The Lie of White Innocence

Got an email from Ankh about Chauncey Devega's latest essay.


What do I think? Well, I definitely agree with his points. Also, for whatever reason, I'm still surprised whenever I see someone else speak that honestly about racism. One thing was kind of weird though. "Schadenfreude" is when you take pleasure in someone else's misfortune. I'm not exactly sure if that term matches his point. I agree with his assertion that the vast majority of whites, liberal and conservative, are attempting to define the issue of racism as a problem with "a few bad apples." However, I don't think "anti-racist schadenfreude" is the best term to describe that situation.

Semantics aside, I've definitely come across my fair share of that sort of obfuscation. The problem, of course, is that not only are those distorters completely ignoring systemic (a.k.a. institutional or structural) racism, they are also creating a kind of "racism whipping boy" to which they divert culpability. For those who don't know, back in medieval times, whenever the prince did something bad, instead of whipping the prince, they would whip a poor peasant boy. They did this because, in their minds, the prince was too good and innocent to be whipped. Quite a fitting analogy if you think about it. The only part that doesn't quite fit is the culpability of the whipping boys: the prince's whipping boy most likely did not deserve his fate, whereas racism's whipping boys (i.e. the klansmen and skinheads) definitely deserve some of the culpability.

Where does all this lead me? It leads me to a previously discovered insight: One of the obstacles preventing the end of racism is the ability of whites to indulge in privilege at the expense of People of Color, engage in subtle racism, and sometimes even commit blatant racism all while maintaining the lie of white innocence. The whipping boys of racism play a significant part in this illusion. Most white people see themselves as being too good and innocent to be guilty of racism; it's always someone else who is the "real racist." This is what makes mighty whitey films (and, to a certain extent, Tim Wise's focus on white allies) a huge problem. They watch films like The Help and then see themselves as the heroic white person without having actually done anything heroic themselves. There's nothing wrong with identifying with fictional or real white allies if the white person in question actually does something to oppose white hegemony. But too often stories of white anti-racism, fake or real, simply allow whites to feel good about themselves, serving only to maintain the lie of white innocence.


  1. I think the white blatant racists, the white nationalist and such, will create a catch 22 for the white covert racists, the "innocent whites", that if the blatant racists continue to spew hate or attack POC and the covert racists do nothing about it, they will look just as racist and can no longer just scapegoat the blatant racists and fool the masses (well really just whites) that society is equal and post racial. However if the white covert racists take the sides of POC it could mean the end of white hegemony and their privilege.

    1. Awesome post as always, Ballisto.

      I think the white blatant racists, the white nationalist and such, will create a catch 22 for the white covert racists, the "innocent whites"

      Very interesting observation.

  2. Another tactic whites and white- identified minorities sometimes like to use is saying or trying to make it seem that racism only takes place in the South, as if racial profiling done by the LAPD and the NYPD or any race-based discrimination isn't racism but justifiable behavior because it was done in the North. In their minds North = liberal, open minded, forward thinking, intellectuals. South = conservative, closed minded, backwards thinking, unintelligent hicks.

    1. yes they love that whole, racism only happens in the south derailing tactic, and it usually some white person who has never lived in the south so how would they know?

    2. Meanwhile, after living in the South - specifically in Houston - I can't imagine living back up North.


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