Updated: Sep 8
Photo credit Jessica Stewart Kuntz
I have been thinking a lot about white guilt and shame post-election.
What does it mean?
Where does it fit?
The difference between the two- guilt and shame.
And why it's important to know the difference?
There are many articles flooding social media right now around white guilt. A lot of these articles have tackled this topic way better than I could. I am going to try and come at this from a different angle one that I haven't heard talked about yet. An angle that is personal to me.
What is the difference between guilt and shame?
How do we define guilt? Guilt and shame are often used interchangeably, but they are very different!
·Guilt is the "mature feeling of regret (when one) has violated a personal value." Guilt is the natural and healthy response we feel when we do something...against
·Guilt focuses on behaviors and values.
"One can feel guilty but still respect the self "Guilt is about doing. Shame is about being...We may feel guilty because we lied to our mothers...(but we) feel shame because we are not the person our mothers wanted us to be."
·Guilt responds proportionately to an event or an action.
How is Shame defined?
· Shame is the sense of being completely diminished or not enough as a person. It is the self-judging the self. "The feeling may be so intense that one feels completely bad, inadequate, or unacceptable, devoid of all dignity or worth."
· Shame is the inner voice that says we are not good enough, worthy enough, competent enough, we are not enough. The idea originates from family, friends, authority figures, people in power roles.
"Shame is forced exposure!"
When we know where our feelings are coming from we can better put those feelings where they belong and ownership on who owns it!
For many years as a survivor of sexual abuse, I felt shame, shame in my body, in the space, I was taking up, in my femaleness, in almost all my relationships. That was the shame of exposure. That was shame for what was done to me and how as a result I went through the world not wanting to be seen and also not wanting to take up space, worried about further forced exposure.
As I began to reacquaint my mind with my body and my spirit, learn coping skills, retrain my mind to see me, instead of what someone tried to make me, I began to see where that shame belonged. That shame belonged to those that took from me and tried to damage my existence. That shame belonged squarely on the shoulders of the perpetrators, not on the shoulders of the girl I was or the woman I had become.
So by putting shame back on those that have done the shaming, back where it belongs we can then start to heal. We don't stay there because healing involves not carrying the hate with us and not carrying the hate, is a long process of forgiveness and each person has their own journey with that. For me, I have good days of freedom in forgiveness, where what I'm carrying is minimal in comparison to what I've experienced. I also have days that feel like I'm back at the drawing board. Especially, when our world and the people in power continue to mete out "justice" on the victims (forced exposure) and not where the justice belongs on the perpetrators!
Okay, then where does white guilt come in? Well, if guilt is about doing, we will and should feel guilty when we don't own what we need to own IE our privilege, our power, generational access to more of everything. This is not the place where I want to talk about what you have lacked!!! We all have experienced lack, if you are a woman, grew up poor, didn't have access to education, etc. That isn't up for debate! This is always where conversations break down, I have been there, and I have broken down the conversations. In proportion, we as white people in America have always had more privilege. And when we can see it, own it, and then actively work to delineate power we put our guilt squarely where it deserves to be, on our own shoulders, not on the shoulders of people of color. They do not need our guilt or to hold our feelings. We need to do that! Guilt is an appropriate emotion to feel when we have been complacent where there is racism and blind eye turning! This is a white problem and we as white people need to feel it, to fix it! If we don't feel it, we can't fix it.
So shame and guilt have power, one has the power to control us against our will and define our life outcomes against our known will SHAME or Forced Exposure! The other is GUILT feeling remorse for making a choice that went against our internal values. We carry this!!! With other white people and let that guilt lead us to something better for our world.
The problem with guilt is WE CAN'T STAY IN IT - FROZEN! We have to feel it! Own it as best as we can! Make amends and restitution where we can! And work to be anti-racist in every action and reaction. This is our only way forward.
(Some shame help from Dr. Richard Shaw's work on Shame and Grace)