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Susan Wise Bauer


No Exit? - Whiteness, part 2

The strategies of Whiteness re-education have not, so far, set college campuses on fire with reconciliation. But this should not surprise anyone with a rudimentary knowledge of human psychology—since this re-education binds a bagload of guilt on the backs of White students, without providing any convenient cross for them to drop it at.

The language of Whiteness is, more often than not, explicitly religious. "There is some burden we must bear by being white Americans," Jane Lazarre writes, describing the original sin of Whiteness. "I have been born into color." But beyond this flawed identity, there is hope for Whites who are willing to admit their participation in the original sin. Whiteness is "a burden which can be redemptive, not oppressive"—but only if white Americans are willing to be born again.

This rebirth is "into a consciousness of color. ... Being born means ... the development of knowledge over time." The new birth Lazarre suggests is a birth into a new way of thinking, and it has the power to change her very identity; she is no longer White, but something else. She concludes the story of her rebirth:

In all racialized situations, that is to say all situations in which Black people and white people who are not on close, personal terms find themselves together, I am always comforted by this thought: I am no longer white. However I may appear to others, I am a person of color now. ... Some color with no precise name.

What race scholars offer to well-intentioned whites is the equivalent of a religious conversion: Move from one identity to another. Shuck off the old man, put on the new. Admit that you wronged all non-Whites by your very existence. Society will be changed by White admission of guilt, and by White acceptance of a new central story around which Whites can build new lives.

But practically speaking, this admission of White guilt is made nearly impossible—because no atonement can ever be made for the sin of Whiteness. Unitarian theologian and race ...

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