A Complete Guide to ‘Feeling Superior and Deflecting White Guilt’

[Editor's note: As should be abundantly clear by now, the opinions expressed in posts on Serving Tea to Friends are those of the authors and not of the other writers or editors. We encourage our writers to explore their opinions and express them here—that's what this space is about. That being said, please read West's article (also linked below) before critiquing this one. If you still have beef, we want to hear about it. Comment here, on Facebook, or email us at teatofriends@gmail.com. Hearts, Lyzi and Anna.]

By now it seems that everyone on the blagoblag has read  “A Complete Guide to ‘Hipster Racism'” by Jezebel columnist Lindy West. I’ve read it three times now. Honestly, when a coworker tossed this article my way I didn’t think much of it. Then I saw my friends reposting it on Facebook, and skimming through the comments I saw droves of people saying “This” over and over, and I suddenly became very concerned.

Like West, I believe people need to call each other out on their bullshit, and I’m afraid I might have to step up and do so here. So, I have for you today:

A Complete Guide to ‘Feeling Superior and Deflecting Your Own White Guilt’

Step 1: Pretend to Acknowledge Your Privilege

Good little self-conscious citizens of the world know that you always have to acknowledge your privilege. This, of course, means you have to simply state that you are a white, middle class, suburbanite. The more obscurely you do this, the better. If you can put it in a footnote at the end of your rant, that’s best, but at least put it in parenthesees (emphasis mine):

It’s the gentler, more clueless, and more insidious cousin of a hick in a hood; the domain of educated, middle-class white people (like me—to be clear, I am one of those) who believe that not wanting to be racist makes it okay for them to be totally racist.

 or set off in em dashes (emphasis mine):

People benefit from racism—hell, I benefit from it every day—and things that benefit powerful people don’t just suddenly get “fixed” and disappear because Halle Berry won an Oscar or whatever.

Pay as much lip service as you have to in order to get people to believe that you have humbled yourself, but do not spend more than a sentence on it. Under no circumstances are you to actually think about how your privileged position affects what you have to say and that by drawing attention to things that matter to you as a person of privilege that you might be damaging the cause you are pretending to care about.

Step 2: Trivialize the Oppression You’re Addressing

Your goal here is to make everyone who doesn’t agree with you feel like a complete imbecile. You do this by stating that racism is so simple that even you understand it. Better yet, say that it’s made up! Comparing it with a mythical figure is best.

Race is one of the least complicated issues that there is, because it’s made up. It’s arbitrary. It’s as complicated as goddamn Santa Claus.

Be sure to ignore the fact that there are entire fields of academia devoted to race and that race intersects with sex, class, and gender in a myriad of different ways that increases the complexity of the issue. No, my friend. Race is ‘made up.’ And anyone who doesn’t see that is idiotic. This allows you to elevate yourself above all the plebs you ridicule.   The more people who agree with you, the more superior you can feel. You can all be superior together.

Step 3: Isolate a Group of Other People who are ‘Bad’

The key to feeling superior and deflecting your white guilt is focusing as hard as you can on people who do something that is ‘bad.’ Because of step 1 and step 2, whether or not these behaviors have any relevance to people of color’s lives is now irrelevant. Your task here is to take the guilt that you feel for participating in and benefiting from a system that favors you and shove it onto a group of people who are popular to make fun of.

Hipsters. Pick hipsters. Everyone fucking hates hipsters.

Be sure to ridicule this group of ‘bad’ people as much as you can. Everyone hates them, so it doesn’t matter how they feel.  By focusing intently on what they  do that is perpetuating the disgusting racist cycle, you are now completely absolved from thinking about the things that you do that perpetuate the racist cycle.

Step 4: Protect Defenseless Minority

As we all know, people of color  are poor, ignorant, defenseless people who have absolutely no ability to write, read, or criticize those who wrong them. They don’t have a community of people or a diverse set of leaders from different places in the political spectrum who can speak out against the atrocity that you have identified. Therefore, you MUST use your power to defend what YOU think is the greatest threat against them: the inane conversation of your friends.  Be sure not to listen to any particular individual person of color in the vicinity who might have his or her own thoughts about such statements. S/He can’t have an objective opinion on the matter. Because racism is so simple, and because you understand it so thoroughly, you are adequately prepared to defend that person’s honor.

Better yet, write an article.

