White Debt

Reckoning with what is owed — and what can never be repaid — for racial privilege.

Comments: 233

  1. "For me, whiteness is not an identity but a moral problem" I have never read more drivel in my life than this article. People don't carry collective guilt for the sins of their ancestors. Trying to live a good life and be a good person doesn't require someone to walk around 24/7 thinking about how things would be harder if you are the son of a single black african-american teenager or how much easier they would be if your parents are billionaire hedge fund managers. The world is a complicated place and not especially fair but the kind of mindless self-loathing that author espouses certainly won't make it any better. Pieces like this make the Times less the paper of record in this country.

  2. Apologizes for poor proof reading. Should read african-american, not black african american.

  3. I disagree. By publishing thoughtful, provocative pieces like these they CEMENT their status as America's paper of record.

  4. Todd Stuart: Your comparisons are specious and racist. Consider that someone who others identify as black but has identical education and so forth WILL be discriminated against in terms of jobs, service by businesses and the criminal justice system and is at a substantially greater risk of being harassed or killed by police. These are facts. Life is hard and unfair but when the system is rigged to be more unfair to a specific group -- you should consider that wrong and want to do something about it. This remains true regardless of your ancestry.

  5. What is the point of this? I somehow made it through only to find that it is a whole lot of words that don't really amount to anything. Something about whiteness being a myth, but actually, for the purposes of shaming you, we'll pretend it isn't a myth and you should feel guilty about stuff the ancestors of your ancestors of your ancestors did.

    Also, good job. You used your privilege to expound on how guilty you feel on a national platform. Did it "enhance your sense of social status" and "increase the pleasure of [your] cruelty?" How about we stop pontificating on theories and problems for which everyone admits (including yourself) there is no solution and instead write essays identifying specific problems and solutions that can create a fairer and more just society?

  6. Yes. The author gets an A in naval gazing.

  7. And for male privilege? Companion article?

  8. Yes, please. If you look at gender privilege in this country, and many others, it is jaw-dropping. The stories of what my female ancestors gave up, weren't entitled to, had taken away are legion and staggering. Property, money, jobs, social standing, where does one even begin? There was no recourse--still isn't, in many countries. While I am glad that there is more and more conversation about racism, I wish that sexism was discussed with as much fervor.

  9. Yes, please. I cannot begin to tell you how much my female ancestors gave up, had taken away, lost because of their gender. Property, money, inheritances of all kinds, opportunities--their stories are legion and jaw-dropping. My mother quit her job after her boss took her out to lunch and put his hand on her knee (this was in the 40's). I asked her why she didn't do something. She replied: "To whom shall I complain...?" I look forward to the day when sexism is discussed with the same fervor as racism.

  10. This is a tremendously thoughtful and smart piece of writing; I am full of admiration. Thank you.

  11. Amen.

  12. So how is this article not considered racist again? What if I said being black a moral problem?

  13. I think you may have missed the point on this one

  14. You missed her point. It's not the people, it's the system that assigns benefits to one group at the expense of the other (and the favored persons accepting their treatment as just). She is saying that there is no "whiteness" but rather an unjust system assigning resources to one --in the form of favorable access to housing, loan terms, criminal justice system etc. It is for this reason that she posits that you can be white, and hate whiteness, yet not hate yourself. Read it again.

  15. Read it again?? Are you kidding?

  16. My birth certificate says I'm white, but by the old one drop laws that were in effect when I was born, my birth certificate is a lie. Still, my driver's license, my marriage certificate and, of supreme importance, my appearance all contrive to support the myth.

    I volunteer my time as a docent an outdoor museum that includes outbuildings of a plantation, including slave cabins (but no Big House) and various pioneer cabins, barns, etc.

    It is in this place where we acknowledge the truth of what slavery meant before and after the 14th amendment that I most feel my white privilege. I do tours and I've learned on tours is this:

    Whites think that slavery ended 150 years ago and that, after all, the Irish were treated poorly too. They owe no one anything and everything is fair now. They do not want to be confused with the facts.

    Blacks know whites are privileged and that the current societal mores are insane and that most whites are entirely oblivious. Adults are polite. Children tell me what their parents say at home, and I stumble over how to reply, but most of the time they're right, and I can at least acknowledge that.

    I don't know what the solution is. But I know that the debt is there; it's not going anywhere; and the totals continue to mount; but that white society, in general, consistently refuses to even the debt's existence.

  17. Whites think that slavery ended 150 years ago (it did) and that, after all, the Irish were treated poorly too (they were--Google Know-Nothing), as were most immigrants throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. "Everything might not be "fair" now, but I don't see how I owe any particular person anything in particular in this context.

    What you call "facts" are actually opinions. The "white privilege" myth has been formulated to try to explain the failure of the black underclass to thrive, particularly in light of the success of nonwhites such as Chinese and Japanese and African and Caribbean immigrants.

  18. "I don't see how I owe any particular person anything in particular in this context."

    Of course you don't. That's one of the defining characteristics of white privilege.

  19. Of course white privilege was formulated to explain the failure of the black underclass! If not, then the explanation as to why the black community struggles is left to the assumptive explanation of, "because they're black". Then what happens? The never ending cycle of impulsive labelling and perpetual struggle. Example: homeownership denial to generations of black families, followed by the flee of factories away from inner cities, followed by intense poverty, followed by a devastating War on Drugs, followed by out-of-control incarceration rates. This goes beyond just the meager mistreatment of immigrants.

    Also, championing the success of other nonwhites blindly erases their continuing struggle, such the confrontation with being looked at as the "Model Minority" for many asian ethnicities. Different groups experienced different histories, so it's incredibly disingenuous to make a light comparison and say you don't see anything.

    When we talk about white guilt and inequity, we are not talking about some awkward, unpleasant once-in-a-lifetime toy drive hosted by white people to self-exonerate. We talk about it because there exists immense benefit and "privilege" to being the majority demographic. And all of that translates differently, throughout our political, economic, and cultural landscapes. Without a doubt, very complex, but at the same time, very dynamically inter-connected.

  20. Has this culture of victimhood and the subsequent drivel it produces finally jumped the shark? I sincerely hope so.

    So, being white is immoral. But race doesn't exist--it's only enforced by whites...a group we can segment off as racists (though race doesn't exist!) but we know they're racial supremacists because they're white. Somehow.

    As well, if everyone is guilty of the sins of their ancestors, may my family and I sue the Italian government as successors in interest to Rome? After all, they enslaved my German ancestors, so it's only right we can condemn all descendants of Rome as immoral for the sin of being "Roman," yes?

    Of course not. That's, politely put, hogwash. If we allow one group to shoulder all the blame for their ancestors' actions, then we must allow every group to shoulder that burden. Which leads to a black hole of endless oneupmanship, to see who is the most aggrieved at this particular moment in time.

    Perhaps, instead of endless whining about how evil "white" culture (school, family, not committing 50%+ of violent crime as 6% of the population etc.) is, maybe more time could be spent analyzing why those values work so well. The reason college police let you off easy isn't because you're white, Biss, but rather because you didn't have a mile-long rap sheet at 19. But I forget, the magic of invidious racism makes people commit crimes so it's not their fault.

    I'm a little ashamed that rare earth minerals and electrons were wasted on this piece.

  21. Thank you for demonstrating so perfectly, and to such a precise tee, exactly what the author is talking about.


  22. Care to elaborate? CS made some rather good points, esp about the incoherence with which this article treats race and debt as concepts. Maybe you have other insights?

  23. Yes my Jewish ancestors were enslaved in the ghettos and killed like rats in concentration camps for nothing more than being smarter than the other Germans. Move on.

  24. Institutional racism, especially in the legal and financial systems, demands immediate radical change.

    However - advocating for a return of Original Sin doctrine? This is a flawed idea, as it accomplishes nothing. Just as I strive (imperfectly) to judge everyone on their own merits, I expect the same in kind. No more, or less.

    Each of us is born into circumstance. Some good, some bad. Some of this is race based - but not all. I have no more choice in being white than Martin Luther King did in being black. It's not his fault. Mine either. It is fair for both of us to be judged by our own actions, not our parents.

  25. Or great-great-grandparents.

    With 20th century immigrant and Native American forbears, I wonder why I am supposed to feel guilt about "privilege"?

  26. Because you reap the continuing benefits of slavery just as much as Mayflower descendants do. And have you ever wondered how there could be so many jobs available in the North for your steerage ancestors, when there were millions of freed slaves and their progeny in the South?
    Were the ex-slaves too stupid to go North and get those jobs for themselves, do you think?

  27. This has nothing to do with original sin. It has to do with a system today, now, here, in which basic safeties and freedoms are available to some but not others. Eula Biss doesn't want to live in that system and neither do I.

  28. Just another absurd POV on the recurring theme since 1961. I'd read the article about the Munich killings and by comparison this one is just so banal and repeated as to warrant glossing over. All the Israelis killed in Munich were white --- didn't help them.

  29. So, white Israelis are in no way distinct from white Americans. Any day now, we can expect a raid into Canada to rescue the descendants of black Americans forced into Canadian exile. Even the descendants of the ones who went to Canada to play in the CFL because the couldn't make it in the NFL?
    You know. The way that the Israelis rescued the black Jews of Africa.

  30. Israelis are white? Palestinians are not white? Where do you get that information?

  31. Peace,Brother! Why a raid when you can simply ask first? God has given us the power of communication for a purpose.

  32. Most U.S. slave owners were white because the population was mostly white, but Americans of all racial and ethnic groups—including blacks and Native Americans—owned slaves. If the majority of Americans had been black, the majority of slave owners would have been black. The 1860 Census shows the United States had a total population of 31,183,582 at the beginning of the Civil War. Of these, 27,233,198 were free while 3,950,528, or 13 percent, were slaves. There were 393,975 slave owners. So, about 1.5 percent of Americans owned slaves. Well-known black Harvard historian Louis Gates cites an 1830 study that showed 3,766 blacks out of a free black population of 319,599 owned slaves. So, about 1.2 percent of free blacks owned slaves compared to 1.5 percent of whites. Virtually all slaves were black of course, but no segment of the U.S. population has benefitted from slavery as much as African Americans descended from slaves who were transported from Africa to the present day United States. African Americans are far better off than Africans whose ancestors were not transported to America. Today, the average per-capital income in Sub-Sahara Africa is about $750 a year and the average expectancy is about 50 years. (Average per-capital income in Sub-Saharan Africa is much lower outside of South Africa.) The black population of the United States is the world’s richest large black population.

  33. Wow. Just...wow. Kidnapping millions of free people into slavery, shipping them across the Atlantic, exploiting them for generations, and dumping them into a society in which their descendants 150 years after being freed STILL don't have equal opportunity (and not even equal rights in practice), is all okay because these descendants are better off than their peers still in Africa?

    William, you've reached a new high in lows. Congratulations.

  34. Yoyo, while I agree with your thoughts on the above comment, I must ask you one question about yours. You've included kidnapping with all of the other atrocities that was induced upon the Africans that were enslaved and brought to the States. You are aware that the slave owners were not the kidnappers, right? In fact, the people the slave owners purchased the slaves from where mostly not the kidnappers.

    The kidnappers were the individuals in those slaves tribes that rounded them up, and traded them off for goods that were brought from over seas. Often times, those slaves own families sold them off for fabric, minerals, booze, or whatever else was being peddled by the ships coming in.

    The point of my comment is to highlight that greed is a human condition, and not one limited to segments, races, or patches of our society. While I abhor the history of our forefathers, I fully understand that in that time most EVERYONE was to blame in one facet or another involving the processes of slavery. Those who owned them are given the most grief, but there are lots of people involved who are somehow given a pass because we as a society need someone specific to point the finger at.

    We're not evolving nearly quickly enough in this portion of our social society, but we are evolving. Take a look at all of the history involved to accumulate the necessary data to ascertain the solution to this puzzle.

  35. I think we can certainly call your comment an example of complacent white supremacy. I am appalled to think that a person who evidently has an education and knows how to read can still be led by such backwards logic as to assert that African Americans actually benefitted from their ancestors' enslavement.

