entrenched identities

Jim heartfield Jim at heartfield.demon.co.uk
Thu Jun 25 13:42:41 PDT 1998

In the thread on entrenched identities, I read

1 some rather self-conscious disavowals of racism, 2 ostentatious denunications of the left's record, 3 'why oh why won't they listen?'-style hand-wringing 4 Intolerant denunciations of anyone who does not fall down prostrate in agreement

I get the feeling that I am reading something other than anti-racism.

This is the sound of liberal white guilt, not real solidarity. Like all guilt, it is motivated not by a genuine interest in resolving problems, but narcissistic self-indulgence.

What the guilty white liberal is really doing is drawing attention to his own largesse: 'Look at me! I have a big heart. I've been wrong, but I'm sorry now!' The key component in all of this is less the practical problem of racism, than 'me, me, me'.

This kind of guilty apologetics is an untrustworthy foundation for any positive attack on racism. In fact it is motivated not by a sense of equality, but one of superiority. When challenged, this guilty sentiment quickly turns nasty.

Just imagine what will happen if a person of colour does not want the white liberal's largesse, or dares to criticise his motivations. Or imagine if the native American does not want to live on the nice reservation that the guilty white liberal has set aside.

Woe betide any such ingratitude. That will really provoke the liberal to show the true measure of his sanctimonious superiority.

Western leaders just love apologising for all the terrible things that they did in the past, these days. Australia has its own 'say your sorry day', Tony Blair has apologised for the Irish famine, the Japanese Emperor has expressed his deep sorrow for the sufferings of the British POWs (never thinking to ask what those troops were doing in Singapore), the entire German establishment has made collective guilt the official state ideology.

Some friends of mine were involved in an anti-racist youth exchange which meant taking a group of teenagers to Europe, visiting Auschwitz, meeting up with SOS-racisme in France and so on.

At one point these schoolchildren were taking part in a discussion with some of their German counterparts. The issue was anti-racism and the English youngsters were explaining their itinery. One of the Germans said that only Germans really understood racism because of their special past. They had had to come to terms with their own society's responsibility for the holocaust. Peeved to be told that they did not understand the race issue, the English kids did not know how to respond.

What was happening was that the German children (and I don't doubt that the English kids would have done the same if they had been as sophisticated) were proclaiming their own moral superiority on the race question, because of their more contrite recognition of their guilt.

Of course, being children they were not remotely guilty, but in Western societies now you demontrate your superiority by your sensitivity on the race question, and your ostentatious expressions of liberal guilt. Those children were just imitating their parents.

These expressions of liberal guilt appear to be about recognising past fault, but very quickly they reveal a quite distinctive flavour. Like all moralising, they serve to shore up feelings of superiority and disdain for those that do not share in their outlook. -- Jim heartfield

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