by Pearlette Springer
Former National Chair of Pax Christi USA
As I sit here in the dark reflecting on an incident that could be classified as racial violence, I wonder if anyone of sound mind is listening. White guilt and black rage are one in the same, two sides of the same coin. The alleged shooter in the incident in Virginia on August 26th states in his manifesto, “I’ve been a human powder keg for a while … just waiting to go BOOM.” He also references the shooting in Charleston as the straw that broke the camel’s back, and two days later, “I put down a deposit for a gun.” It makes me wonder how many times before this day had he faced racial violence and turned the other cheek.
From the little that has been posted in the media, the alleged shooter laid out his documented history of racial and sexual discrimination complaints and of being bullied. On his Twitter page, he named the two people he shot as guilty of perpetuating racial and sexual orientation violence towards him. In another article, the same two people, both white, are displayed as “the kindest and nicest people at the station,” and the shooter, who is Black, is demonized and called unjustified in his accusations. The article describes the shooter as an “unhappy man” and “looking out for people to say things that he would take offense to”.
This is the norm. This is to be expected. However, even without all the facts made known, being nice, kind and loved by everyone does not mean discrimination did not happen. Nor does being unhappy and sensitive to other people’s comments mean that accusations are unfounded. Yet it is and had been reason enough to dismiss claims of racial and sexual discrimination. The two people that were shot probably were nice and kind and loved by many; and the shooter probably did display odd behavior or have mental illness. These are not reasons to dismiss claims of racial and sexual discrimination.
Black rage and white guilt are the motivating forces that enable liberals, as they are referred, to move forward, to challenge the status quo, to attempt to put an end to the endless. The endless and never-ending song of internalized racial oppression and racial superiority, another two-sided coin that mirrors black rage and white guilt. Yet they (liberals) never go far enough or deep enough to where an impact can be felt. The Confederate flag was removed from the State House in South Carolina, but is racial profiling still legal? Is it now safe to drive while black? Walk while black? Stand on the corner while black? Can a black male over eight years of age walk through a department store without being followed by store security?
The Merriam-Webster Dictionary does not offer a definition of white guilt or black anger. However, the Urban Dictionary defines white guilt as “a belief, often subconscious, among white liberals that being white is, in and of itself, a great transgression against the rest of the world for which one must spend their life making atonement. It is often exemplified by embracing the cultures and philosophies of various other ethnic groups while neglecting one’s own roots.” The Urban Dictionary defines black rage as “an exclamation one screams when one feels the desire to release one’s rage onto a black person; when screaming, one must give a peace sign and look very constipated; when a person gets irrationally pissed over something so small and pointless. Level of anger far beyond pissed off, adrenaline flowing at 110%, black rage becomes an impossible ending tantrum.” In other words, white guilt is real but black rage is not. The definition of white guilt does not deny the continuing perpetuation of racism. The definition implies that even though racism exists, it is not the fault of white people. On the other hand, the implication is that black rage only exists in the minds of black people, implying that black people should not be angry about being discriminated against.
Connecting this together, white guilt could also be defined as the emotion whites feel because they have previously perpetrated white privilege and do not know how to atone for their sin(s). It is true that black rage is an emotion. But this black rage emotion is felt by blacks. It is felt by blacks who have failed to act on behalf of themselves or another person after being discriminated upon. This emotion is contained by the black person until that containment is breached. In summary, both of these emotions are due to the inability to respond to the inherited racial inferiority and racial superiority society that we all were born and/or bred into and have chosen to ignore.
Shari Lewis hosted the children’s show “Lamb Chops” on PBS during the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. She always ended with the same song: “This is a song that doesn’t end, it goes on and on my friend. Some people started singing it not knowing what it was, and they’ll continue singing it forever just because this is the song that doesn’t end…” The Lamb Chops video clearly illustrates where we stand today on the topic of racism. In the video Lewis represents the conservative viewpoint, all the while the puppets represent liberal thinking. As illustrated, the conservatives (Lewis) are trying to get the puppets (the liberals) to stop singing. Lewis (the conservatives) even says in the video, “I don’t know what you want.” But the puppets (liberals) continue singing the song over and over again. As in the real world, nothing is resolved, nothing is addressed.
In October 1995 in Baltimore, Pope John Paul II in his homily stated, “Surely it is important for America that the moral truths which make freedom possible should be passed on to each generation. Every generation of Americans needs to know that freedom – freedom – consists not in doing what we like, but in having the right to do what we ought.”
Yes, the freedom to walk down the street, any time of day or night (with or without a hood on), alone or with friends, without being followed, just like white people. The freedom to be a teenager and act like a teenager, and jaywalk in my own neighborhood with my friends and receive a citation (not a bullet), just like white people. The freedom to live in the neighborhood of choice without being told they do not belong , just like white people. The freedom to drive a car, alone or with friends, at night or during the day, without being stopped unless a traffic offense has been committed, just like white people. The freedom to reach for my driver’s license that is located in my pocket or glove box or in my purse without being shot, just like white people. The freedom to say ‘no’ to a police officer without being arrested for obstructing justice, just like white people.
As Americans, the freedom to have access to quality education, just like white people. The freedom to worship in a Catholic parish of choice and feel welcome, just like white people. The freedom to not have to justify my existence in a crowd of white people, just like white people. The freedom to not be told that ‘whites’ do not understand blacks and to tone down your blackness (culture), just like white people. The freedom not to be told that I cannot talk to ‘white’ people like that, just like white people. The freedom to be twelve years of age and play with a toy gun on the playground, just like white people. The freedom to be nine years of age in a department store without being followed by security, just like white people. The freedom to call myself American without being hyphenated (African-American), just like white people.
Turning the other cheek is a concept all Christians are taught at an early age. I believe that we should humble ourselves in the face of evil, but that does not mean we should not defend ourselves. In a commentary written by Fr. Victor Cathrein, SJ, he explains that even Christ defended himself, but he did it humbly and with the grace of God. That is responding with protest, responding with letter writing, responding with an article in a local or national paper, responding by standing up for your neighbor in the face of opposition, responding by physically and financially not supporting racial discrimination, racial profiling, the Confederate flag, and the abuse of power and authority.
Remember that all we–Americans with brown skin–are asking for is freedom.
That is all I want – FREEDOM.
Pearlette Springer is the former National Chair of Pax Christi USA. She holds a BA in African/African American Studies, a MA in Theology, and is a doctoral student in Family Studies and Strategic Interventions. She currently works for a Head Start program as a family advocate, and was previously director of the office for African American Ministries for the Diocese of Gary.
One thought on “REFLECTION: White guilt, Black rage – two sides of the same coin”
Pearlette, thanks for this article…much needed and so crucial!