  36. Spellbinding. Long ago I coined for myself a phrase to live and adjust by: Complicit Complacency. By this phrase I was able to pull myself up short when The feeling of entitlement crept up on me. I would now add 'Collusive'. I am triggered daily by a sense that we accept the status quo without prompting ourselves towards the revolutionary counter actions we should be taking to right many injustices on this planet. This feeling fills my day. Only by making small heroic gestures that collude with our highest selves can we right this whole backward catastrophe of our race, and by that I mean the human one. A race that can only be won by daily actions that actively obliterate our past mistakes. Being white is no excuse. All the more reason to work harder.

  37. Absolutely breathtaking. This is a variant of Munchausen syndrome, breastbeating for attention.

    Rather than spending so much time reading Nietzsche, you might consider volunteering to mentor or tutor a less-"privileged" child.

    This is just strange self-indulgence.

  38. Mentoring or tutoring a child for an hour or so and thinking it will make a difference when said child spends the rest of life in compromised circumstances can also be a strange self-indulgence.

  39. I agree with Lynn, there is no hope for anyone that is not white due to the inherent unfairness of the system therefore it is pointless to try to help those non-whites succeed. Everyone should know by now that an African-American could never reach of place of power within the white system.

  40. I think the original poster may suggest that the hour of tutoring would do more, in the grand scheme of things, than an article in The Atlantic...

  41. good article. but whiteness is not only vis-a-vis blackness. part of a more nuanced anti-racist agenda is recognizing how other racial constructions (namely latina/os, asian americans and pacific islanders, native americans, biracial and multiracial folks) play an essential role in shaping and modifying (albeit less markedly and obviously as "blackness") the countours of race and whiteness in the u.s. to paraphrase richard dyer - if whiteness is the absence of race, blackness is nothing but race. but it's more than that.

  42. But, for a black person, nothing is more than race and he has no choice but to live with that, even if he's the first black President and white people call him a liar to his face and berate him because he "refuses" to embrace his white ancestry, even though there's no way that his white ancestry can be relevant to his life.
    What does it matter if you're half-white, when you're all-black?

  43. White is basically a default. You fill out a form and if you're not Black Hispanic, Asian, Pacific Islander, you must be white.

  44. I don't get that. He was raised by his white family. He went to a private school. I mean, talk about privilege. So he just ignores how he was raised and ignores his family? As for people calling him a liar, they called G. Bush a lot worse things and still do. It's politics.

  45. Oh, God! I'd prefer an honest, clear-eyed, non-moralizing person over a 'Guilty Liberal' any day of the week.

  46. Of course you would. "Guilty liberal" is not one of the pleasures of white privilege.

  47. I'm so tired of people thinking acknowledgment of whites privilege is about liberal guilt. I'd say it's personal courage to have the ability to assess yourself and your situation plainly and without bias. Any one with half a brain who is white should be able to see if they are willing to look that they benefit from privilege based on their skin color.

  48. Yes and I thank God there are people of all races and ethnicities who are honest, clear-eyed and non-moralizing.

  49. This article is a timely and healthy exercise in examining what is morally required of citizens who want to make this country a more just, fair, and a "more perfect union" by battling systemic racism.

    The comments so far illustrate the perception vs. reality issue when talking about inconvenient truths of huge complex problems like systemic racism, climate change, male privilege, etc, to people who don't perceive these issues in their daily lives.

    Their “injustice radar” isn’t calibrated to detect that it’s a problem when minorities get pulled over by cops more (“But hey, they commit all the crimes!”), extrajudicially executed by police for minor offenses (“Hey, that guy was no angel!”), or that the economic opportunities of minorities are actively suppressed by law, subconscious bias, redlining, etc. (“Hey, the world is unfair, not my fault, I didn't do anything wrong, don’t bother me about it”).

    John Jost, in his System Justification Theory, and behavioral psychologists like him are shedding light on why some people see these things and instead of saying “hey, that’s not fair,” it's “I worked hard, and the system worked for me, therefore they must be getting what they deserved.”

    We say that everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but the central problem from which all our political gridlock flows is the delusion that one's own perception more accurately reflects reality than others. Only way to fix it is by careful study of history, and a healthy dose of humility.

  50. There is such a low amount of "systematic racism" that trying to reduce it is ineffective and foolish.

  51. I agree. I did not choose to be born white. Looking back I realize that I was probably hired for my first minimum wage jobs in the south because I was white. I have a photo of myself as a baby with a black nanny. Her face is not in the picture. Today I long to know who that woman was; a woman who probably gave more of herself than my own mother. I don't feel personal guilt about any of this. What this article does is stimulate thinking about the issues involved and the amount of self-scrutiny that is required.
    Knowledge can get us half way; commitment is all we can have to make a difference on a personal level. If one is willing, one has made a beginning.

  52. Excellent comment. Thank you for this.

  53. Eula Biss cites interracial police shootings because she knows data that includes civilian homicides show interracial violence is overwhelmingly black-on-white violence, not white-on-black. Interracial murders are relatively rare, but blacks are much quicker than whites on the interracial trigger finger. The 2014 FBI Uniform Crime Report (Expanded Homicide Data Table 6) shows that 409 blacks murdered whites while 189 whites (including Hispanics) murdered blacks in 2014. In dealing with police shootings, Bliss neglects to mention that videos also show black cops shooting white suspects. For example, body camera footage shot in November shows that the white father of a white six-year-old autistic boy had his hands in the air and posed no threat when two black cops wounded the father and shot the six-year-old to death. Due to white privilege, there will be little national news coverage of the event and no “Hands Up/Don’t Shoot” protest in memory of the father and son.

  54. @William Case, your statement that "blacks are much quicker than whites on the interracial trigger finger" is wrong. Using the numbers that you quote, there were 409 black-on-white murders, and 189 white-on-black murders. It's true that if there were the same number of blacks in the US as whites, your reasoning would be correct.

    But you failed to take into account that there are 5.89 times as many whites as blacks in the US, so there are far more whites who could be killed than blacks. (About 77.7% of the US is white; about 13.2% of the US is black.) That means there should be 5.89 times as many whites murdered by blacks as the opposite. That would mean that blacks would have murdered 1,113 whites if the two rates were equal. Instead, there are only 409. So clearly black-on-white murders are much less than the expected value, as determined by the number of white-on-black murders and the different population ratios. Thus your thesis doesn't hold up, and therefore neither does any specious conclusions you make from it.

  55. This story of the White man and his son shot by Black police was covered quite prominantly by CNN, USA TODAY, the Washington PosT and many other National new sources. And if there were no protests maybe it's because 1) this was a case of a personal feud, a very unusual situation unlikely to repeat and 2) just three days after the boy was killed by officers who also wounded the child’s father, authorities arrested and charged the officers involved with murder and attempted murder.

  56. soo 200 or so more murders, confirmed murders, is your argument? Did you see the the black lives matter/ hands up don't shoot spreading the word on Jeremy Mardis, the white child killed by officer's of color?

  57. "How the Irish Became White" is an eye-rolling title that could only be written from a place of privilege. So someone wouldn't let you in a store, big deal. Isn't there a similar book about Italians? Yawn.

  58. ".How the Irish Became White' is an eye-rolling title that could only be written from a place of privilege."

    Well, it was written by a white man. Who occupies a greater place of privilege than that, in the United States?

  59. The social migration from immigrant to white (whether Italians, Irish or European Jewry and, to some extent, Asian) is astonishing and transformative. I think you misunderstand how poorly the indentured servants and refugees were treated for decades, even with their skin color. The Irish escaped a famine of their own country's making, Jews (ethnically probably indistinguishable from the Russians and Germans they escaped) came under threat for their lives. Chinese came as slaves in all but name.

  60. You (personally) are not allowed to enter my store. How's that make you feel?

  61. This obsession with "white privilege" seems to be confined to elite universities and tiny wealthy portions of major cities. In the real world, none of us are privileged enough to feel guilty about it.

  62. "none of us are privileged enough to feel guilty about it."

    That's because very few of us choose to understand that "white privilege" does not refer to the amount of one's wealth and the benefits that accrue because of it, but to the fact of being the default human being and having the luxury to be responsible only for one's own actions and not for those of white people in general. When you saw the headline, 14 Shot to Death in California Rampage, did you pray, "Please, God, don't let the shooter be white!" You didn't? Of course not. How in the world could the shootings possibly have anything to do with *you*, whether he was white or purple? That is a trivial example of what white privilege is, Chris. white privilege.
    But millions of minorities prayed, "Please, God, don't let the shooter be black/Latino/Native American/Asian/etc.!" *Every* member of *every* minority group is responsible for *every* bad act of *every other* member of that minority group, whatever it is, even as a victim. Twelve-year-old child is shot and killed by the police? His parents shouldn't have let him go outside with what looked like a real gun! Guns are dangerous! Unless you're a white man with an open-carry permit.
    God is white.
    There's a saying: "Regardless of how poor and ill-educated a white man is, a white man is a white man. Regardless of how rich and well-educated a black man is, a black man is a nigger."
    White privilege has everything to do with race and has nothing to do with wealth.

  63. Or not "privileged" at all.

  64. Or, perhaps most in the "real" world don't have the tools or the self-awareness to see the privilege.

  65. This is about the author and her guilt. The Blacks that inhabit her narrative are there as foils, not to help her expiate her guilt, but to help her wallow in it. Her guilt has become an end in itself.

    This is why I no longer call myself a "liberal." After a lifetime of putting myself first, I've come, almost too late, to realize how morally bankrupt that is.

    Thomas Frank go it it right in "What's the Matter with Kansas"? Liberals, so-called, are no longer reformers. They no longer care about anyone but themselves. http://www.nybooks.com/?p=33494

  66. Speak for yourself.

  67. Hokum. We are a growing country of neurotics.

  68. ... so you didn't bother reading the article, I see.

  69. Here's what's really going on. First, Western Civilization is the greatest civilization in this world. When you compare WC to other civilizations, WC is fairer, smarter, more productive, etc. But elites who are out of touch with reality and looking for 5 minutes of fame are writing drivel like this. If they really believed what they write, then they would move to the Middle East.

    Second, these examples of racism are usually things that happened to other people, in another place, in another time. They don't represent Western Civilization. But the people who spread these ideas are themselves racists.

  70. @Outside the Box:
    Western civilization that you are so proud of, was built using stolen wealth and ideas from the rest of the world during the colonial period.
    White Europeans roamed the world and plundered and pillaged the rest of the world to build the "Western Civilization' you so proudly proclaim.
    From the time the British, Dutch and Spanish pirates roamed the oceans to the 20th century when most of the colonies attained independence, there were trillions of dollars of wealth transfer - all acquired by enslaving, killing, torturing and stealing.
    Not a heritage I would be proud of.

  71. Two things:

    1) The author does not denigrate "Western Civilization" here; she is writing about her experience realizing the ways in which the concepts of guilt, debt, and privilege intersect for her as a member of the dominant culture and race. I thought it was an extraordinarily thoughtful piece, and had a tone of self-reflection that, while not precisely analytical, was full of great insights and provocation.

    2) If you were really a "smart" Westerner, you'd realize that the acronym WC is more often used to denote the British synonym for toilet, not "Western Civilization."

  72. western civilization is also the more imperialist, racist and theft prone. Look at how much the ancient greeks stole from egypt. Their whole culture. You need to take a few classes in black studies programs and read books written by leading black scholars such as "Black Athena" to educate yourself on this point. If not for African civilization and what it contributed to Greek (and hence western) europe would be more backward than africa today. Yet modern day racists refuse to see this self evident fact.

  73. "...was further reminded — that the money was not being given to me free. I was, and am, paying for it. But that detail, like my debt, is easily forgotten."

    I don't understand. Why is it so easy to forget that you have to pay back your loans? Really? I really don't think I'm that exceptional that I know that I had to pay back my mortgage. Am I missing something?

