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.”
The most egregious instance I witnessed came in a comment thread just hours after Hillary conceded the race. “Keep having the urge to apologize to all the people of color and Muslims who I encounter,” he revealed. He then resolved to himself (and everyone else who was reading): “Going to talk to my Muslim immigrant coworker tomorrow. Just want her to know that we value and respect her as part of the community, because I can’t even guess what she’s feeling right now.”
Imagine being this poor woman sitting in the breakroom, drinking a coffee, enjoying your Boston creme — a beacon of light in a world gone to shit. Suddenly, the office softboi slides in next to you and clasps your hand.
“Fatima,” he says, “YOU’RE WELCOME in America.”
Grinning to himself, he gets up and returns to his desk, to tweet about his not at all random, entirely premeditated act of kindness.
One could equally imagine a scenario in which Muslims and undocumented immigrants are being herded onto trucks by Trump stormtroopers. Valiant white allies run toward them, tripping over each other to shout “I’m sorry for my privilege!!” louder than the rest, as the doors shut and the convoy drives away.
Don’t get me wrong. Accusing someone of being “a self loathing X” is something I find utterly abhorrent. Nine times out of ten, such accusations are made by nationalists looking to denigrate other members of their community for not showing enough pride in it or loyalty to it. The version I’m most familiar with, of course, is that of “the self-loathing Jew” — i.e., any Son of Abraham who doesn’t demonstrate sufficient love for Israel. It’s a phrase that originated with Theodor Lessing’s 1930 book, Der Jüdische Selbsthaß, an extended polemic against assimilated Jews who refused to join in the project of building a Zionist homeland in British Palestine.
Epithets have likewise been directed toward African-Americans unwilling to adhere to black nationalism, dubbed “Uncle Toms” or “domestic Negroes” by their detractors. This is basically what is meant by alt-right white nationalists when they refer to other whites as “cucks” — men who like to see their women get fucked — what used to be designated by hateful terms like “nigger-lover” or Judenfreund. Hopefully this explains why I’d be the last person to accuse someone of being “a self loathing X.” Unless, of course, that person is literally saying he or she is ashamed to be Jewish, or black, or white. Besides being self-indulgent and alienating to normies, this only confirms the worst suspicions of nationalists.
Complaints about the unfair burden of “white guilt” are nearly ubiquitous on the European and American far right, so I won’t bother reprising them all here. Instead, I’ll just provide a general sketch. Suffice it to say, for the time being, that it’s a response to supposed vilification of white people in history textbooks and popular media, which hold them responsible for all the world’s past wrongdoings and present ills. Most often this is seen as a nefarious plot perpetrated by university professors and Hollywood moguls, nearly all of whom turn out to be Jewish.
This insidious anti-European narrative, so the story goes, is then unwittingly imbibed by unsuspecting whites, internalized as a kind of “ethnomasochism.” Guillaume Faye, a French journalist associated with the Nouvelle Droite, describes this as “the masochistic tendency to blame and devalue one’s ethnicity, one’s own people.” According to Charles Lyons, another neoreactionary writer from France, it’s a collective psychopathology provoked by a concerted propaganda campaign to make whites feel guilty about how they have treated other peoples. Europeans are intrinsically racist, as a kind of original sin for which they must feel guilty.
Paranoia notwithstanding, this is a fairly convenient catchall explanation. Furthermore, it attains a scintilla of plausibility from the fact that there doubtless is a tendentious habit among academics to present European imperialism as a unique evil perpetrated on the world. Histories and counterhistories written in recent decades have sought to undermine the triumphalist accounts of Whig historians, who depict Western development since the Renaissance as following a path of linear progress down to the present. In so doing, however, they’ve bent the stick a bit too far back in the other direction, overcompensating. Japanese and Ottoman imperialism ought to show that brutal chauvinism in modern times is not the exclusive preserve of “the West.”
Besides, there’s also a more sinister aspect to all this. Returning to Laurie Penny’s tweet mentioned above, in which she stated she felt “truly horrified and ashamed to be white,” the exchange that took place afterward is instructive. Another Twitter user, “Hopping Bunny,” innocently inquired: “You wouldn’t happen to be Jewish, would you?” This is the back and forth that followed.
Laurie Penny: Half Jewish.
Hopping Bunny: Every. Single. Time.
Laurie Penny: Every single time what?
Hopping Bunny: Jews are not white. No need to feel guilty then. Please stop posing as white.
Super Moniac: Seriously, every time I come across some “white” person hating on whites, they’re actually Jewish.
I guess that settles it, then.