My last post dealt with fear. This post, by contrast, will deal with loathing.
Self-loathing, to be exact.
As soon as it became clear Trump was going to win the election last Tuesday night, a wave of despair swept over liberals and progressives alike. Even leftists who’d up to then feigned indifference to the result now joined in the outpouring of emotion that followed Clinton’s defeat. Generally this took the form of anger, anguish, or grief. Usually it was some mixture thereof. One reaction was particularly useless, however: guilt.
White guilt, to be exact.
Numerous thinkpieces and editorials appeared over the course of the following days. Representative titles include “Dear White Women: We Fucked Up” in The Huffington Post, and “I am Ashamed to be Part of the Demographic that Elected Trump” from Affinity Magazine. Sarah Ruiz-Grossman wrote in the former: “I am ashamed of my country and ashamed of white people. But more than anyone else, I am ashamed of white women.” Cassie Baker sounded off in the latter: “I cannot even begin to convey how embarrassed and ashamed I am that this is what it has come to.” Public announcements of this sort had already begun to pour in on social media the night before. Laurie Penny, a frequent contributor to The Guardian and New Inquiry, confessed on Twitter: “I have had white liberal guilt before. Today is the first time I’ve actually been truly horrified and ashamed to be white.” Another author, who has written for Marxist publications like Salvage and Socialist Worker in the past, echoed Penny’s sentiment on Facebook: “Not sure if I’ve ever felt as ashamed to be a white American man as I do today.”
Honestly, though I’ve been known to be a bit cynical, I wonder what such statements actually aim to accomplish. Often they seem like virtue-signaling rituals of atonement, meant to convey to others what a good ally someone is. Either that or assuage their guilty conscience. And the same goes with the safety pins activists have started to wear, as in the aftermath of the Brexit vote this summer. Ruby Hamad put it bluntly in an editorial published by The Sydney Morning Herald: “Safety pins are meaningless acts of solidarity made to assuage white guilt.” “Make no mistake, that’s what the safety pins are for,” Christopher Keelty wrote with equal bluntness in a blog entry for The Huffington Post, “helping white people feel better.” Christopher Lasch diagnosed long ago the narcissism that motivates many individuals committed to activist causes: “Political movements exercise a fatal attraction for those who seek to drown the sense of personal failure in collective action.” Continue reading