  74. Let me explain: "White Privilege" allows white folks of middle class means to assume that they will be able to pay off their mortgage and student loan debt, so they don't give it a lot of thought. In contrast, black folks often can't get these loans in the first place, and if they do get the loans the terms will be less favorable so they will be at greater risk of default. That can lead to sleepless nights. Most white folks don't lose sleep over their mortgages.

  75. It's easy for white people to forget because there is no acknowledgement that an actual debt is owed.

  76. The author was talking about how easy it was to get a loan against her down payment in order to purchase a piano.

  77. In 1860, the economic value of slaves in the United States exceeded the invested value of all of the nation's railroads, factories, and banks combined, but the industrial revolution was just getting underway and the nation had relatively few railroads, factories, and banks. Only 26 percent of the Northern population lived in urban areas such as Chicago, Cincinnati, Cleveland, and Detroit while only 10percent of Southerners lived in urban areas. Nearly 70 percent of Americans were engaged in framing. Despite having no slaves, the Northern farms out-produced Southern plantations. Free states had nearly twice the value of farm machinery per acre and per farm worker as did the slave states, and they produced half of the nation's corn, four-fifths of its wheat, and seven-eighths of its oats. The mechanization of American farms, which would soon make slaves and most farmhands obsolete was beginning to take hold. By 1860, a threshing machine could thresh 12 times as much grain per hour as could six men.

  78. All well and good, but it was slavery that enabled the nascent nation to gain a foothold on the continent. The technological advancements that came later are in no way relevant to your argument. Without slavery in the beginning, there may well be no United States today, and certainly not the most powerful nation in the world.

  79. Very good point, Wm Case. Wild speculation -- who was financing the cost of threshing machines to white farm and estate owners and who subsequently was making the money? To the point of this article, we're all slaves, we're all "that."

  80. your comments are nothing more than racial apologia. What about the mistreatment and discrimination of blacks in the North? Could this de facto slave labor account for an important part of the North's rise?

  81. There are many comments including one of my own rejecting the central premises of this piece. There are others claiming that the act of rejecting these claims of racism proves we are racists and their claims are correct. That is intellectually bankrupt and a logical fallacy. You can't use some disagreeing with your point as prima facie evidence to prove it.

  82. can we use Reality as evidence?

  83. But which central premise are you rejecting? That racism exists, and in a racist world, white people have privileges that others don't? That is proven - look at how many skin whitening products are sold, at how many black people are incarcerated. We live in a racist world.

    As a white person, she's assessing how to move forward. What does she teach her son? How does she make the world better? It's not drivel or mindless self-loathing - it's a meditation on privilege in the face of great inequality.

    If you disagree, and argue that we don't live in a racist world, it seems that you must be privileged. The idea is that no one who has been on the receiving end of systemic racism would make such an argument.

    Perhaps your rejection has more to do with how you think we should move forward. What should those who have not experienced systemic racism do to even the playing field for those who do? What can we do, other than be aware, so that no more black boys are killed by those who should be protecting them?

  84. Mr. Stuart's own comment is logically flawed. One's disagreeing with your disagreement, doesn't render their point of view a tool for using disagreements to prove their point. What the comments allude to is the way in which the article is being refuted and they come in two flavors mostly:
    "Quit whining and do something, you educated elite" comes from the readers that don't care for examination pieces. I understand frustrations of white guilt wallowing, but this piece is not it. It is an analysis of where we are and why we must not be complacent. It is not a self help book. You, the reader, need to take on the task of examination as well and place yourself in context of your society. The lack of "helpful tips" does not mean the author is wallowing. She reminds you that guilt is a tool of the conscience and urges that it must not render one powerless but rather as a prod - the difference between compliance and complicity. Otherwise we slip in denial, which has far worse consequences.
    Which leads me to the second flavor of comments, "That happened ages ago, who does it help if I'm guilty, anyway all the tests/books/news tell me Western civilisation/whites are the best". Not just denial, even supremacy. Comment maker #1, please view Comment maker #2 and please explain to us again about how feeling guilty is for the privileged. Because I'm sure your lack of guilt is doing a lot for the minorities that are the targets of such comments.

  85. After reading through some of the comments here, I submit that "denial" is a more apt description of the condition of white life.

    The denial on display here is largely of the inward-looking sense, a refusal to accept or acknowledge something, but it underwrites white denial in the more expansive (and violent) outward-looking sense, the denial of something to someone else: of others' personhood, of others' experiences, of acceptance and invitations and memberships, letters of denial from banks and jobs and universities.

    "Forgotten debt" works in the broader, figurative sense of the term -- as in "moral debt" -- but "debt" in the most literal sense implies a situation in which the creditor has some form of power over the debtor. You might convince yourself you own your home, but your bank would be all too happy to disabuse you of that fantasy. The hallmark of privilege, whether we are speaking of white privilege or male privilege, hetero privilege or human privilege or whatever, is the luxury to ignore uncomfortable realities and imagine into being a neater, fairer, more meritorious world that supersedes the lived realities of one's moral creditors.

    If whiteness were a forgotten debt, the creditors could simply call it in and we could stop having this same pedantic -- but, as evidenced by many of the comments here, still vitally necessary -- conversation.

  86. I do own my home. The bank has no interest in it. The land was formerly owned by an Indian tribe, before it was taken away by Euro-Americans in the 19th century.

    In the 1980s, the tribes, the State and local governments, and the Federal government, everybody represented by the most heavyweight lawyers, negotiated a complete and final land settlement. This was the Puyallup tribal land claims settlement. You could look it up. The Puyallups ended up with, among other things, ownership of large portions of the Port of Tacoma.

    So, yes: I own my home, whatever my "race" may be.

  87. So you're saying that people denying something that they feel is false is simply just 'being in denial'? Sorry, but people are allowed to deny something that they feel is false. I'd rather not conform to this modern popular thought - and yes, it is the popular thought these days, or you wouldn't constantly see articles about it being shared on Facebook. I'd rather not conform to it because all I have seen is the complete opposite. White people are accepted into universities with much higher standards than non-white people based on SATs, there are no quotas at any job for white people, and if two people apply for a job, one white, and one non-white, with similar credentials, a white person will get it because the manager feels it will make their company look good/more progressive.

    If we all walk around feeling guilty for a past we did not create, we won't get anything done. We'll be too busy going out of our way to make up for our ancestors mistakes that are in no way our fault, that we won't be focused on building ourselves a better future. It's a good thing to show respect to everyone, and help those in need, whether they are black, white or anything in between, but there is no need to feel guilty about it while doing it.

  88. Let's see, study when in school, join the motary and have most of you college paid for, graduate college with a meaningful degree, get a job, save money, mind your credit, but a house. ANY white, black, green or purple person has the ability to this. No one is being held back because of some perturbed priviledge of another. Until the black community resolves its own cultural faults and priviledge, the status quo will remain.

  89. I don't understand everything in this article, but I don't mind. It made me think. Hopefully that was the point.

  90. but did it make you see how euro-americans are responsible for the current horrendous state of black america? How only reperations can fix this?

  91. I understood it and it is vile.

  92. This essay summerizes the historic advantage of whiteness that is so infused into the white experience that its not realized or recognized-- it just is the white experience. What should white people do when they recognize that this unearned advantage exists because of the explotation of others? We stop exploiting others.

  93. Sorry, that doesn't cut it. My ancestors have been vilified and killed for centuries. They were not allowed to vote or own land in the countries they lived in. They had to suffer period pogroms that killed many and destroyed their homes. Save your white guild for someone else, I'm not buying it.

  94. You make an excellent point on exploiting others.

    Some have come to equate exploitation with oppression, but each is quite distinct from the other. Exploitation makes people more productive than they otherwise would be by directing or using their labor more effectively than they could do on their own. Oppression on the other hand, makes people less productive by using their labor less effectively than they could do on their own. Consider Tesla. He was oppressed by Edison who cheated him and caused him to leave Edison's employ to dig ditches in the city. And he was exploited by Westinghouse who later employed Tesla's alternating current to supply electricity to thousands. Tesla could not use his own talents as effectively as Westinghouse was able to.

    So, no, abuse is no necessary part of exploitation, but oppression is inherently abusive and counter productive.

  95. Maybe because all whites - and ethnic whites in particular - don't feel that there is one all-encompassing "white experience."

  96. If whiteness is an illusion, is blackness an illusion too? A flimsy and meaningless by-product of a by-gone more racist age?

    As I read this I kept thinking, what does she feel guilty for? That racism existed and continues to exist? As a black guy, this ain't doing anything for me. Her existential hand-wringing is her own, it doesn't uplift anyone else really. Does she imagine racism as a ghost spirit inherited by people like her, and it one day might take her son? I think the ultimate irony is that, from what I can gather, Dolezal (with all her flaws) has done more for the black community than the author and her article.

  97. Just as Dolezal has probably done more than Biss, so too, others have done far more than I have.

    Is my contribution worthless in your view? Have you contributed as much as either Dolezal or Biss? Have you contributed anything?

    You don't even bother to scroll back up and find the author's name!

  98. It's gotta start somewhere. At least, from her perspective, she is attempting to articulate a subject few are wont to entertain.

  99. I beg to differ. As a white guy, and a guilty one, I think this does something for both of us, though admittedly it's influence on you is more removed. By questioning the nature, validity, and productivity of white guilt the author is advancing the knowledge that surrounds a raw ache that may or may not be useful. White guilt is a piece of the system that perpetuates institutional racism, absolutely; the question which dominates the entire piece is: How does white guilt affect institutional racism? and What next? She raises the necessary question, 'is guilt an impediment to progress (by dis-empowering those who have the ability and moral sensitivity to attempt change) or is it a goad, a stimulant to progress?

    Also, yea isn't all race an illusion? Black people are the most genetically diverse 'race,' so what is race all about? Nevertheless, despite race being a false category, with no grounding in reality, it exists in the minds of we foibled modern men, and hence is relevant despite it's being intrinsically nonsensical.

  100. As soon as I started reading about the police interactions I thought, "Oh yeah, this piece is written by a woman." It's endlessly amusing to me how unaware white women are of their own special privilege that eclipses even that of straight white men.

  101. You seem to be trapped in some kind of reality bubble. White women are doing better but are still not equal to white men.

  102. You must not be aware of the gender pay gap, or any other statistic that proves white men have significant privilege over white women...

  103. Thanks for reminding we women of our privilege. It certainly feels like I'm on top of the world when I'm shouted at on the street, whistled at from a car, followed home, touched against my will, or otherwise made to feel unsafe just trying to live my life. But wait...I'm just getting extra attention because I'm so beautiful, right? I should accept the compliment? I should smile?

  104. Sadly, my fellow white males have wandered the planet for lifetimes mistaking their luck of birth for the status of merit. We may either examine our privilege or not but if we choose willful ignorance, perhaps we could stop bemoaning it as if it were a crown of thorns?

  105. How would one sustain 'willful ignorance' after acknowledging it?

    It ceases to be ignorance.

  106. The luck of their birth was not luck. It was the merit of their ancestors.

  107. You don't think it took merit to crush the Roman empire, repel the moors, innovate maritime navigation, agriculture, and complex societies strong enough to take over new continents? Merit is all we've ever had, nothing was ever given. It was either built or waged war for, which progressive white women seem to be the primary beneficiaries of. Given how native americans, africans, and all others partook in intertribal warfare, we simply did it better. It's frankly a miracle that modern man has any morality. What we could do with the entire continent of Africa versus its useless writhing in poverty... Most people have no idea what real humanity is, either its propensity for truest love or deepest brutality.

  108. Has the author of the article considered doing something concrete to even the scales a bit. Perhaps she could donate her home to someone in the African-American community that has been oppressed by whiteness, perhaps she could donate her income to another poor oppressed victim, perhaps she could assign her child to do the chores of an oppressed child. In short, she could do something constructive instead of just complaining of the guilt from her whiteness. Otherwise her article is nothing more than empty posturing.

