Why is there white guilt

You are white and always will be! - The racism debate is caught in racist stereotypes

It is not what I do but what I am that makes me a racist, is the creed of the militant anti-racists. And that means: Original sin is back.

Of course, she does it anyway: Reni Eddo-Lodge speaks to whites. Also about skin color. Actually, the British author does nothing else than that. Nevertheless, the title of her book is "Why I no longer talk to white people about skin color". It has become a mantra of the militant anti-racism movement. And not only these, also radical feminists, gay and transgender activists adopt the thinking behind it. In other words, it means: only talk to people who share certain basic positions with you. Positions that you determine yourself, of course. Otherwise every conversation is in vain.

For Eddo-Lodge there is a non-negotiable postulate, and that is structural racism. Western societies, she says, are racist. And not only where people or groups openly propagate this, but everywhere. Basically. Racism is in the institutions, the laws, the unwritten norms. In the ideas and beliefs that underpin Western culture. In the language, the terms, the images that shape everyday life. In the way you move, dress, talk, laugh, cry. In literature and art anyway.

Above all, however, racism is in people who think and act in a racist way, even if they do not want to. And don't even know they're doing it. Maybe even then. And that's the worst. An avowed racist, so goes the bold logic of structural racism, is at least honest to himself. He knows he's a racist. None of the others admit that to themselves. They think they are not racists. They may even think they are anti-racists and will not be convinced that they are deceiving themselves. Because they are blind to what skin color does to them.

Guilty of everyone who is different

When Reni Eddo-Lodge speaks to whites about racism, she does so on the assumption that it is actually not possible. Because whites don't know what racism is. Because they can't know. Eddo-Lodge is not alone in this view. The American sociologist and anti-discrimination coach Robin DiAngelo developed it into a system of racial and social justice under the title “White Fragility”. In the “Spiegel” she recently stated that the most difficult thing would be to discuss with liberals or leftists. Because they could least accept that they are racist. For DiAngelo there is no question that they are, at least according to the concept of structural racism. Because they are white.

And whoever is white is a racist. Always and inevitable. Says DiAngelo. Through birth and the privileges that whites enjoy in the white majority society. There is nothing they can do about that, even if they wanted to. But even if they think they want it - they really don't want it. If you try anyway, you will only make things worse. They pretend that they are not racist and thus show how strongly their thinking is determined by racist clichés. But they don't even have to pretend. Just because they move as white people in white society, they are guilty of all those who are different from them.

This could be dismissed as an intellectual aberration - in a liberation struggle that just wants to overcome discrimination based on external, non-self-chosen characteristics. But the argument catches on, far beyond the fight against racism. It has now become a permanent part of those who see themselves as advocates of progress, however understood, regardless of the form of discrimination involved. Does a man know how a woman feels in a certain situation? Do heterosexuals have any idea what it means to be gay in a “heteronormative” society? Can a legal system, the basic lines of which were drawn up by well-off white men in Europe over two hundred years ago, really claim validity worldwide?

He who knows is wrong

Anyone who thinks this way thinks racially. This is exactly how racism works: people are reduced to skin color, gender, sexual identity or social affiliation and all other, much more essential characteristics are ignored. Individuals are judged on a single quality and anything that may result from that is used against them. But when it comes to fighting structural disadvantage, intellectual honesty doesn't seem to count. When two do the same thing, it's not the same. Especially not when one is white and the other is colored. In militant racism, the fronts are clear: whoever knows is wrong.

Only those who have victim status have legitimacy. In order to be right, one has to use this strange logic to speak from the experience of discrimination. You have to have experienced firsthand what it means to be disregarded, disregarded, restricted in your private, professional and social possibilities just because you don't know, not a man or a transgender person. At least one has to prove that, as a descendant of a discriminated group, one is legitimized to speak for it. That goes against all reason, but reason seems to be desired as the basis of law-making only as long as it reinforces one's own prejudices. Those who are discriminated speak in the name of a higher truth.

The mindset behind structural racism is simple but effective: you project the prejudices you are exposed to or at least believe you are exposed to onto the majority society. The thought pattern with which everyone who does not share certain characteristics is condemned across the board is the same that is used wherever people are excluded from a community because, from the point of view of a majority, they are supposedly “not like us”. This is extremely effective as a means of political pressure. In the struggle for justice that the activists are committed to, it is a caustic poison.

The guilt remains

If, as a white man, I cannot be a racist and as a man I have to remain silent as soon as it comes to women's rights, if, as a born-after European, I am to blame for the horrors of colonial rule all over the world and can only be satisfied when I am accept that too - then there is actually no point in talking to anyone. Not only when it comes to skin color.

The roles are distributed. Clearly defined according to origin, there is no way out. Some are perpetrators, others are victims. Regardless of what they do. In a way that is inherent in their nature. A secular original sin, which, true to the teaching of the church father Augustine, keeps the error of the forefather present in all descendants and which is inherited forever. In addition to historical guilt comes the guilt of birth. Both are carefully cherished so that they persist, like the guilt that came into the world with Adam's apple.

At least as long as they can be politically instrumentalized. This is dangerous. Discrimination cannot be eliminated through discrimination, and whoever tries to do so is not fighting for freedom, but replacing one form of repression with another. Freedom is indivisible, and guilt is a highly explosive cargo, especially when it is declared a birth defect. If all whites are to blame for the misery of the colored, in the end it is nobody, and the really guilty are relieved. It is not a question of guilt lost in metaphysical indeterminacy like Adam's original sin, but of responsibility. We all have a responsibility. Not for the traits we were born with, for eye color or gender. But for what we do - and for what we tolerate. Political action can only be based on this.