Anti-Racism is About Social Responsibility, Not Racial Guilt

Allyship is a journey, and shame has never been the destination

Tim Wise

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Image: MaxPixel, Creative Commons License.

As opponents of anti-racist education celebrate the victory of Glenn Youngkin in the Virginia Gubernatorial race — because Youngkin made Critical Race Theory a top campaign issue in his appeal to white parents — conservatives across the country are taking note.

As they see it, this is an early victory in a longer war against the left, against “wokeness,” against the diversity, equity, and inclusion community, and against the anti-racism movement, reinvigorated after the killing of George Floyd.

Worried that racial justice activism might embolden progressives pushing for meaningful equity initiatives in policing, the workplace, and elsewhere, conservatives latched on to this strategy — attacking classroom discussions of racism as “indoctrination” — so as to limit awareness of racial injustice among youth, energized by last summer’s events.

The right claims anti-racist curriculum is about guilt-tripping white students

One of the primary weapons in the rhetorical arsenal of this advancing army has been the claim that anti-racist curriculum seeks to make white children feel guilt and shame because of their skin color.

To this end, state legislatures that have passed anti-CRT laws have all included language to the effect that no material can be taught that has the purpose of instilling “discomfort, guilt, or anguish” in any student because of race.

Although we can all agree that no instructional materials should denigrate anyone based on racial identity, the notion that we can predict and control what causes discomfort or anguish is absurd.

To realize that one’s family members…went along with or actively perpetuated horrific injustice is a difficult pill to swallow

And to the extent that we can predict such an emotional response, the kind of material that might provoke it is far too important not to teach.

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Tim Wise

Anti-racism educator and author of 9 books, including White Like Me and, most recently, Dispatches from the Race War (City Lights, December 2020)