  109. You 'suggestions' aren't constructive, they are absurd.

    To help others, you cannot proceed to destroy yourself.

    Do you have any suggestions that are not absurd? Are you willing to follow your own advice? (I doubt that you are.)

    What you have created is an obvious defensive shield to avoid any real response.

  110. Because the tongue-in-cheek altruism you prescribe is akin to poisonous levels of chemotherapy to clear up a possibly malignant skin tag.

  111. Not at all! I learned a lot from the article that will help me make more conscious choices in my life.
    I consider myself actively aware of my white privilege and my family and I make many decisions informed by that awareness. I chose to remain at the predominately black highschool I was bused to in 1968, my family and I chose to move to the "Black side of town" about 10 yrs ago, I patronize my community 's businesses when possible. It's a drop in the bucket, but it's something. I welcome learning what will help me think and act more compassionately.

  112. If not for the ongoing massacre of black men by police, the predictable, defensive "she's wallowing in her guilt" comments (reactions the author's argument anticipates) generated by, wotta surprise, WHITE readers here would be risible. Instead they're tragicomic.

    I'm a white man President Obama's age, and grew up poor during and after Jim Crow in a Deep South city (my school desegregated only 20 years after Brown bs BOE). Bliss' argument is both deeply incisive and powerfully compelling.

    I saw FIRST HAND the unwanted, systematic privileges my race granted me on a daily basis in the South and any white person who denies that she or he isn't benefiting from a similar legacy on a national level today must not watch the news. That privilege is not past tense.

    We can only make it so by acknowledging, as the great Sherman Alexie says, the systemic empowerment whites do have and by turning it against the inequities hindering our fellow citizens.

    As Byron wrote, "there can be no freedom, even for masters, in the midst of slavery." And as long as even NYT readers wheel out the same tired "wallowing in guilt" defenses, they'll stay locked in their own echo chamber. Acknowledging and delineating white privilege are the first steps in demolishing it. Timeworn, predictable denials get nobody anywhere.

  113. Guilt is personal. This white guilt cannot be cured by federal or state laws. It cannot be cured by payments from the government, if for no other reason than that it is not justice to tax Asians, Latinos, recent immigrants, etc. for the "hereditary" guilt of whites, assuming it exists.

  114. All great, as long as nobody's looking for money! But then, I'm sure they're not....

  115. Yes, the massacre of black men by other black man is tragic. Statistically whites are far more likely to be murdered by blacks in this country.

  116. The upshot for me is that I cannot correct things that were done by others in the past, whether they were related to me or not. Are my African-American appearing relatives less culpable for our ancestors' wrongs because they don't look as white as I do? Were my white ancestors who were poor really privileged? Does the fact that some were Quakers who helped black people escape the South or "slave owners" who were actually protecting their black relatives by claiming them as property relieve me of some of the guilt? What about my distant grandfathers who perished fighting for the North in the Civil War? As Abraham Lincoln said, "A house divided against itself cannot stand." As a white person, I'm past tired of being subjected to knee-jerk judgements about who I am and what I'm responsible for, and I would suspect that my black counterparts are, as well. If we cannot honestly deal with racial issues, our house is in danger of collapsing.

  117. You cannot even 'correct' things YOU have done in the past. But, perhaps, you (and I) can try to atone.

  118. I think you missed the point of the piece. Rather than becoming defensive about the continuing privilege of whiteness by using the same argument about how white people can't change the past or providing examples of what your ancestors did (greatly appreciated), perhaps you could challenge that privilege and associated benefits in the present.

  119. Kathleen, you being "subject to knee-jerk judgements" pales against the loud, systemic and public demands for accountability and apology directed at law-abiding American Muslims and young African-American men for the evil crimes of a few.

  120. The publishers of the NYT and the author of this article live in expensive neighborhoods where everyone is rich, educated, and accepts the conventions of Western Civilization. They enjoy all the gifts from the people who advanced Western Civilization.

    Yet they imagine that somehow this would be a better world without Western Civilization ... or they just hate white people.

  121. Where in this article or elsewhere, do you find the idea that anyone is suggesting doing away with Western Civilization?

    "Seeking to improve" is not at all the same as "doing away"!

    Or, do you imagine that Western Civilization is flawless?

  122. this is a huge leap to justify your "complacence"..

  123. The trouble is, the actions you take do not improve Western Civ. You're a wolf in sheeps clothing, you come with the pretense of morality but your end goal is to burn the west to the ground.

  124. Privilege is not about race, it is about class. Opression is not about race, it is about class. The author Bell Hooks has written a body of work carefully and expertly deconstructing the point, but the media continues to reinforce race as the pivot point, not class. The distinction is so important. As long as we continue to view privilege only through the spectrum of race, the true driving forces of injustice and inequality are ignored. Corporate capitalism promotes an institutional and systemic inequality and corporate capitalism is promoted and enforced and exploited by every race. Yes, there are statistics that show more Whites as industry tycoons but the exceptions are profound. Even if only 2% of the leading business moguls are not White, that still proves the point. Add to this the more recent social movement, "Black Lives Matter" - an important call to action but equally myopic. Black police officers are just a cruel and just as deadly on the force as White officers. I watched Black, White, Asian police officers during protests organized by Occupy Wall Street -- These officers attacked and brutally abused protesters -- equally. Black officers beat up black protesters. The point is that the institutionalized oppression -- an organized wealth that abhors even the idea of equality -- most especially - financial equality -- has NO COLOR. I am sick of seeing this subject discussed in these terms. It's not race, stupid. @johannaclear

  125. Beautifully written. At first I thought the author was a young white man who felt guilty or privileged to be white. True, I am not quite awake but it was the beginning of this essay of how some people feel superior and enhanced by committing acts of cruelty towards the oppressed. I just sent 'The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner' to my godson, a rap musician.

    An elderly aunt, in an exchange this evening, mentioned that most of my friends seem to be Africans. I tend to look up to them. They are taller than me and have better manners.

    What Do I feel guilty about? It is a word I seldom use. If I were to commit a deliberate act of cruelty that is something that would be crippling. Two experiences continue to hurt and haunt me at times on a 'rainy day'.

    I wonder if the word 'Freedom' is to be found here where one just feels exhilarated by life. A sense of being alive, and not thinking about one's very being, one's gender or appearance. True, these moments are rare but the few that I have experienced make it all worthwhile.

    Eula Biss is a very fine writer.

  126. "For me, whiteness is not an identity but a moral problem. ..."

    For me, the impulse to search for guilt and wear it as a badge of honor - as well as a whip for flogging others - is a sign of unhealthiness. Is there really nothing productive, wholesome, that people can do?

    Unless using 'white privilege" is used as a means of professional advancement within the academia, that is.

  127. Thank you, thank you, thank you for this. I ordinarily don't read pieces this long but every word was worth it. It's such a relief to read things from white people who are also looking thoughtfully at their status as white people. I'm struggling to find my favorite part of this to excerpt when I post it to Facebook because there are so many excellent paragraphs. As a white mother also working to repay some of the debt, or at least stop the vig from running -- bravo.

  128. Want some help choosing en excerpt? Here's the takeaway:

    "Guilty white people try to save other people who don’t want or need to be saved, they make grandiose, empty gestures, they sling blame, they police the speech of other white people and they dedicate themselves to the fruitless project of their own exoneration."

    You're welcome.

  129. Fantastic piece. Thank you.

  130. It is unfair to judge someone based on skin color and it is also unfair to expect someone to feel guilt based on skin color. Real justice is blind to skin color, wealth, any other status symbol so that everyone is treated equally under the law. There is no white debt and no black debt. But we do owe it to ourselves, whatever skin color or wealth level, to be in integrity with our system of justice. Don’t judge others by social status or skin color but hold people accountable who do. I’m all for fairness but creating a category for “white debt” or white guilt is still judging based on skin color.

  131. Being blind seems to have become quite popular. What one able to sense is valuable, though not perhaps in the terms we are trained to evaluate. But to claim one really can't tell or is unconcerned with whether someone is black, white, rich, a celebrity famous for being famous is – I cannot find a more polite way to put it – fatuous; not an accumulation of merit or virtue.

    For one thing, it leads one to claim that our system of justice is 'just.' What is being judged here is privilege, not pigment.

  132. Jen- The point is that, whether we like it or not, racism is enacted, day after day after day after day after week, after year after decade after century. Ignoring that fact gets us no where. We can not ignore the inherent brutality and violence that is used to keep it in place. Ignoring how that plays out in and on lives that are not you doesn't make it go away. We can only ignore racism when the system is dismantled, and that won't happen if we continue to deny it. We must see and understand the truth in order to deal with it. Having a proper diagnosis is essential to treatment. Racism is brutally enacted in so many subtle and violent ways. Admitting this is a first step to 'really' doing something about it.

  133. This is basically an effort on behalf of Ms. Biss' social and professional status in her moiety. So cynical that we don't even have a vocabulary for it yet.

  134. I am not sure how someone who knows so little about what Nietzsche is saying in GofM manages to get such a broad forum.
    Nietzsche is not prescribing - he is describing a particular perspective - his at a point in time
    He is not defining - he is challenging you to do your own self-definition.
    In the end - he is challenging you to think outside of your narrow boundaries - something - apparently - in short supply.
    He is challenging you to become who you are - even DFW got that.

  135. And people wonder why Donald Trump is so popular among less well-educated, working class whites.

  136. Ah, the dilemmas of privileged, affluent, educated, white, first-world liberals.

    Travel to Appalachia, Ms. Biss, and tell us about white privilege.

  137. Yes, Eula, and we helped elect a Black president.

  138. "as Ta-Nehisi Coates writes, ‘‘the down payment’’ on this country’s independence, or that freed slaves became, after the Civil War, ‘‘this country’s second mortgage.’’

    What do those expressions actually mean? I suppose they were chosen because they sound very serious and imply a certain formality and transactional nature to this country's relationship with Blacks, but however useful they are as rhetorical devices, they are only serve to distract the reader.

  139. This sanctimonious self-hatred is a hedonistic indulgence that only priviliged people in the West can afford. People that live with real oppression, and have to worry about their next meal don't have to time wallow in self-pity like this.

    Slavery was outlawed in the 1960's in Saudi Arabia. Abused minorities there live in absolute squalor, and yet Saudi's would laugh in the face of anyone who tried to moralize to them of their "eternal debt" to the people they abused. The Turks "stole" their entire country from Ionian Greeks and then ethnically cleansed the original inhabitants well into the 20th century, yet they do not live in existential angst over their "Debt"

    Sanctimonious self-pity is a unique indulgence that only exists in the West, and I fear that it will consume and destroy the country that provided such a high standard of living for it to exist.

  140. Eula, your house seems so problematic. When I was 65, I bought an apartment for cash. Before that, I rented, because I would have been too worried to enjoy life with all that debt. Let it go, It's not worth it. It is important to realize that no everyone shares your privileges and good fortune, not even every one whose skin is like yours. There are people whose childhoods were destroyed by physical & sexual abuse. There are people who are physically &/or mentally incapacitated, lack of education or money. Not everyone shares your pains either. If only life were as simple as you portray it, injustice based on race would be a lot easier to end.

  141. Please stop with all this. I am a Jewish woman. Years ago in the small town where I grew up in the South, there was so much prejudice. And you know what, that did not bother me one little bit because I knew in my heart I was smarter than the average bear. I was different, but different great. Sure enough I rose above my peers and got my JD and everything else I wanted with little help from anyone. My family did not have a lot of money.

    There is racial prejudice against Blacks because the truth is most crime is committed by Black males; most children are born out of wedlock, etc. etc. -- our expectations for them are pretty low because of their own behavior. If Blacks truly strived for anything better they WOULD be better. They are no more held down than the Italians or Jews or Asians were. I won't go so far as to say many are not capable of more, but it is beginning to look that way. And I am a liberal. I am only saying what many people are thinking. It's marketing and branding. If and when they excel, then there will be no more racial jealousy. We would look at them like we do the Asians as winners. People look at you based on your track record. Sorry, I'm getting so sick of the whining.

