a white horizon, with water and sky meeting, in the middle a boat with a person on it

The White Guilt Death Spiral and how to avoid it

As a white person it’s easy to fall into the pitfall that is white guilt. Before even understanding constitutional/structural racism, you will likely have felt guilt on behalf of figurative ancestors. And some of you may actually be in the lineage of people who owned slaves, allowing you to carry generational guilt.

Here comes the important question: Does you expressing that you feel guilty of any of this help anyone today?

I’m quite convinced it doesn’t. And once you start talking about your white guilt you may experience guilt from expressing it, especially when you’re reminded to not project your white guilt on other people. A few days ago this happened to me, where I ended up projecting white guilt onto something a friend wrote online. Today, I could easily make excuses for why I expressed white guilt, but that’s only really important for myself in regards to not doing it again. But the occurrence reminded me what a vicious cycle it can be and how easy it could be to get trapped in a never ending spiral.

As stated above, if you express your white guilt, and someone in your surroundings call you out on it, you’re likely to feel another pang of guilt wanting to apologize profusely again. And in doing so you make the whole thing about you. You’re not doing anything to solve any of the systemic racism we all live in and are affected by, you just start spiraling and building more guilt about all the times you did something wrong.

“Why am I not allowed to express myself”, is possibly something you’re feeling right now. And honestly, you are allowed to express yourself, but you’re not free from the consequences of it.

I see it as part of any personal growth, you need to be willing to do a lot of internal work. Let me say that again: You Need To Be _Willing_ To Do A Lot Of Internal Work. I hope I emphasized that enough. Doing internal work can still allow space to vent to a friend or confidant, but try to avoid doing that to any friends who are at the opposite end of your white privilege. They don’t need to hear it, it’s not what they need from you, it will most likely drain them. As Bianca Xunise wrote “It’s not my job to absolve you of your white guilt”.

This is why I believe that anyone who feel like they are experiencing this kind of guilt, myself included, need to practice nipping it in the bud, as soon as that white guilt creeps in. Just don’t entertain it, and especially don’t express it. If you need to do something talk with yourself about it (this can be done in text, like a diary or such, or a letter to burn, or your workbook for dismantling your complicity in white supremacy).

I can’t tell you exactly how to have this conversation with yourself, but if I were to do it I’d take a lesson from coping with anxiety: ask yourself questions about the negative thought, the thought about feeling guilty. Ask yourself leading questions, questions you probably already know the answer but need to hear the answer to, you may not even be able to answer it immediately, but have to ask again or ask another question to work around it. These kind of exercises can be done mentally or written. Eventually this becomes second nature, and you’ll do it unconsciously.

Why would white guilt and anxiety be treated the same? I’d rather phrase it like this: Why not take lessons from areas where we’ve experienced how to cope with difficult things? It may not work in every situation, but where it does, it does.

This is me, trying to practice to not let my white guilt take over, but rather work pro-actively to help other people begin their anti-racist journey.


While musings can be supported elsewhere, I will never ask for money for any of my anti-racist work, and every time you’d consider giving me money for it I’d rather have you support other creatives or organizations who are non-white and already having these conversations and doing the work. Alt. if you really want to support me, support someone else with half of the money for the same time.
You can read about Anti-racist work for White People here.

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