Hey, guess what? I learned from Ancestor.com that I have ancestors who founded the town of Nesmith, South Carolina, well before the civil war...and of course, had slaves. I don't announce that with pride, of course. Just awareness of my own family history, but I don't feel "guilted" by the descendants of the African slave trade in their fight for justice, equality, and freedom. I know the descendants of slaves do not fault ME for that heritage. My responsibilities lie only in what I do myself, in the contributions I make toward striking down the chains of racism. As best I can, as a 73-year-old disabled white woman with a poverty level income despite my education and class status, thanks to those disabilities.

I try to think...well, I don't feel guilted by the demand that history not be whitewashed. I don't feel guilted by the ways black folks talk about generic white people. I know they aren't talking about ME...tho in the past, I know I fit into some of it.

So why do so many of my white compatriots keep yammering about black folks supposedly trying to make them feel guilty about the history of racism?

Gee...could it be...oh, I don't know....that they do in fact harbor conscious racist ideas that they know they need to hide, and THAT is why they go straight to "stop trying to make me feel guilty about the past"?

I've put in a lot of work climbing out of my own past where I can see my own contributions made at the same time I fought on behalf of civil rights, from a junior high school teen through my young adulthood and beyond. My parents did so also (and had a huge impact on me), but I know they also harbored racist thoughts that they hid from their children.

The best that white folks can do is to LISTEN without judgment, focusing as best they can on learning from people who experience racism in their daily lives. Accepting that the white lives we have lived militate against our demanding the authority to define racism, and doing our best to learn from the people who know what racism is from the inside.

Of course we'll still make mistakes. And when we get called on those mistakes, it's probably going to hurt. But we need to get over that hurt and accept the lessons we can draw from it.



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Georgia NeSmith

Retired professor, feminist, writer, photographer, activist, grandmother of 5, overall Wise Woman. Phd UIA School of Journalism & Mass Communication, 1994.