  142. "And I am a liberal."

    No you're not, Leonora, but you are a racist. As a Jew in the South, I suspect you may be suffering from Stockholm Syndrome. As a Jew myself, your bigotry and belligerence make me cringe.

  143. Leonora are you kidding? That's like saying the Germans would not have killed the Jews in Europe if they just acted right. You dismiss the power of racial prejudice-your ancestors are crying in their graves.

  144. Thanks for the guts to say what many think.

  145. I guess Mis Biss did not grow up as one of the few white kids in an inner city neighborhood where white flight had progressed well into its late stages. If she had, I wonder how much she would think she owed.

  146. So you have personal anecdotal evidence of your individual experience that overturns more than three centuries of American history? Amazing!

  147. STRATEGIC thinking is, in my opinion, not the strong suit of the writer, who, by her own description, watched a police arrest a person on her bike with her infant son on her back. The definitions of words in German and quoting the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche seem to be lame excuses for not thinking of her infant's safety before her defending the rights of a person being arrested by the police. What was she thinking? Was she thinking? Did she care about her baby? Aha! She is a philosopher.

  148. What an extraordinarily thoughtful article--I would expect nothing less from a Hampshire college alum. I definitely identify with the conflicting desires to both not be associated with a group of people who has attained privilege for itself by wronging another group and to reap the benefits of belonging to such a group. Having an adorable white son, the situation is even more magnified for me.

  149. yet white privilege is more than tangible items, houses, cars, schools, degrees. It is also emotional, unconscious, a certain psychological privilege. On a side note some of seem very salty about this author's observation.

  150. Neither denial nor guilt.

    Note that the Lord's Prayer is translated as "forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors". The idea of debt as guilt is not known only to the Germans.

  151. That many readers find this essay unrepresentative of how they view race and live there complicated lives, let me offer a reason. You enjoy your privilege. You ignore the subtle racism that you see each day. Maybe you even participate with a joke or a sneer. In the end you're to busy to be guilty. And too happy.

  152. It need not be as crude as sharing a joke or a sneer. It's hearing a news story about an unarmed black teen shot dead by police and assuming the cops must have been right and the kid must have deserved it — or simply switching off the TV because you don't want to know about it.

  153. Or maybe you're one of millions of immigrants to the U.S. whose background and experience simply don't line up with the older black/white distinctions in America. It doesn't mean you don't see what's going on; it does mean that you don't automatically know how you fit the model. Maybe the model is wrong?

  154. Without addressing any deeper issues about privilege, let me just say that sneering often goes in the other direction. White folks are lately typecast as ignorant dilettantes trumpeting liberal values while unconsciously crossing to the other side of the sidewalk etc etc. This form of smug stereotyping has become acceptable in public discourse in a way that racist jokes of other kinds simply are not, at least not in respectable settings. The idea that I am too busy or too happy to see that I enjoy my privilege is just another episode in the stereotype of the skin-deep liberal. It is you sir who is doing the sneering

  155. Given the author's years of analysis of her place in a supposedly evil world, it is sad that she cannot identify a single thing to do about it, other than yet more analysis.

  156. If you're white and young enough you've spent your life in the trenches with women and minorities having older white people lording over you. There's not much white privilege anymore without an elite college education. Wage stagnation took care of that. However, police abuse of young black men and boys needs to stop. It's the result of the militarization of law enforcement and the feeling that young black people are the enemy.

  157. For a real image of white privilege, watch the recent British TV import on PBS 'Indian Summers'.
    We've come a long way since Jim Crow. Privilege still exists, especially in the availability of opportunity. But remember, the goal is not to make every black man a Ben Carson, but to see they get the same opportunities.

  158. The goal for some white people is the availability of the same opportunities for all, but for others, the goal is to bring back the days of white supremacy in every aspect of a person's life. That is what Trump is tapping into, that powerlessness and dread that being white will no longer be an advantage.

  159. I can almost see the muck the author is sinking into. Wallowing in guilt has to be a miserable way to live. I imagine the author knows that guilt is nothing but the flip side of resentment. The question she would be better off trying to answer is, "Who or what is she resenting?"

    If she does not wish to do that, she might want to think about the fact that the overwhelming majority of white people could never afford to attend Amherst...even if they are willing to accumulate some debt. Why does she only feel guilt towards Black people? She may well have taken the spot of some poor white person who would have graduated Amherst and spent a career teaching children in Harlem or Bedford-Stuyvesant. Who knows, that imaginary person may have helped dozens of children...all Black or Hispanic...to escape poverty.

    If she really feels this level of guilt, and is passing it on to her child, she needs to do things that actually improve the human condition, even if only to repay "her debt." Wallowing in this negativity is only going to increase her resentment and, ultimately, her guilt.

  160. It's not about going to Amherst, Cheri. It's about going to the corner grocery store.

  161. Excellent and eloquent essay. I wish some of the other commenters here wouldn't dismiss it so readily. It reminds me of a lot of experiences I hear about from black friends and co-workers when we really open up to one another.

    I can't help wondering sometimes how different my own life would have been had I not been born a homosexual in a southern Indiana town in the early 1950s. In many ways, of course, it would have been worse for me. I might not have been impelled to seek a more interesting life in a more sophisticated part of the country more tolerant of gay people, with everything that implies. I likely would have been "tied down" with a marriage, children, etc., and never enjoyed the experiences such as living and traveling abroad which life as a single man has afforded me. I might hold much more conservative, much less enlightened political views than I do.

    But I think there must be connections, networks, and security that derive from having an affinity with the large majority of people, who are heterosexual, and I will never have an idea what those feel like. Straight people must still be able to take many things for granted that we gay people cannot, even in this much more progressive era. The 1970s-1990s were a terribly frightening time for gay people. I would not want to return to it.

    Still, all in all, I would not trade who I am for anyone or anything else.

  162. I'm so grateful to you for articulating this. I've been struggling to find the words to articulate how racism hurts people on both sides of its coin, and this is the most articulate example I've had the privilege to read. The bit about Nietzsche and the creditors of antiquity being able to contractually dismember their debtors was particularly illustrative of the inhumanity we can easily fall prey to in refusing to examine our inherent privileges. Thank you.

  163. But what do you teach your son to be proud of?

  164. I am American of Chinese stock, and this article really spoke to me -- specifically, concerning my Asian-American privilege. You see, in the US, we Asian-Americans have higher wealth and earnings, higher educational attainment, and lower arrest, divorce, and drug-abuse rates as compared to White people, whom we have oppressed. Like many Asians, I was raised to value academic achievement, hard work, and thrift. Only now do I realize the truth: these were all lies, and it was privilege all along.

    Thus, I am coming to be newly aware how I, by my very existence, owe a racial debt to White people, who suffer from discrimination and oppression which causes them to score lower on the SATs (especially math) and be under-represented at Harvard and Silicon Valley. Every science test I've aced, every Chopin piece I can play, every time I divide the bill and calculate the tip in my head -- these are all bad loans written to Whiteness, and poisonous fruit of ill-gotten, Asian gains, resting on a bedrock of evil.

    I see now that Asian-ness is not an identity, it is a moral problem, and one that I will use my Asian privilege to change. Thank you, Ms. Biss, for showing me the light.

  165. Your comment reminds me that what passes for success in this country is banal and smug. Thanks so much!

  166. I have white guilt, and I am proud to have it.


  167. It gets so that one has the impression that African American people believe that if they were only white, all their troubles would disappear. There is no other kind of disadvantage in life - no one grows up in a state of economic deprivation that denies them opportunity; no one suffers crippling physical disabilities that limit opportunity or subject the afflicted to discrimination; no one faces challenges, of gender, aptitude, adaptation to social norms, no, none of that. It's only about race; but of course, it isn't.

  168. This piece is eloquent, emotional and fiction, a 'Catcher in the Rye' for the author's constructed melancholy. As exposition, it is nonsense.
    A dirt-poor, malnourished Appalachian child is not privileged by his 'whiteness'. The dust bowl refugees, almost entirely white, were despised refugees. Zach Hammond's whiteness did not protect him from the policeman's bullet.
    There is an institution called wealth, and its other name is privilege. It is associated in this country with 'whiteness', and its opposite, poverty, associated even more strongly with 'blackness', but that association can be broken in either direction. East Indians are now the highest-earning group in the US.
    Sherman Alexei is right. We need empowered individuals, white, black and other, to write the wrongs of the day, not to engage in flights of metaphysical guilt. If you didn't do it, you are not guilty of it, whether you are a German today with Nazi forebears, or a great-grandchild of slave-owners or, for that matter, of abolitionists. Of course, if you have great wealth, you have a series of concerns and responsibilities, but, absent that, you're on your own. You should still want to right current, obvious wrongs, such as that our police seem to prefer killing unarmed suspects to letting them walk peacefully away, a lethal danger that falls disproportionately on our black citizens.
    Let's fix that, directly, forthrightly and without unneeded introspection. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.

  169. The problem blamed on "whiteness" is in fact endemic to any minority in any culture throughout the world. Try living in South America, and competing for a job with the locals. Do you think you get unbiased treatment? How many locals will shed tears for you if you lie dead in the street? There, a white person is "the other." Do you think that you will get better treatment in China? Being the "other" is never easy, and we try to root out bigotry in ourselves--but to call it a heritage of whites rather than of humanity is insulting, and extremely racist.

    An honest look at history will show all races complicit in slavery and oppression. Literal forced black enslavement is still happening, and is commonplace, in Africa; it is just as evil there as it was here. It is our duty to fight against it, and fight for the concept that equal talent and work ethic should result in equal opportunity. We should not, however, be doing this with an eye to skin color--this promotes racism, and promotes an engrained culture of victimhood.

    There are as many white heroes in the fight against slavery, and equality, as come from any other race. As for me, I will do my honest best to live and judge by merit, and be honorable. I will not feel guilt for what I have, or have been given; merely gratitude. I also acknowledge my obligation to help others (regardless of race) to obtain what I have (if they want it).

  170. Here's another way to look at it.

    Suppose there had never been slavery in America. Then, how would the people who are now Americans be faring now. We'll divide them into two groups. It can be argued that:

    Americans who are not African-Americans would be better off in many ways if descendants of ex-slaves were not in America. (Of course, there would still be many people of Black and other non-White races in America.)

    However, those who are descendants of ex-slaves would be much worse off if there had never been slavery in America. Their ancestors were slaves in Africa. So, if those slaves had stayed in Africa, their descendants would still be there. They might or might not still be slaves. But they would have much more disease, lower life expectancy, less education, more violence and less government protection and help than in America.

    By this calculation, the descendants of ex-slaves who are now in America owe a tremendous debt to everyone else in America. Yet considerably less than half of them even pay Federal income tax.

  171. The problem ain't about race - its financial inequality...the dreaded ' class wars' that are alluded to but never addressed... Wake up & refocus and perhaps a t"change will finally come

  172. White privilege. No I don't think so. I can think of other terms to describe "whiteness" but privilege isn't one of them. Out of 7 billion people, white Europeans are just a dot--the world is mostly colored. Perhaps what is so amazing is how one small group managed to hoodwink the rest of the ancient world into believing they were the best and brightest. Remember, most of our knowledge comes from the Arabs and the areas now identified as India, and China--all places of color.

  173. I admire the writer not only for articulating these ideas but also for having the courage to publish it and taking the inevitable heat for daring to think in this way.

  174. Eula Biss's essay is a fine attempt to address a very complicated issue. Knowing that privledge exists some of us want to find a way to address it yet all honesty the guilt that might colletively have some name really doesn't apply very well to indivdual sensitive human beings. You can see by some of the yelps from those who find the piece off-putting that she has struck paydirt yet perhaps also written something that those who protest most likely have missed her larger points. Being frustrated with whiteness but not hating yourself is certainly not that hard to do. And there is no profit in self-recrimination unless the actions taken by the indivdual are functionally healthy and self-affirming. This much cannot be doubted or denied: this is a country that has yet to develop a language for understanding what blackness means to it's own identity as a nation. White folks that deny the existence of the gifts and illusions whiteness brings are living with a debt to their identity that lessens us all.