Step 5: Profit

Publish your work for a site widely read by white people so that there are very few people who will call you out on your bullshit, because they are so busy attempting to deflect their on white guilt. They will upvote, share with their friends, say “This.” over and over again, and perhaps get into a debate about whether ‘thug’ truly applies only to black people. This will get you and your website millions upon millions of hits, which your advertisers will love, and you will rake in 1 cent more per hit than you did before. Not only that, but now not only are you  not-guilty, you are in fact far superior than you were when you started out.

Don’t you feel better now?

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11 thoughts on “A Complete Guide to ‘Feeling Superior and Deflecting White Guilt’

  1. I’m glad you’re keeping the dialogue going. I think everyone needs to call everyone out on all of their bullshit, especially if their original argument is one of a bullshit-calling nature. However, I think the original article makes some great points. You also make some great points. So maybe we need to meet somewhere in the middle? Above all, I’m just glad the discussion is happening. (As a white, upper-middle-class suburbanite).

  2. Haha, here’s my excessively long reply

    I’m glad to see I’m not the only one who found her article… racist in its own right, and generally trivializing of real world problems. White guilt at its worst, because it calls “hipsters” out on incredibly trivial forms of what she has decided are racism, but she gives them a way of getting off the hook. Stop doing these things, and suddenly you aren’t a racist anymore, and it’s no longer your problem. You don’t need to worry about whether African American men are incarcerated at a higher rate in the US, or whether latinos are being unfairly attacked – you stopped throwing gang signs so you’ve done your part to stop racial inequity.

    Though there was one point from her article that annoyed me the most. Her insistence that being influenced in any way by hip hop culture is racist. Her very first point in the article essentially claims that if you have any interest, influence from, or culture reflection of hip hop culture, you are a racist. Never mind that hip hop heavily dominates the top 40 music charts for the entire country. Never mind that when a (white) country artist covers and (white) pop artist, that is just considered bringing new audience to a song, or that musical artists are often influenced by music across a spectrum of genres. Her way of telling hipsters they are racist is by declaring an entire subculture as belonging only to a certain minority and anyone with any interest or adoption of that subculture is racist by virtue of not being the proper race to show interest or adoption.

    She mistakes racism for classism. This is something that happens A LOT in our discussions of race in the U.S. And that is absolutely because a disproportionate number of poor people are minorities. However, often what we call racism, is actually discomfort or hatred of the poor. Saying something is ghetto isn’t saying it’s black, it’s saying it’s poor, dingy, or awful. My mom never grew up anything but white, but she sure as hell grew up ghetto – When you live in the projects in Queens, that’s not a race, it’s a class.

    Lastly, she calls hipsters out on being racist while 1) equating all things hip hop with being black 2) equating all things gang or thug related with being black 3) relating all things poverty related with being black.

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  5. I didn’t necessarily agree with everything in West’s article, and I think you make an especially great point about passing the guilt off to hipsters, who are another type of “other” person she/we can condemn. I actually often point out a similar vein of hypocrisy to my friends when they talk about how the political party they don’t belong to is made up of entirely uncaring judgmental people – wait, isn’t that making a judgment yourself about people who you don’t personally know? It seems like, as you say, West focuses a lot on how “other people” promote ongoing racism and very little on how she might be doing so personally (except for, as you say, in parenthesis.)

    I also largely agree with you that West’s article trivializes a lot of the very tangible effects of racism on real people.

    However, this is the one sentence of yours where I don’t agree with your analysis of West’s article: “Therefore, you MUST use your power to defend what YOU think is the greatest threat against them: the inane conversation of your friends.” I don’t think West claimed anywhere that this was the worst type of racism that persists in our society, but she was writing about it as one form of racism that she believes many people do not recognize. I think it’s reasonable for an article to write about a part of an issue, even if it is not nearly the biggest part of said issue. It would be unreasonable to write one long article to cover every aspect of racism, and I think it’s ok to occasionally focus on bringing light to what you might consider a smaller part of the issue. I would be concerned if her piece represented the prevailing theme of articles and opinion pieces on racism today, but I don’t generally get that sense. It’s just one data point being added to a lot of discourse.

    In reality, there is pretty much no good way for a member of a majority group to write an article about privilege without ever saying a single word that is wrong or paternalistic or otherwise worthy of criticism from some angle. I do at least salute her for trying to open up the discussion rather than ignoring it altogether.

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