'I'm So Sorry I'm White': The Futility and Self Absorption of White Guilt

Thursday, April 29

By Ash Haslett Cuff

'If you’re not a part of the solution, you’re a part of the problem.’ Bullshit. Neither has anything to do with you. Wake up and smell your own self absorption. 

I have seen a marked increase in vocal White guilt surfacing on social media in the past year or so. Between Black Lives Matter issues, the Atlanta shootings and the crises in various non-Western countries, White people are having a field day talking about how guilty they feel. Posting photos of your unread copy of White Teeth and shots of you watching Kim’s Convenience does absolutely nothing for anyone. You’re not educating yourself, you’re in an echo chamber of your own self pity and needless repentance.

People, especially young people, seem surprised that police brutality, incidents of racialized violence and appalling conditions in other countries are constantly occurring. None of these are new phenomena. Does that make them right? Absolutely not, but you posting infographics from astrology Instagram accounts and Twitter Threads from barely literate social media influencers is doing nothing to alleviate the issue. They couldn’t make it through Salinger without the Sparknotes, what makes them think they can inform their prepubescent fans about the history of White supremacy? The trending of such topics makes it obvious that the majority of these people wouldn’t give the matter a second glance were their feeds not flooded with it.

 It's the insincerity that gets me. It’s the fact they are only raising these issues because they see everyone else talking about them, because they see the stories in the news and they think that by talking about how horrible racism is they can gain some kind of clout. The week after the Atlanta shootings my feed was inundated with infographics about racism against Asians, about negative portrayal of Asians in the media and as someone of Asian heritage I thought it was frankly patronising. Thank you so much for taking the time to share your wisdom with us. I had no clue that racial objectification was bad, good thing I had you to point that out for me. Now, weeks after these shootings, I am seeing zero about White people trying to eliminate racism against Asians. What a shame, it’s almost as if their sentiments were an attempt to stay relevant.

Communities who are routinely impacted with attacks and discrimination don’t want your thoughts or prayers. Nobody cares that you’re ‘taking this time to reflect and grieve’-- Grieve about what? Your missed opportunity to post another bikini photo because you’re afraid people will think you’re insensitive and unable to read a room? Grow up. 

And this isn’t just an attack on White people, don’t worry. Some of my best friends are White. I know that regardless of race we are all self absorbed and ignorant, it’s just that I see this virtue signalling most commonly with White people. It’s essentially a diluted form of what I like to call ‘White Man Complex’; when a person in a position of relative privilege due to their race, sexuality, or gender feels guilty about being in that position so they feel the need to self flagellate before someone else can do it for them. They’re scared of being called out for this privilege so they’re projecting some kind of pre-emptive guilt, which just ends up making the situation about themself.

My question is, why? Why do you feel guilty? Guilt is useless. Besides, as you’re not the one committing the act and you’re not on the receiving end, this has nothing to do with you. That might be hard to hear, sorry to be the one to break it to you. Not every act of racism is the fault of every single White person. They talk about the system, sure, and I understand that racism is far deeper than some hick from rural Alberta’s ignorant comments. In many ways it’s deeply ingrained into many facets of the socio-economic fabric of our culture. That being said, it doesn’t mean a handful of White Gen Zeds and Millenials get to publicly repent for being White. Once again I reiterate: this isn’t about you.

These are important issues. There is meaningful discussion that can be had around them, but are you really the one to start that? There are hundreds of important issues that aren’t being talked about because they’re not trending on Twitter at the moment. You don’t get to emotionally capitalise on someone else’s grief because you feel the need to apologise for your race.

 Someone I know personally posted an Instagram story saying they wanted to form a groupchat to discuss the issue of White Supremacy and what they can do to dismantle it. Please. You may as well hold a prayer circle and sacrifice a lamb in the hopes Covid-19 will magically disappear. (Sidenote: This is the same person who told me my food smelt when my mum packed me Korean dumplings for lunch in 4th grade. I mean to be fair, it did stink but hell, at least it wasn’t plain pasta. Let me capitalise on my own race by gaining your sympathy; I told my mum not to make me dumplings again but I didn't tell her why. Put that in your pipe and smoke it. 

Another trend that irritates me is the sporadic promotion of artists of colour. A lot of the time I can’t help but feel these books or films or albums etc...are being promoted solely for the fact the artist is a member of whatever race is being most publicly attacked that week. Not to say that some of the material being promoted isn’t genuinely excellent, some of it is, but most people don’t care about that. It’s almost insulting to think that you’re consuming art purely because you feel like it’s the politically correct thing to do. That isn’t the point of art. Engage with something because it interests you, not because you want people to see how un-racist you are.

In a way, me writing this feels a little like screaming into the void. This is not going to put an end to White guilt or virtue signalling anymore than those pastel infographics will halt antisemitism but hey, we all like to hear the sound of our voice. 

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