  175. Interesting that this piece is running within a day of Mark Zuckerberg's announcement of his "charity". I read the first news in hope that he would begin the process of paying down the debt wealthy, "whites" owe to NatAmericans, AfrAmericans and even poor EurAmericans.

    But no. It looks like just another pr scheme.

    I've been working on trying to convince Americans the giant White Elephant in the room won't go away by itself. I also met Noel Ignatiev, right after his book, "How the Irish Became White" came out. In fact, I invited him to the second ever Whiteness Conference, which was held here in Chicago in 1997 or 1998.

    We were 20 years too early, but I think Americans are finally starting to understand, either we start to pay down the debt now...or our children will have the Devil to pay later.


  176. I don't owe any race, color, creed, ethnicity, etc. any apology what so ever! Someone who chooses to believe that the world owes them something, is choosing to imprison themselves. The only race issue we have in this country is that everyone is racing to get rather than give. Freedom is the only thing that brings so called equality. Taking from one to give to another, even if it is a form of reparation like affirmative action, is exactly why we have a problem today. One side claims privilege and the other side claims entitlement. If being white is a moral problem then being black, red, yellow, blue, and purple are as well. If whites are not a group then why do we have majority and minority labels? Slavery happened. Sad. I wasn't there. My ancestors were in Brasil and the Dominican Republic. They had slavery also. Anyone, regardless of race, is capable of slavery. The best thing to do is simply not feed the flames. Stop using racism as a reason for lack of achievement. Play the hand you were dealt and expect more from yourself than everyone else?

  177. Asians make more money than Whites in the US. Is that Asian privilege?

  178. I was born in 1960, nearly a century after the end of the Civil War. My family was comfortably middle class; no more than that. But the ways in which my life was affected positively by our history of owning slaves are too numerous to count, from the eighteenth-century furniture I can hope to inherit to a history of access to higher eduction (I am a sixth generation academic) to a vast network of distant cousins and ancestors that make one feel empowered because they appear in both the newspaper and in history books. How many of the descendants of the people my family owned can claim any of this? I know that some have been successful in politics and other fields, but I imagine (and imagine, because I do not know) that many of them have had much more difficult lives than mine. And I think that being unaware of those differences is callous, just as not working, at least in small ways, for change, is irresponsible. My parents also worked hard, I might add, to ensure that I went to integrated schools, where I had outstanding African-American teachers and bright black classmates; one does not have to be trapped by one's past, but one should be aware of it and of the advantages or disadvantages it confers.

  179. Food for thought:

    I am a white person, member of the western culture.
    I'm also 30 years old and I've seen and lived through 3 wars including being bombed by the USA for 3 months straight. I'm from Serbia.

    Me and people around me would give anything to be in a position of some minority in the USA. Every member of minority who is actually in the USA, doesn't matter how rich or poor, legal or illegal has no idea how privileged he actually is compared to me. Me and my friends would do anything we can to be in a position of the most underprivileged person in the US.

    So stop talking about white privilege while the amount of privilege American minorities have compared to millions of other white people are incredible and even sometimes a matter of life and death. And should they feel guilty about it? Absolutely not !

    I would just like to add that I greatly admire The United States and I believe that the world is a better place with the US at the center of it. My dream is to eventually immigrate and live there, in a free society so please try to keep it actually free.

  180. if by some miracle of the Universe whites might wake from a peaceful slumber and were turned into a Person of Colour where they were forced to negotiate this America in that face for 2 weeks...Most would not survive

    The inability to walk in another's shoes and the total lack of Empathy is telling
    Commenters totally miss the point of the article because de nial aint just a River...I read the article as what happens when good people do nothing.'
    First they come for them and now they come for your (the middle class) and then it becomes a Problem

  181. There is no doubt in my mind that racism exists and hurts innocent people. I think it is more complex than white privilege. That's important because fixing racism requires that heal emotional wounds as well as inequity. Claiming that all white people share the author's good fortune is unjust and does not adequately explain why white debt exists.

    Black people deal with being poor in dress and manner. Being poor means you are usually disenfranchised and dishonored. It means you are hungry and unsupervised as a child and have little expectation of social opportunity. Some white people are poor for generations. Being black, or Indian means passed laws that ended your life for expecting equality. Big difference.

    Ending hatred means truthfulness. Ending racism is an American debt if you become a naturalized citizen tomorrow. If we blur the line of social injustice and American debt, we perpetuate social problems and extremism. Some Whites don't condemn slavery or the decline of Native Americans because they want a unified culture. We need to point to Muslims, who condemn terrorism even within their immediate families. Fixing economic justice, raising the bar on social justice and ensuring oppressed people are represented is what most American want.

  182. "Some Whites don't condemn slavery or the decline of Native Americans because they want a unified culture. We need to point to Muslims, who condemn terrorism even within their immediate families. "
    Huh? I disagree, there is a very high percentage of Muslims who at the very best are silent and at worst,agree with the use of violence to further their religion. what do they call the West? Dar-al-harb, world of War?
    From the article:
    "In 11 representative nation-states, up to 14 percent of the population has a favorable opinion of ISIS, and upwards of 62 percent "don't know" whether or not they have a favorable opinion of the Islamist group.

    Read more: http://www.americanthinker.com/blog/2015/11/pew_poll_between_63_million_...
    Follow us: @AmericanThinker on Twitter | AmericanThinker on Facebook

  183. I got a small laugh when I read about "free money"...because it's true! Whites indeed, do get free money! For the last several years since the "Great Recession" money has been loaned at zero percent interest rates. Mortgages are offered as low as 3% for fixed 30 year terms. Some adjustable or balloon mortgages can be even less. However, I disagree that only whites can get this money. Blacks can too. Except they generally don't know how to get it. Sometimes it takes a little work and even some rejection. Eventually though the money is made available.
    Now, the art of never paying it back! That's right. Banks know you're never going to pay it back. They know that you'll pay off the 30 year mortgage in about 7 years or so and trade up to larger home and a larger mortgage. And you never pay that off either. That is the key to white success. And black success as well.
    Banks don't ever want to be paid off. They want you to borrow more. Forever. That's how they make money.
    Borrowing money is not limited to white privilege. Borrowing money, that never has to be repaid is the basis of the economy for blacks and whites. All it takes is is a lot work and a little nerve. You've got to go after it.
    The condition of black life is not one of mourning. It is one of conditioning that has convinced blacks that whites are privileged. Not true.
    White life is based upon debt that will never be repaid. Blacks need to join the club. Forget about debt. Buying money is buying life and freedom

  184. Blacks were hurt far worse than whites in the housing bust because low-income blacks were urged to take on home mortgages as the path to an upper-middle-class lifestyle. Instead many ended up broke.

    The phenomenon of taking on huge debt that will never be paid off and trading up is actually something that is confined to California and a few overheated real estate markets. Simply taking on debt to buy an expensive home is a road straight to the Poor House.

    Many wealthy people do take on large home mortgages because of the home mortgage interest deduction. High income people of all races should consider this as a means of reducing taxes, not generating wealth. But suggesting that anyone, black or white, rush out and take out debt that will never be repaid is sheer folly.

  185. Great, thoughtful piece, and beautifully written. Not surprising to see so much vitriolic dismissal of it, though.

  186. Actually there was an excellent book written on the topic of group justice and remedy by the legal scholar Amy Wax, entitled "Race, Wrongs, and Remedies: Group Justice in the 21st Century." Wax convincingly and fairly argues that the healing of these wounds can only come about when the affected party acknowledges that they must take stock in in their own recovery, although it was no fault of their own that they were harmed originally.

  187. What a thought-provoking read. Kudos to Eula Bliss for this piece. I'd like to check Race Traitor and the "I Don't See Color" book. Naturally most of the comments here criticize her, but it's only because this is a really uncomfortable subject. Those of us with white skin would have to admit to getting ahead in life not solely on our own merits. That's tough to say the least. We like to think our society is not rigged. It's not fair to say that the system is rotten everywhere, but were we to walk around with darker skin for just one day, I think it would be self-evident the difference in treatment. Multiple that by a lifetime. Thank you Eula for these words. I'm left wondering how to pay (or at least reduce) this "debt".

  188. The easiest way to dismiss this...what exactly? complete meltdown of an apparently expensive philosophy education?...is to cross out the words "white" and "whiteness" and ask yourself whether anyone - black or white - could keep a straight face through generalizations of the motivations of millions upon millions of our fellow global citizens if they were comprised in phrases like "When we buy into blackness..." or "A guilty black person is usually..." All this article does is prove once again that it is actually possible to really, really err when picking a major.

  189. I see your Nietzsche and raise you Elvis: "A little less flagellation, a little more action, please."

  190. I, too, looked up the meaning of the word 'complacence', but using a thesaurus instead of a dictionary. Surprisingly, I found that among the 30 or so listed synonyms were arrogance, immodesty, narcissism, pomposity, self-importance, and vanity. Sounds like the author to me.

    I would instead write the condition of white life on a blank sheet of paper as "excellence", a usage cribbed directly from Jay-Z.

  191. beautifully said

  192. I know about slavery and my parents/grandparents, being from the south, have told me about the racial discrimination they experienced. I don't know what I'm "supposed" to feel. None of the older members of my family ever put it into my head that my white neighbors or friends were in debt to me in any meaningful sense. Don't get me wrong. I seethe at stories of PRESENT slavery and discrimination. Yet, I also know that it would not bring me any joy to see people who have never actually done me any harm begging forgiveness for the sins of their forefathers. So how do we move forward with racial issues? I know how this sounds (REALLY, I DO), but the pain must be dulled over generations. I feel the way I do because my parents managed to insulate me from what they had experienced themselves. THEY cannot help but resent what they personally may have experienced, but they were successful in bringing about a better, if imperfect, life for their children. They have a hard time identifying with current civil rights movements because they remember how horrifying their own experiences were and today's issues, while RELATIVELY important, are simply not comparable to the discrimination/slavery of the past. If I'm successful, I may one day have children who can't connect to my feelings about policing because it will just be a history lesson to them. It is simply not possible to make up for the past and trying will only extend the pain. We must focus on the present.

  193. I'm not sure how writing offensively racist articles will help solve racial inequality. Not all white people are the same, and by grouping them together under the same negative umbrella, you are reinforcing the idea of us versus them. We are all family, black, white, everyone.

  194. A few years ago, a very young, very intoxicated young man tried to get into our house at 3am. For at least 15 minutes he banged and pushed and pulled on our front door trying to get it open. He did not respond to my husband yelling at him to stop and to leave. When the police arrived, they handcuffed him, but did not arrest him, and CALLED HIS PARENTS to come take him home! It turned out he thought he was at a friend's house.

    Obviously, given this outcome, he was white. It terrifies me to think how the police might have reacted had he not been white. This was before the shooting of Jonathan Ferrell, the young man who was shot by police while seeking help after a car accident, but even then when I tried to imagine the scenario playing out for a young black man, a happy ending seemed unlikely.

    White privilege is not only opportunity. It's the benefit of the doubt despite, in many cases, doing unbelievably foolish things. It is not being held to the narrowest possible standard of behavior. It is the safety to assume that mistakes are not likely to have tragic consequences.

  195. Agreed. It is also Robert Dear, terrorizing and killing innocents and engaging police in a lengthy shootout, then having the opportunity to surrender and be taken into custody, completely unharmed. Contrast that with the 12 or so seconds according to 12-year old Tamir Rice before his life was taken.

  196. I agree with the author that whiteness comes with a historical grab bag of benefits bestowed by the accident of birth. I acknowledge that being white (which I am) has unfair privilege. But this article adds absolutely nothing to the discussion about how to fit that acknowledgement into an examined life.

