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Carol Rinehart: Dealing with the problem of ‘white guilt’

To the editor:

Many thanks to Bill Newman and Clare Higgins for their guest columns on racial bias in our justice system, and the increasing economic and racial disparity in Hampshire County.

Recently a much-respected neighbor remarked to me that she’d heard a woman of color speak of the foolishness of white guilt and she recalled how much I used to be very outspoken with white guilt.

“Oh, oh, “ I said to myself, “the shift I was afraid might happen has set in. I’ve grown too comfortable with living in a predominantly white region. I’ve stopped expressing pain with the way things are.”

It may be true that the gentleness of the Valley has mellowed my past stridency (some would say not enough). And my season of working with hospice has embedded a clear sense that death is an equal opportunity event and every, every soul deserves tender and respectful treatment, whether or not we would share life views or would reject and distrust each other’s views in the day-to-day of life.

But let me suggest that white guilt might just not be all that bad. If white guilt resists accepting comfortable definitions of “just the way things are,” how bad is that? How about seeing this as white consciousness or white honesty or a white sense of responsibility? Possibly white dis-ease with “just the way things are.” I do feel pretty certain that if I find inner peace in spite of the racial and economic inequities that exist in our nation — and in our Valley — I’ve lost something terribly important as a white woman.

So, if white guilt translates into a capacity for feeling bad and doing nothing, then down with white guilt. But if white guilt makes it impossible to accept the way things are, then bring it on. May we sustain the soul strength to speak and do locally what we can to press for community policies and practices that serve all socioeconomic levels and serve the people from Springfield to Greenfield, in all our diversity.

Thanks again Bill and Clare for your columns.

Carol Rinehart


Legacy Comments2

Nice sentiments, but like you say, easy to say in a state that is less than 2% Black and still over 90% White. It is a lot harder to have those feelings when you live as a minority in say Northeast DC, as I did, as well as my nom de Internet did, many years ago, until he was murdered for the crime of 'being white.' http://www.highbeam.com/doc/1P2-885209.html I don't know how well the idea of 'white guilt' would sit with his parents.

And why, pray tell, did you choose the name of this otherwise obscure figure as your "nom de internet"? No agenda there...

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