care, inexpensive food, handouts etc. because I’m poor now too. And I’m laughing at all the White people who pay full price for meds, can’t hustle like I do and can’t get over on the system because they can’t blend into the dirt and graffiti and concrete like I can.
Fast-forward to I’m working in Boston for this multi-cultural Christian organization and I’m still poor, and I see all these poor white people working with me…and they’re struggling hard. I mean, I got my food stamps without much trouble at all, and did everything over the phone and via fax. These poor kids had to go down to the office, take forms, fill things out, sit in line. I didn’t do any of that. Their parents and friends back at home judge them for making a choice to be poor and help urban communities. These kids don’t understand the passion behind the hustle, so they can’t see past the poverty to be enlightened. You know, they don’t see the creative beauty and finesse of food stamp feasts. And they don’t know how to get over on bill collectors.
And then I started to feel guilty. Because I know that the reason that I can get over on bill collectors, and get food stamps fast, and be hood rich, is because I’m Black. I mean, it’s also because I’m smart and thrifty, but really, it’s because I have a shared set of experiences that most White people may never have. I’ve almost been homeless. I’ve had my lights cut off. I’ve have to get a payday loan to buy groceries. These are things that most White people just don’t understand.
I feel it more now that we’re in a recession. All these rich people, mostly White, are now poor, and are looking at the same issues that Black people face everyday. “What am I going to eat?” “How can I pay my bills?” And then I feel sad, because, really, they’re so confused and lost. And then the empathy sets in.
I wonder if other Black people go through this? I mean, society doesn’t expect as much from us as a people, so we’re allowed to get on food stamps and welfare and Section8, and work lame jobs, and slack off, and not try as hard because, to them, that’s all that we’re capable of. I find myself doing all types of things because I’m not White and I can get away with it. At the same time, though, I don’t think that it’s OK for Black people to celebrate this free pass of sorts that we’ve been given in life, because really, it’s not free at all. It comes with a painful price. You can see it in our children. But that’s for another post.
Anyway, I’m just wondering if I’m the only person who feels this sense of Black guilt, or if this is something that we’ve been internalizing for years…