    According to the author, when white people try to act on the guilt that comes from acknowledging privilege, our actions are misdirected and feckless. But if we don't act, we are complicit or complacent or whatever word she agonizes over getting exactly right. So evidently the only thing we can do is publicly flagellate ourselves in the NYT and brag about how one day we saw a cop arresting a black person and we stopped to watch for a few minutes until our kid started crying. Ooooo-- braaaave.

    I'm white. I've benefited from privileges I did not ask for but tacitly accepted. I honestly struggle with what to do about that. I can write letters to insurance and financing companies opposing their practices, and refuse to do business with known corporate offenders. I can vote for those who try to bring equality through legislative action. I can continue to listen to my black friends when they describe their experiences. I have done and continue to do all of those things but I want other ideas. This article provided nothing of value to me.

  197. The whites you speak of -- relocated people of European descent -- became dominant through warfare and superior military technology. They slaughtered their enemies and asserted their world views and authority. They did to others what had been done to them and and by them through centuries of carnage. Tribes and peoples burned and maimed one another into submission.

    This country of ours was born from conflict. First against the native population. Then the British. And then amongst ourselves. The whites bought slaves as a trade of opportunity from marauding tribes and Caliphs who brought these poor slaves to market, usually after murdering many of their family members in the process. It was nothing new. Humans of all race and creed had been enslaving each through history.

    Every human on this planet has blood on their hands. We were forged in war and battle. One could say we still only have peace through dominance. And barely. Our enemies kept at bay so we can sip cappuccino and read Nietzsche.

    Yes there are bad cops. Yes there are gang bangers who shoot 9 year olds. Heads get cut off. People get shot and set on fire. There are sex slaves and child labor the world over right now. This is the story of humanity.

    All any of us can do is try to be better. Human history is enough to make one shudder. But guilt. Well then we should all feel guilty. And I mean - everyone.

  198. Hey Ygj,

    I was actually nodding in agreement with all your points. You are indeed a keen observer of human frailty. But....and this is a BIG BUT, what are your answers? What are your ideas...or actions to counter the sad truths you spout with such perspicacity?

    I just came up with the phrase, "a cynic is a coward with a rationale". I hope you have no family or friends or love of any other humans, now or to be. Your cool logic ignores the very thing that makes humans human in general, and humans in the USA potentially special. The ability to rise above the very real realities of human existence and try to create civilization in spite of them.


  199. The concept of "privilege" is often used as a substitute for the words "hard work", "saving", and "sacrifice." Asian Americans are often times more successful than white Americans, but I have yet to read a NY Times article that discusses "Asian Privilege." Perhaps I will see such an article sometime in the future, but I am not holding my breath as the topic does not play upon liberal guilt.

  200. The more you see things in the Black/white dichotomy the more you promote racist point of views. People are people, its that simple

  201. I can honestly say that I've never been tempted to cancel my NY Times subscription... until now. This is one of the dumbest things I've ever read. It makes no sense. My family arrived in this country long after slavery ended. My ancestors were second-class citizens for being Irish. My family didn't revel in victimhood, we built successful lives. I don't owe anyone a debt. And the self-flagellating Eula Biss can't speak for me simply because we have similar shades of skin.

  202. The mom should offer to tell the child who wishes he were French something about the history of Haiti.

    The debt of the privileged owing to those who paid for it is universal – and it’s not exclusively white, as we know from our studies of Asia and of the black slave-herders of the African interior who sold their brethren to white traders. One shouldn’t mistake white debt for something special.

    Forced privilege at the expense of others still exists, whether or not it’s called “slavery”: people are sold like objects, forced to work for little or no pay. Eastern European women are bonded into prostitution, children are sold among West African countries and men are forced to work as slaves on Brazilian agricultural estates. Much of it is white debt to whites, or black and brown debt to blacks and browns.

    But, putting all that aside, where a debt may rationally be repaid it should; and where privilege still is exacted at an unfair cost to some, we should end such practices. But the implied need for reparations is unlikely ever to attract sufficient support to be other than a non-starter. If we wish to benefit those in our country, overwhelmingly black and brown, who paid the price for white privilege, then we should design the pay-back as one that benefits ALL of our disadvantaged. A good example is extending quality education to ALL of our neighborhoods, severing the links between quality and real estate value and neighborhood earnings. THIS is the salable reparation.

  203. It is impossible to de-conflict race relations...but of all the nations that ever existed on planet Earth...I believe the United States has done the best job of it.
    My opinion is this:
    Prejudice is a necessary function of the INDUVIDUAL, needed for survival, and it is based on learned and taught experiences, is it safe? is it dangerous?
    Racism, is SOCIETAL, and cannot be blamed on the induvidual. We are ALL guilty of racism....white and black alike. Together we have created a society that attempts to protect "induvidual rights"...but for all kinds of complex rationalities, we expect the white cop(not necessarily always "white") to shoot 18 bullets into the black suspect. This is what our MEdia promotes......downplaying the incidents of black on black violence and of white cops pumping white suspects full of lead(it does happen)..............
    .....We even go so far as to promote racist stereotypes as we march forward 1984 doublespeak style and re-inforce "diversity"......after all Slavery is Freedom and Freedom is Slavery(Diversity is Unity and Unity is Diversity!!).
    When Ms. Biss shells out the uncomfortable history of the USA......when she uses the term "white" she actually means "american"...........for the United States is truly one of the only nations wherein just about anybody, even black people, can be "american"(ie "white").....the Irish being the famous example.
    1. Americans.
    2. Black Americans.
    3. First Americans.
    Those are the only classifications that matter.

  204. "White Debt - Reckoning with what is owed..."

    I was born into a family with a father and a mother - who do I owe for that?
    Both my father and mother worked so I could eat and have a roof over my head - who do I owe for that?
    I went to a free public school and had to learn because if I didn't my parents would have been angry- who do I owe for that?
    When I turned 16 I went out and got a job - who do I owe for that?
    I stayed in school and worked to save money for college - who do I owe for that?
    I worked full time while I was in college to pay for college - who do I own for that?
    I graduated college and spent three months looking for work until I got a job - who do I owe for that?
    This is America, the land of opportunity if you are willing to study and to work. Are you saying every successful Black person was just lucky? Are you saying there is an underground Black privilege that gives successful Black people their success?
    No, I don't think so, I think they like I worked for it. As to the rest, white, black green or purple I owe them nothing, absolutely nothing.

  205. You make a mistake conflating the past (reparations) with the present (equality.) The universal tendency to live in the present revolves around the need for consistency.

    To use an easy and local example: is Harlem properly considered Native American territory; Dutch territory; POC territory generally; black territory specifically; the territory of folks who were born there; or the territory of folks who live there now?

    There's no single "right" answer to that question, as I hope you agree. But there's a single consistent answer, and it's the final one. It's the same answer which allows me to simultaneously feel comfortable living in my home (on land which was probably NA-owned) and to avoid thinking about who in Europe might have stolen my Jewish-ancestors' land and possessions, way back when.

    And it's the same answer that allows me to care less about what portion of my (dirt poor or dead) non-slave-owner ancestors might have contributed to the downfall of a someone's South American relative back in 1710... and also allows me not to really think about whether some nobleman stole some stuff which would have eventually been mine now. And so on.

    Now, as for PRESENT inequality, I fight against that every day. But that's because I think everyone deserves equality, POC and white alike. I don't need to reject my reflection in order to take that road.

  206. My family is white several generations back. Besides, what is race? After seeing Rachel Dolezal I feel entirely free to identify as an Eskimo and explore my gender options, too.

    As a white I am surely guilty of anything and everything. I got admission and scholarships to top universities and good jobs not through merit but because I climbed on the backs of exploited people everywhere and throughout time. I--well, my forebears--raped several continents, and oppressed and exploited billions of people.

    Because of these crimes against humanity I moved into a tent and gave my house to illegal immigrants. I withdrew my savings to drop from balloons over the poorest parts of the poorest nations (balloons have smaller carbon footprints than planes).


    Many races and ethnic groups contributed to slavery and oppression of their own people and others; plenty of blame to go around here, not just for whites.

    If the author can manage to rise above what appears to be almost crippling personal guilt she could take some concrete steps: open her home to the poor, or give away her savings and her son's college money. Absurd, yes? Yes, rather like the basic premise of this article.

    Stop trying to make whites feel guilty about things they did not do and were not responsible for. What with causing global warming and income inequality we already must be the most despicable humans on the planet; adding racial privilege and reparations surely be the straw that breaks white folks' backs.

  207. Thank you for your remarkable, thoughtful article, an atypical view of whiteness, privilege, race and the reality of world. Most white people I know would consider your essay unacceptable, even unthinkable. They would angrily and vehemently justify their existing reality. Then there are, ironically, some black people who would find fault with some of what you have written, expressing that it still views race and black reality in a flawed manner.

    Sure enough, as soon as I glanced at some comments to your article, I saw the article vociferously attacked by some white people. One person went straight for the racial jugular with a knife, stating that black people are less intelligent (I'm sure they couldn't wait to find a reason to write that and your article gave them the perfect opportunity).

    As a black male, I can only offer a thought that came to mind. I have always wondered what would happen if I had the power to magically, with the slightest gesture, instantly restart the lives of whites who express racism so openly, transforming them into black people. Ideally it would be retroactive from birth (but "from this day forward" would also do). Let them live decades as a black person. Then let them comment about whiteness and race. I guarantee you their remarks would be quite different. But if nothing else, I would have a big, knowing smile on my face.
    Until then, let the attacks on my comment begin.

  208. Goodness, what a large number of comments defending white supremacy. That is quite disturbing. The misogyny is also disturbing.

    The thing is, in a handful of large states everyone is already a minority. In a generation or two if we survive Climate Change (doubtful), everyone in the US will be a minority. If people do not wish to be part of a 'mixed' culture then, tough. There are no other choices in the world.

    This is a very thoughtful piece. I would suggest that we stop calling everyone white or black or yellow or red. We are all shades of beige and we are all distant cousins. To Loyd Eskildson's comment, Asians score the highest in tests.

    There is something seriously wrong with US law enforcement. Some of it is racism but a great deal of it is horrible management, inappropriate hiring and utter lack of accountability. If these serious issues are fixed, racism and misogyny in individual cops will be tamped down and not allowed to affect behavior in any meaningful way.

  209. Oh my. How delusional.

    Let's talk about Asian privilege. Asian families in America have earned incomes substantially higher than white families.

    According to Thomas Sowell, Chinese immigrants have generally been subjected to the worst kind of discrimination and ethic violence of any people all over the world - yet wherever they go, they have prospered.

    This is not because they are "privileged" - in fact, the opposite is true. It is because their culture is inherently more productive compared to immigrants of other cultures.

    Martin Luther King talked about being judged not by the color of your skin, but by the content of your character. WHITE people are not a terribly homogenous group. Swedes, Italians, Brits, Danes, Slavs...are they all the same? Not even close. The mother of our African American President was white.

    Whites from Europe wrested control of America from Native Americans not because of their skin color - but because they had better technology. Asians out perform white Americans in America because they have more productive skill sets (Sowell, the Harlem-raised African American, says this...not me).

    Get up early, go to school, learn useful things, work hard, save your money, repeat. It tends to work.

  210. The article states: "I thought of the white police officers who killed unarmed black people and kept their jobs. That the penalty for disowning whiteness appears to be more severe than the penalty for killing a black person says something about what our culture holds dear." This might seem like a logical conclusion, but it isn't.

    Cops kill 2 to 3 times as many whites as they do blacks, and yet they keep their jobs. Two white teens were killed by cops in my county last year. Both teens had mental health issues. They were basically cut down by the police, unprovoked. Those police still have their jobs, even though they shouldn't.

    Then consider that there are more rural whites living in poverty than all blacks combined. Their communities suffer joblessness, addiction, and crime similar to inner city minorities.

    Not everything bad that happens is due to white racism.

    A more progressive view would be to stop looking at the color of people's skin and start looking at their circumstances. What are the conditions that are preventing so many from lead fulfilling and productive lives? How can we alter conditions and provide programs that help them thrive?

