I have looked for White Guilt on three continents, for a long time. In fact I began looking for it years ago in Europe; long before it went into vogue in America. The French didn't have it. I was however particularly looking for white British guilt. I found none so I shelved my search for years.
I bring the subject up again because recently Ralph Nader claimed that white guilt had catapulted Barack Obama to his present position atop the political perch. Nader implied that we should be angry, aggrieved in the way that he too is. And since white guilt is a flaw and a weakness it should be blotted out of the white character.
Sadly for Nader, two stalwarts of the black conservative movement beat him to it. Ward Connerly and Shelby Steele have been on an endless gondola ride of white guilt. Connerly is the black California conservative for whom, at an earlier age, affirmative action was the boat that carried him to his Promised Land. Then as a University of California regent he spear headed and helped pass Prop 209 which banned affirmative action in all UC schools.
Shelby Steele has served as a white guilt exorcist, serving to soothe the white conservative conscience. "You are not to blame for anything that befalls black slaves' children or Indian children either;" exhaustively mining the white guilt vein. He's built an empire: of books, inclusion in exclusive clubs; he's the no-white-guilt voice of the Op-Ed pages of the Wall Street Journal where he preaches that history can be revised and is subject to erasure.
I too bring my spade to this mountain; but am looking for a different brand of white guilt. Because of my colonial history I'm looking for British guilt. I naturally presume that it's a variation of "white" guilt. I am like the Chinese who for a century have been looking for the Japanese to admit guilt for the atrocities at Nanking and elsewhere in China. I am also like the Jew for whom German guilt for the Holocaust is now a foregone conclusion.
The declaration of guilt I'm looking for is of a different pedigree -- not the master/slave American brand, but the Colonial Bwana/servant variety. I have found that the British, unlike Americans don't do guilt well. Like many colonial masters, they resemble the turtle -- mother turtle leaves, memoryless as soon as she lays and covers her eggs.
Once the colonial umbilical cords were cut from their African colonies, the European masters washed their hands and left. I believe the British are tangentially responsible for a lot of the African mess: from Sierra Leone, Nigeria to South Africa. They are responsible for a great deal of bloodletting; but they refuse to acknowledge it.
The one place that truly angers one is the Sudan. The bloodletting, present and past, are of great concern to many of us. I submit that the British knew full well that as soon as they left Sudan's blacks at the mercy of Egyptian and Sudanese Arabs there could only be one outcome: Arab on black carnage. They understood the ethnic and religious differences that existed in the Sudan. From their own past Sudanese experience, they already knew Arabs' violent, murderous tendencies. And for a century, they had discouraged and fought Arab slave trade in the Sudan. It amazes one to think the British would deliver blacks to the violent Arab hands.
As was predictable, no sooner than the British handed Sudanese black South to the Arabs, the blacks rebelled and the genocide of 2 million blacks in South Sudan was unleashed. From the point the British left Sudan there has never been a moment of peace. Never a moment blacks have not been targets of Arab guns. This was predictable to the colonial eye. And yet, that eye was closed as the British left the Sudan. It is unlikely there will ever be peace in the Sudan until the different ethnic groups and races are separated.
Then and now there was neither white mercy nor white guilt anywhere in evidence as the British observed from a distance as their former black subjects were marched to their deaths. The British are a practical lot; they eschew any notion of a colonial conscience or such niceties as guilt.
If they did, they would have renegotiated the Sudanese Accords; have supported the black underdog in the two decade civil war. That they let so many to be killed is a sign their mind lacks any sense of guilt.
As the Darfur genocide enters its fifth year, the British are like an amnesiac; they have forgotten the role they played in creating the Arab killing machine. At no time have they engaged in any sort of retrospective thought -- to ask themselves what's their responsibility in the carnage; what they can do to force the Arab to desist. If they had, there would not have been the bloodletting we have seen in the Sudan. Clearly, guilt can only exist in minds with a conscience.
As we watch the murder and the rape of black children in Darfur by Arab Janjeweed, I'm reminded of how callous and uncaring the colonial British mind must have been to abandon blacks in South and West Sudan to the mercy of the Arabs. If there is a place for white guilt, it should be in the Sudan: both south and Darfur. I had hoped that the British, given their colonial history, would have been more forceful in defending blacks in the Sudan. They have not.
One can wish all they want. But it is obvious white British guilt is but a figment of one's imagination. It's amazing the British didn't have to invent a Shelby Steele. Not unlike the Japanese, the lack of guilt is woven into the British DNA.
We in America may point at and accuse each other of exploiting white or some other color guilt. We, as is our wont, driven by superficial personal ambitions are incapable of diving deeper, to elicit meaning, to understand the essence of the moment. The evanescent nature of Ralph Nader's remarks, and the meaninglessness of his efforts all pale compared to what transpires in the Sudan and elsewhere. In places where guilt suffused with mercy are needed, none exists.