Good White People: The Problem with Middle-Class White Anti-Racism (SUNY series, Philosophy and Race)
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Argues for the necessity of a new ethos for middle-class white anti-racism.
Building on her book Revealing Whiteness, Shannon Sullivan identifies a constellation of attitudes common among well-meaning white liberals that she sums up as “white middle-class goodness,” an orientation she critiques for being more concerned with establishing anti-racist bona fides than with confronting systematic racism and privilege. Sullivan untangles the complex relationships between class and race in contemporary white identity and outlines four ways this orientation is expressed, each serving to establish one’s lack of racism: the denigration of lower-class white people as responsible for ongoing white racism, the demonization of antebellum slaveholders, an emphasis on colorblindness—especially in the context of white childrearing—and the cultivation of attitudes of white guilt, shame, and betrayal. To move beyond these distancing strategies, Sullivan argues, white people need a new ethos that acknowledges and transforms their whiteness in the pursuit of racial justice rather than seeking a self-righteous distance from it.
“…Sullivan posits that it is white liberals’ own ‘anti-racism’ that actually perpetuates racism by shutting down frank or nuanced discussions not only of race, but of white privilege, which created racial problems and still sustains them … In advising white liberals how to honestly live their whiteness, rather than disown it or pretend it doesn’t exist, Sullivan expertly deconstructs the familiar defenses … Like W.E.B. DuBois and James Baldwin before her, Sullivan sees white domination as a spiritual problem that afflicts one group in particular but that touches us all.” — Ms. Magazine
GOOD WHITE PEOPLE SUNY series, Philosophy and Race ___________ Robert Bernasconi and T. Denean Sharpley-Whiting, editors GOOD WHITE PEOPLE The Problem with Middle-Class White Anti-Racism SHANNON SULLIVAN Published by State University of New York Press, Albany � 2014 State University of New York All rights reserved Printed in the United States of America No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission. No part of this book may be stored
that white people without much knowledge of their ancestral past cannot hope for. Read’s story helps illustrate why my jealousy is problematic from a perspective of racial justice. Whether or not Read was successful, his goal was to redeem himself in the face of his family’s history, and I felt jealous that he had such a clear-cut and public—even dramatic—opportunity for redemption. But white redemption is a troubling goal for racial justice struggles; it has very little connection with ending
the case of an event that doesn’t focus on race or racism, parents sometimes will have opportunities to discuss with their children the role that race (and class) play in it. Even if they bumble through the situation as I did with my daughter, parents can identify and discuss with their kids the lack of explicit attention paid to race (and class) in a particular situation. In the case of political rallies, for example, why doesn’t the topic of race often come up? When it does come up, are only
every encounter along the street (and leaves the world unchanged). It exacts no tribute, and it has no deeper purpose. But it fills the air very nicely” (31–32). 30. Martin Luther King Jr., “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” www.africa.upenn.edu/Articles_Gen/Letter_Birmingham.html, accessed March 21, 2013. 31. Doyle, The Etiquette of Race Relations in the South, xviii–xix. 32. Ritterhouse, Growing Up Jim Crow, 15, 32–33, 48. 33. Ibid., 54. 34. Ibid., 19. See also Kristina DuRocher, Raising
21, 2013). 10. James Edward Bates, “The Modern-Day Ku Klux Klan,” The Chronicle Review, May 20, 2011, B18. 11. Christian Miller, “Mind Wars: Raising Healthy White Children in a Subversive Environment,” in The Occidental Observer: White Interests, Identity, and Culture, http://www.theoccidentalobserver.net/2011/02/mind-wars-raising-healthy-white-children-in-a-subversive-environment/, accessed March 21, 2013. 12. Quoted in Allison Berg, Mothering the Race: Women’s Narratives of Reproduction,