    Most poor, regardless of color, want jobs more than anything. They don't want to be on the dole. Can we focus on that common human need as a start?

    Your anti-white message doesn't help the progressive cause in the least. It just drives poor whites into the arms Il Duce Trump.

  211. Oh please.

    Is the system rigged? Of course. It favors beautiful people over ugly ones (beautiful people earn considerably more in the same jobs over a lifetime as ugly ones), extroverts over introverts, straights over gays (except in some industries where it goes the other way), men over women, Ivy-league educated against state school educated, etc etc et freaking cetera.

    All that said, the lack of logic in this piece is breathtaking. If "whiteness is not a race", how can there be "white debt"? Either whiteness is a class, in a meaningful sense--which the author denies! or it is not. If it's not, then the concept of "white debt" can't exist.

    Let's not forget that the original slaveholders included men with dark skin who sold fellow dark-skinned men and women to the opportunistic white men who showed up on their shores.

    Slavery is a moral evil, and its consequences are long-lasting. But it is not uniquely a white evil.

    The concept of "white debt" or "white privilege" is as racist as any other concept that attempts to group people into arbitrary classes. There's white privilege and straight privilege and gay privilege and pretty privilege and young privilege... we all have to deal with that, and it doesn't uniquely favor lighter skinned people over darker skinned ones.

  212. I'm a 46 yr old black man I read the whole article and all the comments.

    I saw a lot of white peoples opinion and I can see the various perspectives clearly.

    I offer you another:

    If the founding fathers of this country were black
    And white people were the race that went through American slavery.

    Based on the way black people treat each other now and the amount of denial we face as a race.

    I can tell you now the history flipped like that things would not have turned out any better for you.

    As far as "Power" white people control the U.S if there is an Equality problem of any sort white have the power to fix so what are you all doing?

  213. Looking at her profile, Ms. Biss is a Midwesterner who attended school in Iowa, majoring in "Creative Writing", and now lives in Evanston with her husband and son. Evanston, according to Wikipedia, is two-thirds white. So when does Ms. Biss plan to move to Chicago and put her son on the school bus? Wouldn't that be the best way to teach him about African-Americans?

  214. "I have written and erased a hundred sentences here, trying and failing to articulate something that I can sense but not yet speak." I respect Bliss' clear effort to address racism and also her acknowledgement of failure. American racism is so big and systemic a problem that its full examination can seem impossible and any solution improbable, so to think about it is a strain, not to mention the challenge of self-examination required to feel one's feelings about it.
    I was struck particularly by the fantastical nature of this thought --
    "More than the freedom to do whatever I want... I am compelled by a freedom that would allow me to deserve what I have." Bliss misapplies 'deserve' because she has not understood that the disposition of fortune, good or ill, is neither of her making nor based on merit. Nietzsche is wrong (and so is she) to conflate debt and guilt or throw that conflation into the redressing of white privilege, a disparity of law and justice. What we "owe" one another is care, not debt -- we cannot undo but we can do better by facing the truth of our rivalry for power and the wrongdoing it inspires. We needn't carry a mortgage of guilt to be conscious and just.

  215. Gosh. This author's son is going to have a very long and torturous childhood. I hope he can eventually dig himself out from the immense pile of ludicrous guilt she's already dumped on him.

  216. I've been paying the WHITE DEBT my whole life....
    I've been passed over for great jobs my whole life
    Over and
    OVER and
    O V E R

    My whole life has been:
    1. I'm White
    2. I'm Male
    3. I'm sorry

  217. Every time I read a piece like this that uses language like "our police...act out their power on black bodies," I imagine another working class white person--sick of this pie-in-the-sky philosophizing about race, and tired of being called a racist--commit to voting for Trump. We don't need more ivory tower nonsense like this. We need a movement for economic equality. For a brief moment in the 20th Century there was a solid black middle class that was safe and comfortable. We are not in a crisis of racism because of a failure to examine our "whiteness" or because we are persecuting "black bodies." We are in this crisis because oligarchs are freely plundering the 99%. My recommendation for liberals is to start a real movement for economic equality, one that doesn't alienate working class whites with hogwash like this.

  218. Life's not fair. We are a tribal, hierarchical species by nature and there are endless ways we divide ourselves and view ourselves as better- or worse-off than someone else. That doesn't look likely to fundamentally change during our lives, if ever. Enjoy your household furniture. I'm sure you took advantage of some poor people at the factory who made it for you and would rather be sitting in your chairs instead of working x hours per day. Have you made your son feel guilty for the furniture privilege which you so blithely yield against others? Nobody I've met owns the world. We all live in it.

  219. Every time I seriously ponder a subscription to the NYT, an article like this is published, and I just can't do it. The writer of this piece is clearly more at ease writing fiction than history. Just reread the paragraphs referring to her 5 year-old son: Does anyone other than me question the viability of such prescience in a 5 year-old? Kids do often get more than we give them credit for, but do any of us really believe this narrative? It just seems too contrived for me and it all fits too well into her guilt trip. I ain't buyin' any of it.

  220. Wow. Does everyone hate their skin? Or, are we supposed to hate our skin? Can't we all just remind ourselves it's an organ on display, necessary for life? I am frankly growing so tired of these micro-analyses, and micro-guilt, I'm becoming ever more comfortable with just embracing racism.

  221. There are many comments here that reflect my view: the treatment of black people, and other minorities in America, remains a source of well-deserved shame and guilt. I add my comment primarily to make myself feel better as one more voice on that side of the debate.

    Let's face the undeniable facts: our country was founded on a genocide of the people who had settled the region thousands of years earlier and nurtured by 200 years of forced labor extracted from millions of slaves who, every day of their lives, lived with a constant diet of rape, torture and murder, knowing that the perpetrators could do so freely, without consequence.

    Today, we want everyone to just move on, as if there is no relationship between Native American and African American history and their current condition. Meanwhile, we want to pretend that any residual racism is merely an aberration from a norm of equality and justice.

    Until we acknowledge the guilt our society continues to bear and the on-going mistreatment of minorities and the poor, we will suffer the consequences: a stunted society that serves it's members far worse than dozens of other modernized nations.

    We might start with the racial slur of a name for the organization of the most popular pastime in our great land's NATIONAL CAPITOL, for God's sake...while it may be easy to dismiss as a triviality, it is a very clear indication that we currently have no intention whatsoever of making good on a very large and deeply burdensome debt.

  222. It is ironic that, White people do not consider themselves 'white' unless non-white are among them. Another interesting fact is that whites have this natural tendency to see themselves as 'individuals', yet at the same time see non-whites, and especially African Americans, as one, monolithic group. For example, when an individual African American voices his or her opinion on TV or in an open forum, inevitably some white person would refer to the speaker as 'you people'.....as if this one speaker represents everything and everyone of the African American racial group. Even the NYT is guilty of this, with the recent headline to a story that stated that "Black Preachers Support Trump.." The comments from almost all white anti-Trump people and quite a few blacks was that 'black preachers have sold out', or to that affect....The implication that ALL black preachers are represented by these few in the article..

    The correct name for this 'white debt' or 'white guilt' that the writer is speaking of in this article is called: Institutional Racism.

  223. What do you tell your son to be proud of? No one can go through life merely complying with the world; everyone endorses something. Guilt without a countervailing sense of pride soon becomes an empty piety (i.e. another form of erasure). And, as Sherman Alexie correctly points out, it often leads people to "do crazy [expletive]."

  224. I have two ancestors that died in the Civil War while serving with the Army of the Potomac. Can I assume that I'm all paid up and the ledger is clear? Or do I still have to kick in a couple of bucks for reparations?

  225. A beautifully written essay, in the spirit & tradition of the word's initial meaning, from the French essai: to try, to attempt, to test. Beautiful. I'll be assigning it in the Winter Quarter as an example of an essay: http://composing.org/wrd103wq2016/

    Much Respect, Ms. Biss --

  226. The Donald Trump phenomenon represents not only a rebuke to the presidencies of Obama and George W. Bush, but to the leftist media's obsessive effort to repackage nakedly fraudulent and politically motivated sociological "theory" and present it as journalism. This is why Trump's disregard for "political correctness" is not dooming him in the polls, but rather casting him as something of a liberator in the eyes of millions. The American right-wing has been galvanized and resurrected by a media that often more resembles an elaborate social engineering project than anything that could reasonably be called news. And, speaking as one such nascent right-winger whose views have been shaped by and in opposition to pieces I've read in the Times and elsewhere, I'll lastly say: By all means, please carry on!

  227. You should probably inform your son that the Franks originally came from the east of what is know known as France (their roots are Germanic), and INVADED and CONQUERED modern France.

    This is the nature of life. Birth, competition, death. EVERY race, state, nation, has this in its history. The people that exist today exist because they KILLED AND DEFEATED someone else.

  228. The concept of "white privilege" as expressed in this article is a fallacy: It's just "privilege", and "guilt" should attach to privilege, and not to skin color. Lots of "white" people coming to the US have faced harsh discrimination because of how they look. Think of how Irish and Italian immigrants were treated. Yes, they weren't brought over as slaves, but many were fleeing starvation or under indentured contracts. They were bound to sweat shops subject to sexual abuse and shaken down by their foreman and fired for any reason or no reason. Don't believe for a moment that such people got equality before the law if accused of the same crime as a wealthy individual -- assuming, of course, that the wealthy individual was even prosecuted. It still goes on today, of course, but it has more to do with wealth and power than with skin color: Rich people of color get the same sweet treatment before the courts that rich white people do. Poor whites get shafted in the same way as poor people of color, especially if they are from outside the US and/or from a non-Christian religion. And, if you go to a "non-white" nation, such as the Asian, African, or Arab countries, you will find that there is a non-white privileged class that, without any sense of guilt, will abuse the poor and powerless and go free of any legal consequences. This has been the way of the world forever, and the US is actually a leader in at least trying to give justice to the poor and powerless.

  229. Wonderful article except for the use of “Indian”, which is an offensive and incorrect term. Native American/First Nation people are not from India. I understand the usage was most likely due to the correlation back to the “Little House on the Prairie” nonetheless, the distinction remains an important aspect to address in your work.

  230. For those of us who have been--through our work, our gender, where we live or our religious beliefs and heritage--the "only" Jew among Christians, the only woman in a male workplace, the only person with white skin color among those with black, yellow, red or brown colored skin or the only US citizen in a foreign place, we may think we can understand what it is like to live as a minority person in a society where "privilege" is defined as being white, male, Christian and a US citizen. We never do understand and we never will.

    Eula Bliss has written a complex essay touching on all the aspects of identity governed by what is beyond our individual control. Weaving Nietzsche and storytimes with one's son and Eddie Murphy movie lines into a coherent essay is a praiseworthy accomplishment few are talented enough or have the life experiences to do as well as Eula Bliss.

    The concept of "White Debt" is thought-provoking. I am especially grateful for the inclusion of debts owed to peoples the Canadians so carefully call "First Nations".

  231. The author recounts making her very young son uncomfortable with his racial identity. Is it really right to pass your "debts" down to your child? I feel sorry for the boy.

  232. I am white person who did not grow up with wealth. I did not have "better housing, better education, better work and better pay than other people". It certainly has influenced the challenges I have been forced to confront in life.

    At the same time, it leads me to the inevitable conclusion that the author's analysis of race is flawed in a way that much modern analysis of race is. There are inequalities and barriers of race, especially in the US, but perhaps more pervasive are the inequalities and barriers of class. There are no shootings on the streets of rich Black neighbourhoods. That is important.

    People of colour in the US are more than twice as likely to be in poverty as white people. What the US has, perhaps, is a stacking problem, where racist tendencies lead to high level of poverty which in turn reinforce the racist tendencies.

    If so, it brings to mind a quote I read some years ago: "A mind is far harder to change than a bed." Perhaps a more concerted effort to analyse the effects of class, which has measurable physical consequences and causes, and alleviate it might be more effective than trying to alleviate a the moral wounds of one's birth identity. Rich guilt seems like it would be a more effective concept than white guilt.