I’m white but feel no white guilt. Nothing bad that I have ever done was caused by my whiteness. Neither as far as I know am I related to white people who did bad things to coloured people. I have traced my family tree back two hundred years and all 32 great-great-great grandparents seem to have come from the working poor. No sign of a Jamaican plantation owner or colonialist in India.
Yet even if any of my ancestors had turned out to have exploited coloured people, what has that got to do with me? I am no more responsible for what English people did before I was born than modern Turks for the atrocities committed during the Ottoman Empire.
In the past pretty much everyone was a racist, including black, brown, yellow and red people. It isn’t that coloured people were more virtuous and dove-like than whites, only that they were culturally less advanced and thus found themselves on the losing side of most wars. This doesn’t mean I think it is okay to invade and conquer backward cultures, but back then they thought it was. But that was then, this is now. Lecturing a marauding Viking, Norman, Hun, Mongol, Zulu, Arab, Comanche, Ottoman or British colonialist that it is morally wrong to conquer weaker cultures would be like trying to explain to Lionel Messi why it is wrong to score so many goals. Conquering other peoples is just what humans did. Now we try not to.
Some silly white people confuse being culturally backward and militarily weak with being virtuous. This is what Bertrand Russell called ‘the fallacy of the superior virtue of the oppressed’. In reality these people were no nicer than anyone else; merely unable to defend themselves against a stronger group.
In the past slavery was the norm. Not even Jesus considered taking slaves wrong. It was just what had gone on since time immemorial. Americans joined in the slave trade for 2½ centuries before deciding the practice clashed with their Christian idea of the equality of all men. Americans then fought a civil war over the issue in which over a million Americans died and America bankrupted itself. The practice was then proscribed in America and the Royal Navy sailed the seas stopping any ships carrying slaves.
So although slavery was by no means unique to white cultures we were unique in outlawing it. Therefore, if white people are going to feel anything at all about slavery it should be pride in having put a stop to it. I actually don’t feel any pride because I personally had nothing to do with it.
Here is Jim Goad on the fraudulence of concentrating only on the role white people played in the Atlantic Slave Trade and here is Patrick West on the silliness of feeling guilty for crimes you had nothing to do with.