The title is a quote from the Bible, when someone calls Jesus “Good Teacher” (or something like that) and Jesus says, “No one is good but God alone.”
Which from him has a multitude of layers. But it’s also interesting, given how much Westerners like to think of ourselves as “a good person”.
I think I may have found one of the conclusions this blog entry will draw: that no one is “good” but God.
However. That doesn’t mean we may as well stop trying.
[Sidebar: The way Christianity fundamentally works is that Jesus died in order to save us unconditionally ie as soon as we accept him we got our ticket to Heaven, no matter if we just ate a delicious orphan lunch five minutes ago. BUT if you believe Jesus is who he says he is, and saved us, and loves us… then there is a side effect on your behaviour. A goodening effect, but it comes from gratitude and love rather than fear of damnation or being caught.]
This blog entry is about white guilt.
I am what I call “Omo white” based on those overdramatic ads of a white SO WHITE that it shines like the sun. That’s me.
The more history I learn, the more I realise that my life is as good as it is because my ancestors did horrible things. So although I’ve never personally attempted genocide, I benefit tremendously from the racist work of others. (And I’m sure I’m plenty racist myself, too. But today I’m concerned with systemic rather than individual racism eg the fact that my name and skin is white enough that I’m more likely to be hired than an equally qualified person with darker skin, or an accent, or a non-European name.)
Guilt is designed to tell us when we have done something wrong. White guilt is trickier, because it’s (mostly) not ME, the individual, who did the bad thing. But it IS me who benefits. So we get several possible reactions:
-Denial. “I didn’t do anything wrong” (or sometimes, “I earned everything I have from my own merit; history/racism has nothing to do with it.”)
-Repression. “I can’t fix this. Better not to think about it.”
-Anger. “How dare you make me feel bad when I didn’t do anything wrong!”
-Despair. “The world is evil; I’m evil. Everything sucks and can’t be fixed.”
-Assuage guilt. This is where I sit, acknowledging that I benefit from awful things done in the past (and present), and others suffer—and that this is not fair, and concluding that I need to do… something.
Some options for action are:
*Loudly acknowledging the facts, especially where people are angry or in denial. (Much social media liking/meme-ing etc ensues.)
*Give to charities, particularly those that are concerned with global problems.
*Vote for the left, which tends to be less selfish.
*Devote one’s life to aid work.
*Become a vigilante killer (not recommended).
So much of the Western World is obscene or fantastical to poor people in third world nations (or even homeless or otherwise poor people in the West). Here is my daughter and I on a Ferris Wheel. It cost over $30 for a ride that took a few minutes.
$30 is sufficiently alarming that we didn’t go on the Ferris Wheel last year, or the year before. But oh, the look of wonder on my son’s face as our gondola began to rise!
But… thirty dollars. For many people around the world, that is a month’s wages.
Should I sell all I have and give my money to the poor? Knowing what a difference my relatively small amount of cash would make in another country (a country that is poor because my ancestors and my politicians treat the people there as subhuman)?
Is it evil for me to buy gifts for my children, as others go hungry?
In Season Three of “The Good Place” TV show, the main characters discover that, as the world gets more complicated, it’s virtually impossible to do anything truly good. Five hundred years ago, you could gather wildflowers to give to your mother. Aw, how nice—and it doesn’t hurt anyone.
But today, in a city, you can’t gather wildflowers because all the flowers are in someone’s yard, or public property (for everyone to enjoy, so you shouldn’t take them away). So, gathering flowers is stealing. (Sidebar: you can gather certain weed flowers, which my children do for me regularly.) So you can buy flowers… which means either driving to a flower shop (using petrol, which is bad for the environment and has a bunch of other issues) or using your phone (manufactured in a third-world sweatshop?) and having the flower shop drive (using petrol).
So even with the purest heart, it’s impossible to exist in the West without being connected to pollution/Climate Change (which of course is already hitting the poor hardest), sweatshop labour, and so on.
I’ve also been reading a very interesting fantasy series in which magic is literally stealing from the poor. If a person is healed by magic, someone else gets sick. If a beautiful building is made with magic, a building elsewhere falls down. And OF COURSE it’s the pretty pretty Elvish types who use magic to make beautiful clothes, and cities, and art—while the ugly orcish types live in filth and dirt because they are the source of all that magic. And beauty. And art. Eg if an orc has a beautiful singing voice, they sell it to the elves for a few bowls of gruel. They do it willingly, because the system is so crushing that if they don’t sell all they have, they will starve.
See, the thing about sweatshops is that people line up to work in them, because there is no alternative. Or the alternative is to starve. So they work long hours for not-quite-enough. Then they are too tired and hungry to do good work or to work safely, or to find better work.
Welcome to the cycle of poverty.
One of the characters is a teenage white female human. She has grown up loved and secure, so when she discovers how magic works she is devastated and immediately challenges it. When she is standing facing the leader of the Elves, she chooses not to kill him, but to lay down her own life and trust that others will give up all they have, like her, because it’s the right thing to do.
Another character is her boyfriend, a black man. He knows about daily systematic injustice, so when he discovers how magic works he believes the only way to stop it is to utterly destroy the elves. Because even if he kills the evil leader of the elves, the next elf leader will still be in a position of power over the orcs. So even if the next elf leader is “good” they can withdraw their favour at any time. That, of course, is why the White Saviour trope is so insidious. Because it keeps the “other” on the bottom, and the powerful White/Elf type people on the top. (I really hope he’s wrong, because I don’t want the Western World destroyed. And I don’t want it to be subservient to other parts of the world, either. I don’t want to be the “other” that has to rely on the goodness of the more powerful class.)
A third character points out that they are acting as if magic is finite. What they need to do is not to destroy all that has been built, but to use magic in such a way that it doesn’t destroy the orcs, but benefits them.
That has a real-world echo. There IS enough food in the world, already. And we could definitely create more resources ethically.
And isn’t that a nice “out” for people like me? Because I’m not a scientist, or a politician, so what can *I* do?
I’m going to leave it there, for now. Mostly because I’ve written quite a bit. Not because I’ve actually found an answer. But maybe the idea that “helpful must mean I suffer” is innately harmful, causing more guilt and fear rather than usefulness. So that’s something, at least.